Marvel Phase 4 Announcement Breakdown and Analysis


San Diego Comic-Con just wrapped and while most of the major studios sat the big event out, Marvel Studios made their grand return after skipping in 2018 and brought plenty of goodies for fans. Ever since the release of Spider-Man: Far From Home fans have been wondering what comes next. They knew what Phase 3 would be before Phase 2 was even over. Yet fans had to wait three weeks after the end of the Infinity Saga to find out what was next. They sure got a lot of announcements and a lot to process.

Phase 4 will play out over two years, which makes it the shortest phase (Phase 1 spanned four years, Phase 2 was three and Phase 3 was four years) but with the combination of five films and now five television series playing major roles for a grand total of ten entries it means it is the second most amount of Marvel content fans will be getting behind only Phase 3 (which only beats it because of the addition of two Spider-Man movies to the lineup). This means Marvel fans will be getting a lot of material to sink their teeth into over two years.

The other big implication is that this is Marvel doing some experimenting. The Infinity Saga is over and it now can test the waters with not just new concepts, but new characters, including passing on the torch of heroes. Seems to be a mix of grounded Earthbound characters (Black Widow, Falcon and Winter Soldier), magic-based material (Doctor Strange, Loki), and cosmic (Thor and The Eternals). We will be getting new incarnations of Thor, Black Widow, and Hawkeye within the MCU. We will also be exploring the concept of the multiverse more in the wake of Avengers: Endgame having created some alternate timelines. Instead of building towards a threat like before, Phase 4 is about trying out a new assortment of different flavors and setting up the future.

Part of that future is also more diverse. If Marvel wants to stay relevant not just in the States but globally it needs to evolve. The rosters need to change and the image of certain characters must also. Audiences will now get to see a Captain America that is black, a Thor and a Hawkeye that are women. Audiences will meet more black superheroes, Asian superheroes, superheroes that are deaf, superheroes that are LGBTQ. The heroes of the MCU will continue to reflect the world they exist in and that is the most exciting.

New fresh visionary voices are also getting a shot. 2020’s two films will be directed by women (Cate Shortland’s Black Widow and Chloe Zhao’s The Eternals). Daniel Deston Cretton will be the first Asian American man to direct for the MCU. Taika Waititi, a man of Māori heritage, returns as a director for a new Thor film.

Let’s dig into each film and the big reveal from the panel and what it means for the future of the MCU.

Black Widow-May 1, 2020

Everybody guessed that Black Widow would be the first film in the Phase 4 line up since it had already begun filming. Now it is officially confirmed, and the cast and their roles have been announced. The film appears to take place between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War.

Florence Pugh, who is having a great 2019 with Fighting With My Family and Midsommar as well as the upcoming Little Women, is set to star as Yelena Belova. In the comics, Yelena is the second person to take on the Black Widow mantle. Knowing that Scarlett Johansson’s version of the character is dead after Avengers: Endgame, there is a Black Widow hole left in the MCU that now can be filled by a new star and character. Going forward the MCU will still have a Black Widow, just a new version.

David Harbour (Stranger Things, Hellboy) will star as Alexi aka the Red Guardian. In the comics, he is a super soldier and Russia’s version of Captain America, as well as Natasha’s ex-husband. Not much is known how much of that back story will make it into the film, but the two characters are reported to have history.

The next two characters have no comic book connection but could be used as a smokescreen to reveal the villain.

O.T. Fagbenle (The Handmaid’s Tale) is set to play Rick Mason, an alley from Natasha’s past from S.H.I.E.L.D. who has romantic feelings for her. His history with S.H.I.E.L.D. and the potential dramatic reveal could have him turn out to be the Taskmaster villain.

Rachel Weisz (The Mummy, The Constant Gardner, The Fountain) is playing Melina, a character described as a spy who is part of a scientific experiment. This hint and the look at the Taskmaster, as some are reporting from Comic-Con that the character had a very feminine look, may hint that Weisz’s character might be revealed as the Taskmaster.

Falcon and The Winter Soldier-Fall 2020

The next installment in Phase 4 is not a movie but a television series for Disney+ and will be the first television series to play a major role in the MCU. Now that audiences know that Steve Rogers left Falcon his shield at the end of Avengers: Endgame, many have assumed this show will involve Falcon’s journey to becoming the new Captain America. It will see him teaming up with Bucky Barnes aka the Winter Soldier aka the White Wolf. Captain America’s two pals are now left in a place where the thing that connects/bonds them (Steve Rogers) is gone. What is the relationship/friendship like between Sam and Barnes all these years after Sam wouldn’t move his seat up?

The major reveal of the segment was a surprise video from Daniel Bruhl as Zemo, who will serve as the series’ primary antagonist. He will be wearing his classic Baron Zemo hooded look. Pitting Captain America’s two best friends against one of his most iconic comic antagonists with his former love interest (Sharon Carter) joining the cast means this will fill the void left by Captain America in the MCU.

