Please note: this article does contain spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War and Ant-Man and the Wasp, as well as every MCU film leading up to them. But none of the films after them, because nobody has seen them yet. Anyway, you’ve been warned.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is in a bit of a weird situation. Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame will be hitting our screens this spring to close out Phase Three of the MCU, and Spider-Man: Far From Home is slotted to kick off Phase Four this summer. But after that, things are a little murky. After over a decade of production and nearly two dozen films, the way forward is rather unclear for the first time since Iron Man debuted in 2008.
So what do we know? Well, Ryan Coogler is definitely working on a sequel to Black Panther, a third installment to the Guardians of the Galaxy story is apparently still happening (albeit delayed, and without a director), and a Doctor Strange sequel has been greenlit. A Captain Marvel sequel is probably a foregone conclusion, unless the first one flops; and there are rumors that we might even see Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan) in the MCU, perhaps in Captain Marvel 2. A Black Widow solo feature seems to also be in production. Add to that an Eternals film, a Shang-Chi project, and a Blade reboot, and Phase Four would seem to be humming right along. But none of these films have release dates, and most of them don’t even have a cast (beyond a lead).
And all of these upcoming films would seem tenuous to hang an entire franchise upon. While all of the sequel projects listed would be definite crowd-pleasers, the only team story sequel is (what I hope is called) Guardians of the Galaxy.mp3—and that film’s production is already shadowed in controversy after the unceremonious firing of James Gunn last year. None of the other films would seem to have great crossover potential, leaving Phase Four notably without any sort of Avengers-style crossover feature.
Most of this secrecy is almost certainly demanded by spoilers. The end of Avengers: Endgame is likely to pull at least a couple of the original Avengers off the board, either by death or some other similar method of hanging up the fancy costume for good. Even if there were no story reason for them to leave, Robert Downey Jr.’s and Chris Evans’ contracts seem to be up after the big Avengers finale, and Chris Hemsworth’s is rumored to be too expensive to continue. But without knowing exactly who survives, who dies, who comes back from the snap, and who’s dust forever, we can’t really make any definite predictions about the future of our favorite Avengers.
That won’t stop me from doing it, though.
One thing is clear: the MCU will look very different after April 26. And despite all the question marks, we actually have enough information to make some pretty good predictions about the future.
Fantastic (Phase) Four?
The first bit of information we have is actually a pretty huge one: Disney’s upcoming acquisition of 20th Century Fox, a purchase that’s expected to finish up sometime this year. While Kevin Feige hasn’t made any official announcements about his plans for the returning characters, he has mentioned being excited about adding new toys to his sandbox; those toys being, of course, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four.
A few days ago, X-Men producer Lauren Shuler Donner told /Film that Kevin Feige was planning to reboot and recast the role of Wolverine, long held by Hugh Jackman, when the MCU version of the mutant team makes its debut. This kicked up a flurry of speculation about the X-Men’s role in the Phase Four MCU, but it wasn’t exactly a surprise; the X-Men and the Fantastic Four were long considered the more valuable franchises. The Avengers, Spider-Man aside, were always looked at as a second-tier Marvel property (which is why they still had control of the characters: no other studio wanted to buy the rights to them).
Of course, Feige will have to contend with a significant recent stigma against the Fantastic Four in particular: the Quintessential Quartet has never seen a truly successful live-action film release, and its 2007 sequel and 2015 reboot were widely considered among the worst films released in their respective years.
Which means that rebooting the X-Men into the MCU first, before launching into a Fantastic Four series, makes a lot of sense. The X-Men have no associated stigma; while they’ve released some clunkers, the majority of their films over the last two decades have been greeted with high praise, or at least a lukewarm golf clap. Plus, they have enough character recognition that they could easily carry the franchise through a post-Iron-Man world.
The End of the Avengers?
I don’t think that the Avengers, as a team, will disband entirely. Though Tony Stark and Steve Rogers are likely to no longer be a part of the team (for one reason or another), the group itself will probably continue; in my estimation, Falcon is likely to remain as a part of the team, as well as Scarlet Witch, Vision, and a new Captain America inhabited by Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan reportedly has seven films left on his contract, so they have to use him somewhere). The team will likely be led by Captain Marvel; get backup from Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and Ant-Man; and welcome cameos from Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, and Hawkeye.
