Sunday, July 14, 2024

MCU films for Phase Four Are A Mixed Bunch

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Marvel was truly making it rain at this year’s San Diego Comics Con. It’s not surprising: with MCU’s major story arc being over, everyone kind of wondered where MCU was headed next, and what was happening when. They have to keep us hooked! So, what did they come up with when it comes to films?

Black Widow May 2020

Chronologically, the first thing that will happen was something that’s been promised us for ages and ages. Black Widow with Scarlett Johansson keeping the titular role. We’ve already known that the film is supposed to take place in the past, though not exactly when. There was rumour, started by something Sebastian Stan said at a convention, that if will take place between Civil War and Infinity War, which is less in the past than was previously assumed. But the footage from the film shown at SDCC was from Budapest, which references a legendary teasing line from Avengers 1 and means it has to take place before that film.

It is supposed to concern Natasha’s past as a Soviet Agent in some way. It’s also been in the grapevine for a while that we will get the Taskmaster as the bad guy. In the comics, he is an agent often hired to train assets. He has the ability to mimic others’ fighting styles, so that comes in useful. Now, however, we know that David Harbour (Stranger Things) is supposed to play Alexei Shostakov. In the comics, he is the Red Guardian, the Soviet version of Captain America… And also Natasha’s husband.

We’re rather unlikely to get that part. In the MCU, it’s clearly implied she was in the Red Room since she was a little girl. No husband for her. But they will probably be entangled in some way. Theoretically it’s possible they’ll combine the characters of Taskmaster and Red Guardian to create something unique for the MCU. But there’s a more likely explanation – see below.

In addition to Harbour, Florence Pugh will play Yelena Belova, another Red Room-trained girl. In the comics, she is initially Natasha’s opponent but later becomes her ally. This seems like a likely storyline. It’s even been hinted at in the footage at SDCC. I’m really hoping for some decent female friendship out of that!

Rachel Weisz, on the other hand, is likely to play another adversary, Melina Vostokoff AKA the Iron Maiden. Her storyline is reminiscent of Nebula’s to Gamora. Trained as an assassin, she lived in Natasha’s shadow and hated her for it. After she left KGB, she accepted a contract to kill Natasha.

There being no sisterhood, adoptive or otherwise, they’re unlikely to make peace. We will just have to contend ourselves with hoping that this won’t devolve into another “female protagonist needs to have a female antagonist” kind of thing. I’m not holding out too much hope, though, because the hint of Melina we got at the SDCC footage carried a Taskmaster-like shield. That seems to mean it will be the Iron Maiden, not the red Guardian, who will be merged with the Taskmaster. Which…come on, Marvel. You did so well in Captain Marvel with not giving us a “cat fight”. Don’t spoil your record now.

Not that female protagonist versus female antagonist necessarily have to be bad, but…well. It usually is, and I don’t have that much confidence in Marvel. Also, I’m really hoping that most of the interaction between Yelena and Natasha will be positive, so that we aren’t swamped with female antagonism.

O-T Fagbenle is supposed to play “Mason” in the film, which almost certainly means the SHIELD agent Rick Mason, an expert on non-lethally handling superhumans. Given this, the film could conceivably be about Natasha joining SHIELD for the first time, even though the lack of Jeremy Renner makes that problematic, since Clint Barton was previously assumed to be the main reason for that in the MCU. Of course, we know that from Natasha talking to Loki, so she could have easily been lying. Additionally, the SDCC announcement mentioned he was Natasha’c contact from before she joined SHIELD, so it seems there will be some entanglement with her past there, too.

The last actor known to be in the film is Ray Winstone, but we have no indications of what he’s supposed to play. It will be interesting to see how Black Widow does. It made sense to make it the first of Phase Four, given that it’s been promised for so long and it’s a character we’re already familiar with. On the other hand, it will be her first solo film, and by its nature is likely to have an atmosphere a bit different from the standard MCU one, being geared more towards spy films. There’s also the animosity Scarlett Johansson faces in some circles for agreeing to play non-white characters, though I’m under no illusion that would leave too significant a mark on this films’ profits.

I also admit to be quite relieved that it seems the film will steer clear from the Soviet era. It’s extremely difficult to depict that sensitively, especially if you’re an American writer, and it’s reassuring they’ll be sticking to safer waters. Black Widow will premiere on 1st May 2020, and while I am apprehensive, the inclusion of Yelena, at least, is enough to make me intrigued.

The Eternals – November 2020

The Eternals are the second and last MCU film we’ll see next year. They were probably moved a bit ahead in the schedule because the third Guardians of the Galaxy had to be moved back given Disney going back and forth on Gunn’s direction of that film. It remains, however, a bit of a strange choice for one of the two films to open Phase Four with. It’s a completely new franchise, with no tie-ins that we know of. Plus it’s a team-up, which are always harder to do from scratch than single hero focused stories.

