It is hard to believe that the last official offering from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was well over a year ago (Spider-Man: Far From Home). We fans underwent a severe drought thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic which left most theaters closed and films delayed. Thanks to the pandemic there weren’t any offerings from the MCU last year unless the TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is counted, and there are valid arguments that the show is no longer part of the MCU. However, all this will change later this week with the debut of WandaVision on the streaming app, Disney+.
It feels a bit strange that the MCU event that will kick off its Phase Four will be a TV show instead of a film, but that was inevitable given COVID-19. Black Widow was supposed to launch Phase Four last year followed by the show The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but many delays killed that plan. Many believed Disney would air Black Widow during the holidays on Disney+ but that never happened. Instead Marvel Studios and its head Kevin Feige were determined that the cinematic start of the MCU’s fourth phase would happen with Black Widow, which is currently scheduled to premiere on May 7. Of course, this is not guaranteed given the nature of the pandemic. Sure, there are vaccines available but the distribution has been awful and unless it ramps up, at this rate our society will not be protected enough by spring. However, if efforts to speed up vaccinations follow through as promised by President-elect Biden and others then it could be safe for a significant portion of the population to go back to theaters by the late spring or summer. Let’s hope so because there already is a scheduling casualty this year.
Sony announced that its Marvel film Morbius, originally scheduled to be released last fall and moved to this March, will be moved again to October 8 now. This is not a severe delay and will be a better fit given the time of the year and the fact that Morbius stars a vampiric anti-hero. But this is concerning. Does this mean other films will be shuffled again? So far, the MCU films slated for this year (Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and Eternals) are still on schedule. What helps is that after Black Widow, the other two MCU films will premiere in the second half of 2021, The pandemic better be winding down by then. If it isn’t, then Disney may not have a choice but to release Black Widow and maybe the other two films on Disney+ to avoid creating a backlog with 2022’s scheduled releases and causing more delays.
With that said, Marvel Studios has quite a trove of MCU fare for waiting fans. Except for the third MCU Spider-Man film from Sony, the MCU films slated for this year may not be eagerly anticipated like Thor: Love and Thunder, but the TV shows coming out this year will more than make up for that until 2022. The 2021 shows will feature beloved MCU heroes and villains played by the same actors and boasting movie-quality production values and effects. However, many of the shows promise to be quite…unique. The trailers for WandaVision have shown that it will be as unconventional and bizarre as Legion or Doom Patrol, which will be a creative boost for the MCU. Although the MCU films are revered worldwide, they can be faulted for following a familiar formula and look. WandaVision, Loki and What If…? should push the envelope and take chances as promised by Feige and Marvel Studios.
Meanwhile for the more conventional shows, it is rumored that mutants will make their MCU debut in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Some have observed from BTS set photos that part of the show seems to take place in Madripoor, a country heavily featured in the Wolverine comics. The enemy mutant Omega Red is supposedly appearing either in this show or in the Shang-Chi movie. The final TV shows scheduled for late 2021, Hawkeye and Ms. Marvel will debut more modern and popular heroes, such as Kate Bishop and Kamala Khan.
Disney+ will premiere new TV shows next year starring other popular Marvel heroes making their live-action debuts. These are Moon Knight (with Oscar Isaac playing the psychotic title hero), She-Hulk (supposedly a legal comedy…the jury is out if this is the case, pun intended), Ironheart (perhaps this will have Robert Downey, Jr. coming back as an AI mentor this time?) and the event series based on important storylines from the Marvel comics Secret Invasion and Armor Wars. One other TV special will be mentioned below.
As noted above, 2022 is when Phase Four truly takes off theatrically. The Sorcerer Supreme will return and be immersed in several alternate realities with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. While the third MCU Spider-Man film will explore the alternate universes of the previous Sony Spidey films, there are rumors the second Doctor Strange film will feature even wilder cameos and appearances. For example, one rumor has it that the film will have Tom Cruise doing a cameo as Tony Stark, which would be ironic given that he was originally supposed to play Iron Man before dropping out. Another rumor has it that Scarlet Witch, fresh off warping reality in WandaVision, will actually be the villain in the film.
In Thor: Love and Thunder, not only does Chris Hemsworth and Taika Waititi reunite for another trippy Thor film, but it will feature members of the Guardians of the Galaxy, which will whet our appetites for the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special coming out in late 2022 and Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3, due in 2023. Black Panther II is also eagerly anticipated if only to see how Marvel Studios will address the fact that the role of T’Challa will not be recast since Chadwick Boseman passed away last year. So, who will take his place? Another enticement is that it is rumored that either Namor the Sub-Mariner or Doctor Doom will be introduced in the film. The fourth MCU film scheduled for next year, Captain Marvel 2 will feature Ms. Marvel and hopefully with a new director it will be better done than the original film.
After that, two other films in active development are Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which will premiere one of the Avengers’ greatest enemies, Kang the Conqueror; Blade now starring Mahershala Ali as the half-vampire hero, an R-rated Deadpool 3, and finally Fantastic Four. After being neglected and mutilated by subpar films from 20th Century Fox, the First Family of Marvel Comics will get the proper screen treatment they deserve. As to who will play the Fab Four? There is not any way of knowing for sure at this time, though fans hope John Krasinski and Emily Blunt will play Reed and Sue Richards. But it does not matter since the property is now home with Marvel and knowing that the Fantastic Four are finally in the capable and skilled hands of Marvel Studios is enough to excite any true Marvel fan.
Marvel Studios is not resting there. There might be more Spider-Man films from Sony that will take place in the MCU, which is subject to negotiations. These could lead to Sony’s Venom and other films starring Spider-Man’s foes like Morbius and Kraven the Hunter being part of the MCU.
Also, given the runaway success of the Avengers films, Marvel Studios is surely planning a fifth film. As to when it will come out or who will be in the lineup only time will tell (another bad pun alluding to Kang the Conqueror being the Avengers’ baddie they have to fight). Will a fifth Avengers film find a way to bring back popular heroes like Iron Man or Captain America? Or will their roles be taken up their successors? Or will the film be a platform to introduce the Young Avengers? We will find out eventually.
On that note what about the X-Men? For the mutants it seems that after their Fox films just concluded, they will be given a well-needed rest. This will give Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios the time and energy to properly find a way to reinvigorate the X-Men and bring them to the MCU.
For now, we have many films and TV shows to look forward to which will expand the MCU to new and greater heights. Time to rejoice!