What’s Next for the Marvel Cinematic Universe in ‘Phase Four’

*This article contains spoilers for “Loki” and “Black Widow.”

With “Black Widow ” recently hitting theaters and the finale for season one of “Loki” on Disney Plus following shortly after, Marvel is back to its full strength. The studio had a long gap between releases. “Black Widow” released two years after the last Marvel movie, “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” Now that the franchise is back again, it’s going forward with many upcoming projects. This means that it’s time to look to the future to see exactly what is coming in Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

One of the biggest things to look forward to is the introduction of the multiverse that came from the finale of “Loki.” The show ends with Jonathan Majors’ The One Who Remains (Who is almost certainly the time traveling supervillain Kang the Conqueror from the comics) having one of his many versions killed, breaking open the timeline into dozens of irreparable branching paths. It looks like the next phase of movies could focus on the heroes handling the aftermath of this event.

The second half of 2021 is going to be filled to the brim with Marvel movies. First up is “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” The film follows Simu Liu as the titular Shang-Chi, a skilled kung-fu warrior who uncovers the mysterious Ten Rings organization. This movie represents an important milestone for Marvel, as it is the first of their movies to have an Asian main character. “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” will hit theaters Sept. 3.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” Marvel Studios

Not even a month later, Marvel’s “Eternals” is set to release on Nov. 5. This movie, directed by newly-minted Oscar winner Chloé Zhao, focuses on a race of immortal beings called “The Eternals” as they return to Earth after a long period of neutrality. In the trailer, one of the Eternals says “throughout the years we have never interfered- until now.” This begs the question, could the rise of the multiverse in the wake of “Loki” be what has caused the Eternals to finally make their presences known? 

It remains unclear if “Eternals” will get into the multiverse, but it is certain that it will come up in Marvel’s next two films “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” Marvel confirmed that two previous villains will return from different incarnations of Spider-Man. Jamie Foxx is reprising his role of Electro in 2014’s “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” and Alfred Molina is returning as Doc Ock from the 2002 film “Spider-Man 2.”. There were rumors that those movies’ versions of Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield and Tobey Macguire respectively) would be returning, however Garfield has said he is not in the film. We also know that Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) will be featured in “Spider-Man,” before his solo film releases. This makes sense considering Spider-Man may be going to Strange for help now that his secret identity has been revealed in “Spider-Man: Far From Home” just as he did in the comics. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” premieres on Dec. 17, 2021 and “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” releases Mar. 22, 2022.

The rest of the year will be filled not only with movies, but with Marvel television as well. First, there is “What If…?,” an animated anthology series showcasing Marvel stories from, you guessed it, alternate universes. Stories will include Black Panther as Starlord, Peggy Carter as Captain America and Marvel: Zombies. Later in 2021 comes “Hawkeye,” a series about  Jeremy Renner’s original Avenger training a new Hawkeye, Katie Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld.) This series will also feature Florence Pugh’s character, Yelena, from “Black Widow,” as teased in that film’s post-credits scene with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Also in 2021 is “Ms. Marvel,” the story of a young Pakistani-American whose new superpowers make for a difficult balance of crime fighting and being a teenager.

“Hawkeye,” Marvel Studios

Of course, Marvel has plans for years to come. In 2022 there are plans for “Thor: Love and Thunder,” which sees Thor team up with the Guardians of the Galaxy and reunite with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” a sequel to 2018 hit that is moving forward after the death of the last film’s star Chadwick Boseman. The following year sees a third installment for both the Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy series. Marvel also teased that a “Fantastic Four” movie is in development after getting the rights back when Disney bought Fox, but no details or date have been announced. 

The Marvel television schedule is just as, if not more full. There are plans in 2022 for a “Moon Night” series starring Oscar Isaac as the titular CIA agent who gets a second chance in life as an avatar for the moon god Khonshu. In addition, “She-Hulk,” starring Tatiana Maslany, follows the story of a  lawyer who gains Hulk-like abilities. There are also 2022 plans for a series entitled “Secret Invasion.” This is the name of a famous recent comic storyline where the heroes discover the Skrulls, an alien race, have secretly infiltrated the top levels of government and many superhero teams. The Skrulls were featured heavily in “Captain Marvel,” with Ben Mendelsohn’s skrull character from that movie set to return. 

Especially with Marvel’s TV offerings increasing on Disney+, this blockbuster franchise shows no signs of stopping any time soon. With a slate full of eight movies and six TV shows planned to come out in the next two years, it looks like viewers will easily have their fill of these superhero stories for a long time.

By Ben Lindner

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