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The Future of The Marvel Cinematic Universe

avengers age of ultron

After Age of Ultron, what’s next for the MCU?

You’ve had all weekend to watch and process Avengers: Age of Ultron, a giddy, dizzying carb-load of a blockbuster. Now it’s time to deliberate over what’s happening next, which is exactly what Marvel wants us to do, as these movies become more and more about the future than the actual movie we’re watching.

Since we’re already giving Marvel all our money, we might as well give Marvel everything that it wants, including way too much time and energy deliberating the course and future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What follows is a series of predictions (both serious and not at all) about how the MCU might take shape extending all the way to Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 and 2. Obviously: SPOILERS FOR AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON FOLLOW!

Back in August 2013, I did my own “fancast” of Marvel’s Phase 2. Highlights include: tabbing Crispin Glover as Ultron (if James Spader was an outside the box choice for Ultron, the box was a dot to Glover) and being right about Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Vision (Paul Bettany and a Jarvis colored origin) and I’m going to assume Hope Van Dyne or whatever Evangeline Lily is in Ant-Man will become Wasp.

While Ant-Man remains a part of Phase 2, for all intents and purposes, Phase 3 is upon us, because I doubt Ant-Man is going to be bursting with Infinity Gems.

Avengers 2 ends with a gloriously comic-booky ending with a new iteration of the team, a tradition whenever a new creative team comes onboard a title. Which, in effect, is exactly what’s happening in the movies, as Joss Whedon exits and is replaced by Anthony and Joe Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) for the next two Avengers films.

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What’s the state of the Avengers?

  • Iron Man is taking a siesta to ruin Captain America’s life. While we got some of his guilt and bickering out of the way in Age of Ultron, it’s obviously/unfortunately just getting started. He’s not going to be able to forget the troubling vision of the future, and will take it in his own hands, to disastrous effect. Thus: Civil War.
  • Quicksilver is taking the ultimate siesta (RIP).
  • Thor has to deal with dark forebodings in Asgard, removing himself from the equation. Considering Chris Hemsworth is the only one not rumored for Civil War at this point, it’s safe to say Thor minds his own business into Thor 3, or Thor: Ragnarok.
  • Hulk is MIA, taking the reins from Bruce and retreating into a watery solitude. If this could somehow end with Hulk meeting up with Namor the Sub-Mariner, I’d ejaculate fourteen times. For now though, Hulk and Bruce seem due for some soul searching and a return to their lonely existence, following his latest rampage. A crazy psychological drama fighting over their existence like Mark Ruffalo wants would be a bold and interesting choice for Marvel, but I don’t see it happening until Phase 17 (read: probably 4).
  • Hawkeye has a family to retire to, a direct allegory for Joss Whedon, leaving the high-octane super-powered world behind. Hawkeye was the breakout and best character in Avengers: The Age ofUltron, the heart and soul of the team, even if that aspect was a little forced. But still: for my money, it’s the best way to say goodbye to this character. He’s not going to get a juicier part unless Black Widow gets a movie or the two get a team-up spy flashback flick, and these movies are already over-crowded as is. But, instead of taking that as a well-deserved out for the character, Hawkeye’s coming out of the cold for Civil War.

But for all intents and purposes, these heroes are no longer on active duty. Only two original Avengers remain to lead the new (New?) Avengers: Captain America and Black Widow. This makes perfect sense for Cap, as the Avengers are the only home that he knows at this point, while Black Widow also has nowhere else to go. I don’t like that that’s because she was jilted by a man, but her position at least sets Natasha up to be a co-leader of the team, which bodes well for Black Widow’s ascent into becoming perhaps the best and most interesting character in the MCU.

They will be joined by the new recruits: Vision and his mind stone, Scarlet Witch and her mind fuckery, with two sidekicks looking to be the new QB1: War Machine and Falcon. Just in terms of diversity, this is a much more refreshing mixture, though it’s only a start.

