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The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Final Frontier

After ‘Avengers: Endgame,’ there’s only one place to go if Marvel wants to keep raising the stakes

Marvel/Ringer illustration
Spoiler alert

Because Avengers: Endgame hinges on utilizing time travel to undo the fact that a genocidal alien wiped out half of all creatures in the universe, it’s easy to forget that the Marvel Cinematic Universe began much more humbly more than a decade ago. The antagonist for the first Iron Man in 2008 was a bald businessman named Obadiah, and Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark was the Bobby Axelrod of the arms industry. Iron Man’s climactic battle was two moguls punching one another in high-tech metal suits; it was cool at the time, but not exactly Thanos and Iron Man hurling chunks of a moon at each other.

With villains as all-powerful as Thanos, and heroes like Captain Marvel who are capable of single-handedly scaring off an entire battalion of spaceships, the MCU is starting to render some of its characters pointless in the bigger picture. (No offense, Hawkeye, but we’re looking at you, buddy.) If the MCU wants to convince its audience that the future slate of villains and conflicts can measure up to the apocalyptic might of Thanos—or otherwise create skepticism about Captain Marvel’s seeming omnipotence—there’s only one place they should be looking, and that’s the final frontier.

Make no mistake, the MCU has slowly been growing more space-crazed over the years—from Asgard and wormholes in the Thor franchise to everything Guardians of the Galaxy. If the Infinity War saga proved anything, it’s that Marvel’s best bet when it comes to expanding its scope and raising the stakes is to mine the cosmos. And while Thanos and his nihilistic meme potential will be a hard act to follow, there is some space-related precedence in the comics to draw on. These are four future characters and story lines the MCU could consider in the long term.

The Silver Surfer

While he was the subject of a Fantastic Four sequel in 2007, the Silver Surfer, like the rest of the Fantastic Four, never got a fair shake on the big screen. (For whatever reason, 21st Century Fox has never been able to get these characters right, the franchise reaching its nadir with 2015’s ill-fated reboot, one of the worst superhero flicks ever made.) But with Marvel getting back the rights to the Fantastic Four after Disney acquired most of 21st Century Fox’s assets, it’s fair to assume these characters will eventually be integrated into the MCU.

If and when that happens, the Silver Surfer is a perfect character for Marvel to embrace some of its trippiest visuals this side of Doctor Strange. The Surfer was once an alien astronomer named Norrin Radd, who saved his home planet Zenn-La from the evil, planet-destroying Galactus by serving as his herald. As Radd became the Surfer, he turned into a metallic, uh, dude—a Radd Surfer? Sorry!—who rides a space surfboard and coasts through the cosmos looking for suitable planets for Galactus to devour. You know, a regular 9-to-5 gig.

In the comics, and as 2007’s Fantastic Four sequel (rather poorly) laid out, the Surfer has a change of heart on Earth and rediscovers his humanity. That turn from harbinger of destruction to complicated hero is something the MCU could use more of; the only real characters with substantive redemption arcs are Nebula and Bucky Barnes. Though a Silver Surfer–centric movie probably wouldn’t be on the MCU docket for quite some time—and the studio would likely need to set up the Fantastic Four first—they may already have a willing director. Adam McKay said last year that the idea of working on a Silver Surfer movie entices him, and compared the visuals he’d set up in that prospective film to the Wachowski siblings’ Speed Racer. Far out, man.

Galactus

Granted, anything involving Silver Surfer would also have to involve Galactus. Galactus also appeared in the last semi-watchable Fantastic Four film, in a climactic battle against the Fantastic Four and the Silver Surfer that was mostly indecipherable. The Galactus of that 2007 film was a fairly amorphous blob of CGI menace, one which a YouTube commenter so eloquently described as a “cosmic fart.” Were the character introduced in the MCU, it would behoove the special effects department to give him a more recognizable aesthetic, like the one he has in the comics, where he’s basically a giant dude with a gnarly helmet.

And not to get too far ahead with hypothetical MCU showdowns, but Galactus would be a suitable antagonist for the next time Marvel wants to set up an Avengers-esque film. If there’s a villain best equipped to live up to Thanos’s aspirations to wipe out half of all life with the snap of his fingers, it might as well be a cosmic entity with a vested interest in devouring entire planets. If the Avengers were to assemble again, what better excuse than the threat of the Earth being completely decimated?