Additionally, with Back Widow being set in the past, we have no films next year with clear tie-ins to Endgame and Far From Home. The Eternals might react to it in some way, but it’s going to be hard enough to explain their sudden presence on Earth. According to comics history, they are supposed to have always existed here. They were created with the explicit purpose of protecting us. So where the hell have they been all this time? The backstory might change in the film version, but it remains true that getting their reaction to the Snap and the aftermath would be much less natural than with established MCU characters.

It could be supposed that The Eternals got this spot because it was the only film where the cast was free for filming at such relatively short notice, only it’s surprisingly star packed. Angelina Jolie plays Thena, at one point a leader of the Eternals, whose comics history says she was born at some point in Pleistocene (that’s right, millions of years ago). The leader position is particularly important when it comes to the Eternals – again, at least in the comics. In the film, however, it seems it will be given to someone else.

Another famous face (though he’s got nothing on Angelina) is Richard Madden, who played Robb Stark in Game of Thrones. His character, Ikaris, is some 20 000 years old, so a mere baby compared to Thena, but he still successfully challenges her for the leadership in the comics. There is a possible conflict here, I suppose. Somewhat less known is Kumail Nanjiani, who will play Kingo Sunen, which…really? Kingo is a Japanese character, an Eternal born in the 16th century who trained as a samurai. Nanjiani is Pakistani. Guys…it’s not even close. This is really taking the “PoC are interchangeable” to the next level.

Salma Hayek is playing Ajak, who is male in the comics. He has some history with Thor, so this could perhaps be our tie-in into the wider MCU. He’s also not entirely a good guy, so we will see how that goes, given that Hayek’s character was announced to be the leader of the Eternals in the MCU version of their story. Brian Tyree Henry, who was connected to Marvel by voice-acting Miles’ father in Into the Spider-Verse before now, will star as Phastos, a rather melancholy character who is sort of the Tony Stark of the Eternals in the sense of being a genius who supplies them with tech and gear – for example, he made Kingo’s sword.

Dong-seok Ma, a South Korean actor, will play Gilgamesh. Yeah, that Gilgamesh. The mythological hero of ancient Mesopotamia, which is more or less today’s Iraq. I just… Are the people responsible for MCU casting actually allergic to proper representation? Are they just mocking us now? What the hell is wrong with everyone?

Lia McHugh will play an eternally eleven year old trickster character Sprite, in another case of gender-bending (and a case of definitely the cutest person present at the SDCC announcements stage). Sprite also wiped the other Eternals’ memory and made them forget their superpowers at one point. This makes for another potential source of conflict, or even an explanation for why we haven’t seen anything of them in the MCU until now.

The last known casting is Lauren Ridloff, who will be another gender-bent character, Makkari. In the comics he is another tech guy, whose other specialty is speed. She will also have the honour of being the first deaf character in the MCU, and played by an actual deaf actress to boot, so kudos for that, at least. The internet, of course, is exploding over the fact that “she’s supposed to be a white guy.” Strange how everyone is bothered here, when it’s completely irrelevant to her backstory – compared to, say, Gilgamesh or Kingo.

There is another worrying thing about the Eternals, apart from some of their strange casting choices. Their history is usually extremely involved with religions of different – mostly ancient, but not only – cultures. The strongest focus is on Ancient Greece, but there are others, as evidenced by the use of Gilgamesh. That is really something better stayed away from.

It’s less harmful with dead religions than with living ones, but with so many Neo-Pagan groups out there, what is a dead religion anyway? And the cultural heritage is still frequently important for the successor people who live in the area. It’s not something you should be messing with to sound mystical. MCU has mostly stayed away from it until now, with the sort-of exception of Doctor Strange. The Eternals could potentially dive right into it, and that is something we really, really do not need to see. Additionally, if they are all Greek gods, well, it would make the casting choices even more problematic, would it not? There is not a Greek person in sight.

On the other hand, well, Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek. How could I say no? We will see how it went on 6th November.

ShangChi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – February 2021

Shang-Chi will mark an important breakthrough for the MCU. For the first time, we will have an actual Chinese character played by a Chinese heritage actor (Simu Liu) be the one who benefits from Chinese culture and tradition on screen. After Dr. Strange and Iron Fist, and even the Mandarin, it was honestly high time.

We will also see the Mandarin – the actual one – played by Tony Chiu-Wai Leung. That brings up interesting questions about continuity re: Iron Man 3. Was it an accident that Killian picked a character like that for his actor to impersonate? Was he knowingly impersonating an existing bad guy? Or was there an actual contact between them? Kevin Feige said in his announcement of the film that the real Mandarin knows about what happened in Iron Man 3 and is quite upset with it, so perhaps that will be our tie-in. Another question this raises is about the Ten Rings from Iron Man 1. Were they an offshoot of the organisation we will see here? Or were they an Afghani knock-off? So many possibilities!