The Eternals-November 6, 2020

The Eternals is Marvel’s next step into the cosmic world of the Marvel Comics, and it was a passion project of Jack Kirby’s when he came back to Marvel. Typically positioned as Marvel’s answer to DC’s New Gods (also a Kirby creation) it sees a race of ancient humans that were experimented on by beings called Celestials (who audiences saw hinted at in both Guardians of the Galaxy films). The film is described as a historical epic that will span many centuries in the Marvel universe. This gives us both a cosmic look at the MCU but also a look at the ancient history of what eventually shaped this universe. Much like Guardians of the Galaxy when they were announced as a film in 2012, many people might not know them now but by the time the film comes out people will know them.

They brought the cast of the film out and is a diverse blend of some of the best working actors in Hollywood. The rundown of actors and characters includes:

  • Angelina Jolie will star as Thena, not Ikarus like many believed. She is a scholar and a warrior and is what humanity thinks of as Athena. Jolie is positioned as the leader of the franchise.
  • Legendary actress Salma Hayek (From Dusk Till Dawn, Frida) is set to play Ajax. While in the comics a man, the character will be gender-flipped. The Aztecs believed Ajax to be Quetzalcoatl and the Incas worshipped Ajax as Tecumotzin, Lord of Flight. Ajax is now set to be the leader of the Eternals.
  • Richard Madden (Game of Thrones, the Bodyguard) will play Ikarus. He’s arguably one of the most ‘famous’ Eternals and often the face of the brand. Ikarus is the father of the mythological character Icarus. When his father finds him dead for flying to close to the sun, the father Eternal adopts the name (but changes the spelling).
  • Kumail Nanjiani (The Bick Sick, Stuber) will play Kingo. In the comics, Kingo spent many years in Japan serving as a samurai. He eventually parlays his skills into becoming a martial arts movie star, which could play into Nanjiani’s comedic abilities.
  • Lauren Ridloff (The Walking Dead) will star as Makkari, an Eternal with superspeed who is humanity’s inspiration for the mythological god Mercury. The character’s race and gender have been flipped for the film and most interestingly, the character, like the actress, will be deaf. This makes Makkari the first deaf hero in the MCU and just one of many diverse superheroes coming in this next phase of the MCU.
  • Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta) is taking on the role of Phastos. He is an inventor and throughout history has been known by many names including Hephaestus and Vulcan. Brian Tyree Henry is one of two actors from Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse to join the MCU. The second one is a later reveal.
  • Newcommer Lia McHugh will play Sprite, an Eternal who never grows up from a child. In the comics, the character is a boy and is the inspiration for the character Puck in William Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. In the comics Sprite actually becomes a villain. Sprite turns all the Eternals humans and takes away their memories.
  • Don Lee (Train to Busan) rounds out the cast as Gilgamesh, who is the basis for the Epic of Gilgamesh. Also known as ‘the Forgotten One,’ Gilgamesh in an Eternals outsider after interfering too much in human affairs. Rumor has it he will be the villain in The Eternals.

Not much is known about the plot, but we did get some concept art teasing the epic scale of the film. Interesting that the MCU’s first films in Phase 4 will be looking towards the past. As if elements in the past will come back into play later.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings-February 12, 2021

Shang-Chi was announced a while ago and has had a director in place for months. Like Black Panther and Captain Marvel, Shang-Chi presents a chance to have some much-needed diversity in the MCU. The film’s subtitle now makes it part of the larger legacy of the MCU, since the Ten Rings have popped up in all three Iron Man films and were briefly referenced in Ant-Man. Shang-Chi is now both a new franchise and also a loose continuation of the Iron Man franchise, with Iron Man’s arch-nemesis in the comics, the Mandarin, getting another shot here.

The Mandarin, who has been teased since the beginning of the MCU far back as 2008 in Iron Man, will finally get his proper introduction in Shang-Chi. Famously the Mandarin was first depicted in Iron Man 3 played by Ben Kingsley, but was revealed to be an actor named Trevor Slattery and the Mandarin was a false persona invented by Aldrich Killian and A.I.M. Fans were not pleased with this reveal (even if it did work within the context of the film), but Marvel was quick to assure fans that the real Mandarin was still out there. In the 2014 ‘All Hail the King,’ it is revealed the Mandarin was not pleased with how Trevor Slattery ruined his name. Fans have been wondering when/if this plotline would ever be resolved, particularly with Iron Man no longer being a character in the MCU. Yet Mandarin seems to be taking the place of Fu Man Chu in Shang-Chi’s mythology.

