The Eve Of Marvel’s Phase Five

Phase Five of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) launches this week with the wide release of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. The film is supposed to help pave a firm direction for the MCU with the introduction of the next big bad of the MCU, Kang the Conqueror, and will culminate with the next Avengers films, Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars. What should be noted is that the next Avengers films will be part of Phase Six, so Phase Five will serve to set up the grand finale of the so-named Multiverse Saga.

Many MCU fans are hoping that after the mixed results of Phase Four that Phase Five will course correct for the MCU and keep the cinematic universe on top. There were many issues with Phase Four such as a lack of focus, films and TV shows that were not as high in quality as the previous MCU offerings, and so on. There were also many successes and material that Phase Five and Six will build upon, especially with the introduction of the Multiverse concept. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is rumored to dwell on this with the inclusion of Kang, who is a time-traveling villain.

There are many reasons why Phase Four of the MCU was not as revered as previous phases. Given the success of the MCU, there has been increased pressure by Disney to Marvel Studios to create more films and TV shows (the TV shows were a new feature for the MCU beginning with Phase Four) at a faster rate. This overstretched the capability of Marvel Studios to maintain the level of quality with previous MCU projects. Adding to the release pressure was the COVID-19 pandemic which severely affected productions and created delays, which we’re are still grappling with today. Then there were the expectations of fans and the fact that many of the MCU products simply were not as appealing since popular characgters like Iron Man and Captain America were absent. Many of these issues still remain as Marvel Studios plows ahead with Phase Five of the MCU, but hopefully they are better prepared to meet the challenges.

When being critical of Phase Four it is important to realize that it did a lot more to help set up the Multiverse Saga. Films like Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness were important to the Saga, as well as TV shows like Loki and What If…? Phase Four also set up plot lines and characters that will be further explored in Phase Five and beyond. Both TV shows will have second seasons as part of Phase Five, which will dive even deeper into the concept of time travel and alternate realities. The second Doctor Strange film also introduced the plot line of Incursions, where traveling to different realties will ultimately cause them to collide and destroy one another. This was a major plot line in Marvel Comics that culminated with the second Secret Wars mini-series event. With a title like Avengers: Secret Wars it is certain that the upcoming film will be a loose adaptation of the comic book mini-series. By now, given how well received Marvel Comics storylines were adapted in MCU films, even if they were adaptations in name only, the Secret Wars film will also be acclaimed.

Aside from Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania the only Marvel film that directly deals with the Multiverse will be Deadpool 3, which is due next year. This film is technically not part of the MCU or Phase Five, but it reportedly will deal with Deadpool and Wolverine traveling through alternate realities and it’s fairly certain that the two will visit the MCU. There are also rumors that a third Doctor Strange film is in the works, which will deal with Incursions as seen in the post-credits scene of the last Doctor Strange film. But if this film is made it most likely will be a part of Phase Six as the Multiverse storyline starts to ramp up.

The remaining Phase Five films and TV shows will either be about new characters (Blade, Daredevil: Born Again and Thunderbolts) or continue individual stories that, as far as we know, doesn’t involve the Multiverse (Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3, The Marvels, Captain America: New World Order, Echo, Secret Invasion, Ironheart and Agatha: Coven of Chaos). However given the subtitle of Coven of Chaos, it is possible the Agatha Harkness TV show might have something to do with the Incursions or the Multiverse.

There is also the wildcard to consider for Phase Five: another MCU Spider-Man film. In the past, Spider-Man films have never been part of official MCU film announcements. That is because the film rights to the superhero are held by Sony Pictures, who is off trying to launch their own cinematic universe based on Spider-Man characters. But given the huge success of Spider-Man: No Way Home and that many consider it to be the best Phase Four film, it is obvious that Sony is planning a fourth MCU Spider-Man film. Will it be produced in time to make it part of the Phase Five slate? That is unknown at this time. If filming starts later this year, it is possible the film will be completed in time to be scheduled for a 2024 release and be part of Phase Five. Otherwise, the fourth MCU Spider-Man film will be part of Phase Six.

Given that Phase Four of the MCU was not as well received as previous MCU films, Phase Five of the MCU will be subjected to greater scrutiny by fans. In other words, Phase Five of the MCU has to deliver much more than Phase Four. The people behind the films and TV shows are aware of this and will do their best to deliver the same quality product that were so revered by fans in the past. While some expectations have been lowered for the MCU and superhero films and TV shows it is unwise to count out Marvel Studios and the MCU at this point.