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Ant-Man (July 17, 2015)

The only question with Ant-Man is if it really has any lasting effects on the Marvel Universe, or if Marvel will allow it to at this point. There are several reasons to be negative about the movie, but going beyond the behind the scenes trouble, the trailers make Ant-Man look like another man in a suit movie. Yes, it’s a shrinking one, but the plot looks copy and pasted from the first Iron Man, with the exception being that the guy who created it is gifting the abilities to a criminal (unfortunately, while I love him, Paul Rudd is the least convincing criminal ever). Hank Pym is a billionaire playboy philanthropist just like Tony, except he’s older and more behind the scenes, and his inventions are also going to get in the wrong hands, which happen to be a former protégé at his company. Sound familiar? Corey Stoll is the Jeff Bridges/Iron Monger replacement, taking Hank Pym’s (Michael Douglas) technology and corrupting it to become Yellowjacket. The get-up looks interesting, certainly, but it’s still more guys in metal armor. Sure, none of them can shrink size, but the packaging feels familiar to Iron Man, Iron Monger, Whiplash’s own suit in Iron Man 2, War Machine, Tony’s Iron Men, etc.

But regardless of whether Ant-Man is a good movie (a sarcastic Marvel heist movie is a fun genre choice certainly), will we see Ant-Man (or Wasp?) on the Avengers for Infinity War, or any future films? I just don’t see where Scott fits into anything before Avengers: Infinity War if even then. Though, of course, it’s hard to predict since Marvel hasn’t clued us in on the greater MCU implications of Ant-Man.

But let’s give it a shot:

  • Civil War is too stuffed already.
  • Hank Pym might’ve been an interesting foil for Doctor Strange but is Scott Lang?
  • I can’t conceive of a way that makes sense for Ant-Man to appear in Guardians of the Galaxy 2, though I just had a hilarious thought that what if Hank Pym is Star-Lord’s Dad and nearly fell out of my chair, then corrected myself: Michael Douglas probably fathered everyone in every movie in the MCU.
  • Again, Hank Pym would make sense kinda to maybe act as a mentor to a young Spider-Man, helping him with his suit and web shooters, but do we really want to see that? No, and that’s Pym, not Scott.
  • He won’t be in Ragnarok, so Ant-Man and/or Wasp probably won’t be seen until Infinity War, when I presume we’ll really see everyone who’s ever made an appearance in a Marvel movie (does that mean Stan Lee has to appear 18 times?).

Unfortunately, considering how bloated Avengers: Age of Ultron felt, even though Joss Whedon somehow managed to hold it together, the best case scenario for an Ant-Man movie (that we want to see him again) is almost a worst case scenario for the greater MCU, because it means we have to find room for him/them.

Prediction: Hope Van Dyne is the daughter of Hank and Janet Pym, the original Wasp, who died tragically (a death that’s probably Hank’s fault). This explains Hank Pym’s seemingly reclusive nature, and gives him the dark side the comic book character had, and would imply an estranged relationship with his daughter. This will be healed over the course of the movie, before Hank Pym dies (because of course Michael Douglas dies in this movie), having passed the torch to Ant-Man and repaired relations with his daughter, and coming to grips with her superhero-dom, as the new (and the audience’s first) Wasp. Kevin Feige has described Ant-Man as a passing the torch movie, and I think there’s a strong possibility part of the narrative is seeing the original Ant-Man and Wasp as heroes in the age of Howard Stark and Agent Carter’s SHIELD, a nod to the history of these characters (they were the two original Avengers left out, after all). Because Evangeline Lily is destined to be a badass superhero, I feel fairly confident she’ll at least join the new recruits and is a more likely candidate for screen-time in Avengers: Infinity War than Scott Langbecause the world wants to see more women kick ass.

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Captain America: Civil War (May 6, 2016)

Thankfully, Hydra’s pretty much over (or will be after Coulson’s team takes care of Dr. List by the end of the season 2 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), and because our heroes have run out of villains to fight with (until Thanos shows up), that means they have to turn on each other because Marvel loves pitting their own heroes against each other like fanboys arguing over who would win in a fight.

