2019 has not been a quiet year for Marvel. Fans have met a new Captain, faced the Endgame, and traveled Far From Home—but for the first time in a while, the public has been largely unaware of just exactly what was next for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sure, there have been some markers along the road to give a vague idea of what the future held, but on Saturday, Marvel finally delivered the goods and dropped a whole bunch of information on just what we’ll have to look forward to as Phase 4 of the MCU kicks into full gear next year.
After tossing up an empty graphic that would serve as the roadmap for the show, it looked like Marvel’s Kevin Feige might seriously announce ten different movies. But as fans quickly learned, there was more at play: Six long-rumored Disney+ streaming television series were finally announced, as well as confirmation on five different films. Feige made it clear that each of these series, many of which will see MCU stars like Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen headline their own show, will be an essential part of Phase 4 storytelling.
With that in mind, let’s break it all down.
Director: Cate Shortland
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, David Harbour, Florence Pugh, O-T Fagbenle, and Rachel Weisz
Release date: May 1, 2020
As predicted (and mostly because it’s already started shooting) Scarlett Johansson’s solo Black Widow film will kick start Phase 4. Officially joining the cast alongside Johansson are actors David Harbour, Florence Pugh, O-T Fagbenle, and Rachel Weisz. Marvel debuted an early trailer of the Cate Shortland directed film, which looks to be more of an outright action film. The footage primarily comprised of an intense fight between Johansson’s Natasha and Pugh’s Yelena Belova (more on her in a second) and was quick to draw comparisons to John Wick, which is high praise, if that’s how it will pan out. Additionally, the villainous master copycat Taskmaster was briefly shown (although we’re still unsure who has been cast in the role).
Speaking of Yelena, the character in the comics is the second character to hold the title of Black Widow and was also trained in the famed Red Room. While it’s not necessarily guaranteed that indie (and May) queen Florence Pugh will take over that Black Widow title from Johnasson moving forward, the fact that the film is most likely a flashback (given the explicit mention of Budapest amongst the cast members on stage and, uh, Natasha’s fate in Endgame) make that theory seem all but inevitable. And positioning an actress as interesting and exciting as Pugh to take over a fundamental and pivotal role in the MCU seems like just the thing we’ve seen Marvel do over and over again (there are shades of Marvel signing Brie Larson after her Oscar win to play Captain Marvel here). Time will tell, but I’d go ahead and try and find a bookie who will take those odds if I was you.
‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’
Starring: Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan and Daniel Brühl
Release date: Fall 2020
Marvel’s first Disney+ series will explore the relationship between Cap’s two closest allies, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), in a post-Captain America world. It also sees the return of Daniel Brühl’s Baron Zemo, who we last saw in Captain America: Civil War. Brühl’s involvement was shown by a trailer that ended with a promise that he’d be seeing our heroic duo soon, before slipping on the famed purple mask that comic fans know and love. Just watch out for phrasing, Bucky!
Director: Chloé Zhao
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lauren Ridloff, Brian Tyree Henry, Salma Hayek, Lia McHugh and Don Lee
Release date: November 6, 2020
With a truly bonkers and star-studded cast (Richard Madden, Lauren Ridloff, Lia McHugh, Don Lee, Kumail Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, Salma Hayek, and Angelina Jolie) the Eternals will be Marvel’s second 2020 film. Even as a die-hard comic book fan, I can’t say I’ve read but one Eternals series, but the basic premise is that they’re a group of immortal gods that’s been sent to Earth to protect it from an equally powerful threat known as the Deviants. Their eras long absence will be presumably explained, as the Avengers definitely could have used their help against Thanos! The film is rumored to feature Marvel’s first openly gay character. However, it’s confirmed that Eternals will definitely feature their first disabled character: Lauren Ridloff herself is deaf and will be playing the deaf character of Macary.
This is a big swing by Marvel–perhaps the biggest since Guardians of the Galaxy or Ant-Man, and I’m curious to see how they’ll handle it. Feige promised that director Chloe Zhao (go watch her masterful indie film The Rider if you haven’t already) will be bringing something “new and different” to the table. There’s also a rumor that the film will shoot partially on 16mm film, which in and of itself is a departure for the studio.
‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Starring: Simu Liu, Awkwafina and Tony Leung
Release date: February 12, 2021
After promising Ben Kingsley’s Iron Man 3 (which is the best Iron Man movie, do NOT @ me) character in the Marvel One-Shot “All Hail The King” that he’d see him soon, the real Mandarin will finally arrive in the Destin Daniel Cretton-directed Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The iconic Marvel villain will be played by the equally legendary Chinese star Tony Leung. Newcomer Simu Liu, who shot his shot on Twitter (and was cast as recently as last Tuesday), will play martial arts master Shang-Chi. Liu will also be joined by actress Awkawfina in a role that’s not yet been unveiled.
Starring: Tom Hiddleston
Release date: Spring 2021
After Loki got away with the Tesseract during the Battle of New York portion of Endgame’s time heist, Tom Hiddleston’s trickster god will headline his own Disney+ series that’s set to drop in the spring. While details are still a little sparse, there’s been concept art that teased Loki in what looked to be a Deuce-era version of New York, which leads me to believe there might be some time travel shenanigans at play.
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany and Teyonah Parris
Release date: Spring 2021
Set after the events of Endgame, the WandaVision Disney+ series will further explore the relationship we saw between Paul Bettany’s Vision and Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch. But there’s just one little wrinkle here: Isn’t Vision dead? How is he back?
In the comics, Wanda is one of the most powerful characters around, capable of shifting reality in as little as three words. Could the MCU version of Wanda suddenly reach that threshold? Possibly creating a reality in which Vision never perished? Perhaps under the guise of the stereotypical 1950s nuclear family (as that’s when the show is rumored to take place) that somehow has a deeper, darker secret to hide? The suggestion of that premise alone opens a world of ideas to explore (what if Mad Men, but with superheroes, is definitely one hell of an idea), not to mention it could pull further ideas of Tom King’s superlative and award-winning Vision comic book series(as it features a similar domestic bliss with a rotten core). The inclusion of a grown Monica Rambeau (played by rising star Teyonah Parris) only opens up more questions about a series that Marvel is being particularly cagey about. Perhaps it’s because that…
‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’
Director: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch and Elizabeth Olsen
Release date: May 7, 2021
…Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch will be directly involved in the Sorcerer Supreme’s sequel. The big news here is that returning director Scott Derrickson promised the Benedict Cumberbatch-led film will be the MCU’s first, true horror movie. Derrickson’s previous film history with movies like Sinister and The Exorcism of Emily Rose lends him the chops needed to pull this off, and it’s a great way to further push Marvel movies into new and fresh terrority.
While the antagonist is unclear as of now, there are a few candidates that come to mind: Could Wanda herself be a threat? We did see that Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Baron Mordo had a bone to pick with Strange at the end of the first film, so maybe he’s returned? Or is it someone else like Nightmare (he’d certainly be a great fit for a more horror-focused movie, as he’s basically Marvel’s version of Freddy Krueger). Regardless, I’m excited about the possibilities here. Marvel really seems to have a handle on Doctor Strange now and Derrickson going back to his roots is enough of a one-two punch to continue to make these movies exciting.
Starring: Jeffrey Wright
Release date: Summer 2021
The animated (!) Disney+ series will be headed by a recently cast Jeffrey Wright as the all-knowing Watcher, who will present a series of tales that explore alternate stories set within the MCU. The real draw here is the absurdly stacked cast that will bring back fan favorites like Michael B. Jordan, Chadwick Boseman, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Rooker, Hayley Atwell, Stanley Tucci, and dozens more. There are several story ideas that you could piece together based on that cast alone (What if Peggy Carter was Captain America? What if Killmonger was the royal son of Wakanda from the beginning and not T’Challa?) But perhaps the most interesting one is hiding in plain sight: An eagle-eyed fan caught a zombified Steve Rogers in the logo for the show, so could we be getting an adaptation of the fan-favorite Marvel Zombies? Time will tell.