José Soto

Doctor Strange’s Deep Dive Into The Multiverse

*Note: The following will contain MAJOR SPOILERS for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

For anyone who has seen Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the latest entry from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the film raised many questions and fueled intense speculation for what lies ahead with the MCU and its version of the multiverse or alternate realities.

The MCU has toyed with the concept of the multiverse for some time and further explored it in recent Disney+ TV shows, and even Avengers: Endgame, but the sequel to Doctor Strange is the first MCU film to fully dive into the concept. During the film, the sorcerer Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) encounters a young woman called America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who has the ability to travel between universes or the multiverse. She is being hunted by Wanda Maximoff aka the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who wants to steal her power (and killing her to do so) in order to travel to another reality where her fictional children that she conjured in WandaVision are actually alive. During a confrontation between Strange and the Scarlet Witch, Strange and Chavez wind up traveling through several bizarre universes before arriving in a universe numbered 838. The MCU we know of is designated 616, even though that designation belongs to the regular Marvel Comics universe, which itself designated the MCU 199,999.

Despite the weird worlds Strange and Chavez traveled through, like an animated universe or one where they turned into paint colors, the 838 quickly stood out in the way that society embraced living more harmoniously with nature and with its heroes. Strange met the superhuman team called the Illuminati who deal with the deadliest threats to reality and included alternate MCU heroes and new ones, as well. The most interesting Illuminati members were Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell), a What If…? character perfectly realized in live action, Reed Richards, leader of the Fantastic Four (played by John Krasinski, a fan-casting dream come true), a comics-accurate version of Black Bolt (reprised by Anson Mount who originated the role in the Inhumans TV show), and Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who was a new version of the Professor X seen in the Fox X-Men films.

As great as it was to see these heroes, some fans were disappointed that the film did not feature more appearances by alternate characters such as a rumored Iron Man played by Tom Cruise, Tobey Maguire returning as Spider-Man or Chris Evans as the Human Torch (a role he played in the first official Fantastic Four films). Sure, it would have been terrific to see more cameos but to do so threatened to take away from the main story of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which had to focus on Strange and his foe. The appearances we got were to merely whet our appetite for things to come, which were clearly outlined in the film. So fear not, this is just the beginning. Before long we’ll have a deep dive into the multiverse.

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The Superhero Multiversal Crossover Events Are Among Us

The biggest and latest thing now with live-action superhero films and TV shows are the crossover events that feature previous versions of superheroes and supervillains showing up to lend a hand or imperil the current heroes. The most recent and one of the best examples was seen in Spider-Man: No Way Home where the Spider-Man (Tom Holland) of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) met two older versions of Spider-Man (both played by Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield) that appeared in their own films.

Of course, fans will be in for a treat this week as Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness debuts and promises to deliver a the mother of all crossover events as the worlds of the MCU, previous Marvel films and more will interact. But that’s not all, next year The Flash will be about its own crossover event as the title hero’s (Ezra Miller) time travel antics will create alternate timelines and have him meet previous film versions of DC’s superheroes; notably Batman, reprised by Michael Keaton.

There have been other examples of multiverses in superhero films and TV shows. The TV series Loki, heavily dealt with this theme as the title villain (Tom Hiddleston) was a Loki from an alternate timeline that ultimately did not die as he escaped the events that led to his death in Avengers: Infinity War. This Loki grappled with knowledge about his potential fate, time travel and bizarre variants of his being, which included an alligator version of Loki (!). The events of the TV show probably led to the multiversal crisis befalling the MCU.

The Disney+ animated series What If…? exclusively explores other versions of the MCU, such as one where T’Challa never became Black Panther but instead became Star-Lord, or a world where zombies have overrun the MCU. More importantly at least two characters introduced in the What If…? series will appear in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. They are a dark version of Doctor Strange and a Peggy Carter who recieved the super-soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers. In one segment when a superpowered Ultron and the Watcher fought, their battle raged across different universes, including what may be the Star Wars universe. This series is inspired by the Marvel Comics title What If…? which explored different outcomes and events of the Marvel Universe, only the animated series focused on the MCU and for the most part the series was fun to watch.

