After a year-plus delay due to a global pandemic, Black Widow is just three months from releasing in theaters (and Disney+!) and the theatrical start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase 4 will finally begin. So let’s take a look at the next two years of the MCU, and see just what the greatest film franchise on the planet has in store for us:
Let’s take a look at the next two years of the MCU, and see just what the greatest film franchise on the planet has in store for us.
Scarlett Johansson reprises her role (for the final time?) as Natasha Romanoff in Black Widow. Black Widow takes place in the period between Civil War and Infinity War as Natasha returns home and confronts her history. Robert Downey Jr. also appears as Iron Man from previous MCU films, so expect some significant flashbacks. And MCU newcomer Florence Pugh stars as Yelena Belova, another Black Widow who will show up in some future Disney+ series later this year.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings stars Simu Liu in Marvel’s first Asian lead role exploring the clandestine Ten Rings organization, which has been referenced as far back as the first Iron Man film. Shang-Chi is a skilled martial artist with a difficult past. Tony Leung is The Mandarin, the leader of the Ten Rings. You might recognize the name of The Mandarin from Iron Man 3, in which Ben Kingsley played an actor playing the roll of The Mandarin, but now we’re going to meet the real deal.
The Eternals are an immortal alien race created by the Celestials who secretly live on Earth. They fight the Deviants, both of whom are offshoots of the process that created life on Earth (and Thanos was a hybrid created by both races). The Eternals film will be a massive origin story of not just an entire new race of beings but of individual characters played by big names like Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Kumail Nanjiani, and Kit Harington. Also, the score is being composed by Ramin Djawadi, which only feels right for a movie of this scale.
Spider-Man: No Way Home will wrap up the first year of Phase 4, which will see an entirely new type of Spider-Man film due to Far From Home‘s shocking mid-credits scene. Tom Holland, Zendaya, and Jacob Batalon return as Peter Parker, MJ, and Ned Leeds, with Benedict Cumberbatch reprising his role as Doctor Strange, as well as (according to rumors) Alfred Molina and Jamie Foxx as Doc Ock and Electro, respectively, reprising their roles from the original Toby McGuire Spider-Man and Andrew Garfield Amazing Spider-Man film series. Rumors also report that the original Spider-Men will make appearances, but I am highly suspect of these rumors. Similar to WandaVision‘s Quicksilver cameo recasting and J. K. Simmons’s cameo as J. Jonah Jameson in Far From Home, I suspect these villains are being recast more as fan-service than as a merging of the previous Spider-films. Doctor Strange’s appearance (and the upcoming Multiverse of Madness film) is likely lending credence to the rumors. And personally? I don’t want to see them appear, as I feel it dilutes the quality of the Spider-Man films currently in the MCU and gives Sony’s bad Spider-Man films more credit than they deserve.
The Spider-Man hype this year is huge, and rightly so.
The Spider-Man hype this year is huge, and rightly so. There’s also discussion of a fourth Spidey film in the MCU as Peter Parker starts college (rumors say it’s a possible trilogy, taking us well into 2027 or beyond with the Marvel Cinematic Universe), and don’t forget Tom Holland is due to reprise Spidey in a major MCU Avengers-style film within the next few years (I have a theory on this, but keep reading).
So that’s four big MCU films finally getting released after a two year drought of Marvel cinema, but we’re not done yet.
Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness releases in theaters in March 2022, just three months after No Way Home‘s release. In addition to Comberbatch, the cast includes the Scarlet Witch herself straight out of Westview, Elizabeth Olsen, and newcomer Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez, an extremely powerful superhero from Utopian Parallel, a reality out of time. America has the unique ability to punch star-shaped holes between realities and travel the multiverses. I’m beginning to detect a theme here.
Thor: Love and Thunder reunits Taika Waititi with the MCU (after taking a fun little detour to a galaxy far, far away) and reunites Chris Hemsworth’s Thor with Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster (who becomes the Goddess of Thunder, but this isn’t a spoiler, it’ll literally be the plot of the film as revealed at Comic-Con 2019). Also joining Thor (and reprising their roles) are the Gardians of the Galaxy, Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, and Waititi as Korg. Good old, Korg. There are a lot of big names in this one, but don’t expect to see Zoe Saldana as Gamora just yet — this is Thor’s film, and the search for Gamora will likely be put on hold until the Gardians get their Vol. 3. There are enough big names, big heroes, and big egos in Thor 4 to make it feel like a mini-Avengers in space.
