**SPOILER WARNING: This story contains spoilers for Avengers: Endgame.**
Last July, after the catastrophic events of Avengers: Infinity War and the palate cleansing coda of Ant-Man and the Wasp, we took a minute to speculate on what the future might hold for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. At the time, the studio's upcoming slate was not known beyond what was then called Avengers 4 and Spider-Man: Far from Home, while the Disney-Fox merger that would bring a vast wing of the Marvel canon under the MCU umbrella was not yet closed. The Disney+ streaming service was still coming into focus as well.
Less than a year later, the MCU has been drastically reconfigured by the arrival of Avengers: Endgame, the movie that concludes a decade's and 22 movies' worth of epic storytelling and myth-building. As we look ahead to what lies beyond this game-changing milestone, some things are different and some have stayed the same. The Disney-Fox deal is done; Disney+ has revealed its programming plans; but we still don't know what the next few years hold for the MCU.
Not officially anyway: we have a pretty good idea about half a dozen movies that Marvel is working on, with two of them reportedly going before the cameras this summer. And now that the movie is out, we know the fates of at least some of the original Avengers. We still don't know how those Disney+ shows about certain characters will tie into the larger MCU, and as for former Fox properties like the X-Men and the Fantastic Four... also uncharted territory.
But as we did last year, we can apply a certain amount of confirmed information, some hearsay and a lot of speculation as we try to put together a new picture of what the MCU might look like going forward. One more warning: now that Avengers: Endgame is out, the following contains some pretty large spoilers.
It was 2008's Iron Man that launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe to its unprecedented 11-year box office run. Nearly $20 billion later, Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark was still the main face of the MCU and its vast assemblage of heroes and villains -- until a few days ago. Downey said he didn't want to age out of the role onscreen, and sure enough, Endgame marks the end of his time in the armor with a moving, heroic death befitting the complex character we've been watching all these years. Will someone else take up the armor now that Tony is gone? Endgame finds Pepper sporting her Rescue outfit at last, but Gwyneth Paltrow isn't likely to lead the charge. Whatever happens, Tony Stark began the MCU and he now leaves it in good hands.
Of the original Avengers, the only one who made it clear he was not coming back after Endgame is Chris Evans as Cap. There was much speculation that this meant the death of Steve Rogers, but as we know now, that's not what happened: performing one last heroic act of traveling back in time to restore the Infinity Stones to their proper locations, Cap elected to stay in the past and finally have the life (with Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter) that he had been denied. And let's face it, he's earned it. Evans has been magnificent in the part, equal in public regard to Downey's Iron Man, and this is the goodbye he richly deserves. Thanks, Cap, and enjoy the rest of your retirement.
Thor has been through the wringer these last few years between the events of Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War, and now Avengers: Endgame, in which the trauma of losing to Thanos sent him into the depths of despair, not to mention every bottle of beer he could find. Nevertheless, Chris Hemsworth has been ambiguous about his future in the MCU, and as Endgame closes out, we find the God of Thunder leaving Valkyrie on Earth in charge of New Asgard as he heads off into space with the Guardians (or he suggests, the Asgardians) of the Galaxy. Perhaps there's room in the future for Thor 4, or will he play a previously unexpected role in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3?
If Mark Ruffalo signed the same six-picture deal as Evans, Downey and a few other Avengers, then by our reckoning he still has one movie to go on his contract (he's now done four Avengers entries and Thor: Ragnarok). As Endgame fades to black, he's found some measure of personal peace as "Bulk" (Bruce/Hulk), plus he's still part of the Avengers and will presumably help rebuild the team and the HQ. Does that mean Bruce Banner will possibly show up in a supporting role again? As long as Universal Pictures still owns certain rights to the character, Hulk will never star in his own movie, so that may be our best bet for seeing the big green guy again. Doctor Strange 2 perhaps?
For whatever reason, Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye was expected to die for a while now. Perhaps it's because he seemed least likely to survive a face-to-face confrontation with Thanos or because Renner himself seems to be the least personally invested actor of the major MCU stars. Either way, his absence from Infinity War was a surprise, but even more surprising was the news that Disney+ (more on that later) is reportedly working on a Hawkeye limited series that Renner would star in. Since Hawkeye does survive Endgame and get his family back as well, it seems like he may fight on -- and perhaps train Kate Bishop to take his place.
No death in Infinity War was perhaps more devastating than that of young, frightened Peter Parker (Tom Holland), so it was almost merciful that Spider-Man: Far from Home (arriving July 5) popped up on the radar around the same time. Even so, Spidey was thankfully restored to life in Endgame, although his closing reunion with Ned in the halls of Midtown High School has raised all kinds of questions: being that it's five years later, was Ned snapped out of existence all this time too? Since the trailers for Far from Home show Peter interacting with most of his same high school friends, when exactly does this movie take place? Was everyone in his class dusted and then restored? We hope to get some answers...soon.
Of all the original Avengers, the only one we'll definitely see onscreen again is Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff -- which is ironic, since Natasha sacrificed herself to retrieve the Soul Stone in Endgame. So unless some kind of resurrection is planned, the Black Widow movie is almost certain to explore the Russian spy-turned-hero's past.. Although still not officially announced, the Black Widow movie is slated to begin filming this June under the direction of Cate Shortland, with David Harbour, Florence Pugh and possibly Rachel Weisz joining Johansson in the cast. The release date is TBA, but early 2020 looks good.
