OP-ED: Marvel’s Phase Four Slate Promises a Diverse, Exciting, and Risky Future for the MCU

It’s no surprise to anyone who might know me that I love the MCU. Through all the bumps in the road, and all the flaws, this franchise has helped me grow from a kid in third grade to an adult in college. I’ve written an article about the Infinity Saga as a whole, as well as reviews for Endgame and Far From Home, (no spoilers, don’t worry!) so it shouldn’t be a huge question as to why the night of June 20th, 2019 was exciting. For the first time in two years, Marvel Studios came to Hall H, and for the first time since 2014, studio head Kevin Feige laid out the plans for where the franchise goes next, and after its long initial story came to a close, it’s safe to say everyone was eager to find out about it. What was revealed is incredibly bold and risky, but promises a lot for where this universe, and the characters that live in it, go from here. Going announcement-by-announcement, I’m giving my thoughts on each upcoming project, as well as what I hope to see from them. Without further ado, here’s my thoughts on Marvel Studios’ Phase Four slate.

The Eternals, being helmed by acclaimed director Chloé Zhao, is definitely an interesting project that’s already garnering massive attention due to the cast. Not only does it have big name actors in the form of Richard Madden as Ikaris, Salma Hayek as Ajak, and Angelina Jolie as Thena, but the cast itself is incredibly diverse. From Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo, to Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos, to Dong-seok Ma as Gilgamesh, and Lauren Ridloff as Makkari while being the first deaf actor to join the franchise, this ensemble is drawing a lot of buzz, and for good reason. Concept art given out at Comic-Con shows a beautiful piece of the Celestials walking through a landscape, so along with the cast, I’m intrigued. This could be one of the biggest chances Marvel takes since Guardians of the Galaxy, and I can only hope it pans out well and makes these obscure characters iconic in the minds of the audience.

Next up is one that I’ve been really looking forward to, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, coming to Disney+ in Fall 2020. After the events of Endgame, Steve passed on the shield and the mantle to Sam Wilson, which makes it all the more surprising that the series hasn’t been retitled. It makes me concerned as to what the show itself will be about, and how much of it will actually have Sam as Captain America. However, it creates the possibility for a really interesting story about him stepping up to become the new Cap. Whatever Bucky’s role is in the series is a blank slate to me, and they could definitely take him, and Sebastian Stan, in a lot of different and exciting directions. The thing that definitely excites me the most is the return of Daniel Brühl as Zemo from Civil War. To me, he was one of the more interesting and dynamic villains the MCU had, and where his character is mentally is something incredibly exciting to find out. Along with the news that he’s going to finally don the purple mask from the comics, this series is looking to be absolutely incredible, and I can’t wait to see how it operates as the first show that uses the main heroes from the movies.

In February 2021, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will hit theaters, helmed by one Destin Daniel Cretton. This one has been on my radar for as long as it’s been rumored, and the big news that not only are the Ten Rings are returning, but the real Mandarin is finally making his entrance as well, only elevates it for me. With Tony Leung playing him, Awkwafina also joins the cast, as well as Simu Liu playing the titular role of Shang-Chi. While I’m well-aware that the comics featuring him have had a history of being exploitative and offensive, this movie has the opportunity to break the glass ceiling and be that enormous push for Asian representation that should’ve happened a long time ago. And looking at Simu Liu’s tweets, it definitely seems that this will be the exact thing the movie will aim to do. Recently news broke that Warner Bros’ Akira adaptation, that was being helmed by Taika Waititi, has been shelved indefinitely, and the apparent reasons for it were incredibly disheartening. It could’ve been a huge push for Asian representation in Hollywood and in general, and now we don’t know if that film will even get made the way it should anytime soon. Because of all of this, I’m rooting for Shang-Chi not only to be a fantastic comic book film, but to be that one big kick to the glass ceiling and become such a huge cultural phenomenon that more and more Asian actors get cast. Out of all the projects announced, this is definitely one of the ones I’m the most excited for.

The second MCU show coming to Disney+ is WandaVision, coming in Spring 2021, and yes, both Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany are set to return. Given the events of Infinity War and Endgame, and with Kevin Feige saying that it’s is gonna be incredibly weird and trippy, it really feels like Wanda is on her path to being the psychologically-broken, reality-bending Scarlet Witch, and however that plays out in the series itself is gonna be really interesting to speculate about. One of the big pieces of news about this series, though, is the fact that adult Monica Rambeau will make her debut in it, played by Teyonah Parris, who recently starred in the acclaimed If Beale Street Could Talk. It definitely was a big question on my mind as to when the character would pop up again after Captain Marvel this year, and given how ecstatic Parris was during the panel, it definitely seems like there are big, BIG plans for the character. Whatever role she plays in the show itself is a mystery, but along with Wanda possibly delving into her reality-warping powers, it’s definitely garnered my attention. The role the show itself plays in the MCU is definitely going to be interesting, but more on that later.