I share my concerns for this movie with my comrade David: Civil War was an insulting, awful storyline, moreso than the movie will likely to be, if only because Captain America and Iron Man have shared a million adventures in the comics, and only two in the movies. Even so, they’re friends, if tenuous ones and I just don’t get the escalation of going from teammates into the Avengers to opposite sides of Superhero Registration or whatever the fuck we’re going to call it in Civil War. Since secret identities make no sense in the MCU, it’ll clearly be taking a different angle: one where the government will want to monitor and impose control over superheroes and the “Enhanced,” because of Hulk’s fun jaunt in Ultron and the fact that Tony created Ultron. Tony, feeling guilty and reeling from his vision of being the last one standing amongst a pile of his brethren, spearheads the movement, with Steve Rogers rebelling and this turning into Marvel’s answer to Batman v. Superman (which should be obviously unnecessary). I’m getting nauseous just thinking about it, because as David so astutely points out, WHY DO WE WANT TO SEE TONY STARK BECOME UNLIKEABLE? He’s what started it all, the reason the MCU is so successful; of course, that’s probably the narrative Marvel is licking its lips over. Even so, turning him into a villain seems short-sighted. Before Ultron and Kingpin, I would’ve made a snarky comment about how Marvel is desperate to reverse their villain creation slump. Now, it seems even less important, a forced bout of controversy to waste time until Thanos finally shows up.

But it’s happening, and when it does, who is going to fight on Tony’s side? Cap will likely have his New Avengers on his side, along with Winter Soldier. One would guess War Machine might fight alongside his best friend Tony because of their history and his history in the military, but it’d be far more interesting if he didn’t. Bruce Banner would probably side with Tony, but he’s not going to be in Civil War: abstinence is probably the best move Banner or Hulk could make. I can’t imagine Hawkeye fighting against Black Widow, and I don’t see her jumping off Cap’s side, but I suppose whatever catastrophic event kicks off Civil War will send our heroes hurtling into wacky opposite directions. Otherwise, it’ll be Tony and his Iron Army versus all (and likely Nick Fury/SHIELD). None of this matters: whoever has Vision and/or Scarlet Witch (I’m gonna cry when their lovemaking opens Thanos’ eyes to true love, giving up his gauntlet to find a new lover than Death), wins anything.

I think Civil War will be the Trojan horse, with Ed Brubaker’s “The Death of Captain America” hiding inside it (kind of like how Two-Face was a Third Act shocker in The Dark Knight). All the ingredients are there: Crossbones survived The Winter Soldier (and he’s the one who assassinates Steve), we’ve seen a version of Doctor Faustus in Agent Carter, and he’s who manipulates Sharon Carter into stabbing Steve with the fatal blow, and Baron Zemo could be pulling the strings instead of Red Skull. I don’t think it’d go down exactly like that, because Emily VanCamp’s Sharon Carter is a nobody in the MCU at this point, and I doubt she’d be able to become interesting or emotionally affective as being culpable for the crime with such a packed narrative already.

But still: imagine how impactful it’d be if Captain America dies in Civil War, and if he actually stays that way (until Chris Evans returns as the Nomad in 2024). His martyred death would end the government’s BS policies, end any sort of opposition from Tony and whomever he’s rallied to his side, and put our heroes at one of its lowest and dangerous points, with Thanos seemingly forever looming across the galaxy, but looming a little bit closer now. Chris Evans has been back and forth about continuing with the franchise, and with Bucky/Winter Soldier and Falcon around, the MCU have two ready-made (and comic book inspired) replacements, which is why I just think this makes sense.

