Who is Shang-Chi and what’s his connection to Captain Marvel? Are the Fantastic Four and X-Men part of the MCU now, or what? Is Sam Wilson officially Captain America? And which blood-sucking anti-hero might be giving Doctor Strange nightmares in the Multiverse?
If you have burning questions about the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s ambitious Phase 4 slate of films, we’re here to help.
To answer this question we first need to say a little bit about the MCU timeline up until now. Don’t worry, we’ll keep it brief. The Infinity Saga – that’s the 23 films beginning with 2008’s Iron Man and ending with 2019’s Spider- Man: Far From Home – were split into three Phases. Phase 1 lasted five years (2008-2012), Phase 2 lasted two years (2013-2015) and Phase 3 lasted three years (2016-2019).
When Marvel Studios announced its post-Infinity Saga plans back in the summer of 2019, Phase 4 was originally going to be just two years long (2020-2021) and contain just four films. Phase 5 would then pick up the baton starting in 2022 and run through until at least the end of 2023. However, what with certain global events delaying cinematic releases, all that has changed. And so, as things stand, Phase 4 and Phase 5’s release slates have blended, creating a thrilling mega-phase that’s full of please-release- them-now blockbusters:
That will be Black Widow directed by Cate Shortland, and it hits ODEON cinemas 7 May 2021.
For obvious reasons (assuming you’re aware of the events of Avengers: Endgame) Black Widow is a prequel, set in the aftermath of Captain America: Civil War. Having turned on Team Iron Man to support Captain America, Natasha Romanoff (Scarlet Johansson) is on the run and turns to old friends from her younger days as a Soviet-trained Red Room assassin.
Take a quick headcount at the end of the Infinity Saga and one thing is certain: the Avengers as we’ve known them since 2012 are over. Of the original core lineup, only two Avengers remain standing at the beginning of Phase 4 – Hawkeye and Hulk. Tony Stark and Natasha Romanoff are dead, Steve Rogers opted to live a normal life back in the past with his beloved Peggy Carter, and Thor was last seen hitching a ride into space with the Guardians of the Galaxy.
This is not to say that a new Avengers lineup could be formed from Hawkeye and Big Green plus the likes of Captain Marvel (if she’s not too busy zooming about the universe), Doctor Strange, Ant-Man and so on. Plus, we have Jane Foster taking on the Thor mantle in Thor: Love and Thunder, while Sam Wilson has been nominated by Steve Rogers to be the next Captain America, so they could help form a new Avengers.
Alternatively, Phase 4’s showstopping-team-up duties may simply be taken on by the Eternals, giving the Avengers initiative a rest while Clint Barton/Hawkeye takes the lead in training up the fresh-faced heroes of the Young Avengers. We’ve already glimpsed Barton instructing Kate Bishop (the future Hawkeye and Young Avenger) in the Hawkeye series teaser. Plus! Kathryn Newton (Lady Bird, Detective Pikachu) has been cast as Scott Lang/Ant-Man’s teenage daughter Cassie Lang in Ant-Man: Quantumania. As the superhero called Stature she’s also – you guessed it – a future member of the Young Avengers.
While many MCU films have a standalone villain, if Thanos’s growing presence throughout Phases 1-3 were anything to go by, Marvel’s Phase 4 will begin to insinuate an overarching villain into the universe, creating a meta-threat that’ll eventually require various superheroes to team-up and subdue it.
Since Marvel Studios is making up its own rules, there’s nothing to say it has to follow the same template for its second decade of films. And with Disney+ series giving Marvel a whole new way to sow MCU seeds and tell different kinds of stories, it may not. However, everyone loves an über baddie pulling levers behind the scenes so, assuming there will be a Phase 4 BIG BAD, these are the two candidates we fancy for the top job.
Kang the Conquerer
Genius 31st century scholar, time traveller, and power-hungry nut job, Kang’s actual name is Nathaniel Richards. If that surname sounds familiar that’s because he may be a distant descendant of Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic.
In the comics, Kang has been a time-hopping irritant to both the Avengers and Fantastic Four to name just two potential superteams. Now that Disney has acquired 20th Century Fox and the rights to Fantastic Four, could it be that introducing Kang would be a neat way to keep villainous activities in the family in more ways than one? Last but not least, Kang is already appearing in Ant-Man: Quantumania (TBC 2022), played by Jonathan Majors (Lovecraft Country). But does that count him out of being the new MCU main villain, too?
