Nagging Questions About The Current MCU

Most fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) are besides themselves with the new content streaming on Disney+ and coming soon to theaters (fingers crossed). While the new content is enjoyable and the upcoming slate of films and TV shows is exciting, there are a few nagging questions unanswered to date about the MCU. Here are just a sampling, oh, by the way, there will be spoilers about the characters and events of the MCU:

What Happened to the Avengers?

It is pretty obvious given the events of Avengers: Endgame that the superhero team broke up. By the end of that film Iron Man/Tony Stark sacrificed his life to stop Thanos; Captain America/Steve Rogers went back in time to live his life and returned as a feeble old man, so he’s out of commission (more later); Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff died obtaining the Soul Stone; and Thor left for space with the Guardians of the Galaxy. That left us with just two of the founding members, the Hulk/Bruce Banner and Hawkeye/Clint Barton. The Hulk was left with a disabled arm, while it was implied that Hawkeye retired. In fact, he did retire from the superhero life at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron.

So this means the Avengers are no more, correct? But why is it with the current TV shows and the last Spider-Man film, the main characters are referred to as Avengers? Would this mean the team is still active? It does not seem likely given that the Falcon, Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff were seen operating independently and behaved as if the team was gone.

If that is the case, wouldn’t Tony Stark or the founding members would have tried to set up a new team to carry on without them? Given all his fortune, wouldn’t Stark have left behind resources to ensure the Avengers continue? It seems irresponsible given the world-threatening events to leave the world without a team to protect it. Of course, this is a perfect way to set up the Thunderbolts, the Fantastic Four or some other superhero team to fill the vacuum. But when will we see this happen?

Who will be in the new Avengers line up?

We have clear candidates with the new Captain America (Sam Wilson), Spider-Man (if he can clear his name by the end of Spider-Man: No Way Home), War Machine, and maybe James Barnes (the former Winter Soldier), White Vision, Captain Marvel, Ant-Man and the Wasp. But is this the end for the Hulk? Is there anyway his arm can heal in time for him to rejoin the team and what is going on with Hawkeye? Will he be grooming Kate Bishop to take over for him as implied by the upcoming Hawkeye series?

What if the MCU introduces the Young Avengers as the team that will become the new Avengers? The Disney+ TV shows have already introduced members of the Young Avengers such as Elijah Bradley (Patriot), Kate Bishop (Hawkeye), Cassie Lang (Stature), Wiccan and Speed. All we need now are Iron Lad and Hulkling.

What Happened to Steve Rogers?

This is one of the most nagging questions about the current MCU. We last saw him handing over his shield to Sam Wilson at the end of Avengers: Endgame and that was it. In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, whenever he is mentioned he is said to be “gone” which is very cryptic. Did he die of old age? Or is he on the Moon as someone on the show speculated?

There are unconfirmed reports online that actor Chris Evans is negotiating with Marvel Studios to return to his role. Does this mean a rejuvenated Steve Rogers will appear down the line as it happened in the comic books? That is hard to say, but it won’t be answered until Phase Five of the MCU given that the announced lineup of upcoming films does not indicate anything about Captain America, although a fourth film featuring Sam Wilson as the captain is in development.

What does the end of WandaVision mean to the MCU?

Obviously, the events of WandaVision will lead to more exploration of the magical side of the MCU. The events of WandaVision not only directly lead to the next Doctor Strange film but Spider-Man: No Way Home as our favorite Wall-Crawler grapples with multi-dimensional threats and visitors.

From the way Wanda Maxmoff twisted reality in WandaVision, the door has literally been opened to the bizarre with unexpected appearances. Think of her dead brother Piotr returning, which was a meta casting joke and reference to the recent X-Men films. The next Spider-Man film will feature characters from previous Spider-Man film incarnations reprised by the original actors such as Jamie Foxx, Alfred Molina and supposedly Andrew Garfield, Tobey Maguire and Willem Dafoe. Will we see more appearances from other past properties? Why not bring back the actors/characters from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. so we can get confirmation that they exist in another continuity?

Another important related question has to do with Wanda herself? Can she be redeemed? Her actions in the show were villainous: she took over a town and warped the reality and minds of its residents against their will. At the end, she did not face justice for her actions and the post-credits scene in the final episode hinted that she was taken a more nefarious turn as she was shown studying the dark magical arts. We’ll find out in next year’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness as she will appear…supposedly as the film’s villain.

Are the other non-Disney+ Marvel TV shows part of MCU continuity?

