WARNING! The below contains spoilers for “Avengers: Endgame.”
(CNN)Now the dust has settled on the whole Thanos affair — ahem — where does the Marvel Cinematic Universe go from here? The $20-billion juggernaut isn’t going to just stop. “Avengers: Endgame” gave us a few clues as to the future of the MCU, and so has Marvel Studios’ planning calendar. So let’s dive into the quantum realm of rumor and hearsay and see what comes out on the other side.
“Endgame” may feel like the end of Phase 3 of the MCU, but Phase 4 doesn’t technically start until after July’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” according to Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige. This follows the same pattern that saw “Ant-Man” close out Phase 2. “Doctor Strange 2,” “Black Panther 2” and “Guardians of the Galaxy 3” will be in the mix, along with new franchise entries “Shang-Chi” and “The Eternals.” A Black Widow standalone film is also happening, but given the events of “Endgame” this will almost certainly be a prequel. Where these films slot into the studio’s schedule is debatable. What we do know is that after “Far From Home,” Marvel has eight release dates set from May 1, 2020 through to July 29, 2022, according to Box Office Mojo.Tom Holland as Peter Parker in the upcoming “Spider-Man: Far From Home.””Guardians 3,” in part due to the firing and re-hiring of director James Gunn, has had the largest exposure of the upcoming films. Gunn has said it’s set after “Infinity War” and so by extension presumably after “Endgame.” Read MoreThe band is back together (kind of) after those claimed by the snap returned and Gamora, killed by Thanos pre-snap, is alive by virtue of time travel — meaning she’ll have to re-friend everyone, which should be fun. As teased in “Guardians 2,” a new entry could usher comic supremo Adam Warlock into the MCU. Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy in “Avengers: Infinity War.”Perhaps the most exciting development, however, is the addition of Thor to the Guardians of the Galaxy. Flying off with the crew at the end of “Endgame,” it almost guarantees we’ll see him again, and with these companions, likely on “Ragnarok”-esque form. On the downside, what we know about “Guardians 3” means “Thor 4” might be a long way off or not happening at all. That said, “Ragnarok” star Tessa Thompson told the LA Times in April that a story had been pitched, with director Taika Waititi tipped to return. One line of thought is that Thompson’s Valkyrie, now ruler of New Asgard (in Norway) could grab the spotlight and move the story into a totally new direction.Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie in “Thor: Ragnarok.”Back in December 2018, “Doctor Strange 2” was a-go with Scott Derrickson returning as director, according The Hollywood Reporter. Plot details are scant, but “Doctor Strange’s” post-credit sequence, in which Chiwetel Ejiofor’s disillusioned sorcerer Karl Mordo goes rogue, suggests he’s on the path to becoming the evil Baron Mordo — a potential bogeyman in waiting.Little is known about “Black Panther 2,” beyond reports that Ryan Coogler is returning to write and direct. If we’re honest, T’Challa didn’t get to do much in “Endgame” beyond play a round of pass-the-Infinity-Gauntlet and look over a jubilant and restored Wakanda. By leaving “Black Panther’s” characters relatively unscathed by the events of “Infinity War” and “Endgame,” there’s no limit to where T’Challa could go. One thing seems a sure bet: that his sister Shuri will step into Tony Stark’s role as the MCU’s resident tech genius.Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther in “Avengers: Infinity War.””The Eternals” is the Marvel movie that has indie film fans excited by dint of its director Chloe Zhao, the force behind 2017’s “The Rider.” Variety reports Angelina Jolie and Kumail Nanjiani are in talks to star.The Eternals are a million years old and were created by an ancient cosmic race called the Celestials. The Celestials were first alluded to in the MCU in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and Peter Quill’s father Ego was one. We’ve also met an Eternal in Thanos, so there’s a chance we could end up learning more about his backstory, as well as the early days of the Infinity Stones. In the comics, the Eternals have also crossed paths with Thor and other Asgardians. Where the film fits into the MCU timeline is anyone’s guess, but Feige has hinted the story could span millennia. Thanos was an Eternal, a cosmic race