The Eve Of Marvel’s Phase Four

MCU Phase 4

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. 

hawkeye kate bishop and pizza dog

 

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.

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Streaming Wars & The Decline Of Cinemas

As we all know the current COVID-19 pandemic has severely disrupted our society in so many ways. In this case, with our entertainment viewing options. Given the infectious nature of the coronavirus most movie theaters have shut down in response for the safety of the audience and their employees. Most films scheduled to be released this year either had limited releases (like Tenet) or were re-scheduled for next year and beyond (such as The Eternals) or wound up available for viewing in the safety of our homes (namely Mulan) through streaming services or video on demand (VOD).

One ray of hope is that a few vaccines will be available starting in a few weeks, which should hopefully end the pandemic in 2021 and we can resume our formerly normal lives. Or will it, at least when it comes to cinemas?

The movie theater industry has always been insecure over its propects of survival whenever a new type of medium came into being. Back in the 1950s, film studios were convinced films were doomed because of the mass introduction of television. Later the same fears arose with the rise of home video and cable networks and streaming services. Then the industry had to compete with other forms of entertainment like video games. Yet, throughout all of the competition, cinemas survived. But now many fear it appears as if they will finally close because of the pandemic.

Of course, the pandemic will not last forever, but it exposed the drawbacks of the movie-going experience which is more socially based than most of us realized. Also, film studios have found ready audiences with home media which has grown with the rise of the streaming apps like Netflix, Disney+ and HBO Max.

The studios have realized what was important to their bottom line was not necessarily new content but a vast library that will keep streaming subscribers. It may not make sense but it is true. Look at Disney+, they have existed for just over a year and the only premium original content they debuted was The Mandalorian. Yet, the service has over 73 million subscribers who enjoy their library of Star Wars films and specials, Pixar films, Disney classics and Marvel-related films and TV shows. Technically the service does not have to introduce new content to keep their subscribers although this concept may be tested if Disney+ fails to deliver on its many promised premium Star Wars and Marvel shows.

Meanwhile, Netfilx has an exhaustive library of content but much of it is licensed and the service is losing many of them. This is why Netflix has cranked out so many original films and TV shows like Stranger Things, The Umbrella Academy and at one time Marvel-based shows like Daredevil and Luke Cage.

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Bringing The X-Men Into The MCU

When Walt Disney Entertainment acquired 20th Century Fox the entertainment giant gained the rights to several Marvel Comics properties, particularly the mutant superheroes, the X-Men. Ever since then fans of the comic book and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) have speculated into oblivion over the possibilites of bringing the X-Men into the MCU.

Aside from the logistics of finding and hiring the right people (actors, writers, directors, etc.), there is the hurdle of making the mutants fit logically in the  intricate MCU. Consider the fact that the mutants in the comics and the Fox X-Men films have been a part of their societies for many years and were widely feared and distrusted. When watching an older MCU film, it is clear that mutants are not anywhere to be found (aside from a deleted clip from Iron Man where Nick Fury references mutants). Where are they? The simple answer is that mutants do not exist and the closest thing to the MCU had were the Inhumans who only appeared on TV shows and it’s murky if they are actually part of the MCU. That is a debate for another time, but looking closely at the TV shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. it can be said that most shows are part of the MCU. Otherwise, where were the mutants during the calamitous events of the Avengers films? The heroes could have used their help!

On a related note, the same headache is going on with the Eternals. If they existed in the MCU throughout history why were they MIA during Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame? We’ll find out how this is explained when their film comes out next year.

Now, Marvel Studios is free to bring the X-Men into the MCU, so how can it be done? There are a few options and hopefully, Marvel Studios will find the best one. Here is what can be done:

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Back To The Future: How It Can Return

It has been 35 years since Back to the Future premiered in theaters and 30 years since the final film Back to the Future: Part III last graced fans as Doc Brown’s flying, time-traveling locomotive blasted its way through the screens. In the time since fans of the classic time travel film trilogy have always asked, will there be more? A Back to the Future, Part IV? Sadly, time and time again (no pun intended), the answer from the films’ creators has always been no.

The director of the trilogy, Robert Zemeckis, and writer/producer Bob Gale are quite adamant about not continuing the further adventures of Marty McFly and Emmett “Doc” Brown. As far as they are concerned, the trilogy was perfect, ended on a great note (which it did) and there was not a need to revisit the time traveling duo. The feeling was, what else could Marty and Emmett do?