Ever since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premiered many wondered whether or not the show was part of the MCU. This sounds silly given appearances of characters from the MCU films such as Agent Coulson, Nick Fury, Sif and others. But the films never referenced the show or acknowledged its existences. None of the original characters from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. turned up in an MCU film or were mentioned. The same went for other Marvel TV shows before the existence of Disney+. The Marvel shows that streamed on Netflix supposedly took place in the MCU but no one ever saw Daredevil or the other New York-based Netflix heroes turning up in the films. Ditto for other Marvel TV shows like Runaways, and Cloak and Dagger.

The only rare exception was when the original human Jarvis introduced in the TV show Agent Carter made a brief cameo in Avengers: Endgame. Also, there are rumors that some of the actors in the Netflix TV shows will reprise rebooted versions of their characters in upcoming films. We’ll know if this is true if Charlie Cox reprises his role as Matt Murdock in the next Spider-Man film.

Supposedly, the head of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige, did not want any association with the TV properties if he was not involved with the production. This explains why the films never referenced the TV shows to the irritation of some fans who sought a tighter continuity between the media.

At this point, the answer to the question is that no, these non-Disney+ TV shows are not set in the greater continuity of the MCU.

What happened in between the five-year jump in Avengers: Endgame?

During Avengers: Endgame there was a five-year time jump with limited exploration as to what occured in that time period. Supposedly, what was left after Thanos snapped his fingers at the end of Avengers: Infinity War was a paradise; never mind that his actions wiped out half of all life in the universe. This point of view came from the Flag Smashers terrorist group featured in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. One of the flaws with the villains is that we never saw for ourselves how great life was back before the Avengers resurrected the life wiped out of existence by Thanos.

According to some reports, the upcoming film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will take place in this five-year period, which will give us a first-hand look at society during this time and we can tell for ourselves if things were as great as the Flag Smashers claimed.

Also, it would not be surprising if future films and TV shows feature flashbacks which take place during this time period and will probably be explored in other medium such as those Prelude comic books. However, this time period is ample ground for future films and TV shows to explore.

Where are the mutants?

Ever since Disney acquired 20th Century Fox and gained the film rights to the X-Men, fans have been desperately waiting for any news or sign that the mutants will appear in the MCU. To date, those wishes have gone unfullfilled and will be for some time.

Anyone who saw last week’s Phase Four movie slate did not see any sign of mutants. The only clue we have to date was a visit to the fictional country of Madripoor in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which was Wolverine’s hiding spot in the comic books.

But other than that we won’t get anything else, not even casting hints until maybe next year or the following when Phase Four starts winding down. But it’s for the best since the mutants need to rest and recharge creatively. This will build up demand and excitement for whenever they X-Men or Mutants or whatever they wind up being called, finally debut in the MCU. In the meantime, we have plenty of X-Men and related films and TV shows, and many of them are great and worth rewatching.

So, are there any other questions about the MCU? Be sure to list them in the comments section below!

Captains America And The Falcon And The Winter Soldier

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the second Disney+ TV series based on the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) just finished streaming its inaugural season. On the whole, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is another winner for Disney+ despite its flaws. As fans speculate, discuss and laud the series, it is pretty clear that it sets a new direction for the MCU. Spoilers will follow below for anyone who has not watched the show in its entirety.

The series takes place several months after the events of Avengers: Endgame. Steve Rogers, the original Captain America, is now “gone” (it is never clearly stated if he died) and his two best friends Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and James “Bucky” Barnes/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) were left to pick up the pieces after Steve’s absence.

In the end of the last Avengers film, Steve Rogers passed on his nearly mystical shield to Sam Wilson to carry on the legacy of Captain America. However, when the series starts, Sam is very uncomfortable with that mantle and donates his shield to the U.S. government as he carries on juggling his private life with his contract superhero work for the government. At the same time, Bucky is grappling with guilt from his previous life as the Winter Soldier, where he carried out brutal assassinations.

While the two men try to go about their lives, events occur that force them to get involved together. These include a terrorist group called the Flag Smashers led by a young woman named Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman). In the time between the last two Avengers films, half the world population was erased from existence until they were restored. The Flag Smashers believe the world would be better if there were no borders or nations, which apparently happened in between the films. To help their cause, Karli and her comrades have taken the same super soldier serum that gave Steve Rogers his enhanced strength and agility. They also steal more of the serum to create an army.

