[Analysis] - Marvel Phase 3, Part 3: How Did I Do?

I realized that last week, after writing far too many words in a (personally) shockingly small amount of time about DC's announced lineup of films, I forgot to mention one thing, and it's kind of a big deal: I'm not excited about any of the films. Reading that list, I feel like I should be really looking forward to finally seeing Wonder Woman on the big screen, or seeing the Justice League come together in live action. But I'm not. No more excited then I am about any other film announced for release six years from now. And why is that? To be perfectly frank, it's because DC and Warner Bros. haven't earned it. They haven't done the leg work, which is establishing a track record of film making worth being excited about.

It has nothing to do with how uninteresting Aquaman is, or how unknown Cyborg is (and, as an aside - that is what DC is doing right with their shared universe; they are introducing the team first, and hoping that the audience finds the members interesting enough to follow them to solo films later, rather than taking the risk on a complete unknown character and having it back fire on them hard. They learned that lesson from Green Lantern). And it isn't about being new to the shared universe concept. It's about not having a catalogue of films behind them that makes people stand up and take notice when they say their going to make something else. Catwoman, Johan Hex, Green Lantern, Dark Knight Rises, and Man of Steel is not a lineage that demands blind respect. If a baker baked forty loaves of bread (that's as many as four tens, by the way) and half were flat, stale and spoiled, you'd be apprehensive about going back and buying another slice.

Marvel has earned their right to put on a show, because like Pixar in the nineties, they put in the work, produce a worthwhile product, and are reaping the success of that effort. So, while DC blandly lets their lineup leak via a share-holder conference call, Marvel gets everyone together, pumps them up, and lets the cumulative joy of the creators and the audience feed the feeling of excitement. It was like a thirty minute rock concert, but when you actually sit down and look at what was accomplished, it was a trade show presentation. It was a board meeting, complete with the Executives (Fiege, Brian Michael Bendis), the Partners (Joss Whedon, the Russo Brothers) and the Associates (Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans) in attendance. But they did it with child-like excitement. Looking at Kevin Feige, you could see how awful gosh-darn happy he was standing on that stage Tuesday afternoon, telling the world about the really cool toys he just got to play with.

So, Tuesday afternoon, Marvel got the world together, outside of a Con environment and divorced from the corporate system of the D23, and very intimately presented their complete Phase 3. A couple times now, as information has appeared, I've used logic, deduction and reason to try to discern the shape of things to come. Now that the unknowns have become known, I want to take this moment to look back and see what I got right, what I got wrong, and what we know now (and there is still a lot we don't).

Hit the jump to really dive into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Phase 3.

6 May 2016: Captain America: Civil War
4 November 2016: Doctor Strange
5 May 2017: Guardians of the Galaxy 2
28 July 2017: Thor: Ragnarok
3 November 2017: Black Panther
4 May 2018: Avengers: Infinity War – Part I
6 July 2018: Captain Marvel
2 November 2018: Inhumans
3 May 2019: Avengers: Infinity War – Part II

There it is. The most and best details we currently have are those right there. Titles and release dates, and a few casting announcements which we'll get to as we got through each. But honestly, right now, this is more than enough. This is enough to feed my excitement level for years to come, and that's good because I've got years to wait. As I was watching this all go down over Twitter, I was practically giddy. And not because I'm personally invested in any of these new characters (I could care less about Black Panther and the Inhumans), but I've very excited about there being new characters. New avenues to explore, new potential in the system. As Guardians proved, new can be a very good thing.

Before we get to the new stuff, a few words on the old. Aside from the slightly different trailer for Age of Ultron than the one that got leaked last week (which contains a hammer lifting scene from the Avengers office party), they didn't spend a lot, or really any time, on the remaining Phase 2 films. And after the entire event was done, what I walked away with was a distinct "screw you" feeling towards Ant-man.

The Paul Rudd-led film, currently filming, has been pushed back in the pecking order, now officially closing Phase 2 rather than opening Phase 3. I assume that this is because, thematically and content wise, it shares more in common with what has come before than what is soon to come. But its been filming for a while now, and we know that Marvel starts work on the CG for films years ahead of release, so that it looks as polished as possible. At this stage, there should be rough footage to show. At the very least, some images showing Rudd in character. Something to wet the audience's whistle. Instead, there was nothing. As I've said before, Ant-man strikes me as the cinematic equivalent to promising your brother-in-law you'll help him move: it's something that Kevin Feige has to do, and will do, but won't be as enthusiastic about it as his other plans on other weekends. If Ant-man, with all the behind the scenes unease, ends up turning into Marvel's first real disappointment since either Incredible Hulk or Iron Man 2 (depending on your position), I would not be surprised in the least if the whole thing is quietly forgotten in the shadow of more appealing offerings.

