Questions About The Future Of The MCU

The aftermath of Marvel Studios’ announcement of their upcoming films and TV shows at last weekend’s San Diego Comic-Con is still ongoing. All the complaints about Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) have been vanquished as fans now contemplate Phase Five and Six,which will start early next year.

Although the reaction to the new MCU projects has been positive, many questions did come up about the films and TV shows or rather what was not announced. Observers pointed out there were gaps in the official release schedule for the upcoming phases, especially with Phase Six. In that phase only three films were announced (Fantastic Four, Avengers: The Kang Dynasty, and Avengers: Secret Wars), but there were slots for eight more releases. So, what could they be? Let’s examine further…

Where are the Mutants?

The mutant characters in the X-Men and other assorted X-teams were particularly absent during the Comic-Con announcement. Ever since Disney acquired 20th Century Fox and its film properties in 2019, which included the film rights to X-Men, fans have been anxious to see Marvel Studios’ take on the mutants. And some are becoming impatient. But given the many mutant-related films and TV shows over the last few years, it is for the best that the mutants be given a rest to build up demand and recharge the creative energy of those who would bring about more live-action mutant films and TV shows. Marvel Studios played it smart with drip, drip, drip Easter eggs and references to the mutants in the MCU. In last year’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, part of the action took place in the fictional country of Madripoor, a location well known as Wolverine’s incognito stomping grounds. It has been heavily implied in WandaVision, that Wanda Maximoff was a mutant. Professor Xavier, founder of the X-Men, turned up in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, albeit this was an alternate variant. In the most recent MCU TV show, Ms. Marvel, it was revealed at the end that the title character was a mutant, though that word was not actually used.

It has been reported that Ryan Reynolds, who plays Deadpool, will reprise the role in a Deadpool 3 film for Marvel Studios, and it has been rumored the film will be part of Phase Five. Whenever the film comes out, it is bound to be a hit and increase demand for more X-Men-related films.

Secret Wars and Followups

Perhaps the mutant superhero team will be one of those unannounced films in Phase Six. One possible clue was the recent announcement that the director of Avengers: The Kang Dynasty would not be Joe and Anthony Russo but instead the director of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Destin Daniel Cretton. It was expected that the Russo Brothers, who directed the last two Avengers films to great success, were the go-to guys for future Avengers films. But in the past, they’ve expressed a desire to do their own take of the X-Men. Perhaps, they were offered their dream assignment and this will be announced at the D23 Expo in September. Or the X-Men won’t turn up until Phase Seven. It was reported earlier this week that Disney cannot recast the X-Men until 2025 and Marvel Studios will probably want to run out the clock until then before even starting work on the MCU version of the mutant superheroes. At this point it’s anyone’s guess.

Once Cretton was announced as the director of the next Avengers film, people began wondering who would helm Avengers: Secret Wars. It could go to the Russo Brothers, but that seems unlikely, given the possibility they could be busy with the mutants. Then again they could be tapped to direct Avengers: Secret Wars if it turns out the film will actually be a two-part saga. The original Secret Wars mini-series in 2015 was a sprawling epic that will be difficult to pull off with just one film. It could turn out that the story of Avengers: Secret Wars will have to be continued into Phase Seven, which could be called the Battleworld Saga. During Secret Wars, various patches of reality were merged into a world created by Doctor Doom. The Phase Seven films could explore these separate realities before coming to a concluding epic film.

Getting back to the director of the sixth Avengers film, if the Russos don’t direct it then another possibilty is Jon Watts, the director of the MCU Spider-Man trilogy of films. The concludng film of the trilogy, Spider-Man: No Way Home, was one of the most succesful films of all time and its head-spinning plotline about multiversal variants and characters from different film franchises meeting each other was well directed by Watts. This makes him an obvious contender for an Avengers film dealing with characters from alternate universes meeting and battling each other. This could be the reason why Watts left the Fantastic Four reboot he was supposed to direct. His success with Spider-Man: No Way Home demonstrated he had the skills to take on an even more epic film.

Putting aside speculating about directors and mutants, let’s ponder what other MCU offerings are coming up. It was a surprise that the previously announced Armor Wars TV mini-series was not part of the announcements at Comic-Con, yet Marvel Studios insist that mini-series will still be made. It is possible Armor Wars will be part of Phase Six.

