2016 marks the beginning of Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and while promoting its first two films - Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange - Marvel Studios boss and producer Kevin Feige couldn't avoid questions of what comes next: Phase 4.
Despite Phase 4 being nine movies and three-four years away, Feige and Marvel's top brass need to plan ahead and that's why three of the unannounced Phase 4 movies already have release dates in 2020. Phase 3 must end in a way that establishes characters and worlds for what comes next, and what comes next according to Feige is a new saga that's "very different."
In that respect, Phase 3 will be a complete package with Avengers: Infinity War serving as culmination of everything that's released between 2008 and 2019. With the MCU being so different, and needing ot be for storytelling purposes and the reality of Hollywood business, what sorts of crazy things can we expect to happen going into and during Phase 4?
Here are 12 Crazy Things That Could Happen in Marvel Phase 4...
Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige has for years said that Tony Stark could be recast and someone other than Robert Downey Jr. could play the character, comparing him to James Bond. It seems that was most likely a negotiating tactic since other Marvel high-ups including Captain America: Civil War directors Anthony and Joe Russo said no one else could play the character.
Over the years RDJ has added extensions multiple times to his contract, first for Iron Man 3 and The Avengers sequels, then again for Captain America: Civil War (after the Russos and Feige sold him on the story and got the money they needed by pushing out Ike), and next, it seems RDJ will have a major part to play in Spider-Man: Homecoming as well. On that, RDJ said on Jimmy Kimmel Live while promoting Civil War that he had not officially signed yet but there’s speculation and rumblings that RDJ may lock-in to Marvel with a long-time producer-type deal that could seem him be a supporting character in many movies for years to come, without needing to do lenghty periods of work as a lead, and he could help sell additional future projects and reap the benefits as a poster boy for the franchise he helped launch.
In The Avengers, Agent Phil Coulson died... except he didn't. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Nick Fury died... except he didn't either.
Since Captain America: Civil War, the 13th film in the MCU, sees “good guys” battling themselves, there’s not really true lethal stakes in such a battle. There hasn’t been many deaths of consequence to the bigger picture story outside of Avengers: Age of Ultron’s Quicksilver - who died in his first outing anyway - but that's going to change.
Originally, most of the Avengers cast had their multi-picture contracts expiring with Avengers 3, but that’s now a two-part movie (subtitled Infinity War) and some actors have since signed other deals/extensions for more appearances. We still suspect some characters to die however, since they need to for their be a real weight to long-form story that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And even for any survivors of Avengers: Infinity War and the conclusion of Phase 3, well, some may pass away in Phase 4 anyway, opening up screen time to newer characters (and potentially, some TV characters) as the Avengers roster perpetually rotates characters in and out.
In Marvel Comics, characters never die, or when they do, they come back later anyway, but Hollywood movies don't work like that.
On the flip side of killing of characters to make room for new ones, the opposite can be true as well. Again, this is a film franchise based on comics where character never truly die. There are always new stories to tell and toys to sell.
Just imagine Quicksilver coming back from the dead at the end of Avengers: Infinity War to be a supporting character in the Inhumans and a link between them and The Avengers. Stranger things have happened in the comics, and that'd be a neat long-con setup by Marvel for actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson who does have a multi-picture deal with the studio.
Don't be surprised to see other Avengers killed off during or at the end of Phase 3, especially during Infinity War, who could back later in Phase 4.
Phase 3 finally introduces the Time Stone, giving Marvel Studios a very interesting and potentially limitless plot device. Given that both the original Guardians of the Galaxy comics and the modern Dan Abnett-Andy Lanning books both find their origins and main stories built around time-travel, it’s something that should be explored in that sub-franchise.
Why not meet a team of Guardians of the Galaxy from 1000 years in the future (like the actual original team)? It could be explained that this future team took that mantle and that responsibility from the current Guardians fans already know and love.
Phase 3 may be a somewhat closed saga when it's all said and done, but that doesn't mean it can't be revisited. What if time-travel allowed certain character(s) to go back in time to alter or relive events. What if we could see key events from Marvel's best movies from a few years back, from a different perspective? Perhaps this could explain some of the inexplicable happenings of Phases 1 - 3.
We could go back to WWII, putting Steve Rogers in his original timeline, or even further, back to when Asgardians came to Earth to protect it against the Frost Giants. New timelines allow for alternate realities, as we've seen from Fox's X-Men franchise. It could also be a way to start a series fresh and recast.
Marvel Studios desperately wants access to some of the alien races and key cosmic characters (Annihilus, Galactus, Silver Surfer, etc.) that rival studio Fox currently holds the film rights to, and Fox isn’t exactly using them. They might have been if Fantastic Four were an ongoing, major film franchise, but instead it’s a dead one.
It’s so dead that on top of Marvel blocking any licensing of those characters on any form of merchandise and cancelling all Fantastic Four comics, Fox further buried the brand with a terrible reboot. In a situation far more dire than Sony Pictures ever was with The Amazing Spider-Man, Fox is now in a position where they can try to reboot a self-contained Fantastic Four universe again (which no one wants to see) or work with Marvel to "bring them home" and have them share the screen with the more established and bankable heroes of the MCU. Which option is better? You guessed it.
And this may already be in the works since Fox and Disney (Marvel's parent company) have already come to a few working agreements as of late with an Avatar them park coming to Walt Disney World, trading December release dates between Star Wars and Avatar movies for the next seven years, and Marvel TV and Fox TV/FX co-producing a pair of X-Men TV shows. We wouldn't be surprise if that leads to some partnership with their Marvel movie heroes in Phase 4, especially if Fantastic Four/X-Men producer Simon Kinberg is already talking with Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige about having Deadpool potentially crossover to the MCU to share the screen with Spider-Man.