Now on to the good stuff.

6 May 2016

What I Said: "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... I suspect this has been planned for a while."

What Is Actually Happening: Pretty much exactly that.

Tell Me More: The biggest news to come out about Civil War, besides the name, was the announcement last week that Robert Downey Jr would be joining the film. Feige has stated that while the film will use the framework provided by the comic storyline - which saw all heroes divided on the subject of revealing super identities to the pubic - the story will be tailored to the paradigm set by the MCU, where there are no secret identities. It is likely then to focus on the philosophical differences between how Cap wants to proceed in policing the world in the aftermath of Ultron, and how Stark wants to proceed.

Right now, no other cast members from The Winter Solider have been announced as returning, though one imagines that to get a certain level of superhero saturation to reasonably call it a civil war, the likes of Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and The Winter Solider (Sebastian Stan), and possibly Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) War Machine (Don Cheadle), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) might get involved in some way, even if only briefly. Of course, with that many heroes together, it'd essentially be an Avengers film, so probably not everyone will be involved. But at least one other supporter for each side of the debate would be likely to appear.

4 November 2016

What I Said: "The likelihood of Doctor Strange being the second 2016 film for Marvel is strengthened by... pieces of evidence. It is the next of their films film to have a director attachedDeliver Us From Evil's Scott Derrickson... Strange is the only property that Feige discusses in the present-ish tense when giving interviews."

What Is Actually Happening: Doctor Strange will be the second 2016 film for Marvel, though slightly later than the originally released Marvel film release date of July. I suspect that Marvel and parent company Disney have simply traded release dates, possibly an animated film from the studio or Pixar.

Tell Me More: Despite coming up quick in the slate, the film still has no star (one wonders if protracted contract negotiations factored into the film getting a pushed back released date). You get the impression that Feige hoped to be able to announce a star for Derrickson's film back at Comic-Con, and you got the same impression here. Sadly, that has not yet come to pass, leaving Feige to pump up his passion project by telling us that, with Strange, the MCU finally gets to delve into the supernatural, something that will be touched upon in Age of Ultron with the introduction of the Scarlet Witch and the "Age of Miracles." Says Feige, "we have our Earth-bound heroes, we have our space-bound heroes, now we hope to enter the world of parallel dimensions... with visuals the like you haven't seen in a Marvel film."

5 May, 2017

What I Said: "I still put my money on the May release for Thor 3, given that the May release is generally the established and familiar property. The first Thor dropped in May, and the sequel in November. Considering that it is the weakest earner of the three solo franchises, Marvel might tuck him away in the winter months where the box office successes or failures will be comparatively less noticeable than at the jump start of the summer movie season. But if so, that leaves the question, what could Marvel possibly put in the May slot, that hasn't already been teased or put into active development, that might promise a box office bigger than the God of Thunder?"

What Is Actually Happening: Turns out, the answer to my question is a talking tree, a raccoon, and $733 million dollars world wide take, making it the third highest grossing film Marvel has made to date.

Tell Me More: Guardians 2, which appears to be the official title, despite everyone else getting subtitles, had already been announced for a release date exactly to the date 3 years after the first. That was after the weekend it was initially released in the US. Since then, the quality and charm of the film have bewitched the world, and Marvel is fully appreciative in what they have in the property, in the cast, and in writer/director James Gunn. They are treating this team like royalty, like they'e treated Robert Downey Jr since the first Iron Man dropped. And in the words of director Gunn, a May release date gives Marvel the opportunity to "spend the whole summer" with us, meaning a run at box office domination during the heated May-June-July schedule, rather than the soft safe zone of August and September.

28 July, 2017

What I Said: Had Guardians 2 kept the date it was originally announced for, I would have gotten this one right, as I reasoned that Thor 3 was the most likely candidate for the May 2017 slot. So, I was wrong, but on a technicality, so I think that should count in my favour.

What Is Actually Happening: "Chris Hemsworth is returning as Thor. Of course, Tom Hiddleston is returning as Loki."