The Eternals is one of two big risks that Marvel is taking in this next phase. Hardcore fans know who the Eternals are, and that they were the creation of legendary Marvel artist Jack Kirby, but that's about it. Come to think of it, they're about as well-known to the general public as the Guardians of the Galaxy were... and we know what happened there. So maybe it's not all that much a risk.
Director Chloe Zhao's last film was the intimate, naturalistic The Rider, so it should be interesting to see what she brings to a story about human beings enhanced with enormous powers by the ancient race known as the Celestials. Angelina Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani and Ma Dong-seok are all reportedly in the cast, with cameras tentatively rolling this August on this new, unexplored corner of the Marvel universe.
Guardians of the Galaxy
When we did our last forecast for the MCU, it was right before director James Gunn was fired from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 over his distasteful tweets of nearly a decade earlier. Disney chief Alan Horn eventually came to his senses and brought Gunn back, with Guardians Vol. 3 pushed back from 2020 to (most likely) 2022. It will probably introduce Adam Warlock and could possibly be the final go-round for this Guardians lineup. But it may now also include a role for Thor and it could focus on Peter Quill's (Chris Pratt) search for the alternate timeline Gamora (Zoe Saldana), who is alive and well in our present but doesn't seem eager to get to know Star-Lord yet.
Marvel has yet to officially announce Doctor Strange 2, but Kevin Feige said it was coming and the first film's director and co-writer, Scott Derrickson, seems to be back on board for the sequel. Benedict Cumberbatch has been undusted as expected by Bruce Banner's heroic snap of the Avengers-manufactured second gauntlet, and there is a major unresolved plot thread with Strange frenemy Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) that we expect the next movie to follow as well. Release date: we suspect not even the Sorcerer Supreme knows at this stage.
With Black Panther inhaling $1.35 billion worldwide (and, in a Marvel first, winning three Oscars), no one believed that T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) would stay dusted following the events of Infinity War. Sure enough, he didn't, and neither did his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) nor much of the population of Wakanda. Black Panther 2 is a go, and returning director Ryan Coogler is reportedly already working on the script. We'd guess a 2021 or 2022 arrival is a good bet.
Expect Lupita Nyong'o (Nakia), Danai Gurira (Okoye), Martin Freeman (Agent Ross), Daniel Kaluuya (W'Kabi), Winston Duke (M'Baku) and Angela Bassett (Ramonda, T'Challa's mother) to all encore as well, while the villain remains an open question.
Marvel's second big swing after The Eternals will be Shang-Chi. Although the "Master of Kung-Fu" has been around in the comics since the early '70s, he's little-known outside Marvel fandom. His MCU debut will likely change that, while furthering Kevin Feige's promise of more diversity by following the Black Panther template and making a movie with primarily Asian filmmakers and actors.
Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12) will direct, with Dave Callaham (Wonder Woman 1984) writing the script. There's no actor on the radar yet for the title role but the Internet likes Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians).
And now onto the purely speculative section of our program...
Captain Marvel has made just about $400 million in North America and over a billion worldwide, so back off haters: Carol Danvers is coming back. While her role in Endgame was perhaps somewhat smaller than expected, she nevertheless delivered enough of a beatdown to Thanos to keep him off-balance. As with just about everything else we've discussed here, there's no official green light yet for a second movie starring the Kree/human superbeing, but Carol is certainly being positioned as one of the leaders of the MCU (and possibly the Avengers, in whatever form they take) going forward. Good for her, good for Marvel, and good for the universe.
With Dark Phoenix's box office prospects looking dim, The Gifted canceled and Legion headed into its final season, things are going quiet on the X-front for a while — which is probably how Kevin Feige and the gang at Marvel want it.
Now in control of the X-Men canon, Feige has said that we probably won't see them join the MCU for a few years — at least until the memory of this last series of films is distant enough for a massive reboot. Even then we wouldn't expect a full-fledged new X-Men movie at first... but don't be surprised if mutants begin to show up in a few MCU films down the line.
While other X-Men spinoffs like Gambit and Multiple Man will likely be shut down by Marvel Studios without hitting the screen (the one exception may be the already completed New Mutants), we suspect that Deadpool may continue on his naughty way. Ryan Reynolds has hinted that Deadpool 3 could be merged with the much-discussed X-Force movie, which would pair him again with Josh Brolin's Cable (once the memory of Brolin's Thanos fades). There's not even a whiff of a release date yet, but it will be interesting to see if Reynolds — who has been the driving force behind the Deadpool movies — can play nice in the more collaborative confines of the Marvel machine.
Of all the major Marvel brands, perhaps the most damage has been done to the comics' First Family, which is why we expect that this one will hibernate for a while before being reanimated. As with the X-Men, we might very well see Reed Richards, aka Mr. Fantastic, pop up first if the Avengers have need of a brilliant scientist. Or, as a friend of ours suggested, perhaps Black Panther 2 could feature some international tension between Wakanda and Latveria, paving the way for, at long last, an accurate portrayal of Doctor Doom. And don't forget the Silver Surfer either — maybe Galactus himself could be one of the next big post-Thanos threats to the MCU.
Although this article has focused mainly on the theatrical Marvel brand, Kevin Feige has indicated that the shows Marvel is developing for Disney's upcoming streaming service will tie into the big-screen MCU much more heavily than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or the now-defunct Netflix series ever did. With Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Anthony Mackie (Falcon), Sebastian Stan (Winter Soldier), Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlet Witch) and Paul Bettany (Vision) all reportedly on board, how could it not? The possibilities are endless...which is why everything might be completely different when we pen the sequel to this in 2020.