Fox doesn’t need any help when it comes to the X-Men. They salved that franchise in a big way with 2011's X-Men: First Class, proving the formula works even as a period piece with new stars and without the need of 3D ticket premiums. And then they followed that up by breaking franchise records and winning over critics again with X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Now they’re doubling down on the X-series with multiple movies per year, beginning with Deadpool which broke even more records, again without 3D and this time with an R rating and no China release (it was banned there). It's the only current Marvel movie franchise pushing that boundary with an R-rating, soon to be followed up by Wolverine 3. With another X-Men sequel on the way, a plethora of spinoffs in development and new character-based series like Deadpool and Gambit, the X-Men universe is blowing up. Still, should Fox and Marvel want to double-down and truly dominate the genre in the distant future, nothing could top all of these studios working together to connect their brands so moviegoers can see the biggest stars playing all of the biggest characters from Marvel Comics, regardless of which film studio owns which character.
Just imagine Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine and Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool from the Fox universe sharing the screen with a new (and respected) Fantastic Four, Hulk (partly owned by Universal), Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and the the Avengers (Disney) and Spider-Man (Sony).
Just as Guardians of the Galaxy was making its theatrical run, Marvel Comics took advantage of the event and brought Iron Man into space, temporarily adding him on the cosmic team. It was more of a gimmick than anything, made worse by a remotely controlled (from the other side of the galaxy no less) robot double of himself still serving in the main Avengers and New Avengers comics, but the idea of seeing one of Earth’s heroes in the MCU share the screen with the likes of Groot and Rocket Raccoon is too good of an opportunity to pass up.
Later in the series Captain Marvel joined up too, a character who's finally getting her own movie in 2018 in Phase 3. A character like that, with a cosmic origin story of sorts, can easily enlist with the Guardians of the Galaxy for an adventure, helping bridge the gap between them and the happenings on Earth.
During Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC, the show’s marketing campaign pushed the idea (and hashtag) that “it’s all connected.” In reality, it barely is at all though. Outside of the game-changing events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier which radically changed the premise of the series for the better near the end of season one, it’s had loose connections to a few of the films since, with the movies never referencing the TV shows or their characters. Most of the top dogs writing and directing the MCU movies in fact, don't even watch the ABC programming. That's how disconnected it really is.
Coulson went from being a key part of Phase 1 and The Avengers to a character not even worth mentioning is still alive and that’s not right. But now that Marvel TV has far bigger characters from the comics on Netflix, many of whom served on the Avengers at various times in Marvel Comics, there needs to be more connectivity and it’d be smart play to evolve some of these small screen heroes into movie characters.
Let's see Daredevil, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and numerous other heroes (like Mockingbird and the Secret Warriors) get an appearance in the movies in Phase 4.
This may be an obvious and simple one in theory, but in practice, it hasn't been a success story for Marvel for developing villains. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, at least in its first two phases, has a massive issue with delivering and crafting compelling villains. It’s without a doubt one of the weakest elements of the franchise. Outside of Loki, most have lacked depth, motivation, and a compelling arc. And most were "killed off" way too soon before their biggest stories from the comics could be explored.
Ronan the Accuser for instance, isn't actually a villain in most of the comics. He serves a major role in the biggest of cosmic crossover events - and is an integral part of the more modern Inhumans stories as well since he's meant to marry into that family, as the Inhumans take command over the Kree alien empire. But in the movie... he's a random angry dude who commands a faceless, voiceless army and a brick of a ship for the purposes of blowing up a world that can barely defend itself. Fail.
Still, with the Infinity Stones responsible for key villain deaths (like the Red Skull, Ultron, Ronan, etc.) it's possible all of them make a return in Avengers: Infinity War. Let's hope if they do they get more tender loving and care from the creative side.
The main characters of Marvel Comics in the modern era are very different from the old school (and even the Ultimate) comics of the past. In the current books for instance, Thor is a female character and Captain America is actually Sam Wilson a.k.a. Falcon.
Original Thor, son of Odin, became unworthy and was replaced by Jane Foster during the Marvel NOW! run but we doubt the movies are following that path. In fact, Foster (played by Natalie Portman in the MCU) won’t even return for Thor: Ragnarok. Instead, newcomer Tessa Thompson (Veronica Mars, Creed) is stepping up as the next female hero lead and rumor has it she’s playing Valkyrie, a character who served on the Avengers for a time in the comics.
If so, she’ll be an even larger character than Lady Sif is in the Thor movies and could potentially become a version of Thor in the future, since realistically there’s no way Natalie Portman will be taking on that role, and we doubt fans would be aboard anyway given criticisms of Thor: The Dark World. Valkyrie as the titular hero in Thor 4 in Phase 4 seems a smart way to a) continue the Thor sub-franchise without Chris Hemsworth should he not re-sign or if the Odinson character is moved to a background role, and b) add another female lead hero which the MCU desperately needs.
Several SR staff immediately went to this idea when asked so it wouldn’t be fair for me to skip so here we are, with Squirrel Girl as as suggested $175 million IMAX feature because why not. Consider this a not really real bonus entry in this list.
There is a growing fandom for Squirrel Girl, whose stories poke fun at the superhero genre in a meta-level way. Even if it's a role on the Marvel TV side (given her relationship with Jessica Jones and Luke Cage), Squirrel Girl is an outlandish fan-fave character who can bring something different to the MCU. And maybe Marvel is planning such a thing since they abruptly and forcefully altered her origins last year in the comics to her not being a mutant anymore. That's 100% a business decision over rights with Fox, as awful as that is, so maybe she'll be adapted to live-action sooner than we think.
Let us know what outlandish or unexpected ideas YOU have for things that could or should happen in Marvel Phase 4 and beyond in the comments!