Marvel’s Universe-Expanding Phase Four Plan
Marvel Studios changed the Marvel Cinematic Universe forever with the world-shaking events of AVENGERS: ENDGAME. But we haven't known much about what will follow the big battle with Thanos beyond what was shown in SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME. The first stages of the company’s next universe-expanding plan were revealed at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2019, and Disney's big slate update in December 2020 offered even more details as Marvel president Kevin Feige confirmed several upcoming movies and announced .
Marvel’s massive Phase Four slate will give us a new Thor, thrust Black Widow into a leading role in her own movie, and introduce an Avengers-sized collection of new heroes. The next few years will expand the scope of the MCU and finally bring Marvel's First Family back in-house. Here are all the new Marvel movies that are racing towards theaters in the next few years.
Marvel has been promising a BLACK WIDOW movie for years, and it is finally happening! Scarlett Johansson returns as Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, in a story that is set shortly after the events of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. Black Widow ends up in Budapest, where she meets Yelena Belova, played by Florence Pugh (MIDSOMMAR, LITTLE WOMEN). Yelena (above) is basically Natasha’s successor as an assassin, but they are more like sisters than enemies. Meanwhile, Black Widow will also have to face off against the villainous Taskmaster, who can learn any combat moves used by any opponent.
This is an interesting way to open Phase 4, given how Black Widow fared in ENDGAME. BLACK WIDOW could be all about establishing Yelena Belova, who, in the comics, became a hero after Natasha Romanoff’s death. It’s possible she’s being introduced in order to set her up for a major role going forward. Cate Shortland (BERLIN SYNDROME) is directing.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
We’ve met Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme; now we get to see the Master of the Mystic Arts. Simi Liu stars as Shang-Chi, a character created for Marvel Comics in the 1970s. On the page, Shang-Chi is the son of a Chinese crime lord named Fu Manchu, but things will be changed up a bit in this new movie. As for the title — remember mentions of the Ten Rings all the way back in the original IRON MAN? SHANG-CHI will introduce the real Mandarin, played by the great Hong Kong actor Tony Leung Chiu-wai (HARD BOILED, INFERNAL AFFAIRS).
Marvel famously presented a fake-out version of the classic Iron Man villain in IRON MAN 3, played by Ben Kingsley, but this movie will pull back the curtain on the one true Mandarin. SHANG-CHI will be Marvel’s first film with Asian actors in the primary roles, and the first martial arts movie in the MCU. Destin Daniel Cretton (SHORT TERM 12) is directing, and the cast also features Awkwafina as Katy, Michelle Yeoh as Jiang Nan, Fala Chen as Jiang Li, Meng’er Zhang as Xialing, Florian Munteanu as Razor Fist, and Ronny Chieng as Jon Jon.
ETERNALS will bring a brand new franchise into the MCU. In the comics, the Eternals are an evolutionary offshoot of humanity, created millennia ago by an alien race known as the Celestials. The Eternals are tremendously powerful – in fact, Thanos himself is descended from the Eternals. Beyond that, the specifics of the story are a total mystery right now.
And while the Eternals are new to many audiences (just as the Guardians were a few years ago), Marvel has assembled an all-star cast to ensure that we all pay attention. Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Kumail Nanjani, and Brian Tyree Henry are all on board, as are Richard Madden, Don Lee, Lauren Ridloff, and Lia McHugh. Chloé Zhao, who made the acclaimed films THE RIDER and NOMADLAND, is directing.
Untitled Sony Spider-Man Sequel
The third Spider-Man movie is directly tied to the second Doctor Strange movie. How? We're glad you asked! While Marvel and Sony had a period of disagreement about whether the two companies would work together on a third Spider-Man movie starring Tom Holland, affairs were soon put right. Holland's third Spidey movie is still untitled, but we know it will feature Benedict Cumberbatch as Marvel's most mystic doctor — probably in a mentor role akin to that of Tony Stark in the previous two movies. And since the end of SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME left Peter Parker and Spider-Man in a pretty terrible position, the young hero faces big problems.
