[Analysis] - Marvel, Phase 3, And The Known Unknowns

With the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is nearer to its end than its origin. All that remains is the largely divorced Guardians of the Galaxy later this year, and the concluding Avengers: Age of Ultron next spring. Then begins Phase 3, which remains a half shrouded mystery. But is it really that much of a mystery?

I intend to use logic and deduction to create a reasonable hypothesis based on available data, and construct the most likely shape of Phase 3. Which, once the official announcement is made (either at this summer's Comic-con, or this fall's D23), we can compare and see how wrong I got things. But until then, we will rely on the scientific method to make wild conjectures.

Hit the jump for the analysis, which contains spoilers of the entire MCU up to and including Winter Soldier.

"I could arguably say what we’re planning for the year 2021. Will that happen? I don’t know. But what we planned for 2015 in 2006 is happening." That was Kevin Feige, mastermind and chief architect of the MCU, responding to the notion that Marvel Studios has a roadmap in place up to 2021, or even 2028. What they have planned for the far future might be a little more liquid (as it was in the past - a planned SHIELD film teased back after the release of Iron Man 2 almost certainly became Winter Soldier), but the immediate future is set pretty much in stone. So let's go through the known dates, and help establish a pattern.

1 May, 2015 - Avengers: Age of Ultron

Joss Whedon's followup to the third highest grossing movie of all time has a lot going for it. Setting up a conflict between the established heroes of the MCU with their premiere villain from the comics, it will also introduce Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver to the team, inflating an already packed cast with entirely new characters. It will also be the first film to deal with the immediate fallout from Winter Soldier: SHIELD, the only organization in the world that was equipped to handle these sorts of situations, is gone. The Avengers now exist in a vacuum, one I assume Ultron will use to his advantage. The addition of the Maximoff twins will also herald the beginning of a new era of the MCU, what Baron von Strucker identified in Winter Soldier as the Age of Miracles, but what we can interpret as the addition of magic.

17 July, 2015 - Ant-Man

Long promised (predating either Cap or Thor), Edgar Wright's interpretation of Ant-Man is getting ready to start filming, in anticipation of it's adjusted release date (it was originally scheduled for November of 2015). This will be only the second new property Marvel has produced since Captain America in 2011, but very much part of how Feige sees the MCU proceeding in the future. 2014 is pretty much the baseline for all of Marvel's plans moving forward: a follow-up in the spring and a new property in the summer, every year. It's that pattern that will help to clear the fog later on down the line. As for Ant-Man, with a cast in place that includes Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly, this is the film that fans can start getting excited about now.

6 May, 2016 - Captain America 3

A lot of words have been written about how Cap will be going up against both Batman and Superman on this release date (which is ridiculous - DC won't get their heads out of their asses long enough to get that picture made). What is more interesting to me will be that this will be the first film with the opportunity to deal with the fall out of both Cap 2 and Age of Ultron. Ant-Man, like Guardians, will likely be divorced from the immediate effects of the other films, to establish it's own identity (as Cap and Thor mostly were; their sequels were far more involved in the interconnectedness of all things). So it will fall to Cap 3 to pick up the pieces and establish the new paradigm for the MCU, be that with a newly organized SHIELD, or a more permanent Avengers team. It'll also likely do far more to place Bucky as the heir apparent to Cap's eventually available stars and stripes.  Two years is a fast turn around for a film Marvel sequel, though I suspect this has been planned for a while.

This is where we venture off the map, where there be the monsters of misinformation, and me must rely on what we know to have been previously true, and what might hold true for the future. Cap 3 is the last film verified by Marvel. Until that changes, we're in the wilds.

8 July, 2016

I wold be shocked if Doctor Strange weren't the next original property that Marvel produces, for three reasons. First, Steven Strange was very obviously name-dropped in Captain America 2, thus establishing him as existing and giving the audience a heads up as to who to keep an eye out for. Second is the "Age of Miracles" concept introduced by Whedon through his crazy-ass Hydra scientist. Age of Ultron will deal heavily with Scarlet Witch, and the magic she brings to the MCU. What kind of magic? Feige already knows: quantum physics. The old "sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable" rub that Thor name-checked back in his first solo film. And third, Feige has been talking about putting Strange on film for years. The last time he himmed and hawed and "oh gee maybe" teased us this much on a property, it was Guardians, and we all now have a pretty good idea of how that will end up.

What is obvious from the way Feige keeps bringing Strange up is that it is a passion project for him. He wants to try something new and different, and Strange is both of those things. And if he's looking to supplant the old Avengers lineup with similar players, Strange fills in the mystical role currently filled by Thor, just as Ant-Man will fill in for Iron Man (both technically and tonally) and Bucky can swap duds with Cap. But more than that, if fulfills another criteria based on past movies: one film to further the establish universe and one film to introduce new concepts to it. So in 2016, if Cap plays clean-up than Strange can swing for the fences.