The U.S. government commissions a new Captain America, who is John Walker (Wyatt Russell), a military vet suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and he has a major chip on his shoulder. Naturally, he clashes with Sam and Bucky as the two track down the Flag Smashers.

Their hunt for the terrorists lead them throughout the world and encountering allies and foes including the Machiavellion Baron Zemo (Daniel Brühl), former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) and the mercenary Batroc (real-life mixed martial artist Georges St-Pierre). Zemo truly stood out as a character in the series with his cold charisma and calculating nature. His cause (a hatred and distrust of superhumans) was clearly defined and understandable from his point of view. For a villain who was dismissed by many fans in Captain America: Civil War, Zemo was elevated to become an A-list villains who had his own humorous memes, especially with his dancing at a night club. Here is an hour-long edit put out by Marvel Studios of Zemo dancing for your enjoyment!

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Mephisto Confirmed! When Speculation Runs Amok

An interesting development over the enjoyment of recent offerings from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and other films and TV shows is the over-the-top speculation about future properties.

Mephisto confirmed! Mutants confirmed! Reed Richards confirmed! Hexagons! There are hexagons everywhere!These were just some of the wild speculations in the internet following trailer or episode releases. This was expressly true for WandaVision where YouTubers and bloggers ran every frame of film looking for Easter eggs and potential clues of upcoming shows and characters. This is also happening now with The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, Godzilla vs. Kong and Zack Snyder’s Justice League. What is baffling with the last property is that it is futile to speculate since there are not any plans to continue Snyder’s vision of the DC Universe. But that is another story.

Sure, the speculation is certainly fun and adds to enjoyment of the TV show or film we are watching, but this has gone overboard to the point that it detracts from enjoying the film or TV show. Case in point, is the finale of WandaVision, which left many viewers feeling disappointed that their many theories and speculations did not pan out. It did not help that prior to the streaming of the last episode actors teased that there would be a surprise cameo that would be on the level of who appeared in the season finale of The Mandalorian. Well, no one showed up. All the specualtion about the demon Mephisto responsible for the show’s machinations did not hold up. The actors in the commericals during WandaVision were not Wanda’s parents. Reed Richards was not the engineer friend of Monica Rambeau. The few things that bore fruit were that the magical book the Darkhold did appear (and helped prove that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was not part of the MCU continuity), the white Vision was introduced, Monica Rambeau developed her superpowers and Wanda’s next door neighbor turned out to be the witch Agatha Harkness. While these revelations thrilled comic book collectors and speculators it disappointed some fans and those who spent a lot of money on Silver Surfer #3, which featured Mephisto’s first appearance.

Even though the final episode of WandaVision featured spectacular showdowns between Wanda and Agatha, and between the two Visions, many complained that the episode did not live up to their expectations. Never mind that a few of the speculations and rumors turned out to be accurate.

With The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, many viewers are convinced that mutants will appear since the locale Madripoor was featured in an episode. For those that do not know, Madripoor is a fictional country in the Marvel Comics where Wolverine lived for some time under the alias of Patch. Not only did no mutants appear but neither did Wolverine. Of course, this was to expected. A huge character like Wolverine would not make his MCU debut in a TV show. Just look at how Spider-Man was introduced into the MCU. He was prominently shown in the trailers for Captain America: Civil War, he did not pop up in some TV show.

The Falcon and The Winter Soldier also had its version of the cameo controversy when it was revealed that the fifth episode “Truth” would have a surprise cameo by a well-known, award-winning actor who would portray a major character never-before-seen in the MCU. Many viewers already knew better and tampered their expectations, with doubts such a person would appear. However, in “Truth” that person did appear and while it was a genuine surprise it still left many disappointed. No, it was not Wolverine or Mephisto but Countess Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, a spy in the Marvel Comics who worked for S.H.I.E.L.D. and was romantically involved with Nick Fury. She was played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who certainly fits the bill of being a well-known, award-winning actor. But this was not good enough except for comic book speculators who jacked up the prices of their copies of Strange Tales #159, which was where she was introduced. Still, these complainers could not enjoy the cameo appearance for what it was, which is a shame since it was one of the highlights of “Truth”, one of the series’ best episodes.

Now, that the trailer for the upcoming MCU film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is out, watch out for a fresh batch of speculations and rumors. Surely, somebody will spot hexagons or clues of mutants or even Mephisto himself. Here is the trailer to see for yourself.