Tell Me More: If you live in the English speaking world, you likely know that Ragnarok is the second most used word to describe the end of days, after the Christian Armageddon. In Norse myth, Ragnarok is the day that the Gods die, laying out in complete detail the role and fate of every god (spoilers: things don't go well for pretty much every god in the cast of the Thor movies), and all the misfortunes of Asgard, Midgard and the Nine Realms. After creation has been swept clean, new life will spring up from the devastation. As for Marvel's plans, "as the Russo's did with The Winter Solider, and redefining Captain America and changing everything that comes after it, that is our plan for Ragnarok... it will impact everything that comes afterwards."

3 November, 2017

What I Said: "Given that 2017 is likely to contain two sequels already, the smart money is on the November date being a new franchise. And in those circles, the smartest money is on Black Panther. Both Black Widow and Hulk have fans clamoring for solo films for those characters, but... the only property that Feige has mentioned with any regularity, or discussed in terms of development beyond the purely hypothetical, is Black Panther."

What Is Actually Happening: "One of the most unique, interesting, fascinating characters in Marvel comics history, and we want him to become that in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact," said Feige," we've already begun seeding things in the films, leading up to this moment."

Tell Me More: He's not wrong, as they are farther ahead with Panther than you might expect, having announced and formally introduced Chadwick Boseman as playing T'Challa, the genius heir to Wakanda. And like Black Widow before him, he'll be turning up in an earlier film, Captain America: Civil War, where he'll play a "major role" before getting his own solo film. Wakanda, meanwhile, is heavily rumoured to be a location the Avengers visit in Age of Ultron, giving audiences plenty of run-up room on this new character and concept.

4 May, 2018

What I Said: "This date was actually released a few days after the rest, as Disney and Marvel finalized the specifics involved in taking over the position vacated by Spider-man 3. And while they weren't specific about what will be taking this date, it is almost certainly Avengers 3."

What Is Actually Happening: I wasn't wrong. I was just thinking small.

Tell Me More: I think that a reasonable assumption can be made concerning these two films: that one will focus on the cosmic side of the war with Thanos and one will focus on the Earth side of things. And I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that Part 1 will feature the Phase 1 heroes that make it out of Civil War and Ragnarok, that Thanos will come to Earth looking for one of this precision Infinity Stones, and decimate the planet in his attempt. Since there are two films between this and the conclusion of the war, and that they are both space-based films, that Part 2 will be the space based film, seeing Thanos rise to ultimate power and the Guardians of the Galaxy will have to live up to their namesake once again.

6 July, 2018

What I Said: "a new franchise, female-lead, possibly Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel and involving secondary celestial characters tying into the Guardians environment (eg, Adam Warlock and Mar-Vell) covering the non-Earth bound collateral of Thanos' defeat."

What Is Actually Happening: Said Feige, "Captain Marvel is a name that has been held by many characters over the years, and a lot of characters have used that power base. I want to make it clear that this Captain Marvel is Carol Danvers."

Tell Me More: All the while fans were demanding Feige create a female lead film, he was. "This film has been in development almost as long as Doctor Strange, almost as long as Guardians of the Galaxy," claimed Feige Tuesday. "The trick was figuring out when to introduce... [a character] who straddles two worlds: her origins are Earth-bound, while her adventures and powers are... cosmic." Captain Marvel represents the potential melding of those two sides of the MCU coin. With audiences world-wide telling Marvel in ticket sales that they are willing to explore the cosmic side of things, while the demand for female-lead features is reaching a fever-pitch, as studios recognize that ostracizing women hurts at the box office, a film somewhat awkwardly named Marvel's Captain Marvel should be a smash. And if I'm right in my theory of Part 1 of Infinity War being Earth based, I'd expect to see Carol Danvers introduced there, and have her follow Thanos into space, looking for a way to Avenge the Earth.

2 November, 2018

What I Said: "a new franchise, something rooted in the establishment. An excellent place for a Hulk-ish film, or a Thunderbolts style feature, that draws heavily on the events of the Avengers 3, but doesn't inform a lot of what will follow in Phase 4. Or it could be an Ant-man sequel. Could go either way."

What Is Actually Happening: A new franchise is right, but I couldn't have been more off the mark on the direction Marvel would decide to go: space. Of the nine films Feige announced on Tuesday, five are space based, or space-adjacent. I thought maybe one of the three films Marvel planned on making per year would be cosmic, but I guess they've decided that we've spent enough time on puny humans, Phase 3 is the time for aliens.

