A Doctor Strange horror movie, Mahershala Ali as Blade and more – there’s so much to be excited about for the MCU’s Phase 4.
Posted by The Rotten Tomatoes Channel on Monday, July 22, 2019
On Saturday, July 20, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige took to Hall H at San Diego Comic-Con to present what would amount to a whopping TEN titles the studio has scheduled over the course of 2020 and 2021. This included both theatrical feature film releases and the new MCU series that have been announced for the upcoming Disney+ streaming service. Here’s a rundown of everything we learned during the course of the densely packed hour-and-a-half presentation. [Editor’s note: With the confirmation that the schedule Marvel revealed at its panel is the entirety of Phase 4, we have updated this article accordingly.]
Now that Disney owns the various Fox film properties, the studio finds itself in a situation where it regularly competes against itself at the box office. Having said that, James Cameron’s Avatar was very much an “old school” 20th Century Fox release (having been released 10 years ago), so its position as the #1 box office champion of all time might have been something Disney was okay with ending, even if the Avatar sequels are still a long-term high priority (Avatar 2 is scheduled for December 17, 2021). To that end, in late June, Marvel Studios did a special push on Avengers: Endgame, with an extra scene, in the hopes that it would top Avatar, but recent speculation was that it fell “just” short. “Not so fast,” Disney seemed to say at their Marvel Studios panel Saturday, as they announced that Avengers: Endgame will earn the $500,000 needed to beat Avatar on Sunday, July 21st, 2019. The next question: will Avatar 2 be able to beat $2.79 billion in early 2022?
The downside of Marvel Studios holding back certain announcements until late July is that their fans read movie news columns, so many of them already knew that they had cast the solo Black Widow movie and started filming in late May of this year. Marvel has had an “untitled” movie scheduled for May 1, 2020 for well over a year, which seemed very obviously to be Black Widow since they have no other movie in the works in between Spider-Man: Far from Home and Black Widow. Having said that, there were things to show off for Black Widow, such as a first look at footage from the film (which isn’t online yet), and at least one casting update. English actress Florence Pugh (Lady MacBeth; Midsommar; Amy March in Greta Gerwig’s upcoming Little Women) will co-star as Yelena Belova, who in the comics is the second Black Widow after Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff. We also learned that Stranger Things‘ David Harbour will be playing Alexei Shostakov, a.k.a. Red Guardian, and Marvel villain Taskmaster will appear in the film, though we don’t yet know who is playing him.
Marvel Studios mixed things up a bit this year by giving as much time and attention to their various TV shows on the upcoming Disney+ app as they did for their feature films. Although the Disney+ app is still confirmed to launch on November 12, 2019, one surprise is that we will have to wait nearly a year before the first of the new Marvel shows appears on the service. That show will be The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, with both Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan reprising their roles from various Captain America and Avengers movies. The big reveal for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier came in the form of German actor Daniel Brühl, who will not only return as Baron Zemo (from Captain America: Civil War), but in a brief video was shown sporting his character’s iconic purple mask. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will debut on the Disney+ app sometime in the fall of 2020 (before November 6th). It’s also worth noting that all of the Disney+ titles that were announced during the panel appeared in a timeline graphic labeled as “PHASE FOUR,” implying that the TV series will factor into the ongoing MCU narrative.
Ever since Angelina Jolie was the first star cast in The Eternals, there has been an assumption that she would be playing long-time Avengers member Sersi. At the panel this weekend, however, it was revealed that Jolie is instead playing Thena, the inspriation for the Greek goddess Athena. (In the comics, Thena is also Thanos’ cousin, but it’s possible Thanos’ connection to The Eternals may not remain the same in the movies.) Kumail Nanjiani is also not playing the character people suspected (the speedster Makkari), but will instead play Kingo, who is a samurai Eternal in the comics, but might be interpreted differently in the MCU. The Eternals will also have a few gender swaps, as both Ajak and Makkari, who are men in the comics, will be played by women instead (Salma Hayek and Lauren Ridloff, respectively). Although Sersi seems to be absent, another 1990s Avengers member will be in The Eternals instead, with Train to Busan star Don Lee (a.k.a. Ma Dong-seok) cast as Gilgamesh, a.k.a. The Forgotten One (best known for joining the Avengers when Reed and Sue Richards of the Fantastic Four did). Marvel Studios has scheduled The Eternals for November 6, 2020.