It is always fun to speculate, theorize and go over episodes and films with a fine-tooth comb because it adds to the enjoyment. But it’s important to no go overboard because this will usually lead to disappointment. Sometimes, it is best to dampen expectations, avoid spoilers altogether and watch these films or TV shows with a fresh mind to enrich the viewing experience.

The Downfall Of Captain America

Before we get started, this post will contain huge spoilers for the most recent episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, titled “The Whole World is Watching”.

Anyone watching the latest Disney+ TV show about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) knows that the United States government introduced a new Captain America to replace Steve Rogers (last seen as a feeble old man in Avengers: Endgame). This new soldier, John Walker (played by Wyatt Russell), was instantly disliked by the characters in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and viewers alike. The common complaint about John Walker as Captain America was that he not only did not look the part, but he looked so goofy with his ill-fitting helmet and undeserved swagger during his introduction. The memes and dismissals were quite brutal and over the top. Frankly, the poor soldier never had a chance.

To the show’s credit, John Walker was given a back story and he is not an evil person. In the interview he gave during his introduction during the show’s second episode “The Star Spangled Man”, he came off as a person who realized he had large shoes to fill and was trying his hardest. But that was impossible to do. After all, how can you top, let alone, compare to the legendary Steve Rogers? Still, he seemed respectful of the legacy and the honor given to him, plus he had the combat experience as a soldier to be a suitable replacement. But Sam Wilson/the Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and James “Bucky” Barnes/the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) were outraged that Walker had the audacity to pick up the shield and mantle of Captain America. They and the audience felt he was not worthy. Howver, this outrage could be seen as guilt from Sam after he relinquished the shield to the government instead of replacing his friend as the new Captain America. With Bucky, he is furious because Sam gave up the shield easily and probably because he was not given the shield instead. Now, some pretender has the shield and the status of Captain America.

John Walker tried to work with Sam and Bucky, in fact, he and his partner and best friend, Lemar Hoskins/Battlestar (Clé Bennett), rescued the Falcon and the Winter Soldier later in the episode when they fought against a terrorist group called the Flag Smashers. But the duo didn’t want anything to do with the new Captain America and needlessly made him an antagonist.

Throughout the series, the new Captain America felt pressure to measure up. You could see this with subtle visual cues and the way he was treated by others, except Hoskins. What made things worse for Walker was that although he is a skilled soldier, he is not as skilled in fighting as the original Captain America. He began to feel inadequate and not up to the task. However, it was difficult to empathise with him because he displayed an arrogant swagger to the outside world. Also, he was reckless and impatient as his actions in the fourth episode escalated tense situations such as when Sam tried to negotiate with the Flag Smashers’ leader Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman).

The ultimate humiliation came during the same episode where he was defeated in combat by the elite Wakandan soldiers, the Dora Milaje. He felt especially chastised when he commented that they did not even have super powers yet they defeated him handily.

This led to his conflict later in “The Whole World is Watching” when he came upon a vial of the Super Soldier serum that created the first Captain America and was given to members of the Flag Smashers. To his credit, Walker did not inject the serum, though he took the vial without telling anyone. He sought advice from Hoskins about the ethics of taking the serum and Hoskins opined that he himself would take it if given the chance.

In the last act of the episode as Walker, Hoskins, Sam and Bucky faced off against the Flag Smashers, it soon became clear that Walker had taken the Super Soldier serum thanks to his feats of increased strength. However, he was not as skilled or as polished as Steve Rogers, what was worse was that he lacked control. This lack of control would be exhibited in the shocking final moments of the episode.

During the final fight, Battlestar saved Captain America from being stabbed by Karli, but she accidently killed him in another example of someone who was inexperienced with having the Super Soldier serum. Enraged, Walker chased down the closest Flag Smasher he could find and brutally killed him by bludgeoning the terrrorist with his shield out in public. The last haunting image that closed the episode had a shaken and defiant Captain America standing tall with a bloody shield in front of shocked civilians, for the whole world to see.

This development echoed similar moments in the pages of the Captain America comic book during a famous arc called Captain America: The Captain, written by Mark Gruenwald, which ran from issues #332 through 350. In the arc, Steve Rogers abandoned the Captain America identity and John Walker took over but proved to be unhinged. This was best shown in issue #345 (“Surrender”) where after his parents were murdered by a group of domestic terrorist, an enraged Walker savagely killed the terrorists, then tried to talking to his deceased parents as if he saved them.