He may also face a lot of other Spider-Men! Rumors about as to specifically who will appear in the movie, but Alfred Molina and Kirsten Dunst will appear as their versions of Doctor Octopus and Mary Jane Watson from Sam Raimi's Spidey movies, while Jamie Foxx and Andrew Garfield will appear as Electro and Peter Parker from the Marc Webb movies. (Will Tobey Maguire suit up again, too? Maybe!) And remember that original Spider-Man filmmaker Sam Raimi is also directing DOCTOR STRANGE 2. Our heads are spinning over the possible connections.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Here's where things get really… weird. Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) got to play a huge role in the last two Avengers movies; now he’s back to star in DOCTOR STRANGE 2. Even better, the film’s proper title — DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS — is possibly the wildest moniker Marvel has bestowed on a movie to date. If you think that sounds like it could be a horror movie, you’re not far off. Story details are as elusive as faces in a dream, but we know a few things. Benedict Wong will return, and Elizabeth Olsen will also appear, reprising the role of Scarlet Witch. That lead trio will journey to new dimensions and alternate realities.
We also know that Rachel McAdams will reprise her role from the first Doc Strange movie (which should raise a few questions and imply at least one answer) and that Xochitl Gomez will appear as the relatively new Marvel hero America Chavez. Master horror filmmaker — and the man who first brought Spider-Man to the big screen — Sam Raimi will direct. Jade Bartlett is writing.
Thor: Love and Thunder
THOR: RAGNAROK director Taika Waititi is returning to make the fourth Thor film, THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER. This, by the way, officially makes Thor the MCU’s longest-running solo superhero franchise!
Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson will return as Thor and Valkyrie, but there’s a big surprise in store. They’ll be joined by Jaimie Alexander, returning as Sif, and Christian Bale as the ominously-named villain, Gorr the God Butcher. He's probably very nice. Finally, Natalie Portman returns as Jane Foster, the greatest love of Thor Odinson’s life. AVENGERS: ENDGAME planted the seeds for Jane’s return to the MCU, and now she’ll be more important than ever before. Jane Foster won’t be merely a supporting character; this time she’ll wield the enchanted hammer Mjolnir, and with it the power of the Mighty Thor. That’s right — a female Thor! How’s that for a shake-up?
Black Panther II
That isn’t all Marvel has planned. While THOR 4 is technically the end of Phase Four, Marvel is already planning the story cycle that will follow. Towards the end of the Comic-Con panel in 2019, Feige teased a whole set of additional sequels and a few big new MCU additions. “We didn’t even mention that we’re making BLACK PANTHER II,” he said.
The tragic passing of star Chadwick Boseman in August 2020 raised questions about this movie. Director Ryan Coogler is still on board, and Marvel has explicitly stated that they "will not recast the character [Black Panther], but will explore the world of Wakanda and the rich characters introduced in the first film." We don't know more than that at this time.
Captain Marvel 2
We've known about CAPTAIN MARVEL 2 for a while and assumed that Brie Larson would return as Carol Danvers. Now we also know that Teyonah Parris will reprise the role of Monica Rambeau (daughter of Carol Danvers's pal Maria Rambeau, played by Lashana Lynch) from the series "WandaVision." And Iman Vellani, who will debut as Ms Marvel in the streaming series of the same name, will also have a role in the movie. Finally, CAPTAIN MARVEL 2 will be directed by Nia DaCosta (CANDYMAN).
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
All we really know about GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, VOL 3 is that, after a brief split with Marvel Studios, James Gunn is on track to write and direct the movie. Presumably, that means that the core GUARDIANS characters and cast — Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel), Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) — will return as well. And will Thor (Chris Hemsworth) still be tagging along? The Guardians will appear in THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER, but we don't know what state they'll be in when that movie is over.
This is a big one. The team known as Marvel's First Family has been on movie screens in two different incarnations — one co-starring Chris Evans years before he became Captain America — but this will be the first time Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios have direct control. We don't know who will play Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm, but it's probably not a stretch (ahem) to guess that Spider-Man will appear. That's not merely because the Webhead has many ties to the Fantastic Four in comic books — it's because Marvel's go-to Spider-Man director, Jon Watts, will direct FANTASTIC FOUR.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania
Moving even further into the future, there's the third Ant-Man movie, which will feature the return of Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, and Michelle Pfeiffer. Kathryn Newton joins the cast as Cassie Lang and Jonathan Majors is on board to play Kang the Conqueror. Peyton Reed, who made the first two films, is back to direct the third.
Last but very far from least is that Marvel is rebooting BLADE, with two-time Oscar winner Mahershala Ali (MOONLIGHT, GREEN BOOK) set to star. We don't know who is directing, nor do we have any story details. But since BLADE is all about a half-vampire anti-hero who hunts creatures of the night, we're hoping for an October release in 2023.
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All images courtesy of Marvel Studios.