Thor: Love and Thunder is also the conclusion of Phase 4 of the MCU.
Next summer Ryan Coogler will take us back to Wakanda in Black Panther II, which will kick of Phase 5. With the role of T’Challa not being recast following the death of Chadwick Boseman, the film will explore other characters within Wakanda and — likely — pass the mantel of the Black Panther to Shuri. Filming begins this summer, and I’m honestly amazed they can begin filming and a year later have a completed movie.
Captain Marvel 2 will see release in November of next year, with Brie Larson returning as Carol Danvers, Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau (from WandaVision) and Iman Vellani reprising her role as Kamala Khan / Ms. Marvel from the Disney+ series Ms. Marvel — more on that in a second!
Lastly, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania has a vague 2022 planned release date, but with the year pretty full, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the film slip to early 2023. Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly are both returning as the titles characters, with Jonathan Majors joining the MCU as Kang the Conqueror!
James Gunn returns to complete his trilogy on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 in 2023. The core cast — Saldana included — is expected to return, with Hemsworth expressing interest in returning as Thor. Yes, please!
Blade staring Mahershala Ali is also joining the MCU and the film is now in development.
Finally, Jon Watts — director of the three MCU Spidey films — will be directing the MCU’s Fantastic Four. No cast or release date has been announced, but 2023 sounds like a reasonable timetable for release. Now, remember how I mentioned that Tom Holland is due to join a non-Spidey MCU film within the next couple of years? And how I just wrote that Watts was director of all three previous Spider-Man films set in the MCU? Marvel hasn’t announced anything yet, but the pairing seems obvious. Putting Spidey in Fantastic Four gives Marvel’s First Family a huge introduction and, maybe most importantly, sets it apart from previous FF films that have not been super successful (or good). Telling a story with the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man is something never before seen on the big screen, and possibilities for putting a paper bag over Tom Holland’s head are endless.
Putting Spidey in Fantastic Four gives Marvel’s First Family a huge introduction and sets it apart from previous FF films.
That’s every theatrical release for the next two-ish years for the MCU that has been announced by Disney. But the MCU has expanded beyond the cinema: Disney+ is joining the fray and providing home audiences with a new episode of something almost every day of the year. You already know WandaVision and we’re just getting started with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but let’s recap:
WandaVision officially kicked off Phase 4, and although it wasn’t the start Marvel intended, it was a huge weekly event for the MCU and Disney+. WandaVision was also intended to lead directly into Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, but it appears Wanda will be spending a little longer in her log cabin of seclusion than was intended — and viewers will be waiting a full year longer for the continuation of Wanda’s story in theaters.
The next Disney+ series to air, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, was intended to be the first MCU series on Disney+, but delays in filming due to the pandemic pushed the series back to mid-March. As the series has just begun airing, I don’t want to say anything except those first ten minutes of the first episode were wow. If that’s what we can expect from the future of the MCU on Disney+, I’m never canceling my subscription.
Loki stars Tom Hiddleston and Owen Wilson and takes place in an alternate timeline Loki creates after stealing the Tesseract during the time traveling antics of Avengers: Endgame. Loki premiers this June with a second season currently in development.
What If…? is a multi-season animated anthology series that takes events from the films and reimagines them in a whole new way. Many of your favorite MCU stars reprise their roles for the series, including Hayley Atwell, Chadwick Boseman, Josh Brolin, Karen Gillan, Jeff Goldblum, Chris Hemsworth, Samuel L. Jackson, Natalie Portman, Michael Rooker, Paul Rudd, Mark Ruffalo, and Taika Waititi, to name a few. Notably absent are the voices behind Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Stephen Strange, Carol Danvers, and Howard the Duck, who are also expected to feature in the series (sadly, no Peter Parker/Spider-Verse, I know, right?). While What If…? takes place in the MCU, the events of the series aren’t expected to impact the continuity of the films and other television series. A second season is also in development.
Later this year we’ll meet Kamala Khan, a 16-year-old Pakistani girl who writes Captain Marvel fan fiction and gains incredible shape-shifting powers to become Ms. Marvel. Newcomer Iman Vellani is set to star in the series, which will setup Captain Marvel 2 where Vellani will reprise her role next year.