In the comics, one of Iron Man’s most iconic villains since the 1960s has been the Mandarin, which is why he was teased in the first Iron Man, and ostensibly why “The Mandarin” was in Iron Man 3. Except, of course, he really wasn’t. The decision to not include the Mandarin in his classic depiction may have been a fortuitous one for Marvel, however, as that means the villain was available for the Shang-Chi movie, now called Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. (Shang-Chi also needed a new villain, as his original arch-nemesis, Fu-Manchu, has not aged well at all.) Relatively unknown Canadian actor Simu Liu will star as Shang-Chi, with acclaimed Hong Kong actor Tony Leung playing the “real” Mandarin. Awkwafina was also announced in an unknown role in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which will leap into theaters on February 12, 2021.
Once you get past that title, the second Marvel Studios show on Disney+, WandaVision, has a lot of promise. In the comics, the relationship (and eventual marriage) between Scarlet Witch and the Vision has been one of the sweetest in Avengers history, but it’s also had a dark side that, in the early 2000s, changed the entire Marvel Universe for a while. We’re trying not to be too spoilery here, but the ways in which Scarlet Witch “changed” things tie directly into one of the ways in which the Marvel Cinematic Universe is expected to change later in Phase 4 (we’ll just let that tease sit, and comics fans know what we’re talking about, anyway). WandaVision will also directly tie into the next Doctor Strange movie (more below on that) and Captain Marvel, as Teyonah Parris will co-star as Monica Rambeau, who in Captain Marvel was the young daughter of Carol’s friend Maria Rambeau. (In the comics, Monica Rambeau also becomes a superhero and Avengers member known first as Captain Marvel, and then later as Photon and Spectrum.) WandaVision will debut on Disney+ sometime between February and May of 2021.
Doctor Strange is a character whose adventures often take place amidst dazzling color and lots of “eye candy” (something the first Doctor Strange movie depicted well), but there are also a lot of darker themes and concepts (one of his main villains is Nightmare, for example). With that in mind, it absolutely should not be surprising that his next film, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, was revealed at SDCC as being “the first scary MCU film.” This movie might also be the best example of a film that Marvel Studios really had to wait to reveal until after people had seen Spider-Man: Far from Home, because otherwise, it might have ruined one of that film’s biggest secrets. Benedict Cumberbatch will be joined in his sequel by Elizabeth Olsen, as a follow-up to her Disney+ show, WandaVision. In the comics, Scarlet Witch’s powers are much more expansive than we’ve seen so far in the MCU, but her involvement here suggests that’ll change. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will be released on May 7, 2021, and Scott Derrickson — who appropriately has some serious horror films on his resume — will return to direct.
Time travel is so much fun. Since Avengers: Infinity War came out over a year ago, we’re going to guess that it’s no longer a “spoiler” that Loki met a very bad end at the beginning of that movie. That was, however, until Avengers: Endgame introduced time travel elements. (Is that a spoiler? Then in no way did Avengers: Endgame have time travel.) Having said that, it’s also possible that Hiddleston’s Loki show on the Disney+ app might come about in some unrelated way. Of all the Disney+ shows, Loki is probably the one we know the least about, but we’ve got plenty of time to speculate away on it. Loki won’t debut until 2021 (probably between May and July).
Arguably, one of the best things Marvel Comics ever had going for it over DC Comics when it came to defining its continuity was that DC Comics did not have the long-running series, What If?, in which stories could be told outside continuity, for a stronger sense overall. In the summer of 2021, Marvel Studios will be able to experiment with that sort of storytelling in the MCU when the animated series What If…? debuts on the Disney+ service. Right now, we only know the premise of the first episode (“What If Agent Peggy Carter Became Captain America Instead of Steve Rogers?”), but the massive voice cast revealed at the panel suggests What If…? will touch nearly every corner of the MCU. Several familiar faces — or voices, as it were — will be reprising their roles in the show, from Mark Ruffalo as Hulk and Josh Brolin as Thanos to Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger and Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster. As for Uatu the Watcher, the long-running narrator of the What If…? comics, he will be the narrator here as well, with Jeffrey Wright (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, HBO’s Westworld) supplying his voice.
