By Comic-Con standards, this year’s offerings were leading to an uneventful affair. Several major Hollywood studios—Universal, Sony, and, outside of a brief It: Chapter 2 trailer drop, Warner Bros.—opted to sit out the weekend’s proceedings. Meanwhile, Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss decided not to show up to their panel in a last-minute decision that tragically deprived us of any spicy fan confrontations over the series’ disappointing final season. (Instead, Lord Varys himself declared there was a “media-led” hate campaign for the eighth season, but hey, it wasn’t the media that made Daenerys Targaryen forget about the Iron Fleet.)
But for all the relative lack of buzz in other corners of Comic-Con, the exception to the rule was Marvel. Since the release of Avengers: Endgame in April, Disney has remained tight-lipped about “Phase 4” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even the most recent MCU release, Sony’s Spider-Man: Far From Home, was intended to be more of an Endgame epilogue that dealt with the fallout from (spoilers for what is now the highest-grossing movie of all time?) Tony Stark’s death.
Now, instead of giving fans a peek behind the veil at Comic-Con, the MCU just straight-up vaporized the curtain. All told, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige revealed 10 upcoming Phase 4 projects, both TV shows and movies, spread out over the next two years. First, let’s break down the movies: Next up will be the eponymous Black Widow spinoff film in May 2020, followed by Eternals in November 2020, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings in February 2021, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in May 2021, and Thor: Love and Thunder in November 2021. The first Disney+ series on the docket will be The Falcon and the Winter Soldier in fall 2020. Then comes WandaVision and Loki in spring 2021, What If…? in summer 2021, and a Hawkeye series in fall 2021 (assuming Jeremy Renner isn’t totally subsumed by his side gig of being a goddamn ROCK STAR).
But Feige didn’t finish there, ending the panel by teasing sequels to Captain Marvel and Black Panther, intimating that Marvel is getting to work on films featuring the Fantastic Four and X-Men, and that two-time Oscar winner Mahershala Ali will be playing Blade in an upcoming remake as well. Ali reportedly called up Feige after winning an Oscar for Green Book and said he wanted to play Blade, which is both an amazing flex and a quick way to earn some goodwill after starring in a god-awful movie. Really, all that was missing was a tentative date for the next Avengers movie.
Whether or not you’re a Marvel enthusiast, that Comic-Con panel was a hell of a news dump. What is most encouraging, though, is that the Phase 4 projects are shaping up to be the most diverse lineup in the MCU thus far. Eternals is directed by indie starlet Chloé Zhao; Shang-Chi will be the MCU’s first foray into martial arts (yes, let’s just pretend Iron Fist never existed) with an Asian American hero; and the latest Thor movie will not only see Natalie Portman return as Jane, but is setting her up to wield the hammer Mjolnir as the new God(dess) of Thunder. In that film, Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie will be the new ruler of Asgard and appears to be the first LGBTQ hero in the MCU.
If the MCU isn’t yet operating at the height of its powers as it enters a star-studded Phase 4, well, that’s a terrifying proposition for rival studios. As Marvel—and Disney writ large, courtesy of Pixar, Star Wars, and the studio’s own endless spate of live-action remakes—continues to gobble up more of the monoculture and its own direct competitors, it has virtually become our corporate overlord via the movie screen. Mouse House is a near-monopoly that rules the box office, is beginning to sink its teeth into streaming, and looks to be shoving all things Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, etc. at us in perpetuity. A healthy and competitive entertainment ecosystem this is not.
But let’s consider the bright side of this bleak situation: If Marvel is going to keep dominating the zeitgeist, at least it’s not funneling the same thing down our throats a few times a year. (Or giving children a new reason to see a therapist via Will Smith’s CGI Genie in the new Aladdin.) The new Marvel franchises will, obviously, feature new characters, thereby bringing new actors into the MCU. That includes a random assortment of A-list actors and up-and-coming stars, such as Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Tony Leung, Simu Liu, Salma Hayek, Brian Tyree Henry, and Awkwafina—and that’s just between Eternals and Shang-Chi. While Marvel certainly has a house style—occasional CGI mayhem accompanied by a ton of one-liners and pop culture references—the studio has, in recent years, been willing to embrace auteur-driven vehicles. Allowing more directors to hone their personal aesthetics in MCU projects will prevent Phase 4 projects from seeming like subtle variations of the same formula. That might be especially necessary now that the MCU encompasses 23 movies and counting.
The Disney+ series may take some time to jell—it’s easy to forget that the early stages of the MCU were comparatively hit-or-miss, courtesy of two mediocre Thor movies and Ed Norton’s Hulk—but they bring the promise of the MCU’s A-list talent to the streaming era. It’s already confirmed that whatever Scarlet Witch gets up to in WandaVision will explain how she fits into Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness—the MCU’s first horror movie. Granted, making Disney+ shows seem as necessary to the MCU experience as the movies sounds exhausting; then again, the fandom has proved to be nothing if not insatiable for more content.
That’s probably the biggest takeaway: Marvel can churn out this many projects, with so many talented actors and directors, because there’s just such a huge appetite for all things MCU. At some point, you figure audiences will become saturated from an endless barrage of Marvel-related programming; the same thing has intermittently plagued Star Wars since Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012. (That said: LOL, I’m so camping out for the new Blade, provided the rising oceans don’t swallow New York City by the time it comes out.) For the time being, though, the next phase of the MCU is as star-studded and promising as it’s ever been. If Thanos couldn’t vanquish Marvel’s heroes, perhaps nothing will.