In essence, Mephisto – Lord of a Hell Dimension – is Marvel’s spin on the Devil, and there are several reasons why he may be an even stronger candidate for the MCU’s new Thanos than Kang the Conquerer. Thanks to Ant-Man’s Quantum Realm detour, the subsequent time-travel in Avengers: Endgame, plus Doctor Strange’s dimension bending powers leading directly to the horror-themed Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (25 March 2022), the concept of alternate realities is now well established in the MCU. As a character, Mephisto thrives in this expanded, mind-bending universe. He’s also gone up against Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Thor and other heroes from the Phase Four slate, so would be a formidable foe against the MCU heroes.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (9 July) will be many MCU fans’ first introduction to a Marvel comics character who’s been fighting evil in comic books since 1972. Shang-Chi is the Master of Kung Fu and one of the most potent hand-to-hand combatants in the world.
In a canny remix of Shang-Chi’s comic book biography, our hero’s father in the MCU is none other than The Mandarin. No, not Ben Kingsley’s brilliant Iron Man 3 misdirection – he was a hilarious, out-of-work actor called Trevor Slattery masquerading as Mandarin – but the real deal.
Mandarin’s globally connected terrorist organisation, Ten Rings, has been behind the scenes throughout the MCU’s first decade if you know where to look. It was Ten Rings members who kidnapped Tony Stark in Iron Man (2008) for example. The virtuous Shang-Chi – played by Simu Liu (Kim’s Convenience) – is on a collision course with his villainous dad, The Mandarin (Tony Leung) and his ruthless Ten Rings terrorists, and we can’t wait.
In a word, yes. With Marvel Studios’ parent company Disney acquiring 20th Century Fox, the Fantastic Four and X-Men franchises, plus foul-mouthed mutant spinoff Deadpool, are now part of the MCU family. Not only that, but we know Deadpool 3 is on its way, plus a new Fantastic Four is already in development, with Jon Watts (Spider-Man: Homecoming, Spider-Man Far From Home) in the director’s chair. Could the Fantastic Four finally be getting the big-screen blockbuster they deserve? It certainly looks that way.
No. With Chadwick Boseman’s sudden and heartbreaking death last year, Marvel Studios’ and director Ryan Coogler’s plans for Black Panther 2 have changed, of course, but recasting a new actor in the role of T’Challa is not going to happen.
Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke and Angela Bassett are all due to return for the sequel which will, among other things, contend with Wakanda’s opening up to the wider world as trailed at the end of Black Panther.
We all saw the touching scene at the end of Avengers: Endgame – a now elderly Steve Rogers hands his iconic vibranium shield and with it the mantle of Captain America to Sam Wilson/Falcon. So, Wilson’s Captain America now, right? Not so fast. If you remember, when Steve asked Sam how the shield felt he said, “Like it’s someone else’s.” And so, while Falcon’s stint as Captain America is comic book canon, as we enter Phase 4 of the MCU, Wilson is yet to take on the role.
Could Phase 4's upcoming threats be the motivation Wilson needs to pick up Cap’s shield and own the role?
So, those of you paying attention will remember that, at the end of Endgame, Captain America took Thor’s beloved hammer Mjolnir with him when he set off back through time to return the Infinity Stones to their correct points in history. To prevent creating a Thor timeline where the God of Thunder didn’t have Mjolnir, it makes sense that Cap returned the hammer to its correct timeline too.
So, in a Mjolnir-less present day, how does Dr Jane Foster show she is worthy of becoming the new God of Thunder if it’s not there to lift, let alone wield in battle? Could it be that Thor: Love and Thunder’s Jane Foster is actually from an alternate reality? After all, Phase Four is already looking very open to the idea of alternate dimensions, multiverse flitting and timeline tinkering, plus the original Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is still around, albeit as a spare wheel on the Guardians of the Galaxy’s ship, the Benatar, for now.
We’re very excited to see what director Nia Da Costa (Little Woods, Candyman 2021) brings to the return of Carol Danvers and the big-screen debut of Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani), in Captain Marvel 2. However, with the sequel not slated for release until 11 November 2022, does that mean we’ll have to wait until then for our next fix of Brie Larson’s spectacularly powerful superhero? Not necessarily.
It just so happens that Destin Daniel Cretton, the director of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (out 9 July 2021) has a great history working with Brie Larson, having directed her in three films – Just Mercy (2019), The Glass Castle (2017) and Brie’s first film as lead actor, Short Term 12 (2013). So, while Captain Marvel’s got a lot more planets to keep an eye on than Earth before her official return to screens, as Cretton said when asked about Larson’s possible appearance in Shang-Chi, “I think there’s always room for Brie.”
In his own film, no, but Marvel’s half-vampire vampire hunter has been cast – two-time Oscar winner Mahershala Ali is picking up Blade’s titanium sword – so he is officially part of the MCU now. Still, while a standalone Blade film has yet to be announced, there is one Phase 4 release that looks particularly suited to the vampire hunter’s Gothic vibe.
Directed by Sam ‘Evil Dead’ Raimi, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has been rumoured to be the MCU’s first film with a distinct horror vibe. How cool would it be to have Ali’s Blade making a surprise appearance alongside Doctor Strange and Scarlet Witch?