Simu Liu (Kim’s Convenience) has been cast as Shang-Chi. In 2014 Liu asked Marvel on Twitter about the lack of representation in the studio’s superhero line up, and in 2018 tweeted about wanting the role of Shang-Chi. How far he has come.

Legendary Hong Kong actor Tony Leung Chiu-Wai will play the Mandarin. Awkwafina, who has broken out in recent years with roles in Ocean’s 8, Crazy Rich Asiansand The Farewell, will also be in the film.

WandaVision-Spring 2021

WandaVision is being pitched as Marvel’s strangest show. Little is known about the series, and many questions have been raised since Vision died at the end of Avengers: Infinity War. The title WandaVision implies this is some sort of reality that Wanda has created using her powers, and takes the form of a surreal riff on 1950’s American family series like Leave It To Beaver or I Love Lucy. They could be combining elements from both House of M (where Scarlet Witch creates an alternate perfect reality for all the Marvel heroes using her powers) and Tom King’s Vision miniseries (which saw Vision create a family for himself in the suburbs).

Elizabeth Olson and Paul Bettany will reprise their roles, and the series will also serve as the introduction to an adult Monica Rambeau played by Teyonah Paris (If Beale Street Could Talk, Chi-Raq). Monica was last seen as a child in Captain Marvel. This series seems like an interesting place to introduce the character and I will be curious to see what she has been doing all these years. Is Wanda responsible for Monica getting her superpowers and will she eventually take on the mantle of Photon like in the comics?

The show will serve in a direct lead in to the next major film.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness-May 7, 2021

Mysterio might have been lying, but that doesn’t mean a Multiverse doesn’t exist. Doctor Strange introduced the concept of the multiverse into the MCU back in 2016, and now the sequel appears to be delving into that concept.

Scott Derrickson returns as the director and confirmed this would be more horror-infused and ‘the first scary Marvel movie,’ with a PG-13 rating.

The big reveal was that Scarlet Witch would be joining the sequel and that Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness would be a direct follow up to WandaVision, making it the first television show to be a direct factor in one of the films.

It was confirmed that Nightmare would be the villain, which makes sense because Derrickson had hinted about wanting to use him as far back as when the first film came out, but it does raise the question: where does Mordo fit into this? The after-credit moment of Doctor Strange hinted that Mordo would be the sequel’s primary antagonist. One has to wonder how he would/could fit into this sequel.

Loki-Spring 2021

One of the biggest questions going into this series is: how do you do a Loki series if he died in Avengers: Infinity War? Many at first assumed it would be a prequel series to the MCU, with Loki jumping around during different points in time. It now appears this won’t be set in the main MCU timeline but an offshoot of one of the alternate timelines created during Avengers: Endgame. Specifically, the Loki that escaped with the Tesseract in 2012 after The Avengers.

Being the first MCU series to take place in an alternate timeline is interesting, and with a grand focus being put on the multiverse there is a chance this Loki series has an attempt to impact and create ripples across the multiverse the Avengers might have to deal with. How Loki escaping in 2012 creates a massive change in the universe that we will get a glimpse of.

What If…?-Summer 2021

Speaking of looking at alternate versions of history, Marvel Studios is producing its first-ever animated series in What If…? Based on the popular line of Marvel Comics, the series will explore new aspects of the MCU on what could have been. The key is that all of these are technically considered canon in the vast multiverse.

The show will bring back many key players in the MCU to reprise the voices of their characters, with the first episode being “What If Peggy Carter took the super-soldier serum,” setting up an alternate timeline where she becomes Captain America…or even Captain Britain.

Uatu the Watcher will be the narrator of the series and act as the show’s host, filling a role similar to the Crypt Keeper in Tales of the Crypt or Rod Sterling in the original Twilight Zone. Jefferey Wright (Westworld) will voice the character and there is a good chance the character will be seen in live-action once the Fantastic Four join the MCU.

Hawkeye-Fall 2021

Jeremy Renner will return as Hawkeye for one final adventure it seems, but this won’t be the end of the Hawkeye moniker.

The logo gives the indication it will draw heavily from Matt Fraction’s famous Hawkeye run, which saw much more grounded human stories. The Hawkeye of the MCU is a very different person from the comics version, so while the spirit may be adapted major elements will change. The big element they will incorporate is his time as Ronin that we saw a brief glimpse of during Avengers: Endgame.

The series will also introduce Kate Bishop, who in the comics takes up the role of Hawkeye. Hawkeye and Black Widow both seem to be handing their code names off to new younger incarnations to carry the franchise forward. Plus with the addition of Kate Bishop into the MCU, Cassie Lang from Ant-Man now being a teenager, and the possible introduction of Scarlet Witch and Vision’s kid, it appears Marvel could be setting up the Young Avengers.

