With the ridiculously successful Doctor Strange now in the rear view mirror, my thoughts once again turn to what’s next. If I had the opportunity to use the Time Stone, what would it reveal to me about the future of the MCU? I’m hardly certain about anything, but I do feel confident that one thing I can say is that it isn’t going to be pretty and that many of the Marvel Studios naysayers who think things always work out too well for the heroes are going to be rethinking that between now and May of 2018. So, as the good doctor asked, how do we get from here to there…

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 guardians-2-title-treatment

It’s been said over and again by James Gunn that this film will not feature Thanos and that’s fine. It will feature a talking planet and could also introduce some of the other Cosmic entities into the MCU which could give us some more necessary exposition for what is going on out there. While Guardians of the Galaxy was nearly universally loved and introduced us to the Cosmic corner of Marvel, we really don’t have a very well-developed roster of characters at this point. This film seems certain to change that, giving us a few new characters while further developing the ones we already know and love. Though we know the movie is going to revolve around the central plot of Peter Quill discovering that Ego, the Living Planet is his father, there’s a great deal more we don’t know. Even without Thanos, I can’t imagine a story with a character like Ego isn’t going to give us some history of the universe and introduce us to some new characters. We know that Quill and crew will fight a big space monster and that they will meet the Sovereign, lead by Elizabeth Debicki’s Ayesha and that their relationship might not stay solid.

Obviously, I’m just connecting imaginary dots here, but I did find it interesting that in the upcoming trade of the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Prelude, they are including some interesting stories, the first of which is Jim Valentino’s 1990 Guardians of the Galaxy #1.

guardians-of-the-galaxy-01-00fc

What’s interesting here is that this comic features a collection of Guardians known as the 31st Century Guardians facing off against Taserface. Maybe the only reason this is included is because it gives us a little introduction to the villain ahead of time, but I hope for a little more. After all, the synopsis does promise that “fan-favorite characters from the classic comics will come to our heroes’ aid.” And maybe that little blurb just refers to Mantis (who is featured in Giant Size Avengers #4, also included in the prelude tradeback), or maybe it means a little more…

Gunn has said that Sylvester Stallone has a small but meaningful role, though we have no idea who he is. Could he be playing one of the original Guardians of the Galaxy (Charlie-27, please Charlie-27!), maybe an old colleague of Yondu’s? Don’t forget that Gunn has said we’ll get more about Yondu’s story in this film and we don’t have a clue how old he is or what he did before he was a Ravager. Sharon Stone, who has said she is in a Marvel Studios film and has heat-related powers, could show up alongside her old friend Stallone as Charlie-27’s old pal Nikki Gold, another OG Guardian. Gunn has said in the past that he is very fond of another 31st Century Guardian, Starhawk, who in the comics happens to be the offspring of Ayesha…Has to be a coincidence, right? The only thing I do know is that Gunn has free license to change just about whatever he wants regarding the background of all these characters so sitting here trying to guess at how it all works out is probably an exercise in futility and we know a lot more of things that we don’t know enough about! We certainly have more questions than answers at this point, but with that first trailer coming our way in the near future, we should start to know a lot more.

Spider-Man: Homecoming cf5hc8jw8aeerql

This film is certainly setting up to be, much like Ant-Man and Doctor Strange before it, only tangentially connected to the larger events at play in the MCU. Sure we are likely to hear about the Avengers, but this film is going to be an intimate, high school melodrama giving us as much Peter Parker as Spider-Man. It seems Peter will spend equal time facing high school as Spidey will spend facing the Vulture, Tinkerer, and Shocker.

