Briefing

The next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

What comes after the endgame for Hollywood's biggest franchise?

Hollywood's biggest film franchise is in the middle of a new era. What's the Marvel Cinematic Universe's next endgame? 

What films does Marvel have in the works? 

Marvel's next movie after Eternals is Spider-Man: No Way Home, one of its most highly-anticipated projects because previous versions of Spider-Man, played by Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, are rumored to appear. After that comes Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which co-stars Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff; fans have speculated her attempt to be reunited with her children, as teased in WandaVision, could spark its events. Then, Thor: Love and Thunder will be based on a comics storyline where Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) battles cancer and gains superpowers; Black Panther: Wakanda Forever will grapple with the absence of the late Chadwick Boseman's T'Challa; The Marvels will see Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) team up with Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani) and Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris); Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 will be the last chapter for the current Guardians line-up; Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania will feature the iconic villain Kang the Conqueror; and Fantastic Four will introduce the superpowered team to the MCU. Other upcoming projects include a Mahershala Ali-starring Blade, a fourth Captain America with Anthony Mackie, and a third Deadpool

What about the streaming shows? 

Plenty of Disney+ shows are also coming, including HawkeyeMs. MarvelShe-HulkMoon KnightIronheart, and Armor Wars, the latter of which stars Don Cheadle as War Machine. A series set in Black Panther's Wakanda, and another revolving around WandaVision's witch Agatha Harkness (Kathryn Hahn), are also reportedly in development. Then there's Secret Invasion, a series based on the comics storyline in which shape-shifting aliens infiltrate the Earth, and Loki and the animated anthology What If…? are both getting second seasons. 

Where's all of this leading?

Marvel appears to be building a few major storylines. One involves the multiverse, as Loki revealed there are now many timelines within the MCU. This could allow Marvel to dramatically grow its world — and, potentially, box office receipts — by incorporating fan favorite characters from movies that aren't part of the MCU. (That's apparently how Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield could be involved in Spider-Man: No Way Home, though their Spider-Man characters don't exist in the timeline occupied by Tom Holland's Peter Parker.)

Fans have speculated these multiverse shenanigans could eventually lead to an adaptation of Secret Wars, a comics storyline that saw numerous universes combine, for the MCU's next Avengers: Endgame-level event. That would even allow Marvel to bring back stars who have left the series, including Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr., by having them play versions of their characters from other timelines.

Relatedly, Loki introduced a major new villain initially known as He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors). Multiple versions of him from various timelines are on the way, one of whom, Kang the Conqueror, will be the antagonist of the third Ant-Man film. Beyond that, it seems Kang could become the franchise's next overarching villain who takes years to defeat, similar to Thanos. Finally, Julia Louis-Dreyfus's enigmatic Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, introduced in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, appears to be building an antihero version of the Avengers across several films and shows for unknown reasons. 

What does Marvel's next generation of heroes look like?

Marvel's new line-up is notably diverse. Among the heroes set to be introduced are Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), a fan of Captain Marvel who follows in her footsteps to become Ms. Marvel; Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), a fan and protégée of Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner); Moon Knight (Oscar Isaac) a Batman-esque vigilante; She-Hulk (Tatiana Maslany), the cousin of Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo); and Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), a young inventor who creates the "most advanced suit of armor since Iron Man" and becomes Ironheart. 

Florence Pugh's Yelena Belova will fill the void left by Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, and some Eternals, including Gemma Chan's Sersi and Kit Harington's Dane Whitman, could one day become Avengers, as they do in the comics. The series added its first Asian lead hero with Shang-Chi, its first hero shown in a same-sex relationship with Eternals' Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), and its first deaf hero with Eternals' Makkari (Lauren Ridloff). A deaf character from Hawkeye, Echo, is also reportedly getting her own show, while Kamala Khan will be the MCU's first Muslim hero. 

How does this era differ from the last one? 

The biggest shift is that Marvel's shows are taking on much greater story signifiance. While there were previous TV shows set in the MCU, like Daredevil, prior to 2021, the movies virtually never acknowledged them. But in July, Black Widow represented a turning point. It featured the series' first post-credits scene that assumed viewers already watched a Marvel show, in this case featuring a cameo from a Falcon and the Winter Soldier character. And instead of setting up another movie, it teased a streaming series, Hawkeye. This back-and-forth between the movies and the shows is set to continue, with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness following up WandaVision and Loki, and The Marvels features characters from WandaVision and Ms. Marvel. Making the shows as unmissable as the movies is a key part of Disney's strategy for growing subscribers and competing with Netflix. 

What challenges does Marvel face? 

One risk is that leaning into the multiverse and interconnected storylines between movies and shows could make the MCU too difficult to follow for general audiences, especially those who don't keep up with every release or aren't familiar with the non-MCU films that may now come into play. As with Star Wars, there's always the danger that such a massive slate of projects will create audience fatigue over time. After Avengers: Endgame was an unprecedented phenomenon, the bar is high for another event to recapture those stakes and generate as much global interest. 

So far, Marvel is still dominating the box office in 2021. But its latest release, Eternals, marked an alarming first for Disney. After earning mixed reviews, it became the first film in the MCU's 13-year history to receive a dreaded "Rotten" score on Rotten Tomatoes. Some critics argued that trying to balance an overload of characters and exposition dragged down the film. As a number of upcoming Marvel projects also have a lot of moving parts, the million-dollar question is whether Eternals' reception is an anomaly — or if the studio's reputation for consistency, which has made it a box office juggernaut, could be in danger. 

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