Thor: Love and Thunder-November 5, 2021

Who would have guessed during the first phase of Marvel films that Thor would be the one to get a fourth film? Yet here we are. This is due in part to the success of Thor: Ragnarok, which basically reinvented the character and gave the property a new lease on life. After Avengers: Endgame it seemed Thor was set up for a new path. Taika Waititi returns to direct the fourth film, and will also pen the script and seems to be drawing from a recent Thor comic.

Many assumed Thor would be a major player in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3., but he did say that he was just getting a ride. Thor now appears to be a drifter out in space, looking for his new purpose. Thor: Love and Thunder is now confirmed to take place before Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3.

Valkyrie, a fan favorite, will return and as the new King of Asgard will be seeking a queen. With that, Marvel has officially confirmed that Valkyrie will be an open LGBTQ character, but not the first since it was hinted that The Eternals will introduce some as well. Also, it is safe to say we should expect to see Korg and Miek return.

The big reveal for Thor: Love and Thunder was the return of Natalie Portman as Jane Foster, but here taking on the role of the Mighty Thor from the Jason Aaron Thor run, where after Thor was deemed unworthy to wield the hammer, Jane Foster picked it up and became the new God of Thunder. Jane Foster was notably absent from Thor: Ragnarok and many believed Portman was done with the MCU after the fallout of losing Patty Jenkins as the director of Thor: The Dark World. But it appears things are better now, and maybe some years apart were good for both the studio and the actress. Now she appears to want back in on the fun.

The Mighty Thor (not female Thor, as Taika Waititi has pointed out) is just one of many new faces in the comics to make the jump to the big screen, who were introduced in the comics as replacement heroes for established characters. It appears the comics were used to workshop some of these ideas and get them ready for the movies. Audiences responded favorably to Laura aka X-23 in Logan and both Miles Morales and Spider-Gwen in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. It appears that a new Thor (in addition to the new Captain America) have a good chance of becoming breakout characters.

Phase 5…BLADE!

That is the official Phase 4 slate. Yet it wouldn’t be Marvel if there wasn’t a tease towards the future.

The big reveal was bringing two-time Academy Award-winning actor Mahershala Ali (the second Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse actor to join the MCU) to reveal he was joining the cast as Blade, who would be getting his own film sometime in the future. The film doesn’t have a director or script yet, but we now know Blade is coming to the MCU. The character has been long overdue for a return to the big screen, as he hasn’t been seen since 2004’s Blade Trinity. A new incarnation of the character that exists in the MCU is certainly exciting for fans and raises many questions about where Marvel is going. It does raise some more concerns for fans of Marvel’s Netflix series, since Ali was previously Cottonmouth in the first season of Luke Cage. Either way, Blade is in MCU.

Kevin Feige also teased what many assumed since the 20th Century Fox merger was in-development. That the Fantastic Four and X-Men would be joining the MCU. He said that Fantastic Four is in development and teased mutants in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Phase 4 includes a lot of films and television series, but what was interesting what was left out. Many assumed the sequel to Black Panther or Captain Marvel would be among the films, and while Kevin Feige confirmed they are in development it looks like they are being saved for Phase 5. They now have so many properties they can’t all fit into one phase. If Black Panther kicks off Phase 5 in 2022 that means it will arrive four years after his solo film. Captain Marvel‘s sequel could arrive in 2022 (three years after her solo film) or 2023 (four years after).

No word on a third Spider-Man movie, which is safe to assume will arrive after how well Spider-Man: Far From Home did at the box office and the massive sequel it sets up. That one is on Sony to announce, and one could imagine they could easily fit a Spider-Man movie in Phase 4 if they wanted to (The gap between May’s Doctor Strange and November’s Thor makes a July Spider-Man movie a perfect fit). But the studio could also hold him off till 2022.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3., which many believed would kick off Phase 4 originally but was delayed due to the unfortunate firing and then re-just hiring of James Gunn, has now been delayed to Phase 5. Since James Gunn is working on The Suicide Squad for Warner Bros. and DC Comics set for 2021, it is safe to assume audiences won’t see the Guardians till 2023.

While Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Fantastic Four, and mutants were all name-dropped there was one MCU franchise not mentioned: Ant-Man. No word has been given if the studio is developing a third Ant-Man film and based off the box-office performance of Ant-Man and the Wasp it doesn’t seem that Marvel is in much of a hurry. Yet I doubt we’ve seen the last of those characters. Ant-Man and the Wasp could easily show up on a streaming show (maybe one of their own), make guest appearances in other films, or even lead a new cast of Avengers.

And that was the end of the Marvel Comic-Con panel. Plenty of reveals and a lot of material to be excited for during the next two years. The Infinity Saga might be over but the story of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is just getting started. There are plenty more stories to tell, and a whole universe to explore with familiar and new faces.

What are you most excited to see? Anything you want to see going forward in the MCU? Was there anything you were disappointed not to see? Let us know in the comments below.