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Marvel’s Phase Three and The Infinity War!

November 3rd, 2014
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Marvel Studios wowed fandom yet again last week with their announcement of a hugely ambitious slate of films leading up to a third and fourth Avengers film in 2018 and 2019.  My reaction?  Pretty much bliss!!

I still remember the excitement of seeing Iron Man for the first time (click here for my original review), and the glorious post-credits tease regarding “the Avengers initiative.”  Very quickly after the opening success of that film, Marvel Studios announced their ambitious, never-been-done-before plan of a series of additional stand-alone super-hero films (Captain America and Thor) that would then lead to a team-up of all the individual heroes in The Avengers.  It’s so easy to forget what an unbelievable idea that was at the time, just a few short years ago.  True, Iron Man was a success (creatively and financially) but could Captain America and Thor possibly be turned into successful, interesting films?  Neither felt like an easy character to adapt to the big-screen.  And could these very-different characters possibly be brought together into a crossover film that would feel remotely convincing?

Well, of course, it worked, and it worked like gangbusters.  Not only did all the individual films work very well (surprisingly, it was Iron Man 2 that wound up being the weakest of the bunch) and wind up being financially successful, but there were seeds of story-lines that wove through the films that provided lovely connecting tissue between the films.  The Avengers wound up feeling like a true culmination of the story-lines begun in each of the individual films, in addition to being a hugely entertaining work all its own.  The result is a model of an interconnected cinematic universe that had never been done before, and that now is being desperately imitated by every studio in town.

The films from Iron Man through The Avengers were nicknamed “Phase One.”  The post-Avengers films, leading up to this summer’s Avengers sequel, Age of Ultron, are Phase Two.  So far, the Phase Two films have been pretty terrific.  Iron Man Three, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Guardians of the Galaxy have all been pretty great.  The final two Phase Two films are this summer’s Age of Ultron, for which I have high hopes, and what feels like the Phase Two epilogue, Ant Man (for which I also have high hopes, though the very public parting-of-ways between Marvel and director Edgar Wright has really shaken my faith in that film, which was Mr. Wright’s baby for so many years).  If there’s any criticism to be wielded at the Phase Two films so far, it’s that other than Guardians of the Galaxy, they’ve all been sequels.  Perhaps Phase Two has lost a tiny bit of the excitement-of-the-new that Phase One had.

But holy cow, does the announcement of Marvel’s Phase Three plans blow that out of the water.  I’d been starting to get very, very excited about the direction of Marvel’s Phase Three when rumors broke that the third Captain America film would be an adaptation of the Marvel crossover series Civil War, in which the government passes the Superhero Registration Act and the Marvel superheroes shatter between the pro-registration side, led by Tony Stark, and the anti-registration side, led by Steve Rogers.  Badassdigest.com broke wide the story that, rather than Robert Downey Jr.’s next contracted Marvel film being Avengers 3 as everyone had assumed, instead RDJ would appear as basically the villain in Captain America 3.  What a wild, inspired idea.

The other twist reported by badassdigest.com was that the confrontation between The Avengers and Thanos was being moved further into the future.  Following Thanos’ appearance at the end of The Avengers, a lot of fans (like me) assumed that he’d pop up again in Guardians of the Galaxy, which would position him as the villain of The Avengers 2.  When the title of the Avengers sequel was announced last year as being Age of Ultron (and thus focused not on Thanos and a cosmic story but on the tale of Ultron, the murderous A.I. created in the comics by Hank Pym, in the movies apparently by Tony Stark), everyone assumed that we’d see Thanos in The Avengers 3.  But badassdigest.com suggested that perhaps following the events of Age of Ultron and Cap 3, we’d see the Avengers shattered and that The Avengers 3 might not feature many of the familiar Avengers at all… and that perhaps it wouldn’t be until The Avengers 4 before the heroes reunited to finally face Thanos.

All the rumors came into clear focus last week when, in a bold stroke, Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige unveiled the entire NINE-FILM slate of Phase Three films.  (At nine films, this is the most ambitious Phase so far.)  He confirmed that Captain America 3 would indeed be subtitled Civil War and co-star Robert Downey Jr… and revealed that the rumors about The Avengers 3 and 4 might just be both correct and incorrect, since Phase Three would be capped by a two-part Avengers film, titled The Infinity War (clearly confirming to comic book fans that this two-film story would indeed depict a confrontation with Thanos).

The Phase Three slate not only featured an array of exciting sequels (in addition to Cap 3 and a third and fourth Avengers film, we’ll be getting Thor: Ragnarok and Guardians of the Galaxy 2) but, even more excitingly, a thrilling array of solo films spotlighting new, not-yet-seen-on-screen Marvel heroes.  Pretty much all of the rumored in-development Marvel films were announced: Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and The Inhumans.  I am excited by every one of these.  It’ll be awesome to see a super-hero film anchored by a man of color (Black Panther) and a woman (Captain Marvel), and it’ll be exciting to return to the excitement of Phase One’s launch of so many new heroes on-screen.  I love Marvel’s return to the risk of introducing lots of new characters and potential new franchises.  (What if one of these new characters fails?)  This is super-cool.

