After a dozen films since 2008, the third "Phase" of the Marvel Cinematic Universe begins next month with Captain America: Civil War. This film release, the first of two Marvel feature projects in 2016 (the other being Doctor Strange) is the beginning of a nine-movies slate set to release between now and summer 2019 that together represent Phase 3.
Phase 3 concludes with the two-part Avengers: Infinity War, an "event" story that will culminate upon everything in the MCU up until that point. The franchise as a whole is one long-form story, and Infinity War is an end point. But it's not the end point. The MCU will not end.
There is no end in sight for the mega movie franchise which found success in a shared universe model that every Hollywood studio is rushing to emulate. The Transformers movies, Universal's upcoming monster movies, and even Hanna-Barbera animation are all attempting to pre-plan franchises of interconnected movies. As for Marvel Studios, a few years ago, its boss and mastermind - producer Kevin Feige - revealed that he had already outlined movies up until 2028.
At the moment, all of the movies up to and include 2019 have been announced, with additional films in 2020 already with release dates but without titles (although Guardians of the Galaxy 3 seems a safe bet for one of the three that year).
But What's After That?!
It's arguably ridiculous to be asking or digging deep into what comes after Avengers: Infinity War since it's so far away. Or at least it would be a decade ago. In modern cinema however, with geek-focused IPs dominating the box office, store shelves, and social media, it's not. Just a few days ago Avatar (read: the biggest movie of all-time) had four sequels announced and dated with Avatar 5 scheduled for 2023. That's seven years from now!
So with Captain America: Civil War beginning its press tour last week starting with its World Premiere in Los Angeles, its directors and producers cannot avoid talking about what's next. And for Civil War's directors (Anthony and Joe Russo) and writers (Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely), they're already working on Avengers: Infinity War which will both end and start something for the MCU.
Speaking with EW for their summer preview cover story, where Captain America 3 took center stage with multiple interconnected covers (how fitting!), Marvel's top dog Kevin Feige spoke vaguely about what to expect from Phase 4 and beyond.
"I think you look at comics as a guide. I think there will be a finality to moments of Phase Three, as well as new beginnings that will mark a different, a very different, a distinctively different chapter in what will someday be a complete first saga made up of three phases."
Feige's hinting at the obvious for longtime readers of Marvel Comics. Avengers: Infinity War will be a game-changer in the biggest way possible. The universe will change. Characters from different parts of the MCU will meet one another for the very first time (Thor and Star-Lord for instance). Characters will die, and some may even come back. It wouldn't be a true story about the Infinity Gauntlet if this wasn't the case.
These two Avengers movies which are promised to be very different from one another will see the six Infinity Stones - the MacGuffins of the entire franchise up to and including the next three years of Marvel Studios movies - come together for the first time. These mysterious, all-powerful cosmic artifacts have been used on their own in limited ways in several of the Marvel movies to date, but it won't be long before the MCU's big bad villain Thanos (Josh Brolin) assembles all six and places them in the Infinity Gauntlet, granting himself omnipotence. The greatest threat to the Avengers and Earth will have ultimate power over the universe at some point during Avengers: Infinity War and for that reason, everything must change.
Of course, there are also the realities of movie-making to consider. Talent, directors, even Kevin Feige, may want to do something different come time for Phase 4. What will the MCU look like without Feige's overall vision? What happens when Robert Downey Jr. or Chris Evans are contractually done playing Iron Man and Captain America, respectively, and choose not to re-sign for an extension? A lot of that is in play right now beyond the conclusion of Phase 3.
So while we'll see a different universe at the end of Phase 3, a lot of that will come down to the films simply following different characters - new characters - alongside a different major story arc. Phase 4 may be a soft-reboot of sorts, not in that it's recasting characters, but that the universe we know will be very different just like a different crossover event story in Marvel Comics. With the Infinity Gauntlet, and Infinity Stones that literally allow for the alteration of time and reality, Marvel has the ultimate, limitless plot devices to work with to formulate the plan for Phase 4 based on the assets they'll have available (its stars) and what they want to do on the story front.
And we bet Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) is hoping someone uses that Infinity Gauntlet to bring back her brother, Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson)...
Note: The Infinity Gauntlet also gives Marvel a way to introduce other characters like the Fantastic Four in Phase 4 (or 5) should Disney-Marvel come to such an agreement for the rights (shared a la Sony's Spider-Man or otherwise) to those characters. And Infinity War does introduce entirely new characters. More on that later today!
Captain America: Civil War opens in theaters May 6, 2016, followed by Doctor Strange – November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man – July 7, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; Black Panther – February 16, 2018; Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 – May 4, 2018;Ant-Man and the Wasp– July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel – March 8, 2019; Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 – May 3, 2019; Inhumans– July 12, 2019; and as-yet untitled Marvel movies on May 1, July 10 and November 6, 2020.