It was Christmas come early for Marvel movie fans this week as the studio made a surprise announcement, spilling the beans on their cinematic master plan for the next five years. At a special event for invitees only Marvel rolled out their A-listers to provide enough news to satisfy even the hungriest film fan, Robert Downey Jnr. and Chris Evans among those lapping up the enthusiastic hoots and hollers. But with such a long, packed schedule now laid out, have Marvel showed their hand too early?
Hot movie news is always exciting, especially for a franchise so beloved as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Us aficionados can't wait for the next film or casting announcement to whet our appetites for future film delights. But the slab of news released this Tuesday was so vast you wonder if Marvel have held anything back to keep us interested down the line. The official schedule of upcoming films now looks like this:
May - The Avengers: Age of Ultron
July - Ant-Man
May - Captain America 3: Civil War
November - Doctor Strange
May - Guardians of the Galaxy 2
July - Thor: Ragnarok
November - Black Panther
May - The Avengers: Infinity War, Part One
July - Captain Marvel
November - Inhumans
May - The Avengers: Infinity War, Part Two
Whilst its welcome news that Marvel plan to entertain us right up to 2020, such a far-reaching plan dulls the excitement for those movies that we've still yet to see. Age of Ultron hasn't even arrived in theatres but we're already looking well beyond that. And with so many of the key characters already confirmed for future releases (this week's announcement event featured teaser trailers with all the Avenger characters present) its fair to assume that Iron Man, Thor, Cap, Hulk and the rest all make it out of Age of Ultron alive and in one piece.
So where does that leave the tension and sense of jeopardy for Ultron? Despite the thrilling Ultron trailer that arrived last week, we now know that pretty much everyone survives. Similarly, Paul Rudd's Ant-Man has yet to make his debut and we're already casting him aside in favour of newly announced heroes Black Panther, Doctor Strange and Captain Marvel. With each new film release adding new names, the line-up is starting to get crowded; you wonder how much longer Marvel can keep a firm hand on the rudder.
Taking pointers from the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises, Marvel also declared that they would be splitting The Avengers 3 into two movies, called the Infinity War. This was less of a surprise for fans who had already started piecing together the Infinity Gem clues. But having to wait until 2018 to see the Thanos-themed fruit come to bear, its questionable how many viewers are going to recall all the subtle info about the Infinity stones that's been sprinkled across numerous movies to date. Can audiences really be expected to bring so much prior knowledge to a story? Some of the groundwork for Infinity War will be over twelve years old by the time Part One arrives in 2018; that's a long way to look back.
The other worrying question is whether Marvel can retain all of the key actors for that long. The biggest reason for Marvel's movie success to date has been their excellent casting choices. Holding together an ever expanding band of A-listers will get tougher with each new release. At this rate Infinity War could include (deep breath) Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jnr, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Samuel L Jackson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jeremy Renner, Gwyneth Paltrow, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, Stellan Skarsgard, Clark Gregg, Paul Rudd, Don Cheadle, Bradley Cooper, Josh Brolin, John C Reilly, Glenn Close, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Chris Pratt, and Michael Rooker. And that's assuming that other big names that have featured (William Sadler, Robert Redford, Hugo Weaving) remain dead or unaccounted for.
But let’s not dampen the flames of excitement too much. Make no mistake, the announcements this week were big news, cruelly timed to land a shuddering blow on the DC movie universe just when it looked like DC were picking themselves up off the ropes. And with the internet desperate to leak every tit-bit of news as soon as it can, it seems Marvel just chose to beat the hackers to the punch and get the details out there before someone else did. Adding some flesh to the bones, FilmsFilmsFilms takes a look over the exciting Marvel instalments to come:
The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) - Last week's Pinocchio-esque there-are-no-strings-on-me trailer painted in a lot of the detail surrounding the second Avengers instalment. With SHIELD dismantled Tony Stark looks to create an army of artificially intelligent robots to sure up Earth's defences. Chief cyborg Ultron decides that humanity is the real threat though and sets about wiping humans out for good. Cue the Avengers, who fight to save the day and bump into Magneto's kiddies Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch (even though Marvel doesn’t have the necessary rights to refer to these mutants as mutants) and the comic Avengers very own in-house android Vision on the way. The doom-laden trailer painted bad times for the Avengers, noticeably Captain America who gets his trademark shield sliced in half. But with the future film schedule confirming that all the main characters live to fight another day the outcome for Ultron seems set in stone already; he gets his tin-can arse kicked and the Avengers head off for more post-rumble Shawarma.