Shang-Li himself is a character with an interesting background. Evil crime lord father who he needs to turn against and bring down makes for a compelling story. He’s a martial arts master, and his father was involved in sorcery, so we will see whether that shows up in the film. It could be interesting if they decided to borrow from the kung-fu films, which certainly have more than enough to offer the MCU. The director, Destin Daniel Cretton, is not connected to the Chinese film tradition in any way that I could find, but a girl can dream.

We also know that Awkwafina will be in this film, though we have no idea as what. We get to find out, at the latest, on 12th February 2021.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – May 2021

After the way the existence of a multiverse was…teased, shall we say (still too early for spoilers!) in Far From Home, it’s very interesting to see that in just two years, we will get a film with multiverse in the name. The director promised psychedelic craziness and Gothic horror in the reveal. The secodn part makes me rather nervous, but hopefully he understands something else than Benioff and Weiss under those words. He promises it’s going to be the first scary MCU film, so along the possible spy movie Black Widow and kung-fu movie Shang-Chi, it seems we could have quite a diversity of genres in MCU. It would be a good way to combat the superhero fatigue, so here’s hoping Marvel will actually give the directors enough freedom to go for it.

Another promise that was made during the reveal was that, after the authority he kind of had in the Avengers films, we’re going back to him not understanding what’s happening around him. Given that he never really earned that authority in the first place (he was unquestionably a hero, but absolutely a newbie), that’s definitely good news for me!

Perhaps the most surprising piece of news to come out of that reveal was that the Scarlet Witch will appear alongside Dr. Strange. The film will tie in directly to the TV show about her we’re getting earlier the same year. This is a good strategy for Disney, of course, to make people pay for their subscription service. But it’s also nice to know they are really going to utilize the media they have to expand the universe. Wanda’s magic is quite different from Strange’s, though, so I’m genuinely curious to see how they make it work together and how they make it fit.

In Doctor Strange 1, it was also quite strongly indicated that the next film would be about Mordo going rogue and killing sorcerers. MCU is normally not in the habit of ignoring its after-credits scenes. It’s not easy to imagine how that ties in to the multiverse, or to the mysterious group from the teaser who say something about sleeping for ages, but on the other hand, it’s extremely simple to see how Wanda could be brought in by that! We’ll see on 7th May 2021.

Thor: Love and Thunder – November 2021

This should be fun. We know quite a few things about this film, considering that it’s the one we’re furthest from. For one, we know that Natalie Portman will return as Jane Foster, but will get the hammer and become Thor (the hero, not the character). This is very interesting news, given that she was said to have broken up with Thor and it was generally assumed we’ve seen the last of her.

This could be an exciting new direction for her character and lead to some interesting beats. That is sorely needed, given that her writing has been kind of lacking until now, to be entirely honest. When Waititi announced this, he explicitly referenced Jason Aaron’s female Thor comics, so it’s possible we will get something from that storyline as well. Let us hope it won’t be Frost Giants as villains. A Thor vs Thor battle seems unlikely as well, unless Jane’s identity really is, like in the comics, kept a secret.

We also know that the Valkyrie will be in this film. Her rumoured LGBTQ* identity will finally come to the forefront as she will be “looking for a queen” for herself. Given that she was previously said to be bi, I’m a little upset by this particular phrasing, but I absolutely want her to have an awesome girlfriend. Not sure I want that girlfriend to be Jane Foster, but it would give Jane a good reason for showing up again after she dumped the (pseudo)deity.

In fact, as we have Jane as Thor the hero now, and Valkyrie as the ruler of Asgard, there would in theory be no need of Thor the character in the film. That would also explain why we’re getting Thor 4 when we last saw him leaving on a ship with the Guardians of the Galaxy, so if he should be somewhere at all, it would be in the next Guardians film. Unfortunately, Hemsworth was very much present during the SDCC reveal and is confirmed for the film. Not that there’s anything wrong with him, but having Thor without Thor could have been a more interesting story. But we can hardly miss the first proper LGBTQ character in the MCU, can we? So see you in cinemas on 5th November 2021.


These are the films confirmed for Phase Four. By the way it was announced, it seems like these are all the films of Phase Four. At number five, that would make it a very short phase. Phase 1 and 2 both had six films, and phase 3 had as many as ten. However, it seems likely we would get some sort of team up at least to finish the phase with, so that would bring it to a number equal to the beginning of the previous triad.

However, this is not all that was announced at SDCC by Marvel.

Feige confirmed there was Black Panther 2, Guardians of the Gallaxy 3 and Captain Marvel 2 in the plans, as well as the Fantastic Four and films about mutants. And to close with, Feige dropped a real bombshell. Blade is getting a remake! With Mahershala Ali (Cottonmouth from Luke Cage) as the protagonist! We don’t know in what shape or form, or when at all, but still: isn’t that all of your dreams come true?

That’s it for the films, folks. Tune in tomorrow for an article about what Marvel is going to bring us when it comes to TV shows. Spoiler: it’s gonna be a lot.

Images courtesy of Marvel

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