about to get their own film in Phase 4 of the MCU.Destin Daniel Cretton is on directing duties for “Shang-Chi,” although the cast is still unconfirmed. Feige defined the kung fu master as “an Asian-American hero of Chinese heritage” in a recent interview with Indian outlet News18, and like Black Widow, he doesn’t have superpowers. On paper the move hits multiple marks, boosting diversity in the MCU and offering a Marvel-hungry Chinese audience greater representation on screen. Plot details again are firmly under wraps, but in the comics Shang-Chi has intersected with a bunch of established MCU characters including Spider-Man, and teamed up with the Secret Avengers.Which, by clunking segue, brings us on to the Avengers Initiative itself. An “Avengers 5” has not been confirmed; whether we’ll get one in Phase 4 is the biggest question currently hanging over the MCU.If the initiative is to move forward, they need a new leader, that much is clear. Iron Man is toast and Captain America has walked off into the sunset. Black Widow, who helmed the Avengers during the dark post-snap years, sacrificed herself so that Hawkeye could claim the Soul Stone as part of “Endgame’s” time heist.The Avengers — if they return at all in Phase 4 of the MCU — will have to do without Iron Man and Captain America.Hulk/Bruce Banner (or Professor Hulk as this version was known in the comics) appears to have taken a back step, while Thor is off doing his own thing. Hawkeye? The family man now has 1. His family back and 2. A rumored Disney+ series. That would be character over-saturation.So, the original six look like they’re out of the picture. Other MCU characters have led the Avengers in the comics, including Sam Wilson, erstwhile Falcon, who now carries Captain America’s shield. But he needs some time to grow (good thing he has a Disney+ series). Doctor Strange and Black Panther have the power and the charisma, but the former wouldn’t make a good leader. Plus, they have standalone films to occupy. Ant-Man, The Wasp, Spider-Man, War Machine, the Winter Soldier and Scarlet Witch all feel like outside bets.Instead it’s Nick Fury’s proto-Avenger Captain Marvel, back on the scene — and back in the right galaxy — who leads the pack. Brie Larson as Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel in “Captain Marvel.”In March, Feige said Captain Marvel would be “at the forefront of the entire (MCU),” touting her human credentials. It might seem a small thing, but the Avengers are “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.” Their leader needs that human touch: to be relatable and invested in protecting our poky planet. She may have Kree blood running through her veins, but “Captain Marvel” the film was a mission in humanizing a character that herself felt alien. Carol Danvers is also arguably the most powerful superhero in the MCU so far. It’s hard to see her taking orders from anyone else — her single-mindedness was made clear in “Endgame.” That in itself is perhaps a detracting point: she left Earth to travel the galaxy, returning in the nick of time to help save the planet. But given Feige’s comments, don’t expect Danvers to be on the outside looking in during Phase 4. Ronan, played by Lee Pace, featured briefly in “Captain Marvel” and could return for a sequel.With the Guardians of the Galaxy roaming once again, The Eternals in the picture and Doctor Strange doing his inter-dimensional thing, the MCU is only going to expand further beyond Earth. The Avengers need an intergalactic pair of hands in charge — with Ms Danvers the obvious choice as Earth’s new figurehead.'Avengers: Endgame' triumphantly caps Marvel universeOf course, the alternative is that the MCU could skip the Avengers for an entire phase. Characters aren’t united against a common enemy any more. Some smaller characters have to rise to prominence, with Disney+ offering a less intense spotlight for Marvel Studios to see what sticks. No “Avengers 5” could free up room for an as-yet-unannounced Captain Marvel sequel. There’s clear appetite: the debut entry joined the billion-dollar club at the global box office. Plus, its ending teed up some significant Kree-bashing between 1995 and now.All this speculation doesn’t even take into account Disney’s purchase of Twentieth Century Fox, and along with it the film rights to all the X-Men. It’s inevitable they will fit somewhere within Marvel Studios’ future plans.Feige has said we’ll know more officially once “Far From Home” is out. Can July hurry up already?