It has also been reported that a TV series based upon Wonder Man will be produced and if so Wonder Man can be part of Phase Six. Other live-action TV series could include second seasons for Hawkeye, Moon Knight, and She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, and maybe a third season of Loki that could coincide with the upcoming Avengers films.

As for other films, a no-brainer would be a second Shang-Chi film, as well as a third Doctor Strange film. After all the last Doctor Strange film ended on a bit of a cliffhanger and was strongly tied to the Multiverse Saga. There are rumors that Marvel Studios is considering a followup to Eternals, but since that film had a mixed reaction what is more likely is that some of its characters will be important players in other films, perhaps one about the cosmic superhero Nova. Supposedly, Marvel Studios is developing a Nova film, which could not only feature the Eternals, but tie-in with the Guardians of the Galaxy. Of course, this depends on how the third and final Guardians of the Galaxy film concludes.

The Spider-Man Wild Card

Given the humongous success of Spider-Man: No Way Home, a new trilogy about the MCU Spider-Man should be a given. Yet, nothing has been announced. As many know, Marvel Studios does not have the film rights to Spider-Man and Spider-Man films were never made part of Marvel Studios’ big announcements. They just pop up and a spot on the crowded MCU schedule is found for them. Expect the same thing to happen with Phase Five and Six.

The big question with future MCU Spider-Man films is will Jon Watts return to direct them? If not him then who else can direct a Spider-Man film? Marvel Studios cannot make that decision because that will be up to Sony Pictures, which holds the film rights to Marvel’s most popular character. Unfortunately, instead of focusing on more Spider-Man films, Sony is obsessed with mining other Spider-Man-related properties. The problem is that what they have planned does not sound promising aside from Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. So, fans will have to wait and see what Sony decides.

No matter how this all ends up with Phase Five and Six of the MCU, fans will end up happy, upset or somewhere in between. Either way, there will be something for everyone.

José Soto

The Stumbles Of The MCU’s Phase Four

The toughest thing about being king of the mountain is staying there to paraphrase an old saying. Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige is certainly experiencing this now given the stumbles and headaches with Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The film universe devoted to the Marvel Comics heroes absolutely ruled the box office in the past decade with their interconnected films. Many memorable characters became part of our popular culture in a way not seen since the original Star Wars films. The MCU reached its zenith in 2019 with the release of Avengers: Endgame, as that film concluded the Infinity Saga. But since then, there are cracks in the once-invincible armor of the MCU as their recent entries in film and television streaming have had a mixed reaction from fans and critics.

The films and TV shows are successful as seen with most recently with Thor: Love and Thunder and Ms. Marvel. However, in the past an MCU entry would both be well received by fans, critics and profitable. But as seen with the most recent entries that is no longer the case. Thor: Love and Thunder was not as well received, but it is a genuine box office hit, while, Ms. Marvel received excellent reviews, but was the least viewed MCU TV show. This is nothing new with Phase Four of the MCU, which began when Black Widow was released in theaters and streamed at the same time on Disney+ in May 2021. Due to the pandemic and the availability of the film on home media, Black Widow did not make as much money as many of the previous MCU films and had a middling reception by critics and fans. As the pandemic eased and subsequent films were released exclusively in theaters, they performed better with Spider-Man: No Way Home becoming the biggest hit of Phase Four and acclaimed by fans and critics, alike. But most of the other film entries have proven to be controversial or derided by all.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is an excellent example as it was equally revered and derided, Some enjoyed the more viceral horror elements of the film, but others complained about the film’s content, the way certain characters were treated and so on. Others wanted to see more bizarre explorations of other dimensions and alternate takes of the MCU aside from the Illuminati. Basically, these critics felt the so-called Mulitverse of Madness did not live up to its name.

That leads to another gripe with the recent MCU fare. Before a film or TV show comes out, the speculation about who will appear in them goes overboard which will disappointment fans. This was evident with WandaVision when one of the TV show’s star promised an important character would appear in the last episode, leading to wild rumors that the X-Men would finally debut in the MCU, but this did not happen. Then there were all the supposed cameos for the second Doctor Strange film that never materialized. What is more infuriating are the reports that many characters were supposed to appear in these films and TV shows, but for one reason or another these appearances did not happen.

