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Kevin Feige, Robert Downey Jr., Chadwick Boseman, and Chris Evans at the Marvel event on Oct. 28
Today in Hollywood, Marvel lifted the curtain on “Phase Three” of its cinematic universe to a packed house of oohing and ahhing costumed Thors and Captain Americas.
Studio boss Kevin Feige filled in all the blanks on the studio’s slate through 2019, introduced several new characters — including many fan favorites — and confirmed speculation that classic comic book storylines would be adapted for the screen.
After the fan presentation, Feige answered questions about the future of a studio whose previous two phases included 10 films and more than $7 billion in worldwide ticket sales. Here’s what learned.
1. Marvel vs. DC
Two weeks ago, rival superhero factory Warner Bros. announced an ambitious slate of 10 films based on its DC Comics, stretching through 2020.
Marvel, on the flip side, has traditionally not announced specific movies more than two years out. That all changed today, when Feige revealed every planned project through 2019. But he insists it was not to counter Warner/DC’s bold move. “We wanted to show off our slate, get that information out there,” he said after the main presentation. “We wanted to do this at Comic-Con, but things for Civil War were not set. Guardians hadn’t come out yet. So we wanted to make sure all the pieces were together before we announced it.”
It appears all the various projects were on the drawing board and the success of Guardians of the Galaxy, a film considered a big gamble but now the year’s top-grosser, provided the momentum to move ahead at warp speed.
Here is the full list of films Marvel announced Tuesday:
· May 1, 2015: Avengers: Age of Ultron
· July 17, 2015: Ant-Man
· May 6, 2016: Captain America: Civil War
· Nov. 4, 2016: Doctor Strange
· May 5, 2017: Guardians of the Galaxy 2
· July 28, 2017: Thor: Ragnarok
· Nov. 3, 2017: Black Panther
· May 4, 2018: Avengers: Infinity War Part I
· July 6, 2018: Captain Marvel
· Nov. 2, 2018: Inhumans
· May 3, 2019: Avengers: Infinity War Part II
Concept art for Black Panther
2. New faces
Doctor Strange. Black Panther. Captain Marvel. Inhumans. That’s an eclectic range of characters, from the long hoped for (Black Panther) to the relatively obscure (the Inhumans, who originally appeared in The Fantastic Four comic, are led by Black Bolt and include the likes of Medusa and the sentient canine Lockjaw). As for Captain Marvel, a character that has been male, female, and alien, the powers that be decided the film version would be Carol Danvers, a onetime sidekick to the original hero who assumed his powers.
While Feige did not announce the expected casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as “Sorcerer Supreme” Stephen Strange (“If it were confirmed, we would have introduced him today”), he did trot out Chadwick Boseman (42, Get on Up) as Black Panther, the stealthy, killer-clawed African prince whose existence has been teased by Easter eggs in earlier Captain America and Iron Man films.
“I’m blessed to be part of this Marvel universe,” Boseman said to a rousing ovation as his costume was projected. “And I’m looking forward to making magic.”
3. A more diverse cinematic universe
Marvel has been stung by criticism over its core group of white-guy movie heroes — particularly hurtful considering its comics world is populated by a diverse mix of do-gooders. The addition of Black Panther and the Danvers incarnation of Captain Marvel to the movie lineup should help quell any lingering controversy.
Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans
4. A very different Civil War
In the comics, Captain America and Iron Man find themselves as enemies on different sides of the Superhero Registration Act, requiring all heroes to publicly identify themselves. In what was a very dark story arc, the two heroes led separate factions in a deadly battle over civil rights and privacy protections that spanned the comic galaxy and included appearances by Spider-Man (who found himself in a pivotal tug-of-war between his two longtime allies), the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men.
First, Feige explained that because of the constraints of the film plot and the thorny issue of character licensing rights (Sony controls Spidey, Fox has the reins to Fantastic Four and X-Men), there would be differences between the movie and comic. “Civil War of the cinematic universe will differ from the comic universe. We have a different continuity going.
“The generalities of the [Registration] Act are the same. Things have happened, cumulative through the movies, and governments of the world seek to act in response to the heroes. It’s not as much about secret identities but about oversight, who will report to who.”
Feige also played down speculation that Sony would allow Marvel to borrow the webslinger.
Instead, it seems like Boseman’s Black Panther, who will appear as a costumed hero in Civil War, might assume a bit of the Spider-Man role as the hero caught between two battling friends. Feige says, “Black Panther is definitively a big part of Civil War.”
Feige screened a short clip from the upcoming Age of Ultron that begins to set up the dynamic of Civil War. In a tense moment while chopping wood (!), Steve Rogers and Tony Stark exchange words, presumably over the Star tech that leads to the creation of the Ultron. “I don’t trust a guy without a dark side,” Stark tells Rogers. “Call me old-fashioned.” To which Rogers replies: “Every time someone tries to end a war before it starts, innocent people die. Every time.”
After the clip, Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. came out from opposite sides of the stage for some good-natured mock sparring. Then out came Boseman, who refused to choose sides. “I’m a big fan of both of them,” he said.
5. Bromance is alive and well
Lost amid some of the splashier announcements was that Internet pinups Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston would be back as Thor and Loki in a third movie about the god of thunder and his delinquent brother. Thor: Ragnarok, will be set in the aftermath of Age of Ultron. And as any Norse scholar or Marvel fanboy can tell you, Ragnarok means “the end of things.” In the comics, the Ragnarok storyline is set in the same period as Civil War and involves sacking of Asgard and the creation of a cyborg clone of Thor.
6. Howard Duck’s out of luck. So are Hulk, Hawkeye, and Black Widow.
Feige dashed hopes of stand-alone films featuring existing characters who have yet to shine on their own.
“It’s about bringing new characters to the screen. Black Widow, like Hulk, will be a big focus — a linchpin as a matter of fact—in the Avengers films.”
As for the big green guy going solo again? “We’ll see,” said Feige.
With the expansion of the Marvel universe taking place in Guardians, Infinity Wars, and Inhumans, there might be room for, say, a World War Hulk in Phase Four.
7. To Infinity and beyond
Thanos first appeared as the true puppetmaster in the closing credits of The Avengers. The “Mad Titan” (played by Josh Brolin) most recently turned up as the big bad in Guardians of the Galaxy. That was all prelude to the two-part Infinity War films, scheduled for May 2018 and 2019. “We have always had a plan,” Feige said. And that leads to the epic story of Thanos and the all-powerful, potentially universe-destroying Infinity Gauntlet. It requires the combined forces of virtually every Marvel hero to try to stop the existential threat. And that might extend beyond the cinematic supers. Feige says the “opportunity exists” for the Defenders — a team that includes Daredevil, Luke “Powerman” Cage, and Iron Fist — to graduate from Netflix (where their individual series and Defenders team-up will begin streaming next year) to the bigs.
8. Big questions
Left unanswered at the event was one of the biggest concerns in Marvel land: the contract status for several franchise players, most notably Downey and Evans. Both have suggested they’re short-timers for the Marvel universe, but it’s not known whether they’re angling for fat, new deals or if they really are burned out on saving the world. Downey, for one, made a game of “Will There Be an Iron Man 4?” while doing the talk-show circuit last month, telling Ellen DeGeneres he’d do it and then later saying it wasn’t likely on David Letterman.
Feige wasn’t saying either way. “Will there be more years after 2019? If there are more years after that, there are more possibilities.”
Photo credit: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images, Marvel