Also hitting Disney+ in Spring 2021 is Loki, and yes, that logo is real. This one, admittedly, I’m a bit iffy on, as it feels pretty unnecessary and solely existing to appease the character’s fans who were upset by his death at the hands of Thanos in Infinity War. Even with the premise taking place in the alternate timeline shown in Endgame where Loki escapes with the Tesseract, and going to many different places, the thought of now following a version of the character that’s stripped of all his development given during the last seven years isn’t all that enticing. However, I’m keeping an open mind, as Tom Hiddleston himself seems to be incredibly passionate about and fascinated by the project. There isn’t a whole lot to say on this one, but I’m very cautiously optimistic about it, and despite my misgivings, I’ll definitely be hoping for the best.

The next film to hit theaters after Shang-Chi will be the absolutely-brilliantly-titled Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness on May 7th, 2021, and this one just might be my most anticipated of Phase Four, with Falcon and Winter Soldier and Shang-Chi not too far behind. Scott Derrickson is returning to direct, and he describes the film as the first “scary” MCU movie, which is incredibly exciting to hear, and shows that the MCU is willing to take more story-telling risks now. Benedict Cumberbatch is returning of course, but the very interesting piece of info is that Elizabeth Olsen will be joining him in the film as Scarlet Witch, and according to her and Feige, WandaVision will directly lead into the film, as well as her role in it. This only furthers the speculation as to where Wanda’s character is going, whether or not she’ll resolve her conflict in her show and team up with Doctor Strange in the movie, or even if she’ll  descend into villainy and take on an antagonistic role, possibly even being the cause of madness going on in the multiverse. With Nightmare being confirmed to appear in the movie, it definitely wouldn’t be surprising if it were the latter, and whatever direction this takes, I’m incredibly excited to see this movie. The first one was definitely a favorite of mine, aside from the origin story trope and the misplaced comedy, and I can’t wait to see just how the first scary MCU film plays out.

Looking to fill the summer void (though that might not last for long) for the MCU in 2021 on Disney+ is What If…?, the MCU’s first animated series where each episode will take a different event from the franchise and turn it on its head. With Jeffrey Wright cast as the voice of the Watcher, a whole slew of actors from the MCU’s history are slated to come back and voice their characters in the episodes, one of which will be about Peggy Carter becoming Captain America and Steve Rogers being given a fighting suit by Howard Stark. This one is definitely exciting, as it could literally do anything with its premise, and given which actors are returning, the possibilities are downright endless. It definitely feels like one of the more comic-book-y things the MCU has planned, and it’ll be a lot of fun speculating what the episodes could be about.

Hitting its mark on Disney+ in Fall 2021 is Hawkeye, with Jeremy Renner set to return as Clint Barton. Not only that, but we’ll also be seeing Kate Bishop finally make her debut in the MCU and take over the Hawkeye mantle, which is no doubt exciting to many of her fans. There definitely has been some backlash towards this series and the MCU version of Clint, especially after Endgame, and I can definitely understand why for the most part, but there’s definitely a lot of potential to be had here, especially with the debut of a fan-favorite character from the comics like Kate Bishop. The logo as well has drawn intrigue and backlash, as it’s ripped right from the popular Matt Fraction run of the character, but I see it as an indicator that Marvel’s looking to pull from it, or at the very least that they recognize how popular it is for the character. We also find out that the series will delve into Clint’s time as Ronin during the five years of the Blip, and how that will play into the main story will be a mystery. Overall, I definitely understand the misgivings some people have, but I’m very optimistic for this series, as well as how it’ll introduce Kate Bishop and establish her as the new Hawkeye.

Ending Phase Four as of now is Thor: Love and Thunder, which will release in November 5th, 2021. Taika Waititi is set to return to direct and write, with Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson returning to their respective roles as Thor and Valkyrie. Initially, I was mildly interested in this film, but then the big kicker was revealed, that being that Natalie Portman will not only return to the MCU as Jane Foster, but will also wield the hammer and become the Mighty Thor. This was something completely unexpected, especially since word on the street was that Portman hated her role in the Thor films and wanted out of the franchise, but her coming back to actually take on the mantle means to me that she’s incredibly interested in the plans for her character, and that’s something really nice to see. Along with Valkyrie reported to finally be officially revealed as LGBTQ+ in the film, rather than a deleted scene, this movie is shaping up to be much more exciting than I initially anticipated, and I can’t wait to see what Waititi and the actors bring to the table.