Ant-Man (2015) - What seemed like a fairly straight forward adaptation has now earned the title of most-troubled Marvel production to date, thanks to director and screenwriter Edgar Wright's departure from the project earlier in the year. With the films taking a heavy steer from The Ultimates line of comic books, the Ant-Man depicted there will be hard sell, a whiney, heavy-hand-with-his-girlfriend (the Avenger Wasp) sort of chap that won't engender himself to fans much at all. Casting is strong though with old rascal Michael Douglas on board to fill the shoes of traditional Ant-Man Hank Pym, and comedy superstar Paul Rudd getting serious as the con-man and future Ant-Man mark-two Scott Lang. Tony Stark's old man Howard and Ant-Man's lesser counterpart Yellowjacket look set to feature, as The Break Up (2006) and Yes Man (2008) director Peyton Reed gets back in the director's chair for the first time in seven years to pick up where Wright left off.
Captain America 3: Civil War (2016) - Cap's second solo outing Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) had a pleasingly dark tone, riffing on Steve Rogers' struggle to fit into a more sinister, cynical twenty-first century and ending with the shock destruction of SHIELD and the return of Hydra. The bleak story telling looks set to continue with part three and a script based on the Marvel Comics 2006/2007 crossover Civil War story. The plot saw Marvel extended the X-Men's mutant registration idea across its entire super hero roster, with the US government passing the Superhero Registration Act, forcing all heroes to reveal their identities and register their powers. On the governments side was Iron Man, pushing this ideal as an essential pathway to peace. Leading the charge for the superheroes and their freedom to remain anonymous was Captain America. With Marvel's entire roster split down the middle on two sides, the heroes eventually clash with story shattering consequences. The obvious hurdle for a Civil War movie is the lack of superhero numbers; all of Marvel's six cinema heroes have revealed their identities. It would also be a pretty small list with just the six of them on it and certainly not worth starting a war over. The cinematic roster needs to increase by a very large number in a short space of time for a true adaptation, and screenwriters will have to work out how to fill the gaps left by the Fantastic Four and the X-Men, both of which played an essential role in the comic plot. Of course, we could all be wrong and Marvel Studios could merely be using the title to tell an entirely different story.
Doctor Strange (2016) - Marvel spent quite some time pursuing Joaquin Phoenix for the Dr. Strange role. With Phoenix opting not to star, Marvel pulled off another casting miracle by nabbing man-of-the-moment Benedict Cumberbatch. Fans gave an immediate thumbs up to yet another perfect casting choice, Cumberbatch ideal for the former playboy neurosurgeon who seeks supernatural powers after damaging his hands in a car crash and losing his ability to practice medicine. This will be the first Marvel movie to stray into supernatural realms, with Stephen Vincent Strange drawing his powers from a number of magical and supernatural sources. But having already gotten over the hurdle of presenting a believable Asgard, the supernatural realm should be a walk in the park for Marvel. One of the most towering intellects in the comics, Strange becomes a strong ally for Tony Stark; fans will have to wait until 2016 to see if this relationship blossoms on the screen as it did on the page. It bodes well though that Marvel have entrusted the project to noted horror screenwriter and director Scott Derrickson.
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (2017) - Marvel were undoubtedly nervous about Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). The amount of advertising and product placement tie-ins for the film outweighed all of their other movie projects combined. It was a risky prospect, a space adventure, tied into their mostly Earth set (Thor aside) adventures, featuring a cast of characters who non-comic fans wouldn’t have a first clue about. That this cast included a walking, talking tree and a humanoid raccoon didn’t help much. When the project was given to relative novice director James Gunn whose only previous directorial efforts were the b-movie horror flick Slither (2006) and the low budget Kick-Ass clone Super (2010) critics started sharpening their knives; it was finally time for Marvel Studios to topple from their pedestal. Guardians was a smash hit though taking upwards of $750million off of a $170million budget, and even managing to impress the critics with its lively mix of action and humour. In the comic reboot, Iron Man has joined the ranks of Guardians so it looks set that the Avengers and Star Lord’s band of misfits will meet on-screen at some point, most likely in Infinity War when the teams have to join forces to take on the might of Thanos, the only character to appear in both Avengers and Guardians so far. Expect an appearance from Peter Quill / Star Lord’s father, and Nova, the head of the Nova Corps, who may turn out to be the same character.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017) - More robot trouble for Thor part three as Ragnarok the cyborg clone of the Norse God arrives to kick up a stink. With Ragnarok debuting in the comics Civil War storyline fans are already theorising a link to the third Captain America film and the third Thor film. As arguably the most powerful of the Avengers (they are all super-powered humans, except Thor who is an actual God) it will be interesting to see Thor do battle with an exact replica of himself. Assuming Marvel will go down the evil twin root, prepare for double Hemsworth action in 2017.
Black Panther (2017) - Yet another new character for the big screen T’Challa, aka Black Panther, aka the King of the advanced African nation Wakanda, will be played by the relatively unknown actor Chadwick Boseman. While those fans who were holding out for Denzel Washington were disappointed, Boseman looks like a solid fit. Making his debut in Captain America 3: Civil War, Black Panther will get his own solo outing a year later. Not much is known about how Panther will fit into the story, but with so many links to franchises Marvel Studios don’t have the cinematic rights to (he debuted in The Fantastic Four, he’s married to X-Woman Storm) it looks likely that Marvel will take some creative liberties with how he's presented.
