When 2019 comes to an end, the landscape of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will look completely different. This is possibly the most important year for Marvel since the MCU was launched over a decade ago: a year of endings and beginnings, with high-profile departures and a major change in focus. Right now, the MCU's future remains a closely guarded secret. Marvel's focus is on marketing Avengers: Endgame, and Kevin Feige is going to remarkable lengths to avoid revealing what comes next. The only confirmed movie after Endgame is Spider-Man: Far From Home. A number of other projects are known to be in various stages of pre-production - including Black Widow, The Eternals, and sequels for both Black Panther and Doctor Strange - but none of them have been officially assigned dates.
Back in 2014, Marvel announced the entire Phase 3 slate in an unprecedented event. With the benefit of hindsight, this may have been a mistake; Kevin Feige has reflected that the building hype for Avengers: Infinity War meant that Avengers: Age of Ultron was viewed as nothing more than a step along the journey, rather than appreciated as a blockbuster in its own right. The relentless focus on Avengers: Endgame has probably had a similar effect on Ant-Man & the Wasp and the upcoming Captain Marvel, which frankly feel like "filler" movies rather than surefire hits. So a greater degree of long-term secrecy is likely going to become the norm for Marvel Studios going forward, with the House of Ideas carefully avoiding the same kind of mistakes.
That doesn't mean it's impossible to say how 2019 will change the shape of the MCU, though. Kevin Feige is like a Chess grandmaster, always planning countless steps ahead, and by looking closely at his every comment it's possible to make general predictions and work out what Marvel Studios has in store. So here's what we know for sure is coming.
- This Page: Out With The Old...
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Many Major Avengers Will Be Gone
The most dramatic change, of course, is that at least three major MCU stars are expected to bow out in this year's Avengers: Endgame. The most high-profile departure will probably be Robert Downey, Jr., who's essentially served as franchise lead for the last decade's worth of superhero movies, but seems ready to move on. Meanwhile, Chris Evans has also indicated Endgame will be his last movie. When Evans completed his reshoots in October, he signed off with a touching tweet in tribute to everyone he's worked with. "Playing this role over the last 8 years has been an honor," Evans reflected. "To everyone in front of the camera, behind the camera, and in the audience, thank you for the memories!" Chris Hemsworth's contract has been fulfilled as well; while Hemsworth loved Thor: Ragnarok, and would likely agree to return if given the option, it's entirely possible Thor's story is about to come to an end.
Only three members of the original Avengers look set to stick around after Avengers: Endgame. Mark Ruffalo and Jeremy Renner originally signed up to six-picture deals. In the case of the Hulk, Marvel don't look as though they're ever going to make another dedicated Hulk film, and as a result Bruce Banner has only appeared in cameos and team-up movies - meaning Ruffalo has one last appearance on the cards post-Endgame. The same is true for Jeremy Renner, whose character Hawkeye was entirely absent from Avengers: Infinity War, meaning he too still has one last film on his contract. As for Scarlett Johansson, she's on board for her first solo MCU adventure, with reports she's due to enjoy a $15 million payday.
An End To The 11-Year Infinity Stone Story
Avengers: Endgame brings an end to a single overarching narrative that's been running through the last 11 years' worth of MCU movies. The first three phases of the MCU have been all about Thanos and the Infinity Stones. The Infinity Stones have been introduced one at a time, with Marvel usually choosing to dedicate at least one entire film to establishing the capabilities of each Stone. The Space Stone was featured in Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers; the Mind Stone in The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron; the Reality Stone in Thor: The Dark World; the Power Stone in Guardians of the Galaxy; and the Time Stone in Doctor Strange. The exception was the Soul Stone, which was introduced late in the game in Avengers: Infinity War; although this has been described as the most dangerous of all the Infinity Stones, its true power has yet to be hinted at. Meanwhile, Thanos remained a shadowy figure in the background, manipulating cosmic affairs to his own inscrutable ends. Everything came to a head in the cliffhanger ending of Avengers: Infinity War, when Thanos succeeded in acquiring all six Infinity Stones and used them to erase half the life in the universe with a snap of his fingers.
Avengers: Endgame is the end of that story. It will see the Avengers do everything in their power to either avert or undo the snap, and it's safe to say the heroes will win - albeit at a cost. It's impossible to say what this will mean for Thanos and the Infinity Stones, of course; will Thanos be killed attempting to stop the Avengers, or will he be forced to realize the foolishness of his goal in the face of new threats? Will the Infinity Stones remain in play, or will they be destroyed? Whatever the outcome may be, the story of Thanos and the Infinity Stones will come to an end.
Will Marvel choose to launch a new overarching narrative, with another threat taking Thanos' place? Or will the House of Ideas cool it a little, allowing their individual films to stand in isolation and giving their writers and directors a break from having to wrestle MacGuffins into their plots? Only time will tell.
Page 2 of 2: A New Wave Of Superheroes
- 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