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The Beginning of the End - what’s in store for the next generation of Marvel heroes?

by Megan Bishop

*Spoilers for Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame and Spider-man: Far From Home

When it comes to the scope of cinema, superhero films like this year’s Avengers Endgame are currently making the biggest influence as a financial powerhouse and a cultural force to be reckoned with. The popularity of Superhero films continues to grow as cinematic universes expand, introducing a cast of new characters, some already popular and others new to general audiences. Disney has been a leading force in this change in cinema after they purchased Marvel Studios in 2009 and began to create the Marvel Cinematic Universe - an ever-expanding franchise composed of films divided into “phases” which guarantee more movies, more fans, and more money.

2019 marks the end of phase three, after having two major successes with Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, Marvel was riding a rollercoaster that continued to go up without a dip in sight. To finish off phase three, Marvel released three major films for the franchise; the first female lead Marvel film, Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, and a film that teases a new future for the MCU in Spider-Man: Far From Home. The three films were released in a five-month span, but by August 2019 they rose to the top five highest-grossing films of the year worldwide. While phase three has come to a satisfying conclusion for fans, the MCU is nowhere close to slowing down. Without a break in sight, Marvel continues to make blockbusters all while diversifying talent in front and behind the silver screen.

While Marvel seems unstoppable, the movie-making titan has taken on new challenges like Captain Marvel, which proved to be a major test of the company’s own limitations. Marvel had come under fire in the past for the absence of a female-led superhero film. In 2017, rival studio, Warner Brothers, released Wonder Woman, a huge success for the company that proved female superhero films have the ability to be both culturally enriched and commercially successful. With a strong woman in front of the camera, the film also featured a female director, a first for the superhero genre. In 2015, Marvel announced that they would release their first female-led superhero film in Captain Marvel; the character, while having her own comic stories, was not popular to the general public. The following year at Comic-Con, Marvel announced that a directing team of both a man and woman would be leading the project which would star recent Academy Award Winner, Brie Larson. In 2019, the film was released on International Women’s Day (a cheeky marketing maneuver) and was a massive success.

Featuring a dominantly female cast absent of male love interests, the film quickly became one of Marvel’s most successful films. The success of this film further proved that Marvel could take an untapped corner of its market and transform it into a worldwide phenomenon. While an important film for female representation, the film cemented Marvel as a truly invincible company.

After the success of Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame had the difficult task of living up to the hype of its former in the series, Avengers: Infinity War, a film which ended with the demise of half of the characters in the MCU. Being released a year later, Endgame followed up with a close to three-hour runtime (and even a catchy hashtag: “#DontSpoilTheEndgame), which excited fans for the conclusion to the overarching story with the inclusion of original characters such as Iron Man and Captain America, and new favourites like Ant-Man and Valkyrie. The film served as a conclusion to the universe at large, including a massive battle featuring all of the heroes, and many good-byes for characters who will not be returning. Avengers: Endgame celebrates the franchise by revisiting past Marvel hits, giving viewers a new look at the franchise over the years. By choosing to go back in time, the film does not offer new ideas about the MCU , but instead keeps progress stagnant, allowing fans to focus on an ending rather than a potential future. With a definitive and clear ending, Endgame does not have much to say other than thanking fans for sticking by them and making the franchise the most popular, while introducing a new slogan to share their appreciation with “I love you 3000”. Avengers: Endgame conquered the box office and became the highest grossing film of all time.

Although Avengers: Endgame offered a definitive ending for Phase Three, Marvel (and Sony Pictures) had yet to release Spider-Man: Far from Home. Since the film dealt with the events of Endgame, the marketing was kept secret as promotion began before Avengers was released. While dealing with the circumstances of Endgame and offering a new future for the franchise, Far from Home had a lot to accomplish - and it pulled it off by having two of the most important after credit scenes hinting at the future of phase four. While the film teases a multiverse, it ultimately flips the MCU on its head through the reveal of Spider-Man’s real identity. By having a character’s identity revealed (and framed for the death of Mysterio) Marvel teases a story that has not yet been explored in the previous Spider-Man films or in other MCU movies. With the reveal, Spider-Man is thrust into the role of Iron Man, which he was toying with throughout the film. With the end twist, this positions Peter Parker as the new face of the Marvel Universe. The scene in the final credits reveals that the Skrulls, shape-shifting aliens that were introduced in Captain Marvel, are impersonating well-known heroes. This reflects the importance of Captain Marvel’s film and shows that the MCU is headed towards an interstellar direction.

While phase three has come to a close, the MCU is nowhere near slowing down. At San Diego Comic Con, the Phase Four slate was revealed to contain both films and TV shows on streaming platforms. In the fall of 2019, Disney will venture into streaming as the corporation will launch its own streaming service, Disney Plus. The service will include new original films, Star Wars TV shows, and Marvel TV shows. By including Marvel streaming shows into the Phase Four slate, the service will likely have more subscribers as fans will want to make sure they are not missing any story that affects the films. The shows also feature fan favourite characters such as Loki, the Winter Soldier, Falcon, Scarlet Witch,and Hawkeye. By using pre-established characters from the films, fans will have to subscribe to the service if they want to see the stories surrounding these characters as the MCU films will be introducing new characters.

With the shows featuring old favourites, the MCU is heading in a new and diverse direction with their upcoming films. While established characters like Black Widow, Thor and Doctor Strange are getting independent films, they all have a new and unique angle that solidify their place in Phase Four; Black Widow will be the first MCU film directed by a solo female director, Cate Shortland while Thor: Love and Thunder will introduce Lady Thor and will explore Valkyrie’s bisexuality, and Doctor Strange will venture into other genres as a horror film. Other new films Marvel has announced will diversify characters. The Eternals, directed by Chloe Zhao, will star a cast that has an almost equal ratio of men to women, with a deaf actress as well as actors of various ethnicities. Finally, Shang-Chi will be the first Asian superhero, played by Western-Ivey alum Simu Liu.

It is an exciting time for franchise filmmaking as stories are featuring more diversity and inclusivity. With the popularity of these films, it is important to use this platform to fight for equality. While Marvel contributes to making giant blockbusters that are rendering original studio films non-existent, it is also hiring exciting young directors and exploring stories that have not been told for general mass audiences. With the end of Phase Three, the invincible studio continues to push forward bringing brand new stories to light in the pop culture lexicon.

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