Three of pop culture’s biggest pillars – Game of Thrones, Star Wars & Marvel- will say a partial goodbye in 2019. I’ve already looked at what might come next in Hollywood’s desperate search for the next Game of Thrones. I’m cautiously optimistic about Kathleen Kennedy’s purported 10-year Star Wars strategy. Marvel is in the best position of all three of them, though. Today, I explain why.
In Feige We Trust
Avengers: Endgame represents the culmination of the journey Tony Stark started us on the moment he woke up in that cave in Afghanistan. In the 11 years since then, numerous on-screen villains have been vanquished. Some of them were compelling; most were not. Yet, they all served their purpose. More significantly, however, Marvel’s single biggest off-screen villain – mercurial, small-minded, and tight-fisted studio head Ike Perlmutter – has long since been defanged and usurped by Kevin Feige.
In their oncoming rematch with Thanos, The Avengers are about to defeat the biggest foe yet, but the only person who could truly stop them was pushed aside years ago. Ever since Perlmutter’s ousting, we no longer hear Marvel horror stories about lowballed salaries, nightmare productions, and burnt out directors (RIP, Joss Whedon’s career). To be clear, Perlmutter – who took control of Marvel in the late 1990s simply to stimulate toy sales for his company ToyBiz – still has control of the comic book and TV side of the company, but even that is slipping since the forthcoming Disney+ Marvel shows appear to be going through Feige first instead of Marvel TV head Jeph Loeb.
So, with the holy triumvirate of Feige and his two post-production geniuses – Victoria Alonso and Louis D’Esposito – in charge as they have been for years we have no reason to fret over the future of the MCU.
The New Faces Replace the Old
The plan has always been to gradually cycle out the founding Avengers and replace them with their newer counterparts.
So far, so good. Admittedly, audiences have taken a while to warm to the new Iron Man, aka Doctor Strange. However, over two billion in worldwide ticket sales for Black Panther and Captain Marvel indicates the MCU won’t exactly struggle to find new moral centers once Captain America goes. And if not for James Gunn’s “troubles” the Guardians of the Galaxy would be entirely ready to replace The Avengers as the MCU’s premiere team-up franchise. Now, the Guardians will indeed be back but not as quickly as originally planned.
To be fair, we’re not dealing with perfect one to one comparisons. The newer characters aren’t entirely carbon copies of what came before. Doctor Strange, for example, in no way anchors the storyline to Earth or can be relied on as the quippy, wealthy uncle to pop by for a pep talk. That’s a uniquely Robert Downey, Jr. Iron Man thing. However, if Endgame truly does send Iron Man and Captain America out to pasture (and returns all of the Guardians back from the dead, of course) there are newer characters well-positioned to fill a similar function in the MCU going forward.
Why any actors would ever want to leave one of the only surefire gravy trains in all of pop culture right now is something only they can truly know. But, you can’t play a superhero forever. Stick around too long and you might just end up like James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender in an X-Men movie pop culture couldn’t care less about.
Of course, part of the reason for that is because the X-Men are finally back home with Marvel Studios. A continuity reboot is forthcoming, but not anytime soon. Feige has indicated in interviews Marvel currently has a five-year plan which doesn’t include the X-Men until near the very end of that process. Like so many other Marvel people, he’s lied to the press before to guard against spoilers, and one of those “I worked on Endgame, I swear” Redditors does claim a surprise Wolverine cameo will be the film’s final post-credits stinger. However, if we take Feige at his word the MCU’s immediate future means a lot more of Carol Danvers and T’Challa instead of new versions of Wolverine and Magneto.
The harder juggling act might actually be finding a new MCU unifying big bad to replace Thanos, but with everything set up in Captain Marvel and everything Marvel just gained from the X-Men and Fantastic Four there are plenty of options out there.
The Upcoming Movies
Marvel has staked its flag to the release dates for 8 mystery projects through 2022. Safe bet Black Panther and Captain Marvel sequels will take two of those dates. Doctor Strange 2 is likely in the mix. Joining them will be new franchise entries Shang-Chi (an old Bruce Lee knockoff screaming for a woke reboot) and The Eternals (a Jack Kirby 70s creation about genetically modified humans) as well as a long overdue Black Widow movie, which is looking more and more like it will be an origin story-leaning prequel.
In the more speculative area, Alonso made headlines last month about the possibility of finally doing a movie about an openly gay superhero. Feige is known to have an eye on Ms. Marvel – aka Muslim-American Kamala Khan – as another potential first-of-its-kind addition to the MCU. There remain whispers of some kind of female team-up movie.
That’s a long ways away from the days when the MCU seemed to feature more white dudes named Chris than truly notable people of color. But, when #WakandaForever turns into a cultural phenomenon there’s no turning back.
Now, Marvel Studios is emboldened to pursue more diverse stories, not only for social reasons but also because it remains one of the best options in the constant fight to stave off superhero fatigue. “You don’t need to look like the hero to relate to them on-screen. The success of Black Panther has borne that out,” Feige told Time last year. “As long as it’s a great story and told by a master filmmaker, then it will be a success.”
However, they can’t preach that “diversity sells” message without also practicing it behind the scenes. So, Chinese-American writer Dave Callaham is working on Shang-Chi, Chloe Zhao is tackling The Eternals, and Cate Shortland is attached to direct Black Widow. Ryan Coogler and (Captain Marvel co-director) Anna Boden contributed two fo the biggest success stories in MCU history. Callaham, Zhao, and Shortland have their chance to do the same.
The Disney+ Of It All
Going forward, the MCU will have something new: an integrated TV arm whose storylines actually matter to the larger story. For all the good done on Agents of Shield and the PG-15 breakthroughs on Daredevil and the other dearly departed Netflix shows, the “it’s all connected” marketing angle never truly paid off. Largely due to the civil war behind the scenes between Feige and Perlmutter, the TV shows officially connected to the MCU have always felt like afterthoughts – a bonus for the fans, but not something which the people making the real movies need to pay attention to.
But then Bob Iger changed the equation. With all pillars of Disney’s vast IP universe being called upon to provide original content for Disney+, Marvel Studios is finally getting serious about TV. Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Anthony Mackie, and Sebastian Stan are all officially migrating to Disney+ for special limited shows about their MCU characters and Jeremy Renner might be right behind them.
On top of that, Disney+ will have a Marvel documentary series and an animated What If? Show exploring alternate MCU outcomes, like if Peggy Carter (voiced by Hayley Atwell) got the super soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers.
The Bottom Line
We won’t know what their next phase actually looks like until after Spider-Man: Far From Home this summer, but it almost doesn’t matter. At this point, they can practically do no wrong.
The future promises inevitable change, but also continued success. The “diversity sells” strategy of Black Panther and Captain Marvel has emboldened Marvel Studios to push even further away from the same old, same old, and the addition of Disney+ into the fold means we’re about to have more Marvel content than ever before. As always, the potential for burnout remains and the presumptive losses of Captain America and Iron Man (and maybe more) will hurt. No studio is better positioned to weather that loss than Marvel.