How Unexpected Changes Transformed The MCU's Phase 3 Slate
There are really three major reasons for these changes. The first is the deal between Marvel and Sony, which brought Spider-Man into the MCU. Under the terms of that deal, Marvel gained the ability to use a new version of the wall-crawler as a character in their own films, but in return had to produce a new series of solo Spider-Man movies on Sony's behalf. Those films are paid for and distributed by Sony - and, crucially, Sony are the ones who profit from their success. It was a win-win deal: Sony got a relaunched Spider-Man, with appearances from major MCU actors like Robert Downey Jr. and Samuel L. Jackson; Marvel got to integrate the most marketable superhero of all into the MCU and use him as part of their core Avengers franchise. But that naturally meant that a new film had to be slotted into Phase 3. Spider-Man: Homecoming's release altered the entire MCU Phase 3 slate.
Meanwhile, behind-the-scenes drama at Marvel Studios led to a dramatic corporate restructure. Feige was increasingly finding himself in conflict with other key figures at Marvel Entertainment, who were insisting on having their own way with the MCU. Matters seem to have come to a head in 2015, with the high-profile departure of Whedon after Avengers: Age of Ultron. As Whedon reflected, the whole experience was a painful one for him. The first Ant-Man film struggled as well, with Edgar Wright quitting as director, and the pattern looked set to repeat itself for Captain America: Civil War.
Finally, Feige had enough. There are reports he pushed the issue so far as to threaten to quit, and rather than lose him Disney conducted a massive corporate restructure. They pulled Marvel Studios out of Marvel Entertainment, and placed Feige in charge of it. While it's hard to track the effect of this change in leadership, it's notable that a lot of the changes to the Phase 3 slate came after Feige was given the authority to make his own decisions, independent of the likes of Marvel's Ike Perlmutter and Jeph Loeb. Inhumans - a project Feige had always seemed lukewarm on, but that Perlmutter is believed to have been excited about - was dropped, and passed to Marvel TV to make an ill-fated series.
In mid-to-late 2015, Marvel began solidifying their plans for the end of MCU Phase 3, hiring the Russo brothers as directors of Avengers: Infinity War Part I and Part II, with Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely brought on board as writers. The new creative team soon decided to treat Avengers 3 and Avengers 4 as separate projects, filming them back-to-back but dropping the idea of "Part I and Part II." Meanwhile, Feige was satisfied with the box office performance of the first Ant-Man, and by July was happily discussing ideas for a sequel; Ant-Man & the Wasp was finally announced in October 2015, replacing Inhumans. The Russo brothers have consistently said they believe there's a narrative throughline from Avengers: Infinity War, through Ant-Man & the Wasp and Captain Marvel, to Avengers: Endgame. If that's the case, then that narrative throughline was presumably being decided in late 2015, hence the decision to drop Inhumans and insert Ant-Man & the Wasp into Phase 3. It's possible different creative choices would have been made under the Marvel Creative Committee.
It's fascinating to see how MCU Phase 3 changed shape, almost entirely due to factors that Marvel Studios couldn't predict. When Feige made the Phase 3 announcement back in 2014, he had no reason to believe the Sony deal was on the table, and he had no idea his clash with other Marvel Entertainment figures was going to lead to such a dramatic restructure. But this should serve as a caution to any studio making its long-term plans public knowledge; it's impossible to predict every variable, and those plans are inevitably going to be subject to change. Marvel got away with it without any strong criticism, largely because the new plans seemed better than the old ones; Tom Holland is a tremendous new Spider-Man, and in truth Inhumans was a franchise few people cared much about.
These observations are more than just a historical curiosity for film buffs. The adjustments made to the Phase 3 slate proved that Marvel wouldn't announce their future plans right now. That's because the MCU is again about to be transformed by events outside Feige's control, in this case Disney's impending acquisition of 20th Century Fox. That's currently expected to be concluded by June; assuming everything goes as planned, the film rights for the X-Men and Fantastic Four will revert to Marvel Studios. Concepts like "mutants" are sure to drastically reshape the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while it's worth noting that associated franchises are as diverse as Alpha Flight and the Starjammers. Marvel's long-term plans will be in flux once again.
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019