Again, any Galactus-related conflicts would need several years of build-up, much in the same way the MCU slowly led to its heroes’ final showdown with Thanos. But if the MCU wants to continue to elevate the stakes, especially now that Captain Marvel is ridiculously overpowered, it doesn’t get much bigger—literally—than him.

Another Kree-Skrull Conflict

The last we saw of the Kree, Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg had realized that Captain Marvel was nearly indestructible, and instead of throwing down he was like, “Debate me, Carol Danvers!” (She did not.) She sent Yon-Rogg back to the Kree’s home planet of Hala completely shook—obviously, the Kree are no match for Captain Marvel in a straight fight. Meanwhile, the Skrulls were in search of a new planet to call their home, which Captain Marvel was obliged to help with.

But all of this went down in the ’90s. (Captain Marvel was pretty clear about that.) A lot of time has passed in the MCU; time for the Skrulls to acclimate themselves to a new world, and for the Kree and their leader, the Supreme Intelligence (played by four-time Oscar nominee Annette Bening!), to consider a new plan for intergalactic domination. (Ronan the Accuser is also a Kree, but it’s clear he was freelancing in Guardians of the Galaxy.) The Kree are a warrior race, like the space equivalent of Spartans—fighting is in their nature.

Since the Skrulls have been established as the good guys, something like the popular “Secret Invasion” comics story line—in which the alien race use their shapeshifting abilities to pose as different Avengers—is probably not in the cards. But the Kree could again be utilized through the Inhumans. The Inhumans—previously subject to an awful and short-lived ABC series starring Ramsay Bolton—are an offshoot of human beings who have been experimented on by Kree scientists and imbued with their own superpowers. This story line could be introduced when Marvel sets up its film about the Eternals, to be directed by indie darling Chloé Zhao. The Eternals themselves are humans who have been experimented on by beings called Celestials, and it was the Kree performing their own experiments on an Eternal—after the Celestials performed experiments on them—that inspired them to create the Inhumans on Earth. That’s a lot of moving (and confusing) parts with funky names, all coming together to make one of the nerdiest paragraphs ever written on this website, but basically, if they’re setting up the Eternals, additional Kree appearances could also be in the cards. How the Skrulls could play into all of this remains to be seen, but considering Ben Mendelsohn’s milkshake-loving Talos was one of Captain Marvel’s breakout characters, I’m sure Marvel could find a way to integrate them back into the MCU fold.

Adam Warlock

Now that James Gunn is returning to the Guardians franchise—though not before he makes a pitstop in the DC Extended Universe with a rebooted Suicide Squad—we can consider what a third installment in the franchise could have in store. Nebula seems like a safe bet to continue hanging out with the gang, and with Thor Lebowski also aboard their ship in Endgame, Guardians 3 has the potential to be the weirdo humor gold standard for the MCU moving forward. But what’s actually going to happen in Guardians 3? Much of it may come down to the crew tracking down Gamora, who’s not exactly pining for Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord anymore because this iteration of the character literally has no memories of her time with the team. But as far as antagonists go, Guardians 2 was setting up Adam Warlock—per one of the film’s five post-credits scenes.

Adam is a creation of Ayesha, the leader of the Sovereigns, a race of beings with gold skin who consider themselves to be perfect specimens. (Ayesha is played by the regal Elizabeth Debicki, in an impeccable bit of casting.) The Sovereigns hate the Guardians because … Rocket Raccoon stole some of their batteries. (This franchise is good.)

Adam is a powerful being in the comics, though his abilities are derived from the Soul Stone—which might be an issue considering the events of Endgame. While Ayesha wants Adam to eradicate the Guardians, he’s typically been a hero, and has a close comics relationship with Gamora, which could complicate matters with Star-Lord given her lack of Guardians memories. (Imagine if Guardians 3 set up Adam as Mr. Steal Yo Girl.)

So where would the conflict come in, aside from a potentially awkward love triangle? Well, there have been several comics iterations of Magus—effectively, an evil, alternate version of Adam. But whether it’s Adam proper or the evil entity Magus going up against the Guardians in the third film, he’s an extremely powerful character who’s been capable of putting up a fight against Thanos in the comics. The Guardians may be overmatched, so it’s a good thing they’ve got an obese God of Thunder riding shotgun. Like the rest of the MCU moving forward, Guardians 3 would be elevated by leaning further into the cosmos. Marvel’s future resides in the stars, and all the bizarre, humanity-threatening entities who inhabit it.