Another terrific animated presentation from Marvel was the masterpiece Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which took place in an alternate world where a blond Peter Parker died as Spider-Man and Miles Morales took his place as a new Spider-Man. In his adventures he met alternate versions of Spider-Man including an older, jaded version of Peter Parker, Peter’s old girlfriend, Gwen Stacy and a cartoon pig. The film won the Oscar for best animated film and two sequels will be coming out starting next year.

Marvel is not the only one dealing with animated alternate worlds. DC has released several animated films based on their Elseworlds imprint, which is their own take of alternate universes. We’ve witnessed adaptations of popular Elseworld tales such as Superman: Red Son, Gotham Under Gaslight, and The Dark Knight Returns. These films were excellent adaptations of the source material or were inspired by the original premise.

DC has already had its live-action forays into alternate worlds. Crisis on Infinite Earths was a television crossover event that took place across DC’s Arrowverse TV shows. The event was a very loose adaptation of the classic comic book mini-series about multiple timelines and universes in DC being combined into one. The highlight of that event was, of course, the cameos, Easter eggs and appearances of DC heroes and villains from various live DC films and TV shows that were not part of the Arrowverse. For instance, we got to see Burt Ward reprise his role as Dick Grayson from the 1960s Batman TV show, we revisited the world of Smallville, and Brandon Routh appeared as Superman in a combination sequel to Superman Returns and loose adaptation of the classic comic book mini-series Kingdom Come. But the biggest surprise was that the TV version of the Flash (Grant Gustin) briefly met the film version played by Ezra Miller.

As to the rest of the crossover event, it was acceptable. Being these were Arrowverse shows with limited budgets, the result was what one would expect. Still, it was often entertaining and seeing the concept of a multiverse realized was fun, especially the end of the event which gave us tanatlizing glimpses into other worlds and stories.

These stories about multiverses and alternate characters and situations seemed unheard of fairly recently. Aside from the logistical hurdles of clearing rights and enticing actors to return to roles, the film and TV executives also feared that such stories would be too confusing. Sure, comic book readers and fans would understand the concept of alternate timelines and situations but the average person might not. Fortunately, as we have seen lately, these live-action presentations have been very successful, especially Spider-Man: No Way Home, which became one of the highest grossing films of all time. Still, the writers and showrunners have to be able to thread the needle carefully and tell a compelling and clear story. Otherwise, the result will be a confusing and unsatisfying film or TV show. The important thing to remember is that these are fun and fascinating explorations of our favorite characters. So for now, let’s enjoy and celebrate. these crossovers and multiverses for what they are.

Alternate Superheroes & Casting For The DCEU

We’ve been hearing a lot of news about the Flash solo film which is rumored to reboot the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) by loosely adapting the DC Comics mini-series Flashpoint where the Flash time travels and ends up altering his timeline. Evidence of this comes from the fact that Michael Keaton will reprise his role as Bruce Wayne/Batman, who last appeared in 1992’s Batman Returns.

Surely, Keaton returning cannot just be the only actor from a non-DCEU film whou could return. The film is also a great platform to explore never-before-seen alternate versions and castings of our favorite DC heroes or for returning non-DECU favorites. In the same manner that we explored earlier this year alternate castings of Marvel superheroes, here is a list of alternate castings and versions of DC characters that should appear in The Flash. BTW, this includes actors reprising their roles of characters who appeared in non-DCEU films. Be sure to drop a comment on your own choices!

10. Adrianne Palicki as Wonder Woman/Diana Prince

Fans will remember that Palicki was cast as the Amazonian princess in a failed TV pilot spearheaded by David E. Kelly. Despite the flaws with the pilot, Palicki still deserves to showcase her take of Wonder Woman. The same goes for Olga Kurylenko who was considered for the role in the DCEU, but lost to Gal Gadot.

9. The Titans

Officially designated as been on Earth-9 in the DC live-action multiverse, this gritty version of the Teen Titans shoule be given the chance to appear briefly in The Flash. Their appearance would be an organic way to help promote their TV show, Titans, since it is one of the better DC superhero TV shows currently streaming.

8. Ryan Reynolds as Green Lantern/Hal Jordan

Ten years later, everyone is still trying to forget the misfire that was called Green Lantern, which starred Ryan Reynolds. Keep in mind, that Reynolds was not what was wrong with the film and it would be a fun sight gag to see Reynolds return, especially after the casting was lampooned in Deadpool 2. Another twist would be to recast the cosmic superhero with Chris Pine, who was up for the role during the film’s development.

7. Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman

Rumor had it that if the film studio (Warner Bros.) was unable to convince Michael Keaton to reprise his role, then they would have turned to one of the most revered actors who portrayed the Caped Crusader, Christian Bale. Still, after Bale swore he was done with the role after The Dark Knight Rises, it would have taken a lot of negotiations and money to get him to return, but man that would have been a great payoff!

6. Stephen Amell as Spectre or Oliver Queen/Green Arrow

It’s no secret that Stephen Amell’s performance as the CW’s Batman stand-in, Green Arrow in the recently cancelled Arrow, helped elevate the superhero into an A-lister, at least for the CW. Plus, he turned in a respectable performance as Spectre in the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover event that deserves to be seen again, but on the big screen with better production values and effects. The same goes for his version of Green Arrow.

5. Bryan Cranston as Lex Luthor

One of the biggest miscastings in superhero films was when Zack Snyder picked Jesse Eisenberg to play the iconic Superman villain Lex Luthor in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The prefered choice by fans was that of Bryan Cranston who was so chilling in Breaking Bad, and the fantasy casting was not just because Cranston’s Walter White was bald. It was because of his intense and riveting performance which is still remembered to this day. His potential appearance could go a long way to convince the filmmakers to recast the role more appropriately.

4. Nicolas Cage as Clark Kent/Superman

Never mind the missed opportunities with Joe Manganiello and Matthew Goode as Superman in Man of Steel. We want to see the outrageous! Tim Burton’s aborted take on Superman has been chronicled everywhere with the bizarre reimaginings of the Man of Steel right down to the casting of Superman with Nicolas Cage. Fans have been aghast with the behind-the-scenes test footage of cage sporting long hair and a very plastic-looking Superman outfit. How could this vision not be allowed to be glimpsed at least once? Besides it would fullfill Cage’s dream of playing the Man of Tomorrow

3. George Miller’s Justice League: Mortal

Acclaimed director George Miller was so close to filming his take of the Justice League before events doomed the project. Ever since more details came out about the film, fans have been intrigued by what might have been since Justice League: Mortal predated the DCEU and focused heavily on the Flash. We will never see Miller’s vision but an appearance by his version of the Justice League, complete with his casting picks (including Armie Hammer as Batman), would be a small consolation.

2. Grant Gustin as Barry Allen/The Flash

The best thing about the CW crossover event, Crisis on Infinite Earths, was when Ezra Miller (who will reprise his role in The Flash) briefly appeared in one scene and met the current TV version of the Flash, played by Grant Gustin. It would be a hoot if the scene was revisted in The Flash but from Miller’s point of view and it would be even better if Gustin later played a role in the film along with John Wesley Shipp who appeared as the Scarlet Speedster in the 1990s live-action TV show, The Flash.

Josh Brolin as Bruce Wayne/Batman

Before Ben Affleck was cast as the newest Dark Knight in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Josh Brolin was seriously considered for the role. While Affleck defied expectations and turned in a memorable performance as Batman, we cannot stop wondering how Brolin’s interpretation of Batman would have been like. Of course, we have an idea of how Brolin would have fared thanks to his previous experience in superhero films as he played Thanos and Cable in Marvel films. So, portraying Batman should come naturally to this gifted actor. Another possibility would be to have Jeffrey Dean Morgan reprise his role as Thomas Wayne in the DCEU, which would more closely adapt the Flashpoint story line.

José Soto

Non MCU Marvel Characters Who Should Return

alternate MCU Avengers

Based on what we know about the next Doctor Strange film and the upcoming Spider-Man: No Way Home, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) will be deluged with characters who are non-MCU Marvel heroes and foes.

For example the third MCU Spider-Man film, will return Al Molina as Doctor Octopus (last seen in Spider-Man 2) and Jamie Foxx as Electro (seen in The Amazing Spider-Man 2). These two villains were part of defunct film universes which has led to speculation that Spider-Man: No Way Home might loosely adapt the Spider-Verse storyline from the Marvel Comics and even the animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Meanwhile, the title of the second Doctor Strange film, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, clearly gives away that the good sorcerer will be grappling with the multiverse and other characters from extinct film universes will appear. The film will even feature the Marvel Comics superhero America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who has the ability to punch her way through the multiverse. It’s an ability that Doctor Strange will find useful when he teams up with her. 