5 May 2017

I'm putting my money on Thor 3 for the inaugural 2017 film. Despite the thunder god being the weakest earner of the three solo franchises, he's still racking in the cash. His sequel left things on a pretty big cliffhanger, the Tesseract (confirmed to be one of the Infinity Stones) is still locked in Odin's vault, and most importantly, they've already hired some folks to start working on it. The Thor movies will see the largest behind the scenes creative turn over of any of the Marvel films, with directors Kenneth Branagh and Alan Taylor unlikely to return (certainly lacking the confidence that Marvel showed in Whedon or the Russo Bros).

More importantly, placing Thor 3 here means Marvel would be following their established pattern of putting the follow-ups (read: guaranteed earners) in the prime spring real estate. It would draw a direct line of spring released from Iron Man 3, Captain American 2, Avengers 2 and Captain America 3. Plus, audiences will jump at another chance to see Hiddleston's Loki on screen, who by 2017 will be absent for the longest period since his introduction, potentially making this likely final installment a major hit.

July 2017

This is the biggest mystery going, mostly because according to Disney's official release schedule, it doesn't exist yet. However, I suspect that will change. Why? Well, established patterns. 2015 and 2016 will both see May and July releases, though the 2016 July date was added to the schedule long after the other had been announced. I would be very surprised if a July 2017 date wasn't announced soon.

But what could it be? This empty space on the calendar has the most potential of any Marvel movie since Guardians. Why? Because it is Marvel's opportunity to surprise and impress us all again. There was a lot of recent talk about a Black Widow solo film, though Feige was quick to shoot down his own hype. He suggested viewer fatigue with a familiar character when there are so many new characters left to be introduced. Personally, I feel like a Widow solo film would be best served after Bucky becomes more involved in the universe, so as to delve into their shared past. Far more likely, considering that Feige has faced years of demands to release a female-lead film, would be a Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, which he has admitted has been discussed, and is the option I'd most like to see.

Other options include the Inhumans, though the internet seems more interested in them than Feige right now. Black Panther was the most common name suggested for a solo project in the early days of the MCU (people expected him to appear where Guardians sits now), and Feige has confirmed that the film is in development at some stage. The internet loved the idea of a Planet Hulk film, though Feige shot that one down quickly. There is considerable interest in another Hulk film, with Ruffalo as Banner, but nothing immediate. A Guardians sequel might be called for if the first one is a hit, though that would break the follow-up/original pattern, and a Guardians sequel would probably do better set in the power vacumm left behind by Thanos (we're getting to that). What we can take away from all of this is that literally anything can happen in the summer of 2017, and that's maybe more exciting than anything marvel has done since the original Iron Man.

May 2018

Like the last film, this date doesn't officially exist yet, though it's obvious that it will, and what will fill it: Avengers 3. And it's almost certain that it will feature the Avengers fighting against Thanos and the Infinity Stones. If Phases 2 and 3 have a guiding narrative, it'll be Thanos' acquisition of the Stones (formerly gems) and his growing ability to destroy the universe with them. Hence, the logic for Thor 3 occurring before Avengers 3: Thanos has to get his hands on the Asgard controlled Tesseract. A Captain Marvel film before A3 opens up the cosmic experience to Earth, and Thanos' defeat leaves Phase 4 open to expanding the cosmic influence on Earth, through potential Guardians sequels, Planet Hulk adaptions, elements like the Inhumans and other aliens that haven't had an organic way to enter the picture yet.

The biggest question concerning Avengers 3 is Joss Whedon's level of involvement, and that won't be determined until Avengers 2 is done and released. Whedon himself has stated that he'd prefer to step back from other people's properties and work on something original again, which might suggest that he'll keep his "overseer" position at Marvel, but let some other guy do the heavy lifting (don't envy whomever that ends up being). His contract with Marvel did include mention of helping to craft Phase 3, but did not specifically extend to the third Avengers film.

This, of course, only predicts a two-film-a-year system. Feige has said that, if the films are worth making, and that they can make them to the level of quality that they have made all of their films to this point, there will likely be a time when they'll be producing three or four films a year. He's said something like this before, suggesting that big summer films might anchor a release schedule, and smaller fall and winter films on less well known properties would make sense. Increasing the number of releases increases the chances of seeing lesser known character, like Captain Britain, or Morbius, turn up on film.

The point is, the Marvel film are making money. They are, in fact, the most successful franchise ever. Disney will want to continue that streak, for as long as they can. More films means more characters and more interesting stories (hopefully), and more reasons for internet loiterers to fill up our word count coffers on articles like this.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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