Later this year we’ll meet Kamala Khan, a 16-year-old Pakistani girl who writes Captain Marvel fan fiction and gains incredible shape-shifting powers to become Ms. Marvel.
Jeremy Renner returns as Hawkeye, reprising his role from way back in the original Thor (and a few more recent MCU films) and introduces Hailee Steinfeld as Kate Bishop. The Hawkeye series will show us more of Ronin, and guest star Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova (reprising her role from the Black Widow film). As a fan of Kate Bishop from the comics and Hailee Steinfeld from everything she does, I’m super excited to see this new Hawkeye pick up the bow. Hawkeye also introduces another new superhero: Maya Lopez / Echo. Echo is a deaf Native American who can perfectly copy of movements of others (and in the comics briefly maintained the identify of Ronin). Disney has announced Echo’s own series is in development for Disney+.
Hawkeye also concludes Phase 4 on Disney+’s streaming series. The next year’s worth of shows are currently in early development or just beginning filming, and we don’t have a lot of information about them yet, but here’s what we do know:
Oscar Isaac will star as Marc Spector in Moon Knight. Moon Knight is a vigilante who suffers from dissociative identity disorder, with each identity being a unique character. Th backdrop of the series is Egyptian iconography and has a Raiders of the Lost Arc vibe. Moon Knight should premier in early 2022, but likely sometime after Thor hits theaters (otherwise we’ll have overlapping phases which could tear apart the multiverse or just be really confusing to audiences).
She-Hulk stars Tatiana Maslany as Bruce Banner’s cousin Jennifer Walters, who gains Hulk-like strength after receiving a blood transfusion from Bruce. Mark Ruffalo will reprise his role as The Hulk, and Tim Roth reprises his role as Abomination from 2008’s The Incredible Hulk. Walters is a lawyer specializing in superhero legal matters, leading to Producer Kevin Feige teasing, “You never know what Marvel character is going to pop up from episode to episode.” Could this be the series to relaunch Daredevil in the MCU? Pure speculation on my part but it’s a shame the Defenders have been sidelined on Netflix.
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, written and directed by James Gunn, is a one episode “television special” that will take place between the events of Guardians Part II and Guardians Part III and is set to premiere in late 2022 on Disney+. There’s also a series of short films staring Baby Groot coming soon titled, of course, I am Groot.
Also newly announced for Disney+ is Secret Invasion staring Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, which will lead into future MCU films. Ironheart will star Dominique Thorne as Riri Williams, a character created by Miles Morales creator Brian Michael Bendis just before he left Marvel Comics for DC. And Armor Wars will star Don Cheadle as James Rhodes / War Machine and will explore Tony Stark’s biggest fears when his tech falls into enemy hands. Finally, an untitled Wakanda series is in the early stages of development. I would expect some of these series released mid or late 2022 and even into 2023.
Lastly, Disney+ has a few behind-the-scenes series available to the MCU obsessed: Marvel Studios: Legends recaps moments with different characters across the films and television episodes of the MCU. New episodes usually premier just prior to the release of a new series or film, beginning with Wanda Maximoff and The Vision back in January of 2021. Marvel Studios: Assembled is a behind the scenes documentary series with cast of crew of the shows and films. WandaVision is out now with new episodes planned for release shortly after a film or the final episode of a series has been released.
We’re getting some huge series on Disney+ and a massive set of movies over the next two years, and I’m super excited for what Marvel and Disney have planned for the MCU.
That is the MCU over the next two years as it stands in April 2021. Remember that Phase 4 was originally set to end in the Fall of this year and we’re only now just getting started. We’re getting some huge series on Disney+ and a massive set of movies over the next two years culminating with the first previously-owned FOX property finally entering the MCU, Marvel’s First Family, the Fantastic Four. I’m super excited for what Marvel and Disney have planned for the MCU. I’m personally excited for Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel 2, the Ms. Marvel series, the Hawkeye series, and of course, anything and everything Spidey.
Today I received my first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, and I feel great. I’m really hopeful this entire ordeal is behind us, and within a few months we’ll all be back in theaters cheering on Black Widow this summer and Spidey this Christmas. I’m ready for it.