We’ve been teased with the concept of the multiverse as it was mentioned in Spider-Man: Far From Home and with the appearance of Evan Peters as Quicksilver in the WandaVision TV show. Though Peters’ appearance turned out to be stunt casting (SPOILER: he actually was not Quicksilver), we were teased with the concept of a multiverse during the post-credits scene of the final episode when Wanda Maximoff hears the cries of her children who no longer exist in the MCU. 

The people behind the MCU films have been tight-lipped about who will appear in these two films. This has fed  rampant speculation among fans, with the popular theory that former Spider-Man actors Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield will turn up in some capacity in Spider-Man: No Way Home, while the speculation has exploded as to who will appear in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

It is fun to speculate and theorize about this since in some way the appearances of these non-MCU Marvel characters support the concept that those abandoned film universes are still valid for us. Of course, fans of those films and characters do not need new film appearances to validate the love they have for those films which are forever treasured. Still, it is a nifty possibility that they will make some kind of comeback. 

Who should appear in the upcoming MCU films that deal with the multiverse? There are plenty of characters to choose from including some we never saw based on casting considerations at one time. Here is a list to ponder…

10. Tom Hiddleston as Thor Odinson

Most fans of the Thor films know that Tom Hiddleston, who rose to fame playing Loki, originally tested for the God of Thunder himself. Supposedly he impressed the filmmakers of Thor enough to be offered the role of Loki as a consolation. 

9. Dougray Scott as Wolverine/Logan

We all know Scott was originally cast as Wolverine in the first X-Men until an accident during the filming of Mission Impossible II forced the character to be recast with Hugh Jackman. While we all breathed a sigh of relief it will be fun to see how Scott would have seemed as Wolverine if he turns up in the next Doctor Strange film. 

8. Emma Stone as Spider-Gwen/Gwen Stacy

There are rumors that Miles Morales will at least cameo in Spider-Man: No Way Home, and although that would be terrific, it would be just as much fun to see other Spider-Verse characters like Spider-Man Noir, Spider-Ham and especially Spider-Gwen who must be played by Emma Stone since she did so well playing Gwen Stacy.

7. Robert Downey, Jr. as Doctor Strange/Tony Stark or Stephen Strange

It was recently revealed there was a cut scene in Avengers: Infinity War where Tony Stark and Stephen Strange swapped outfits. This led to an intriguing thought of having Downey, Jr. portraying Stephen Strange or at least the Sorcerer Supreme as seen in an alternate version in the comic books. 

6. Sairose Ronan as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch

Ronan was director Joss Whedon’s first choice for playing Wanda Maximoff in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Imagine how the role would have been like if she wound up playing Wanda instead of Elizabeth Olsen? Ronan’s appearance would bridge WandaVision and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness perfectly.

5. Joaquin Phoenix as Doctor Stephen Strange

The actor who owned the role of the Joker actually turned down the role of the Marvel wizard in Doctor Strange, mostly because he wanted to avoid a multi-film commitment. For Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Phoenix showing up as Stephen Strange would be a fun meta joke as the two doctors meet.

4. Emily Blunt as Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff

Before Scarlett Johansson was cast as the Russian super spy, Blunt was the original choice to play the hero. Now, she is the fan favorite to play Sue Storm in the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot. If that happens, seeing her as Black Widow will be a blast.

3. Chris Evans as the Human Torch/Johnny Storm

The much-maligned, early Fantastic Four films need to be represented somehow. Plus, Chris Evans’ role as Johnny Storm not only stole the films, but helped launch his career. It would be even better if Evans could portray both the Human Torch and Captain America at the same time!

2. Tom Cruise as Iron Man/Tony Stark

As outrageous as it now sounds, Tom Cruise would probably have been able to pull off a very decent version of billionaire playboy Tony Stark if an Iron Man film was done much earlier. There isn’t any way to tell unless we see Cruise appear as Stark in the next Doctor Strange film as is rumored.

1. John Krasinsky as Captain America/Steve Rogers

When it came down to the finalists to play Captain America in Captain America: The First Avenger, Chris Evans beat out John Krasinsky, who is now a fan favorite to play Reed Richards in the MCU version of the Fantastic Four. As great as Evans was as Captain America, no one can deny wondering how Krasinsky would have pulled off the iconic superhero. The multiverse-centric MCU films is the best way to let us see this casting.

Do any of you have any alternate castings of Marvel superheroes that you think should appear at some point? How about the Marvel Netflix heroes or those from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? Drop a comment!