Starting Phase Four this upcoming May will be the somewhat late Black Widow, being directed by Cate Shortland,and it’s something I’m kind of lukewarm on. The cast is shaping up to be good, with Scarlett Johansson returning as Natasha, Florence Pugh playing Yelena Belova, David Harbour playing Alexi AKA the Red Guardian, O-T Fagbenle playing Mason, and Rachel Weisz playing Melina. Also, the setting of it taking place after Civil War while also exploring what happened in Budapest is exciting. And Taskmaster being a main villain is definitely something I’ve wanted to see for a long time. But I also can’t help but feel that this movie is just incredibly late, and should’ve been in Phase Three at the latest. We’ve already scene Natasha’s death in Endgame, so the only purpose this movie has, at least to me, is to just finally fulfill what should’ve been done years ago, as well as shed light on what the character was up to between films. However, I’m definitely optimistic, and from what the footage description entails, it seems like we’re gonna get an incredibly intense spy thriller, and I’m really excited to see what kind of surprises are in store.

The biggest announcement of the night, though, was something none of us saw coming at all. Just when everything seemed to be over, Mahershala Ali came out on stage, and announced just by putting on a hat that a new Blade movie set in the MCU is happening, and that he’d be playing the titular role. While not much else is known about the project outside of Ali’s casting, the news is incredibly exciting, especially considering how it all seemed to come to fruition. According to Kevin Feige, after winning his second Oscar in February, Ali called him and asked about playing the character and making a movie about him, despite no plans seeming to be in place. To quote Feige himself, he said “When Mahershala calls, you answer,” and immediately got the ball rolling on the project. While the movie itself isn’t set to come out during Phase Four, its announcement is absolutely incredible, and somewhat fulfilling since the first Blade movie itself was, in a sense, the first big kick for the Marvel films, with that snowball only getting bigger with X-Men and Spider-Man. Without a doubt, it’s gonna be amazing to see, especially with how vampires factor into the MCU as a whole.

While they’re not slated for Phase Four, we did get some incredibly exciting confirmations on Phase Five and beyond. All of which being Black Panther 2, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3Captain Marvel 2Fantastic Four, and X-Men (more specifically, mutants in general and how they’ll factor in the MCU). While not much is known about the latter two at the time, just hearing Marvel officially talk about the both of them is so fulfilling and exciting, and it may not even that far away for either of them since Phase Four is only two years in length. Whenever we do get to hear more about Phase Five aside, the future is looking incredible for this franchise, and I can’t wait to find out how they handle Marvel’s First Family, as well as the X-Men and mutants.

Phase Four is shaping up to be incredibly experimental, diverse, exciting, and risky, and honestly that’s everything I could’ve wanted from it. While no official announcement of the next Spider-Man movie was made, it’s more or less Sony’s job to do so, and since Feige said they have eleven projects lined up for Phase Four despite only announcing ten (not counting Blade since that’s beyond it), I can assume that they’re definitely aiming for a Summer 2021 date for the film since nothing’s there at the moment. Aside from that, however, this slate is incredibly exciting. The fact that the Disney+ shows are included speaks volumes about how important they are to the franchise, and while some people might be mad about them being hidden behind a subscription paywall, to that I say, so are the movies. Regardless, the future of the MCU is looking incredibly bright, and I can’t wait to see where this impossible universe goes with each of these projects. Superhero fatigue, in my opinion, is far from becoming a reality.

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Alec Thorn

Alec Thorn

Hey guys! My name is Alec Thorn, I’m 19 years old, and I’m currently a full-time student in college. I’ve loved comics and superheroes ever since I was a toddler, with my favorite comic book character being the one and only Peter Parker / Spider-Man. I have a major passion for acting and singing as well, doing both for as long as I can remember. Hope you all enjoy reading!
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Hey guys! My name is Alec Thorn, I’m 19 years old, and I’m currently a full-time student in college. I’ve loved comics and superheroes ever since I was a toddler, with my favorite comic book character being the one and only Peter Parker / Spider-Man. I have a major passion for acting and singing as well, doing both for as long as I can remember. Hope you all enjoy reading!

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