While people might look at Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man as the model, I think Marvel and Sony are shooting for something far different. I don’t think it’s far more likely that the bigger peril in the movie comes from the Parker side of things that the Spidey side. Sure the villains will provide some challenges and certainly some awesome action scenes (I’m really curious how Vulture and Shocker are going to be used!), but unlike the life-or-death stakes of Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Infinity War, this hero isn’t really going to be in jeopardy when he does battle with the villains. I think it’s far more likely that what happens in Peter’s personal life does more damage than the villains. And I think I love that idea because that’s certainly a core appeal of Peter’s early days as Spider-Man. Everyone was in a big rush for Gwen to die in the latest series, but it took ten years and 121 issues for that to happen in the comics. Hell, it was 14 issues before we even got Green Goblin. I think Marvel and Sony are playing the long game here and this film is going to much more about world-building than destruction on a large scale, kinda like The Amazing Spider-Man #2 where Peter met up with the Vulture and the Tinkerer.

675285

Thor: Ragnarok

thor-ragnarok-logo-characters

For those of you wanting your mass destruction, this if the film for you. Ragnarok is the end. Heroes will die. Asgard should get wrecked. The plot of this film seems to present itself so simply that I’m worried I’m missing something huge. This film is said to set up Avengers: Infinity War much in the same way that Captain America: Winter Soldier set up Captain America: Civil War. To me, that means moving the remaining Cosmic pieces around on the board and putting them all in place for the big finale. So how does that happen…

Thor goes to Earth. Thor and Loki, with Doctor Strange’s help, find Odin and discuss the Infinity Stones. Odin tells Thor where to find the Soul Stone. Hela comes to Asgard. Hela kills Heimdall. Hela banishes Thor…” Thor ends up on the Grandmaster’s planet, giving us a little bit of Planet Hulk. Thor and Hulk head back to Asgard, making a few stops along the way. Thor will have to find the Soul Stone which he will use to turn the army of the dead against Hela. Thor, Hulk and Valkyrie lead an army of the dead against Hela in the Walt Simonson-esque action we’ve all been hoping to see in a Thor film. The End. (I love, love, love Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster and I just can’t decide if it’s just a cute cameo or if his inclusion promises something more…Sinister…for the future of the MCU).

I don’t know if Loki is in league with Hela or not. I don’t know if the Soul Stone has something to do with Heimdall or if Thor has to go looking for it during his intergalactic road trip. Speaking of the trip, we’ve been tipped off that Thor will end up meeting with whatever version of Mantis’s people, the Cotati, that exists in the MCU during the film. We will see if that makes it to the film, but if it does it could lead us to make some further speculation about the importance of Mantis to the larger narrative in the MCU. We have no idea what role she’ll play in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but with speculuation that she’s going to appear again in Avengers: Infinity War, she may have some connection to the Infinity Stones in some way.

Regardless of all that, by the time this film ends all of the Infinity Stones will be in play and it seems likely that at least 2 of them will be on Asgard. If Thanos is in league with Hela, as many believe he will be, it’ll be an easy way for him to get his purple paws on the Soul and Space Stones. If he’s not, I think Loki may still owe him a favor.

Black Panther

black-panther-logo-9e987

Of all the Phase 3 films prior to Avengers: Infinity War, this is the one I feel least able to even think about. In so many ways, this film needs to be about T’Challa, the nation of Wakanda and its inhabitants and nothing else. However, having a brain-washed assassin hanging out in stasis keeps me thinking that it’s going to be bigger than that.

Whatever the case, T’Challa being at the center of his own film is something I’ve been waiting for since they decided to make the MCU an ongoing process and I am incredibly optimistic about this film. With Ryan Coogler at the helm and the unbelievable amount of talent in the cast, this first solo outing will be epic. It also seems clear that Feige intends to do quite a bit of world-building here, so regardless of what happens, we should expect to see T’Challa and Wakanda again.

On one hand, it seems clear we are going to be dealing with threats from within Wakanda. Michael B. Jordan has been cast as the all too awesome Killmonger. Winston Duke has been cast as M’Baku. Andy Serkis already exists as the Cuttlefish-fearing Ulysses Klaue. Those 3 classic villains present plenty of story for an amazing Black Panther solo film.