The Avengers: Infinity War, Part One (2018) – Part one in Marvel’s epic two parter will likely be the darkest Marvel movie to date. Expect to see the Avengers and the Guardians in pretty poor shape by the time the credits role, paving the way for an explosive showdown with ultimate universe conquering villain Thanos in Infinity War Part Two. Thanos’ weapon of choice is the Infinity Gaunlet, a golden glove which holds the six Infinity Gems (of which we have already seen four on the big screen, the blue Tesseract the “Space Stone”, the red Aether in Thor: The Dark World possibly the "Soul Stone", the purple “Power Stone” seen in Guardians, and the green “Reality Stone" held at the end of Loki’s staff). With this Gaunlet Thanos holds the power to do pretty much anything he likes completely unchecked, so it’ll take a Herculean effort to stop him, and quite possibly the death of one or more of the Avengers or Guardians. The story was told in the comics back in 1991 with The Infinity Gaunlet six part miniseries, which was followed by 1992’s Infinity War and 1993’s Infinity Crusade miniseries. Given the lukewarm reception to these three stories its highly likely Marvel Studios won’t be sticking to the on page story very closely.
Captain Marvel (2018) – Not to be confused with DC Comics own Captain Marvel aka Shazam, Marvel’s Comics’ Captain Marvel has been inhabited by eight characters to date, of various backgrounds and origins. Wisely Marvel are bringing the most popular of these to the big screen and finally giving the gals a headlining heroine in the shapely form of Carol Danvers. First appearing as an officer in the US Air Force, Major Carol Danvers soon took on the mantle of Ms. Marvel after a near fatal coming together with the alien race the Kree left her with super strength and the power of flight. An tussle with the X-Man Rogue in the eighties resulted in the mutant absorbing all of Danvers’ powers, turning Rogue into a flying, super strength mutant and leaving Ms. Marvel with now powers and a skimpy costume she no longer had a use for. Danvers returned some years later though in various Marvel Comics reboots repowered and taking on the mantel of Captain Marvel. Casting is a little way off yet but fans will watch with a keen eye to see who nabs the role of top-lady-hero on the block. Whether by 2018 Marvel will have run out of interesting ways to tell a super-powered person origin story, or whether audiences will be suffering from comic character overload, only time will tell.
Inhumans (2018) – Who needs the X-Men when we can use the Inhumans instead? First appearing in The Fantastic Four in 1965, this group of super-powered, super advanced homosapiens existed back when humans were still wearing woolly mammoth skins and beating each other up with sabre-tooth tiger bones. As such, the Inhumans are far more advanced than normal humans and live in their own mega-tech city of Attilan. As an unknown quantity the Inhumans are an even riskier prospect than the Guardians were, lacking most of the humour and obvious space thrills of Peter Quill and his band of rogues. That the group also share similarities with the X-Men may also not sit well with audiences, who might just assume Marvel Studios in a sour-grapes move have simply made up their own group of “mutants” instead. Of all the films in the pipeline, this one will require the most work and effort from Marvel Studios in order to work.
The Avengers: Infinity War, Part Two (2019) – Rounding out Marvel’s grand cinematic plan is the second part of the final battle with ultimate bad-guy Thanos. Expect a three hour epic with many battles, explosions and punching of faces. It’s a fair bet that one or more of the Avengers will end up sacrificing themselves at the end, and given the key role that Tony Stark has played through the entire story thread and his habit of toying with death on a regular basis, the smart money will be on Iron Man, or an Iron Man and Captain America team-up that leads them both into the afterlife. What follows after this is anyone’s guess but don’t be surprised to hear Marvel Studios kicking the word “reboot” around after they’ve finished counting the billions of dollars in revenue generated by Infinity War Part Two.
There still remains more than a few tantalising questions over the MCU, the most exciting of which is where Spiderman might feature in all of this. Sony Pictures have already started talks with Marvel Studios about a possible team-up, so keep an eye out for the most pant-wettingly exciting post-credits scene to date as the web-slinger makes a surprise appearance in someone else’s movie; our money is on Infinity War Part One, a last minute something-to-smile-about following the doom and gloom of Thanos’ temporary victory.
There’s also questions over current vacant roles (Captain Marvel, Nova, the Inhumans, the various vacant director’s chairs), and whether Fox will follow Sony's lead and open up talks with Marvel about sharing the Fantastic Four and the X-Men as well. And last but not least, the mighty Hulk. With no announcement of a solo Hulk adventure it seems Mark Ruffalo is stuck with supporting roles for the moment. But with Planet Hulk and World War Hulk offering up some choice source material don’t rule out a future announcement that Marvel Studios plan to cram one more Hulk sized movie into their already chock full line-up.