On April 27th, a decade of cinema comes to a head. Avengers: Infinity War and its 2019 sequel will bring an end to the single most astonishing, unprecedented, and lucrative multi-production film experiment ever to take the mainstream. Disney and Marvel changed movies, simple as that. So once Thanos is done crushing skulls and the intergalactic Avengers find a way to rip the Infinity Gauntlet from his giant, purple hand, what’s next? How will the studios operate in the new world they’ve created?
Make no mistake, it’s still going to be Marvel’s world; everyone else missed their chance to emulate it. DC Films and Warner Bros. have essentially abandoned the single connected universe concept with their plans for multiple Joker and Harley Quinn movies, the Ben Affleck-less Batman solo adventure, and numerous other projects turning a blind eye to the Justice League fiasco. No one else is even close to what Marvel accomplished.
That’s not to say it’s purely a quality issue. Audiences and filmmakers alike are fatigued at the idea of investing in another protracted series — just look at the fate of Ghostbusters, Universal Monsters, and Hasbro. It would be a pure shock if Sony’s Spider-Man-less Spiderverse survived past two films. Valiant may have the best shot, as their stable of characters and storytelling approach is disparate enough from other comic universes that it could still feel fresh. But like Netflix and streaming movies, Marvel got there first and did it best; competitors are better off trying something novel and leaving interconnected, multi-franchise filmmaking to the professionals.
Pro though they are, Marvel gave themselves one tough act to follow. Kevin Feige and his team are unequivocally geniuses at this game they’ve created, but can they keep it up for another phase? Ten years in, their best bet at sustained success might be to change the rules. The first emendation is almost guaranteed to be depicted in Infinity War and its follow-up: a major shake up of the Big Three.
Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor have been the primary characters over the first three MCU Phases, each getting three standalone features in addition to numerous crossovers. Fans are already bracing for one of these heroes to die somewhere between the next two Avengers films, and even money is on Cap. Chris Evans has made it clear he’ll be happy to retire the stars and stripes after Avengers 4.
While there’s always the chance a new contract could change his mind, the stage is set for a successor. In the books, both Falcon and Winter Soldier have taken up Cap’s mantle, and frankly either Anthony Mackie or Sebastian Stan could do the shield proud. Mackie might be the more charismatic fit — and putting a black actor in the Captain America uniform would be a Black Panther-level move — but Stan’s character has been better groomed for the role. Whoever it ends up being, Cap will no longer be a centerpiece character.
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Nor will Iron Man. Even if Thanos doesn’t pop him open like a can of tuna, Tony Stark has had the MCU limelight long enough. Robert Downey Jr. has been willing to renegotiate appearances in more films, so there’s always the possibility he’d do so again. Expecting an Iron Man 4 might be pushing it, though, but it could be nice to see Stark take on a role similar to Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury through the first two MCU Phases; he already proved he can play a mean second fiddle in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
That leaves Thor, the one “major” solo Avenger Marvel should do everything in their power to keep around. Thor: Ragnarok completely revitalized the character, and it would be silly not let Taika Waititi get another crack at him. More importantly, Thor operates between the worlds of magic, space, and interdimensional avenging. Feige and filmmakers like Guardians of the Galaxy mastermind James Gunn have hinted that what’s next will be completely different from what came before, and you can bet that will heavily involve mysticism and outer space. GotG barely scratched the surface of Marvel’s cosmic potential while Doctor Strange and Ant-Man opened literal doorways to other dimensions. Keeping a pre-established heavy-hitter like Thor around to bridge the gaps would make sense.