Tell Me More: Inhumans will be Marvel's twentieth movie, and possibly their largest single movie to date, with a potential cast of a dozen core Inhuman characters. Feige hints at not focusing just on one character, but on the entire society as a large source of drama. As Iron Man opened up the world of superheroes, and Guardians have opened up the galaxy, Inhumans will potentially open up the broader range of characters and widen the audience's scope of what a superhero film is, or is expected to be. This also stands to be the Guardians of the next batch of Marvel films, as the Inhumans are just as, if not more obscure, to the general public.

3 May, 2019

What I Said: "A Doctor Strange sequel. There are roughly (roughly) three years between each sequel, and this would put it right on track with that pattern."

What Is Actually Happening: Nope. Nooooooope...

Tell Me More: Kevin Feige is a lot of things when talking about the future of his treasured MCU. He's cagey, about not giving too much away too soon. He's passionate, and he's optimistic that the audience will respond to what the studio provides. What he isn't is fatalist. What he isn't is conclusionist. Even in this presentation, he was using words like "introduce" and "expand." Big, happy, far reach words that suggest an unknown future. But as he reached the end of the presentation, and afterward when he was doing press interviews, he shifted his tone slightly. He stopped talking in terms of the future and started talking in the present tense. He describes Avengers: Infinity War as "the culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe." When asked about a potential for an Iron Man 4, he said "If there are more years after 2019, there will be more possibilities, I expect." This is not the same tone he would take when discussing Black Panther or Captain Marvel films in the past, where he would through around phrases like "anythings possible," or "you never know" with a glimmer in his eyes. Is Feige and Marvel seriously considering the end of the MCU? As soon as six years from now?

Actually, that is a reasonable thing to do. More than that, it is a responsible thing to do. Feige might be a kid in a candy store, but he's also a business man, working in a billion dollar industry. Working towards an end date is responsible. In six years, the bottom might have fallen out of the super hero genre. Maybe Marvel, in over extending themselves, will have lapsed into a Pixar-like drop in quality. Any number of factors might mean that, by 2019, Disney is no longer willing to put the faith in Marvel's ability. By right now establishing a suggestion that 2019 is the end, he's setting us up for the inevitable. Everything ends, and the MCU will too some day, be in 2019, or be it at some point after. I would be shocked, if there is a Phase 4, if they ever lay things out quite so far in advance again. I suspect a year or two at a time would be how they'll play things, so they can avoid sudden profit existence failure.

He's also telling us that, while the MCU might continue after 2019, he might not. He is, after all, an employee of Marvel and Disney, the same as anyone. He has a contract. That contract was extended after the release of the Avengers. He's clearly contracted to be with the company, to pilot it's direct and be it's spokesman, until 2019. After that, he'll have been living in the world for more than ten years on screen. He might be ready to step back himself, and let someone else take the reins.

So, how'd I do? Of nine films announced on Tuesday, eight had previously had their release dates announced. Of those eight, two films had been previously confirmed (Cap 3 and Guardians 2). Of the six remaining potential titles, I was exactly right on three of them, and technically right on one more (if Thor and Guardians had their dates reversed as originally intended). I had suggested that an Inhumans movie might be a possibility later on, into Phase 4, but hadn't expected one so soon, over more sequels and established characters solo films.

A 66% success rate is impressive, but for a few things. I'm far from the only one who made these predictions. The internet is swarming with sites all throwing everything against the wall, making wild predictions about everything. The reason I and others can have a 66% success rate at guessing what Marvel and Kevin Feige are going to do is that it's not guessing: it's deduction. I don't make random predictions, I study the information that is out there. In interviews, in established patterns, in watching the evolving narrative direction of the films. You just have to be able to analysis what is being said, and what is being carefully avoided, and you can make reasonable predictions about how a company looking five and six years into the future will react. I rarely take a guess at what a film will be about, because that is up to the whim of the writers. My past assertion that Thor: Ragnarok will be about Thanos attacking Asgard is based on the fact that 1) Loki previously betrayed him and 2) they possess the Tesseract, which he must obtain to complete his Infinity Gauntlet. It's a reasonable and logical direction for that narrative to play out, to conclude both that series and further the larger story.

By looking at this rationally and without emotional impairment is how I'm confident in saying things like, if audience reaction is cool to the Justice League characters, watch Warner Bros flinch and cancel certain announced solo pictures in favour of Batman and Superman. At a certain point, it just becomes obvious how and when something is going to happen. Except Guardians. No one saw that coming.
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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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