The point though, is that this only happens because Cap’s been distracted and out in the open, fighting against Tony’s policies. Tony will be crushed, giving us some massive guilt for RDJ to own. The problem is I don’t know if we could forgive Tony for his actions if it ends with Captain America’s death, and that’s why I think he’ll have switched well in advance of Baron Zemo’s plot, and perhaps sniffing it out before it happens, but just not in time. He’ll still blame himself, but will at least have started on the road of redemption earlier. There’s an interesting and frankly, scary way to tell this story: with Tony Stark drowning his guilt over Ultron and everything with alcohol, a nod to “Demon in a Bottle.” I just don’t think Marvel would ever go there with such a kid-friendly franchise, and I don’t blame them. But considering Robert Downey Jr.’s past, seeing him play a superhero struggling with addiction could be a knockout from a drama standpoint.

I’m not sure why I’m convinced Cap will die in Civil War, but I know one thing: killing off characters, and keeping them dead, is the only way to avoid a clusterfuck that will collapse in on itself in Infinity War and beyond. If not death, there will need to be a pretty big reason for heroes to remove themselves from the equation, because otherwise, we’ll all be wondering why Thor hasn’t shown up if he’s still around. If Marvel isn’t concerned by it (and they should be) and EVERYONE is going to be in Infinity War…it’s going to be too much.

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Doctor Strange (November 6, 2016)

Next up will be Doctor Strange, which will likely feel like a psychedelic breath of fresh air after Civil War, existing in some weird, magical corner of the MCU we’ve yet to encounter. I’d be willing to bet that Strange will be fighting Baron Mordu over one of the two remaining Infinity Stones/Gems, and it’d likely be the Soul Stone. Not only was Doctor Strange a previous owner of the Soul Stone in the comics, but the attributes of the Soul Stone will prove an ideal method to showcase Strange’s character arc from arrogant prick to hero, as the Soul Stone will peer into Strange’s soul, tapping into the “Cold Light of Truth,” which sounds like a trippy sequence befitting Scott Derrickson’s Doctor Strange.

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Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (May 5, 2017)

The last Infinity Stone to make an appearance could appear in Guardians of the Galaxy 2, but instead, I think it’ll merely be Thanos’ first active movie going after stones we’ve already seen, fighting the Guardians and the Nova Corps over the Orb (Power Stone) that the Nova Corps possesses, and/or tracking down the Aether (Reality Stone) to Collector. This will be the first salvo of the Infinity War to come, the precursor, and will also feature confirmation of the existence of Adam Warlock (who’s dead), a key component of the Infinity Gauntlet comic book on which this is all based.

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Untitled Spider-Man Film (July 28, 2017)

I’m too tired of Spider-Man to really contemplate what his third reboot movie will be, nor do I think it’ll have any overarching implications in the MCU beyond getting him ingratiated with the Avengers. But he’ll be white, crack jokes and web-sling around New York.

Or it’ll be this mind-fuck/horrible film where Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man meets Mephisto following the death of Gwen Stacy and like in One Day, opts to start over, because the grief is too hard/he’s a poltroon. Then Asa Butterfield or whomever gets bitten by a radioactive spider and the whole mess starts over again. So: it won’t be that.

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Thor: Ragnarok (November 3, 2017)

The last stone is the Time Stone, which meshes perfectly with Thor 3’s subtitle: Ragnarok.

Can I say how excited I am by the possibility of Ragnarok? I rather liked the first Thor but the second one, if not for Loki, would’ve jockeyed with Iron Man 2 to be the worst MCU movie thus far. Most of that is because Thor has been saddled with his Earth compatriots and painful love interest Jane Foster. Thor works great as an ensemble in Avengers, but he’s uninteresting by himself or accompanied by uninteresting people, which is why his relationship with Loki is so necessary.

Norse mythology is so cool and I want to see a movie that fully embraces it, and Ragnarok seems likely to do so. Ragnarok is the Norse end-of-days myth featuring a massive battle of Gods (with several deaths), natural disasters aplenty to submerge the world into water, Waterworld style. The world reboots, and the cycle begins anew, with the surviving Gods repopulating the world. This apocalyptic premise is a ripe playground for the Time Stone, because it might be the only way Thor can reboot things, in an Omega-13 like scenario where he’s all but lost to Loki, Surtur (a Fire Giant destined to be summoned for Ragnarok), Ymir (Surtur’s Frost Giant counterpart), Zarrko the Tomorrow Man and/or the Midgard Serpent (because let’s make this a crazy bonkers awesome Asgardian romp). I also think Mephisto (this time more seriously) would be an ideal opponent wrestling over the Time Stone or the Soul Stone in Doctor Strange.