On the other hand, the tag from Captain America: Civil War didn’t happen for no reason. With Bucky in Wakanda, General Ross is coming for him at some point. I just can’t stop thinking about that being the perfect time to introduce the Thunderbolts to the MCU with Zemo as their Hannibal Smith. He could lead a UN sanctioned strike team into Wakanda featuring Zemo, the Abomination, Klaue and a couple of new baddies. Hell, there are still those Cross Tech Particles floating around the MCU somewhere, so maybe it’s time for Eric Josten to make his MCU debut. Maybe they even pull the Shocker out of jail and send him to fight…

So we could see what would amount to a classic, geopolitical Black Panther series plot: threats, both foreign and domestic, coming after T’Challa. While that sounds awesome, it also sounds like it may be too big so maybe most of the film focuses on the domestic issues, leaving the Bucky story unresolved so Steve Rogers’ group of Secret-ish Avengers have something to do when the next movie starts.

Avengers: Infinity War

Thanos-Infinity-War-Banner

This movie is obviously going to be heavily Thanos-centric and bananas. Some of what happens in Act 1 will depend on how many of the Infinity Stones Thanos has gotten his hands on during post-credit tags in Thor: Ragnarok. Personally, I’d like to see Thanos collecting the stones so that general audiences can start to get a real sense of what the Mad Titan is made of. IF Thanos already has his hands on the Soul and Space Stones, here’s what we’ll have to see and I guess I’d prefer to see it in this order…

The Power Stone is on Xandar. Bye-bye Xandar. I know I’m not the only one hoping that the Nova Corps have found a way to make some sort of MCU version of the Nova Force out of the Power Stone and that Denarian Rhomann Dey escapes Thanos’ destruction and finds his way to a young Terran named Richard Rider, warning him of Thanos and empowering the boy as the Human Rocket.

The last we knew, the Collector had the Reality Stone stashed away. Thanos is going to have to get that as well, but I don’t know that we’ll see him going in and wrecking shit to do so. The Collector is a guy that likes to bargain (not as much as Doctor Strange, but still…) and I think we’ll see Thanos cut a deal with him for the Stone. Maybe it’s for information. Maybe it’s something especially interesting to the Collector. Either way, I expect that after Thanos visits the Collector, the Guardians will be close behind and quick to learn that Thanos, now with 3 stones in his possession, is headed for Earth. Obviously, they’ll head there as well, but we all know that there’s nothing they can do to stop Thanos.

On Earth, Thanos has some work to do. He has to rip the Mind Stone from the Vision’s dome and get the Time Stone away from Doctor Strange. This should be about the time that Tony Stank picks up the phone and gives a call to Steve Rogers, just in time to reassemble so that most or all of them can die when Thanos uses the full power of the Infinity Gauntlet to kill half the life in the universe to get himself a girlfran!

Will it be during this film that Carol Danvers makes her first appearance? It seems likely that the Air Force would have some presence and that is enough to bring her into play. Feige has been very coy about when we’d see Captain Marvel, but we could certainly see Carol Danvers before that. They didn’t cast Brie Larson in July so they could have her start filming a movie in February of 2018. She’ll be there. What’s interesting is how the events of Thanos attacking Earth impact her origin as Captain Marvel, but that’s another piece entirely.

What’s Next?

Without any information of the follow-up to Avengers: Infinity War, I’m inclined to believe that we might be looking at something like most of the heroes being dead and the rest having to wonder just what it is they’re supposed to do next. We get Ant-Man and The Wasp and Captain Marvel before the Phase 3 finale (Avengers: Reborn or Avengers: Heroes Reborn?) and it’s so hard to even begin to imagine that these films take place entirely detached from the events of Avengers: Infinity War. Maybe the Microverse holds some answers. Maybe Carol Danvers will end up in space. It’s honestly not worth speculating on films that far out without any info on what happens in the films leading up to them when they seemingly have to be connected somehow.