Still, all of this hangs on who’s left alive at the end of Endgame. A couple of unexpected deaths could throw this entire roster into disarray.
The End of the Guardians?
Rocket may be the last survivor of the original Guardians of the Galaxy after the events of infinity War; but as the script for Endgame was written with a third Guardians film set to go into production shortly before its release, it’s a safe bet that Star-Lord, Drax, and Mantis will be back, hale and hearty. Gamora’s fate is a little less certain, since she apparently perished before Thanos’ snap; but if she is truly dead for good, they seem to have been building up Nebula as a sympathetic character and a possible replacement for her sister.
Of course, this could all be thrown to the wind if Disney can’t sort out their James Gunn problem. The Guardians themselves (well, their actors) have expressed their displeasure with his ouster, and implied that they’re less interested in a third installment if Gunn isn’t involved. Still, the franchise is extremely hot and valuable right now, and I’d be very surprised of the mouse isn’t interested in sorting things out before Phase Four ends.
Phase Four Predictions
My predictions are probably wrong, but I’m putting them down anyway so that if I’m right about even the smallest part I can say “told you!”
The beginning of MCU Phase Four will be presided over by solo movies, mostly sequels, with lots of bug characters:
- Spider-Man: Far From Home
- Black Panther 2
- Black Widow
- Captain Marvel 2
- Ant-Man and the Wasp 3 (perhaps Ant-Men and the Wasps?)
- Doctor Strange 2
- Spider-Man 3
We’ll have a couple of team films, probably leading up to an encounter between the Guardians and Adam Warlock:
- New-look Avengers 5, led by Captain Marvel
- The Eternals
- Guardians of the Galaxy 3, with Nebula replacing Gamora; I’m suspicious that this will end the Guardians’ storyline, at least for now
Phase Four of the MCU will also likely seed the idea of mutants throughout the phase, ending with a bang:
- X-Men reboot
Phase Five Predictions
This is way too far away to make any serious predictions about, but I think we can still toss a dart down the hallway. Phase Five is likely to continue on with the successful films in Phase Four:
- Black Panther 3
- Black Widow 2
- Captain Marvel 3
- Avengers 6
- X-Men 2
- Spider-Man 4
And, after cameos and preparation throughout the phase, we’ll probably see Reed Richards and his “Fantastic” friends making their triumphant big-screen return:
- Fantastic Four reboot
With the Avengers receiving something of a “demotion” in phases four and five, the MCU will need a new excuse to bring the different franchises together for a team-up film. The comics have a deep and varied history of events to draw from, but I think the most likely way they can bring the X-Men, Avengers, and Fantastic Four together would be with:
- Secret Invasion
A Secret Invasion film does presume that a secret Skrull invasion of Earth isn’t explored in a Captain Marvel film first, but it would have the Marvel heroes working together (amid mistrust and fear of spies infiltrating their group) to stop an incursion of shape-shifting Skrull invaders who can impersonate world leaders and even our heroes themselves, with a goal of taking over the world. The story could contain a potent mix of the Captain America: The Winter Soldier-style spycraft and infighting like Captain America: Civil War, two of the more well-regarded MCU films; plus, it would be a great way to involve the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and Captain Marvel in a story that the rest of the MCU could also be a part of.
Once we reach this point, any predictions become utterly useless. The MCU of six years from now will be a very different beast than we see today, and even my safest predictions might be way off the mark. Kevin Feige has suggested that the Phase system may no longer be applicable after Endgame, too, making this whole thing a bit academic. But if you wanted my predictions (and I know you did), well, there you have them.
The Bottom Line
If you want a summary of my predictions, I think that Phase Four of the MCU will seed the idea of mutants and bring in the X-Men as the big show-stopper at the end of the phase, demoting the Avengers (with a new roster) to another ensemble series without standalone films, like the Guardians of the Galaxy (who will probably complete their run after a single trilogy, at least for now). Phase Five will bring in the Fantastic Four, and end with a huge team-up event where the entire MCU fights Skrulls in a Secret Invasion.
But what do you think? How will the Marvel Cinematic Universe change after the events of Avengers: Endgame? Who will live and who will die? What big team-up events do they still need to pull from the comics? Will Disney keep throwing money at Downey until he’s made seven Iron Man films? I look forward to reading your own predictions about Phase 4 in the comments below, or in the Reel World Theology discussion group on Facebook. And thanks for listening to my mad ravings!