We’re continuing our look at the superhero film event, Avengers: Endgame. This time we’ll speculate on a major plot device, what lies ahead for the team and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and even who will be in the team later in the future. As before, major spoilers will follow, so turn back now if you have not seen Avengers: Endgame yet.
The Smallest Hero with the Biggest Impact
Avengers: Endgame didn’t just feature story arcs about the OG Avengers but on allies that joined the team and their mission to undo Thanos’ snap. Nebula and Rocket Raccoon from the Guardians of the Galaxy, along with everyone else were at the end of their rope, feeling defeated after Thanos’ victory in the previous film. There was significant time spent on them and they had their special character moments. While they made important contributions to the team’s quest to reverse Thanos’ snap, one of other ally became the most unlikely Avenger of them all: Ant-Man. He is not only the smallest MVP in Endgame but the most important one because the Avengers’ ultimate victory would not have been possible without Ant-Man.
When Scott Lang aka Ant-Man re-emerged from the quantum realm after the film’s five-year time jump, he quickly realizes that time travel is possible due to the way he experienced time differently in the micro-dimension. He goes out of his way to locate the Avengers and presents them with this idea. Lang, fresh and eager from his experience in the quantum realm becomes a beacon of hope and new-found resolve for a defeated team. He inspires everyone into believing that the devasting effects of the Decimation could be undone.
To think this was all possible because of a rat. This anonymous rodent just happened to step on the controls of the quantum tunnel machine in a storage unit that brought Lang back into the world. Coincidence? Sure. Blind luck? You bet! But sometimes all it takes is the right circumstance to change everything. Even if some rat didn’t accidently save the universe, Lang would have been released some other time, what is important is that his re-emergence happened at the right time. Given his contribution, including his actions which later saved the Hulk, Rocket Raccoon and War Machine, Ant-Man is a shoe-in not only for another solo film, but as an Avenger in the team’s next film.
A Soldier’s Final Mission
At the end of Avengers: Endgame, Steve Rogers traveled back to different time periods to return the Infinity Stones and nip the creation of alternate timelines.
His final journey raised many questions given how his mission ended. As mentioned in part one of this post, Rogers decided to spend his days in the past with Peggy Carter and grew old with her. We know this because moments after he disappeared into the quantum tunnel, he turns up nearby as an elderly man.
This started rampant speculation about how he returned since he didn’t use the same quantum tunnel machine he left in. Some theorized he was in the Prime MCU all along and never created a new timeline. The writers for the film agree with this, but it’s hard to believe because given his heroic nature, there isn’t any way that Rogers, whether or not as Captain America, would not interfere with history. He would have prevented Bucky from becoming the Winter Soldier, stopped the Hydra infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D., or Thanos’ quest for the Infinity Stones, let alone real-world tragedies like the JFK assassination or 9/11. The Avengers: Endgame directors, Joe and Anthony Russo, contradict this notion and believe that Rogers lived out his years in an alternate timeline. Good evidence for this is the fact that he comes back with an intact shield. Remember that his shield was broken during his battle with Thanos. Rogers must’ve obtained the new shield in the alternate timeline. Perhaps that timeline’s Captain America died or the shield was no longer needed in the brave new world Rogers created.
The question is how did he return? The temporal/quantum technology in the new timeline must have advanced more significantly than in the Prime MCU. Or that timeline’s Doctor Strange could have used magic to transport Rogers back to his native timeline. This and how did Rogers return the Stones are intriguing material for a potential film or series on Disney+, though we’ll probably never know.
Back to the Timelines
“Are you really telling me your plan is based on Back to the Future?”–Tony Stark
Well then, what about the Prime MCU? It no longer has any Infinity Stones, including a Time Stone, and it is now vulnerable. The Ancient One warned Bruce Banner about this when he journeyed to 2012 to get the Time Stone from her. She stated that the absence of the Time Stone would leave her reality vulnerable.
This could lead to interdimensional attacks and temporal incursions, and visits from parallel timelines, including some from the Avengers villain, Kang. He’s a time-traveling despot from the distant future who often shows up in modern times and attacks the Avengers with future technology. He could be the main villain in the next Avengers film which could be about the consequences of time travel and now it will be up to the new Avengers to clean up.
In Doctor Strange, Mordo warns Strange about using the Time Stone for temporal manipulation, which occurs in Avengers: Endgame. He specifically states that doing so creates time loops, branches in time, unstable dimensional openings and spatial paradoxes. In his debut film, Dr. Strange used time travel to reverse Dormammu’s victory in the film. He placed himself and Dormammu into a temporal loop in order to keep Earth and the dimension safe. So, it can be argued that the Prime MCU is already in an alternate timeline. Otherwise the events in Doctor Strange were meant to be and are part of a closed time loop. This gives credence to the notion that Steve was supposed to go back in time and live his life with Peggy in the Prime MCU.