Here are some examples: Doctor Strange was supposed to appear in a cameo in WandaVision, Deadpool was supposed to pop up in a post-credits zinger in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, director Sam Raimi was supposed to reunite with Tobey Maguire as the universe of Spider-Man was supposed to be visited in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Beta Ray Bill would finally debut in Thor: Love and Thunder, Werewolf by Night was supposed to appear in Moon Knight, and so on. Now, the speculation continues as Doctor Doom will supposedly make his MCU debut in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and that Ben Grimm and Matt Murdock will turn up in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. This speculation is a great way to generate interest but it is bound to disappoint many, no matter what. Of course, there have been notable and important cameos in the Phase Four films and TV shows, such as the characters from the Netflix Marvel TV shows turning up in Hawkeye and Spider-Man: No Way Home, Captain Marvel appearing in a post-credits scene of Ms. Marvel, and of course the appearances of several Marvel heroes like Reed Richards and Professor X in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

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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.

Morbius: When Trailers Deceive Us

By now, most of us have heard about Morbius and how it wildly differed from what the trailers promised. Namely, solid connections with Spider-Man or even the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). But what we got was downright deceptive.

For some time now, there have been grumblings by filmgoers and fans about how what was shown in trailers never showed up in the final films. Some recent examples include the famous charge of the heroes in the first trailer for Avengers: Infinity War, which prominently showed a very large and angry Hulk charging along with the other Avengers and allies. But as we saw in the film, the Hulk only appeared briefly in the film’s opening moments and the scene of the charging Avengers was nowhere to be found.

Another example was in the recent Spider-Man: No Way Home which digitally removed the other Spider-Men taking part in battling the many foes or alternate scenes with Doctor Strange that did not make it to the final film.

A big reason for these deceptions is because of spoilers. A decision was made for Spider-Man: No Way Home to keep the revelations about the other Spider-Men a surprise, even though this was the worst kept secret in Hollywood. In another case, for a trailer for Thor: Ragnarok, the God of Thunder was shown in channeling electricity with two eyes flaring with energy. However, when this happened in the film, Thor by this point, lost an eye while battling Hela.

Another reason for the deception is not that the films were intentionally deceiving viewers but rather the clips in the trailers failed to make the final cut of the films. This points to what probably happened with Morbius.

In the trailers for Morbius there were several scenes establishing the existence of Spider-Man in the world of Morbius. A great example is that clip of Morbius walking past a poster of Spider-Man with the word “Murderer” sprayed over the poster. This led to wild speculation if this film took place in the MCU given Spider-Man’s predicament or in the non-MCU Spider-Man films where the character underwent a dark chapter that we have not seen.

There were also a couple of scenes showing Adrian Toomes/Vulture (played by Michael Keaton) interacting with Morbius, which led to more speculation. But alas, none of this happened or was seen in the final film, which had zero Spider-Man connections until the post-credits scenes. Without going into spoilers, these scenes did not make any sense.

Obviously, eager Spider-Man fans were sorely disappointed by the final cut of Morbius. The question remains is how long will film studios and their marketing departments continue to deceive filmgoers? Yes, the audiences have to consider that usually when a trailer is released the film has not been completed, so they cannot expect to see every shot in a trailer to show up in a film. They also have to consider that studios want to leave some surprises for fans. But to outright tease connections to the world of Spider-Man and the MCU and deliver nonsenscal post-credit scenes is an insult to fans. What will happen is that fans will eventually tune out trailers and the enthusiasm for these films will diminish, and this could ultimately impact the box office. Being that this is the thing that matters most to film studios, they have to take heed about how they burn fans with deceptive trailers.

Spider-Man: No Way Home—Spider-Man’s Endgame

Despite a global pandemic and naysayers, Spider-Man: No Way Home (NWH) defied expectations and is a mammoth box office hit. With the success comes discussion over what lies ahead for future Spider-Man films and the ramifications of the events of NWH. Be aware the following will include spoilers about Spider-Man: No Way Home and related films.

The Complex Film Web

Spider-Man’s film history and its development has always been rocky. Before the first Spider-Man in 2002, it took years and armies of lawyers to develop a Spider-Man film thanks to the Marvel Comics superhero’s complex film rights. As it now stands Sony Pictures holds the film rights to Spider-Man, not The Walt Disney Company or Marvel Studios. While Sony had great success with the early Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man films, they struggled with their rebooted film duology, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The film studio tried to start their own film universe based on Spider-Man and related property to rival Marvel Studios’ Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). But those films were not as successful as the Raimi films nor were they well received. This forced Sony to scuttle further planned films and work with Marvel Studios to integrate the superhero into the MCU. This paid off tremendously as the MCU Spider-Man films were beloved and very profitable.