Starring: Jeremy Renner
Release date: Fall 2021
Details on the Jeremy Renner starring Disney+ series were also a little sparse, but comic book fans (this one included) went into an absolute tizzy at the show’s logo reveal. It’s for a good reason though, as it’s a direct curbing of the logo from Matt Fraction and David Aja’s insane popular comic book run. Renner did reveal that Kate Bishop will be an essential part of the show (further excitement for Fraction/Aja fans, as she plays a critical role in that series). However, I think that’s where Fraction and Aja’s influence ends: the show will primarily dive deeper into Clint’s time as Ronan, which as we saw in Endgame isn’t necessarily the happiest of times for the character. I’m not sure if tonally we’ll get to see comic book favorites like Pizza Dog or the Tracksuit Draculas, but fans can dream.
‘Thor: Love and Thunder’
Director: Taika Waititi
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson and Natalie Portman
Release date: November 5, 2021
When it was announced earlier this week that writer/director Taika Waititi would return to direct the forthcoming (pun incidental) Thor 4, many speculated that now was the time to introduce Jane Foster’s version of Thor as seen in the recent Jason Aarron and Russell Dauterman Mighty Thor series.
Sometimes it’s a blast when the people get what they want.
After seemingly being on the outs with Marvel at the end of Thor: The Dark World, Natalie Portman will return to play Jane Foster Thor. Along for the ride will also be Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie, who claimed that her first action as king of Asgard would be to “find her queen.”
The involvement of the Aaron/Dauterman run leads me to wonder what other elements, if any, we’ll see in this story. Is this a chance to bring back Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith? (Ed Note: Based off his performance in Dark World, please God no) The dark elf features heavily into the Jane Foster Thor run. Or is this perhaps the time to introduce the truly horrifying Gorr the God Butcher, a character that terrorized the original Thor across three different eras of his life.
Speaking of Thor: Chris Hemsworth was on stage along with Thompson, Portman, and Taika, but given that he was off with the Guardians at the conclusion of Endgame, I’m very curious about his involvement. There was speculation that the reason that Marvel planned on keeping the James Gunn script for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 was because it heavily featured the God of Thunder and that it’d be too complicated to rewrite otherwise. Because Love and Thunder will presumably come before the third Guardians, (GOTG3 and Black Panther 2, while confirmed, were conspicuously absent from the schedule) will Thor not feature as prominently here? Or will we get some sort of passing reference to his tenure that we’ll have to wait to see? Regardless, the reunion of Taika and the inclusion of Jane Foster is more than enough to make this one of the most anticipated releases of Phase 4.
And one more thing…
Starring: Mahershala Ali
Release date: n/a
As if all of this news wasn’t enough, Kevin Feige pulled a Steve Jobs on everyone in attendance. After saying he didn’t have time to talk about the Fantastic Four or “mutants,” he said he did have one more thing. Enter: Mahershala Ali. Enter: Blade. That’s right, the two-time Academy Award-winning actor was officially announced as the MCU’s version of the Daywalker.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Ali finessed his clout from winning two Oscars in two years to tie up a role that wasn’t seemingly even on Marvel’s radar yet. That’s probably the main reason why there isn’t a director or writer attached yet (though we have a few suggestions). Regardless, it made for a legitimately surprising, holy SHIT moment that proves Marvel is still capable of shocking and surprising us.
The biggest takeaway from Marvel’s Hall H presentation is that it’s betting big on fans committing to wanting to check out stories on Disney+ and in the theaters while finding new ways to innovate and pushing diversity and inclusion forward. The possibility of real LGBT characters, alongside a diverse cast of behind-the-camera talent (two females directors, three directors of color) is a breath of fresh air in a universe that will see its total film count come astoundingly close to hitting 30 by the end of 2021. If this year’s Hall H confirmed anything it’s that this is absolutely Marvel’s world (galaxy?) now. We’re just living in it.