With a time traveling DeLorean, there are plenty of stories left! Alas, the DeLorean was destroyed at the end of Back to the Future, Part III, but wait! Doc Brown, thought to have been stranded in Hill Valley in 1885, was able to build a time machine out of a locomotive. Back to the Future: The Animated Series, which aired for two seasons after the trilogy concluded gave fans a glimpse of more time traveling hijinks with Marty and Doc. The DeLorean was rebuilt and used, as well as the time locomotive, to travel to different time periods, where they often wound up encountering some kind of Biff Tannen ancestor. So, we had that nugget. Plus, Christopher Lloyed reprised his role of Doc Brown in the show’s live-action segments, and Thomas F. Wilson and Mary Steenburgen returned to play Biff Tannen (or his ancestor) and Clara Brown. respectively.

More than anyone else, Lloyd has kept the torch burning for Back to the Future with his reprisals in the following years. Not only did he play Doc Brown in the animated series, but he was a prominent character in the simulator attraction Back to the Future: The Ride at the Universal Studios theme parks. Wilson even returned as Biff Tannen in the attraction as the villain you had to chase in your own modified DeLorean. It seriously is a crime that Universal Studios closed the attraction and has not tried to build a new ride since that film has stood the test of time and is still popular.

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Michael Keaton Returns As Batman?

Well this is a big surprise: Michael Keaton is in talks with DC and Warner Bros. Studios to reprise his role as Bruce Wayne aka Batman in the upcoming DC Extended Universe (DCEU) film The Flash. Even more surprising is that this version of Batman will be the same version seen decades ago in the original Tim Burton films, Batman and Batman Returns.

Of course, the big question among fans is how is this possible? There is already a Batman (portrayed by Ben Affleck) in the DCEU that does not mesh with the continuity of the Burton films. The best and most likely answer has to be the appearance of the Keaton Batman must be due to the Flashpoint event shown in the DC comics and The Flash TV show where Barry Allen aka the Flash runs fast enough to time travel and changes history, In this story, Barry Allen prevents his mother’s murder and his reality changes. This event led to last decade’s reboot of the DC Universe, the New 52.

This event could be used to allow the Flash to travel through different realities or the multiverse as shown in the Arrowverse crossover event “Crisis on Infinite Earths”, which aired earlier this year and where the TV version of the Flash met the DCEU incarnation played by Ezra Miller. There are already rumors the film will show that encounter from the viewpoint of the Miller version of the Flash. In fact, the Burton Batman universe was briefly seen in the crossover event during a montage in the first episode. Perhaps the Flash will be visiting other multiverses in a much higher scale *meaning a larger production budget that can afford cameos by A-list actors) than seen in the TV event. It is unknown what will be the extent of Keaton’s appearance but it’s unlikely he will have a huge role but will hopefully be more than a glorified cameo. This also gives validity to the fan theory that The Flash will be used to rewrite the DCEU and replace certain actors and retcon what has happened in previous DCEU films, just as Flashpoint rebooted the DC Universe in the comic books.  However, there are also rumors that the Keaton Batman will appear in other DCEU films in a similar connecting fashion as Agent Coulson or Nick Fury did for the MCU films. Exactly how this will pan out if this Batman will be the original Keaton Batman remains to be seen.

On the other hand, this may not come to pass and either the Keaton Batman will play a small role in an altered reality that mentors the Flash or Michael Keaton may change his mind or someone else will be tapped to fill in the role. Is Christian Bale willing to talk to Warner Bros. about this? Even seeing George Clooney as Bruce Wayne for a cameo would be awesome! It would be terrific if other big name actors who played DC heroes in the past could appear in The Flash. This would be perfect for Ryan Reynolds to come back as Green Lantern and leave a better impression with the role or if the film could somehow incorporate elements from the Christopher Reeve Superman films. 

The important thing to remember is that this is supposed to be a film about the Flash, not the DC multiverse. As long as director Andy Muschietti keeps the focus on Barry Allen and his story (and if the film actually gets made) then the film will be a phonemenal presentation of the Scarlet Speedster as he meets the other wondrous characters in the DC multiverse.