You might notice that the general theme to these Disney+ shows (besides What If…?) is that they feature various Avengers members who aren’t otherwise likely to get their own movies (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and WandaVision, specifically). Another example of that is Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, who has been around the MCU since 2011’s Thor. Comic book history is littered with attempts at bringing in new blood to aging superhero premises, but comic book writer Matt Fraction was able to do just that in 2012 when he launched a new Hawkeye series about Clint Barton’s friendship with Kate Bishop, a young archer who had appropriated the “Hawkeye” nom du heroic. We don’t yet know who will be cast as Kate Bishop, but Hawkeye will indeed be about their generational exchange when it debuts on Disney+ in the fall of 2021.
Even if you’re not a regular comic book reader, you may recall how much media attention Marvel attracted in 2014 when they introduced a new female Thor (who was eventually revealed to be his long-time human love interest, Jane Foster). Jane Foster was also the character that Natalie Portman played in the first two Thor movies, so when Portman seemed to step away from playing Foster, some fans thought that meant we’d never see a female Thor in the movies. That’s partly why one of the biggest surprises to come out of Marvel’s SDCC panel was that Natalie Portman will be playing the title character in Thor: Love and Thunder when it’s released on November 5, 2021. Chris Hemsworth will still be in the movie too, as will his Thor: Ragnarok co-star Tessa Thompson, who said of her character, “I think first of all as king, she needs to find her new queen.” Returning director Taika Waititi revealed that the new film was inspired by Jason Aaron’s “The Mighty Thor” storyline from the comics, which might provide some clues as to where the story will go.
Ever since Disney acquired the Fox film and TV properties, fans have been wondering when characters like Deadpool, Fantastic Four, and the various X-Men would join the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Indeed, some fans apparently not familiar with what a “Mysterio” is even thought that we might see them introduced in Spider-Man: Far from Home. As the panel neared its end, Kevin Feige alluded to the fact that, yes, finally, Fantastic Four and “the mutants” (however one wants to interpret that) are now in active development for inclusion at some point. Having said that, we now know which five films are scheduled for Phase 4 in 2020 and 2021, so the earliest we might see Fantastic Four, Deadpool 3, or X-Men would be in 2022.
At one point, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 was considered to be in such active development that it would be filmed this year and then released in the same slot next year that is now going to Black Widow, but that was before James Gunn was temporarily “fired” (he’s back in Disney’s good graces again). With only five movies announced for Phase 4, one might wonder about some of the obvious sequels. Well, Marvel confirmed that three of them are indeed still in the works: Black Panther 2, Captain Marvel 2, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3. For both Black Panther 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3, the delays until no sooner than 2022 might have to do with cast scheduling, as they’re both ostensibly team movies with big stars who are in high demand for other projects.
When Marvel Studios put their new calendar up on the big screen at their SDCC panel this year, the last date was in 2021, indicating that Phase 4 will conclude with Thor: Love and Thunder. One new film that we now know Marvel Studios is actively developing (possibly for 2022 or 2023) is their reboot of Blade. The argument can be made that the original 1998 Blade, starring Wesley Snipes, was the first Marvel Comics adaptation to have any sort of box office success, so a new Blade movie, probably close to 25 years later, might be long overdue. For their new “daywalker” vampire slayer, Marvel Studios has cast two-time Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali, who co-starred as both the villain Cottonmouth in season 1 of Netflix’s Luke Cage and the villain The Prowler in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. As the panel came to a close, Kevin Feige coyly introduced Ali, who walked on stage and put on a baseball cap with “BLADE” emblazoned across the front before the hall went dark and the title treatment appeared on the big screen. Pretty dramatic way to end the panel, and fans went wild.