I love how, just as Captain America 2 (The Winter Soldier) was not just a stand-alone film but an important pivot-point in the larger story (with the dissolution of S.H.I.E.L.D.), it looks like Cap 3 will be the same.  Civil War is a terrific story, and it has the potential to be absolutely EPIC on-screen.  My only hint of regret is that my biggest disappointment with Captain America: The Winter Soldier was that I felt the Winter Soldier story was shunted aside in favor of the Hydra-within-S.H.I.E.L.D. story-line.  I was hoping that Cap 3 would redeem that choice by focusing in on the great Cap-Winter Soldier storyline from Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run.  But if Cap 3 is telling the story of Civil War, I can’t see how the Winter Soldier is going to get much focus in that film.  That makes Cap 2 feel like more of a missed opportunity to me in that regard.  At the same time, though, holy cow, I am jazzed to see Civil War and tickled by the idea of Robert Downey Jr. having such a large role in a Cap film, rather than his appearances being strictly limited to Avengers films from this point forward.  That is hugely exciting.

In addition to Captain America: Civil War, 2016 will also see the release of Doctor Strange.  This film has gone through a very long, very public, very torturous casting process.  I love the idea that Benedict Cumberbatch seems to currently be the rumored frontrunner.  I can’t wait until this gets finalized.

2017 will see the release of three films.  First is Guardians of the Galaxy 2.  You know, the only major rumor that WASN’T confirmed at this Marvel event was the idea that somewhere in the future Marvel was planning on taking on the Planet Hulk storyline (in which the Marvel heroes, fed up with trying to deal with the Hulk’s rampages, wind up shooting him into space) and that the Hulk might cross paths with the Guardians.  Well, if you look at all the released logos, the one for Guardians 2 one is the one that stands out as perhaps not being quite final.  It’s also the one that bucks the trend of all the Marvel sequels (other than the Iron Man films) having subtitles, not just a number.  Here’s a bit of geeky prognostication: I would not be surprised (and I’d be HUGELY excited) to learn some-time in the future that Guardians 2 is actually going to be sub-titled Planet Hulk.  Holy cow that would be awesome.

Then later in 2017 we’ll get Thor: Ragnarok and The Black Panther.  The second Thor film certainly set up a third film quite nicely, and I’m eager to see how things go to hell with Loki on the throne of Asgard.  The Black Panther is a character with a silly name but who, in the right hands, has the potential to be super-cool.  And the character has a lot of connections to the mythology of the wider Marvel universe.  I can’t wait to see Wakanda and vibranium and lots of other cool stuff brought to life on screen.

2018 kicks off with The Avengers: The Infinity War Part 1.  Although The Infinity War is the title of a mediocre comic-book story featuring Thanos, my hope is that the Marvel guys just liked the title, but that in fact what we’ll be seeing is some sort of adaptation of the classic Thanos story-line The Infinity Gauntlet.  What with all the appearances of the Infinity Stones in the films so far, that seems like a safe bet.  What remains to be seen is whether this two-part Avengers film is going to feel like one film split in two, or two separate films.  It’s interesting that there are two stand-alone films that will be released between Part 1 and Part 2 of The Infinity War (Captain Marvel and The Inhumans).  This to me lends some credence to the rumor that part 1 of The Infinity War going to focus on the supporting characters and these new characters, rather than the current line-up of Iron Man, Cap, Thor and company.  To what degree will the Guardians of the Galaxy and these other new heroes (Dr. Strange, Black Panther, etc.) be involved?  Are these films going to feature every one of these new characters??  Tantalizing questions.  The whole she-bang will wrap up with The Infinity War part 2 in May 2019.

Wowzers.

I am excited for every single one of these movies.  It’s almost comical how much Marvel has outplayed DC Comics.  Whereas DC’s recent non-announcement of their upcoming ten-film slate felt desperate, an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink sort of approach, Marvel is operating from a position of extreme confidence.  Could things still go way off the rails?  Absolutely.  But boy am I excited.

And how cool is it that Marvel Studios is doing all of this without, arguably, the three most well-known franchises from the Marvel comics universe?  That would be Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four.  What’s crazy is that while of course the fanboy in me would love for those characters to be part of Marvel Studios’ plans, I really don’t miss any of them.  That I am this excited about this line-up of characters who are, in the comics, mostly second-and-third string heroes is astounding.  (Neither Black Panther, nor Doctor Strange, nor the Inhumans have ever been able to support their own comic book series for long.)

Another piece of evidence that Marvel Studios has exactly the right approach?  Just look at all those logos.  They’re all almost exactly faithful to the classic logos of these characters from the comics.  What a great display of faithfulness to the source material.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Very impressive.

I am in Marvel Studios’ corner big-time right now.  Here’s hoping that Avengers: Age of Ultron is as awesome as it looks.  Bring on Phase Three.

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