Seeing a similar moment in the live-action MCU is more shocking just for the visuals and its impact. This last image could be seen as a metaphor for how far the U.S. has fallen in the eyes of the world; something that is an uncomfortable reminder of fairly recent events not just in the MCU but in real life. The moment clearly proves that John Walker is not worthy to be Captain America, who should be held to a higher ideal, a greater standard. The original Captain America represented the best of humankind thanks to his nobility and compassion. These traits were why he was chosen to receive the serum back in World War II. It is doubtful that whoever chose Walker had this in mind.

Then again, it is hard to see him as this evil man. Even as he smashed his shield down repeatedly over his victim, one can’t help feeling grief over how he and the ideal of Captain America have fallen. Circumstances beyond his control, such as facing opponents who outmatched him or how he was repeatedly disrespected, influenced him to make these fateful decisions. If things had happened differently, if Bucky and Sam had given him a chance for example, then maybe his brutal actions could have been avoided.

No matter how The Falcon and the Winter Soldier concludes, or who ends up wielding the shield and the Captain America title, John Walker is an intriguing character who deserves to be showcased in future MCU productions, perhaps as the U.S.Agent to mirror the comic books.

Memo To Marvel Studios: Release Your Films!

OK, the title of this post does come off a might hyperbolic, but the feeling is justified among many fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) who have been without any new MCU films in over a year and a half.

Of course, this is not the fault of Marvel Studios or even Disney since the COVID-19 pandemic has been so disruptive in our society. Disney cannot do any widescale release of films in theaters because most of them are closed for safety reasons. Who wants to go to a crowded movie theater during the middle of a pandemic? Even if Disney was inclined to release a film widescale now they would lose money. Just look what happened last year when Warner Bros. released Tenet in the summer.

Last month, Disney and Marvel Studios announced a release schedule for their films for this year with Black Widow due on May 7th. This announcement was done with the understanding that the pandemic would be under control. However, at this point it will take some more time, with the latest estimates of widescale vaccine distribution happening during the late spring, summer and early fall. This jeopardizes the release schedule of the MCU films with Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (due on July 9th) and even Eternals (November 5th).

The problem with the MCU films, and one of its strengths, is their interconnected nature. To fully appreciate the films they have to be watched in order as certain scenes connect with the other films. For example the post-credits scene in Captain Marvel deliberately led into the next MCU film Avengers: Endgame. Another example can be seen with the Infinity Stones. The Reality Stone was the main macguffin in Thor: The Dark World and was seen been placed in a specific spot for safe keeping at the end of that film. But in Avengers: Infinity War, the main villain traveled to that spot and obtained the Reality Stone.

A new wrinkle is that are the new MCU TV shows on Disney+ are certainly part of the MCU, and what happens in those shows will be referenced in upcoming films.

Rumor had it that even though Black Widow was a prequel film, it set up future events in the MCU from the introduction of the Thunderbolts or Dark Avengers to Black Widow’s sister, Yelena Belova, becoming the new Black Widow. Yelena has already been confirmed to appear in the Disney+ show The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. So this is a strong reason why Marvel Studios wants Black Widow to be the first MCU film out of the gate and not launch the cinematic part of the MCU’s Phase Four with Shang-Chi or Eternals.

But the problem is that pushing back Black Widow pushes back other slated MCU films. Some of us are eager to see the next Doctor Strange film, which was already delayed to next year, as an example. What would be the reaction if it got bumped to 2023? Would this imperil other announced films in pre-production to the point of them being cancelled?

The delay also could jeopardize the release of the Disney+ shows and in fact already has. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was supposed to be the first Disney+ TV show to stream followed by WandaVision. Now that has been reversed with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier coming out this March as WandaVision is currently streaming. But who knows how more film delays would affect the future Disney+ shows?

Something has to be done. At this point it would be best if Black Widow and even Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings were released on Disney+ this year. This would satisfy fans who are eager for new film content (though many are pleased with WandaVision), entice more subscribers to the streaming service, free up the backlog of films piling up now, and maintain the viewing order of both films and TV shows. Also consider this, is there a great demand to see Black Widow knowing the character’s fate or Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which features a character who was last popular during the 1970s?

Yes, this will hurt Disney financially but the company is already losing money and are going all in with their streaming platform. Releasing the films on their app would generate revenue so it would not be a complete loss. Of course, this endangers the filmgoing experience later on but this is inevitable. No matter what Marvel Studios and Disney decides, this situation cannot continue, but we’ll know soon what they decide. 

It could have been worse. Take comfort that at least we got to see Avengers: Endgame in theaters before all this started.