There’s also a worthy scenario where Thor dies sacrificing himself for the good of the realm and for Asgard (but hey, thanks to the Time Stone this could always be reversed later, which I’ll bet 178 dubloons happens at least once going forward). If this was a more permanent thing, Marvel has ample Medieval-y buff replacements in the Warriors Three, Heimdall, or they could pluck the Thor-lite Hercules or Ares from the comics/Greek Mythology. Considering Helen Cho made an appearance in Age of Ultron and she’s the mother of Amadeus Cho, a fan-favorite sidekick to Hercules from the funny books, it might not be the craziest idea (plus it’d be the perfect vehicle for the Gerard Butler comeback). Or more intriguingly (and certainly more likely), Thor’s death/sacrifice could implore Loki to try the Good Side again, acting out of remorse for his brother and the fall of Asgard. While Joss Whedon is now gone from the MCU, his fingerprints will remain, and we know Whedon loves playing with the ever-twisty continuum between Good and Evil (see: Dark Willow, Spike, everyone in Angel, Ward in AoS). Considering Thanos isn’t going to be happy with Loki regardless, there’s a strong possibility we see the God of Mischief in the Infinity War. Of course, there’s a possibility you’ll see me in Infinity War.

Regardless, Ragnarok could be a fucking gnarly prequel to Avengers: Infinity War Part 1.

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Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 (May 4, 2018)

If Thor, Cap or anyone else doesn’t die before this hulking (ahem) monstrosity, we’ll have Thor, Cap, Iron Man, Ant-Man, Wasp, Black Panther, Nick Fury, Maria Hill, Spider-Man, Hulk, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Falcon, Winter Soldier, Scarlet Witch, Vision, War Machine, Doctor Strange, Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Groot and Rocket Raccoon to share the screen. Not to mention Captain Marvel, Loki or any of Thor’s buddies, and Adam Warlock (if he indeed comes into play), the Agents of SHIELD and my cousin Scott.

Avengers: Age of Ultron walked a fine line, and somehow managed to successfully tease the next Avengers, Guardians, Civil War, Black Panther and Thor 3. But at times, an Avengers movie nearly became a Maguffin-laced mess concerning everything but the current movie. Whedon’s deft balancing act between all of the various heroes, subplots, future films, action and game-changing downtime saved the movie.

I love the Russo Bros., and of anyone available, they make the most sense. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is arguably the best movie Marvel has made, and their TV ensemble background with Community and Arrested Development is at least something in the face of helming the two biggest ensemble movies EVER MADE.

But, I also think Joss Whedon might’ve been the only man left in Marvel Studios able to make a stand against Kevin Feige, the sneering Thanos-like overlord of the MCU. He’s a genius and deserves all the credit for creating this interconnected universe we love to play in. But the MCU is reaching critical mass; I almost went insane just deliberating over what could happen going forward. I’m forced to trust the overarching plan, since it’s worked so spectacularly well up to this point, but restraint might be necessary going forward. I just don’t know if we can expect it.

Regardless, I imagine Infinity War Part 1 and 2 will basically mirror Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, with Infinity Gems replacing Horcruxes.

In the Infinity Gauntlet series, once Thanos has control over the Gauntlet and professes his love of Death, he erases half of the sentient life in the universe. This would be a fucking brutal (and awesome) way to end Part One, and certainly is a way to trim some fat on the ensemble, heading into Part Two.

We know two heroes that would survive…

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Black Panther (July 6, 2018) & Captain Marvel (November 2, 2018)

…because they have movies in-between the two!

