The heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe took center stage during a feature for Vanity Fair, which included four covers displaying the likes of Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, and more. A lot of Vanity Fair’s cover story on Marvel Studios is a retrospective on its impressive decade run of success, but the final paragraphs offer some intriguing bits of information as they pertain to the future of the MCU.
The MCU’s future is closer than some people may realize, with the untitled Avengers 4 serving as a springboard for new stories, new locales, and most importantly, a new cast of heroes stepping in for the old guard. With actors on the final leg of their MCU contracts, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers 4 are rumored to include potential deaths and goodbyes to fan-favorite characters that helped shape the MCU into the juggernaut it is today. Instead of looking at this as a sad scenario, Marvel Studios has reasons for optimism. Disney CEO Bob Iger noted the studio has the rights to over 7,000 characters, which means the majority of heroes and villains found inside Marvel comics have the opportunity to star on the big screen. That’s not all; there is also the promise of completely new worlds (and timelines) for the MCU to explore, along with a definitive end to Phases One through Three, paving the way for Phase Four.
With this information at hand, we can begin to speculate on what the future of the MCU will look like with a little help from Marvel Comics.
It's Time To Go Exploring
Marvel Studios has used a few different films over the last several years to introduce new places and concepts into its shared universe. Examples include the quantum realm in Ant-Man, the cosmos in Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and alternate dimensions and time travel in Doctor Strange. These additions to the MCU will offer directors a slew of new directions to take storylines, which will result in movies that can be drastically different from one another. We’ve already experienced this with the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. Having their adventures take place in space sets them apart from the Earth-bound heroes, and has introduced new threats like Ronan the Accuser and Ego the Living Planet (not to mention final boss Thanos waiting in the wings).
Some unique settings we can look forward to hopefully seeing in the MCU are the fantasy planet Weirdworld, the prehistoric Savage Land, the antimatter-based Negative Zone, and the alternate reality Cancerverse. These are only a small sampling of locations plucked from the comics, but they’re filled with enough wonders to last multiple films. Weirdworld can be used to introduce the “sword and sorcery” genre, with its many figures like the sorceress Morgan le Fey and champion Arkon, who both starred in a Weirdworld comic series. Heroes from the Avengers to the X-Men have traveled to the Savage Land, which is hidden in Antarctica and protected by Ka-Zar, Shanna the She-Devil, and their sabretooth tiger Zabu. Think of the Savage Land as the place time forgot, with its many dinosaurs and creatures one would find on the endangered species list. The Negative Zone and Cancerverse are alternate dimensions that can finally show different takes on established characters, if Marvel Studios ever decides to recast an actor after their contract expires.
If Marvel Studios really wants to recreate the feel of watching a comic book brought to life, it needs to adopt a time travel element. Sure, the logistics of time travel can get a bit confusing, but in general, everyone loves seeing their superheroes travel to the past to relive a key moment in time, or travel to the future to witness how badly things can become. Marvel can easily sidestep the issue of negotiating with Robert Downey, Jr. by bringing his younger self to the present. Or bring characters from the future to the present like the Maestro, an alternate version of the Hulk who possesses Bruce Banner’s intelligence in Hulk’s body, with evil intentions. The possibilities are endless.
The End Of An Era
The word “finale” is used to sum up the conclusion of the collective movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe once Avengers 4 ends. With a finale bringing a sense of closure to things, some fans may believe there won’t be any more films starring their favorite superheroes. Of course, we know that’s far from the truth, with Marvel Studios primed to unleash 20 more films to the public after Avengers 4. While the MCU will live to see another 10 year run, it doesn’t mean Avengers 4 won’t have a satisfying ending to the overall narrative starring this version of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
A “finale” makes sense when you consider the presence of Thanos lurking in the background for the last 10 years. Each Avengers movie has gotten bigger and bigger, represented by almost every conceivable character in the MCU making an appearance for Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers 4. Even if Thanos comes out on top in Avengers: Infinity War, there’s no way Marvel Studios allow him to go 2-0 in with a win his next appearance. No matter who lives or dies, we can expect our heroes to be triumphant over Thanos once all is said and done.
Looking Beyond Avengers 4
For the MCU to continue growing and prospering, Phase Four and beyond needs to not be a direct copy of the previous phases and films. Marvel Studios has managed to avoid this pitfall by choosing different genres for films. Doctor Strange dealt with the mystic arts, Ant-Man was a heist movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a political thriller, etc. Though the genres may be different, one knock against the MCU is its habit of retelling the same type of origin story for its solo heroes. There isn’t much difference between Tony Stark’s quest to becoming a superhero and Stephen Strange’s journey. Plus, Marvel needs to put an end to “heroes battle an evil version of themselves."
If we allow ourselves to speculate a little, a reason for things to be dramatically different post-Avengers 4 could come down to reality being rewritten once Thanos gets his hands on the Infinity Gauntlet. The Infinity Gauntlet story arc from the comics saw the mad titan destroy all life in the universe, only for these evil deeds to be reversed and our heroes resurrected to stop him. These same events could play out the same in the MCU, leading to new takes on existing franchises and characters.
Another sad reality is post-Avengers 4 will be full of brand new characters stepping in to fill the void left by departing heroes. Though we will miss the linchpins of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, change can be a good thing. Having a shared universe that continuously evolves will keep things fresh, while also leading to more superhero stories being told on the big screen for years to come.