One thing to keep in mind is that according to the rules of time travel, going back into the past and making changes does not alter your present it creates new timelines. Aside from Rogers’ final journey, the best argument for this theory is that present day Nebula killed a past version of herself but did not cease to exist. That past reality is now its own separate timeline where Thanos, his forces and Nebula suddenly disappeared, as well as Gamora, who is now part of the present-day MCU. This also means that that timeline probably won’t have a Guardians of the Galaxy, but for now let’s stay focused on the Prime MCU.
So, where do the Avengers and the MCU go next? The upcoming focus on multiverses could be a major running arc in the next phase of the MCU. We’ve seen this already with the supposed revelation that Mysterio in Spider-Man: Far From Home is from another dimension. Also, multiverses will be explored in the animated What If series that will stream on Disney+. All this could culminate in the next Avengers film as mentioned above, but dwelling too much on alternate timelines and heroes can be too much, especially for casual fans. Still, it is a convenient way for the original Avengers lineup, deceased heroes and villains or even future and alternate versions of our favorite characters to turn up to fight or aid the Avengers.
One challenge for the MCU and the Avengers is finding the next big threat now that Thanos is dust. Everyone keeps saying that Galactus or Doctor Doom should be used as the next mega foe for the Avengers. But they are Fantastic Four villains, it is only right that they remain in upcoming Fantastic Four films which could feature the Avengers in the same way the Guardians showed up in Avengers: Infinity War. Other super threats the Avengers could face include the Celestials, Dormammu, the Kree and Skrulls (the “Secret Invasion” storyline keeps been brought up by theorists) or even an Avengers vs X-Men faceoff. This last one is probably unlikely since Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige doesn’t intend to bring the X-Men into the MCU for some time.
Maybe it is a good idea to have a different kind of threat for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Something more personal and grounded. It is now rumored that the villainous Thunderbolts will show up in the MCU. Echoing their original appearances in comic books, they could show up to compete with the Avengers as a new superhero team. The Thunderbolts could wind up becoming more popular with the general public, leading to a crisis of confidence within the Avengers. Adding to this self-doubt would be the team’s makeup and how they interact with one another.
At the end of Avengers: Endgame, the team has been radically and permanently changed. Black Widow and Iron Man died, the Hulk’s arm is badly damaged, which the Russos state will be long lasting, Hawkeye retired, Thor left with the Guardians and Captain America is too old. But the world, the universe and we need the Avengers! So who will be the new Avengers in time for the next film?
A good place to start with are the new allies that took part in the quest to create a new Infinity Gauntlet. But not so fast, Rocket and Nebula rejoined the Guardians of the Galaxy and left the Earth. So that leaves Ant-Man and War Machine. Both heroes, along with the Wasp, will be the core of the new team. It’s actually fitting that Ant-Man and the Wasp be part of the team because in the comic books they were the founding members of the superhero team. War Machine fills in the armored hero role left vacant with Iron Man no longer available. The only problem is that James Rhodes is not the most charismatic character in the MCU. He certainly isn’t a Tony Stark. Out of all the characters in the mission he is the only one without an arc. So, he will probably remain an ancillary character in future Avengers films.
Scarlet Witch will probably be in the team since she was an Avenger and provides a lot of firepower. It will all depend on how things turn out in the upcoming Wanda Vision show, which is promised to more directly tie in with the MCU than current Marvel TV shows. Other heroes headed to Disney+ are the Falcon and Winter Soldier. Both of them are sound additions to the Avengers, in fact, Falcon was a member himself. But will he pick up the shield and take up his friend’s cause? For now, we don’t know, Anthony Mackie, who portrays the Falcon, said in interviews that his character won’t be the new Captain America as in the comic books. But that could change in the future.
Two other heroes with billion-dollar solo films that will be part of the team if only to bring in fans to theaters are Black Panther and Captain Marvel. T’Challa will be beneficial thanks to his ties to Wakanda and that country’s riches and technology. Captain Marvel will be a different matter. Not only is she currently overpowered, but she has become a source of controversy among losers in the Internet who are convinced she and the actress that plays her, Brie Larson, have some feminist agenda, which threatens them. Even though her solo film was commercially successful, it was not as universally liked as Black Panther. But that could change as well if the second Captain Marvel film gets the Captain America: The Winter Soldier treatment.
Who’s left? Doctor Strange is a candidate, but like Captain Marvel, may be too powerful and he would shine more in a potential Defenders film with the Hulk. Spider-Man is another choice, but the problem is that the film rights to the hero still lie with Sony Pictures and the agreement to feature Spider-Man in the MCU films is ending. To date, there hasn’t been any news on whether or not Sony and Marvel Studios will come to a new agreement. With the unexpected success of Venom, Sony may decide to keep Spider-Man and put him in their own film universe. As terrible as that sounds, it is plausible.
Maybe the remaining lineup of the Avengers will include all-new characters who haven’t shown up yet in films like members of the Eternals, Nova, mutant heroes or even Daredevil. Either way, do not expect a new Avengers film in the pipeline soon. It is a good idea not to oversaturate the Avengers. Expect a new film around 2023 or 2024. It all depends on the reception of the next MCU films are. Any stumble may prompt a return of Earth’s mightiest heroes much sooner than planned. We’ll find out more this summer when Marvel Studios announces its highly anticipated plans.