T’Challa would kick Andy Serkis’ Klaw ass and recover vibranium for the war, I guess. I’m stoked to see a Black Panther movie, but it almost feels like all movies before and after Infinity War are going to be swallowed into its gravitational maw. I feel like T’Challa would have to return to Wakanda to take back his throne and persuade his people to join up the forthcoming fight.

I envision Captain Marvel as a space-faring adventure with our heroine (Emily Blunt/Jessica Chastain/Anna Torv), teamed up with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s Nova (and likely some Guardians) to bring back to life Adam Warlock, just in time for Part Two.

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Infinity War Part 2 (May 3, 2019)

Part Two will see the remaining heroes (following Thanos’ temporary universe halving) mourn their fallen brothers and sisters while trying to keep up a resistance, led by a regenerated Jesus Christ-esque Adam Warlock and a more stable (Grey) Hulk.

I honestly might prefer to remove Adam Warlock from the story entirely, since his arrival will be reminiscent of Vision’s, and he just might be too much to take (especially since he’ll be played by Nicolas Cage, obviously). Plus, I just think there will be enough resurrection in the MCU not to have even more of Infinity War hinge upon it. But considering we’ve had Adam Warlock teased two separate times, it seems inevitable.

I’m also unsure what role Nebula (Karen Gillan) will play in what’s to come, as she’s the one who betrays her father and takes the Gauntlet, reversing his actions. I’m sure there will be elements of that, but here’s my wacky prediction: after a 14 hour fight, Infinity War Part 2 ends with Iron Man, now sober, wielding the Infinity Gauntlet, sacrificing himself to destroy the gems and Thanos in a moment of awesome redemption (this happens after the pre-pubescent Spider-Man drew the short straw, but in a nod to Bruce Willis in Armageddon, Tony punches Spidey out). This will complete Iron Man’s journey, and as I mentioned earlier: it was Iron Man who started us on this inexorable odyssey from Phase 1 through Phase 3, and it’s a fitting goodbye to the now iconic film character.

In the comics, Adam Warlock takes the Gauntlet and wanders off; that would feel like such an empty ending, and I hope the Gauntlet is destroyed after all this. We don’t need to revisit the saga any time soon. Also in the comics’ storyline, the heroes leave Thanos alone, brooding on a farm, which seems like the silliest thing ever. But hey: maybe Linda Cardellini will be there?

Anywho: after the fall of Thanos and the destruction of the Infinity Gauntlet, our remaining heroes will not be in a Return of the Jedi celebratory mood, and will be just shattered, exhausted, like the audience. Which is why it’s the perfect time for Kang the Conquerer to strike, learning of the Infinity War in his future timeline, knowing it’d be an ideal time to attack our planet.

Imagine that mid-credit sequence.

But we ain’t done yet.

The world is fucked…except for one thing: before Iron Man died, he managed to bring back to life the one hero that’s irreplaceable, the one that will rally Earth’s Mightiest Heroes against the next threat: Steve Rogers.

Boom (sorry Thor!).

Alternate Infinity War Part Two ending: everyone’s killed except a young woman named Doreen Green (no relation). Are we doomed? Nay, because Doreen Green is SQUIRREL GIRL, and she makes quick work of Thanos, Squirrel Girl sleeping with Death the last thing Thanos sees before leaving this mortal coil. Then Squirrel Girl, wielding the Infinity Gauntlet, restores Earth back to the way we know and love it, everyone accepting Squirrel Girl as our benevolent overlord.

inhumans

Inhumans (July 12, 2019)

Good luck following that, Black Bolt.

The End of Marvel (May 5, 2028)

By 2028, when the Great Lakes Avengers, West Coast Avengers, Dark Avengers flank the Super Secret Probation Avengers franchise, there will be only one solution: the end of the MCU.

And there’s only one way to do it, a movie that would be the greatest human accomplishment aside from plastic:

kill the marvel universe

  • Gary Wintle

    Scarlet Witch will be Doctor Strange’s apprentice. She’ll be his point (wo)man in Infinity War. She’ll gain his respect and friendship, and she connects him to the Avengers and the real world.