The partnership between Sony and Disney hit a large hurdle in 2019 shortly after the release of Spider-Man: Far From Home, a film which ended on a cliffhanger. The two companies could not come to terms and Sony took back the film rights, effectively ending all appearances by Spider-Man in the MCU. After some time, cooler heads prevailed and Spidey was allowed to have at least one more appearance in the MCU, which was Spider-Man: No Way Home, a film that celebrated all the Spider-Man live-action films as the actors who performed Spider-Man in the older films, Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield reprised their iconic roles. Many theorized that based on the film’s plot line dealing with alternate realities that the superhero would transition away from the MCU and into his own reality that was populated by other characters such as Venom and Morbius.

Across a Multiverse

According to executives from both film companies, Spider-Man will remain in the MCU for the time being. Producer Amy Pascal even went as far as to announce that a new MCU Spider-Man was in development and perhaps more. He is also supposed to appear in one other MCU film as a feature character like he did in Captain America: Civil War and the last two Avengers films. It would be terrific if he could show up in the MCU reboot of the Fantastic Four since the two properties have a shared early history and the director of the MCU Spider-Man films, Jon Watts, has been selected to direct the FF reboot.

Spider-Man remaining in the MCU is welcome news for fans who love the MCU version of Spider-Man. No one can say for certain if this actually happens, but given the huge success of the MCU Spider-Man films, it would be in the best interests of both film studios to continue the arrangement. On the other hand, if this does not come to pass, at least the cliffhanger was resolved and the last film in the trilogy brought this Spidey’s story to a conclusion and a new chapter in his life.

Supposing Spider-Man were to remain in the MCU what would he face next? One clue is the alien symbiote that created Venom. At the end of Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Venom was transported to the MCU, however he did not play a vital role in NWH. Instead, Venom and his host Eddie Brock hung out in a bar in Mexico and was transported back to his own reality in a mid-credit scene in NWH. The scene was quite funny, but some were disappointed that Venom did not help out the Spider-Men or join the Sinister Six. But a small fragment of the symbiote was left behind in the MCU. So this could be what Peter faces next.

As to how this fragment remained while everyone else not part of the MCU were transported back to their own realities, well, because plot holes. On that note, where were the other characters from other realities that knew Peter Parker was Spider-Man, such as the Raimi version of Venom, or the Harry Osborns in the other films or Peter’s love interests? The real-world answer is that having them show up would have made the film too crowded. It already had the two previous versions of Spider-Man and the main villains from those films, plus the Venom and Matt Murdock appearances. It is possible they arrived much later in NWH and were quickly whisked back before they could do anything. Or maybe they were about to come through in the scene near the end where the dimensional rift threatened to rip open wider. In that moment, audiences could make out the forms of other Spider-Man villains like Kraven the Hunter and Scorpion, so other characters who knew Spider-Man’s secret identity were bound to come through, also.

For now, it seems as if Venom will have his own universe that is populated by at least one other Spider-Man villain, Morbius. There are hints that this universe is part of the film universe of The Amazing Spider-Man films. These include the font for the Daily Bugle newspaper seen in Venom: Let There Be Carnage and Morbius is similar to that seen in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Another is the Oscorp Building featured in those films turned up in a recent trailer for Morbius. That film references Venom and the trailers featured Michael Keaton as presumably the Vulture, an MCU Spider-Man villain. How can this be? Simple, this version of the version is similar to the MCU version seen in Spider-Man: Homecoming. The way that actor J.K. Simmons reprised his role as J. Jonah Jameson in NWH being that he played the same character in the Raimi Spider-Man films also applies in this case with the Vulture. In other words, his appearance in Morbius does not mean the film takes place in the MCU. As to the apprent absence of Spider-Man in the Venom films to date (post-credits scenes aside), well, they could have taken place before The Amazing Spider-Man films.

There are plans to create a film based on Kraven the Hunter with Aaron Taylor-Johnson playing the famous Spidey villain. This film could be interesting, but would feel hollow without Spider-Man’s presence. More than Venom or Morbius, Kraven was driven and defined by Spider-Man. He was obssessed by besting his ultimate prey in the comic books. This culminated in the classic story line “Kraven’s Last Hunt” and it is hard to imagine such a story being filmed without Spider-Man. If the Kraven film takes place in The Amazing Spider-Man films perhaps it can include Andrew Garfield’s version of Spider-Man.

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