Avengers: Endgame is officially here. For the last year, we’ve been mourning the deaths of some of our favorite heroes and theorizing about how the second part of Thanos’ story might go, with theories landing everywhere on the plausibility spectrum. But along with Thanos, the MCU will face its biggest villains yet – and they won’t even be on the screen. The villains better resemble Marvel’s cosmic entities like Infinity and Death: the toughest challenges lying ahead are expectations and the future.
At Christmas one year, my brother got everything he wanted. It was a simple list, but the list was satisfied from end to end. And he cried. He cried because no version of real Christmas could ever equal the Christmas built up in his young head thanks to months of holiday hype and excitement.
The MCU wasn’t a plan – not at first. It was an experiment that blew up in ways even the people expecting it hadn’t planned for. Since then, Marvel has built an empire on Tony Stark’s back, with intertwining stories, crossover characters, and easter-eggs making a connected world without precedent in movies or even television. Marvel Studios built its universe patiently, giving us two Iron Man movies and one each of Thor and Captain America before we even got our first Avengers assembly.
Seven years after Marvel’s The Avengers, it’s weird not to have a favorite Avenger. People who have never read a comic in their lives are invested in the stories of Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, and all of their super friends.
Last April, that all came to a head as the Avengers and, well, everyone else met Thanos head-on in a desperate attempt to stop him from causing what the kids are now calling the Snapture. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know how that ended – not well.
Like that magical Christmas I talked about earlier, we’ve been waiting for a long time for Avengers: Endgame. Some of us one year, some of us eleven. Whether Endgame is a story about time travel or Ant-Man traveling to some truly unspeakable places, the Russo brothers are in charge of possibly the single most anticipated movie of all time, and on making good on an ending we’ve been waiting for for a long time. Come April 26, there’s going to be, no matter how the story goes down, a lot of disappointment. Even if it’s the best movie ever and even if it answers all our questions and somehow manages to satisfy every hanging story thread, we’ll be sobbing children because the hype is just too much.
The other big enemy facing the MCU is the future. The truth is that, even after a decade, it’s not the MCU that people really care about, but the characters. The MCU name and the inter-connectedness get enough people in the door, but after 11 years, there’s some level of superhero exhaustion at work. A growing number of my friends, anecdotally, are done with Marvel movies, and they’re all nerds.
And so the question is inevitable: Will people simply check out of the MCU once the Avengers’ story is done? Or will the tune Marvel is playing be enough to entice moviegoers into the next phase?
We know there are some carryovers from the first few phases planned, with Endgame being followed by Spider-Man: Far from Home set for July and Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3 back on track. Marvel would be silly not to capitalize on Black Panther’s unprecedented success with a sequel. Also in development are movies based on The Eternals, Black Widow, and Shang-Chi have all had some information confirmed in the form of a director or some crucial cast members. We’re expecting sequels to Captain Marvel and Doctor Strange and maybe even a third Ant-Man flick.
When the credits roll on Endgame, some of the core Avengers team members will be dead. That’s all but guaranteed (don’t worry, I don’t know anything you don’t).
When people walk out of Endgame, Marvel needs to already have them hooked for whatever comes next. But the machine can’t slow down at this point. We went from six movies in four years for “Phase One,” while “Phase Three” will end up with ten movies in less than (two weeks short of) three years.
Endgame is, as the title suggests, an ending. It’s a pause to breathe. We don’t know for sure, aside from Spider-Man: Far From Home, exactly what Marvel Studios has planned and when. But when we land in a post-Avengers world, will people still be ready to show up to theaters?
If I had to hazard a guess, I’d bet that there will be a slowdown in performance for Marvel movies after Avengers. I’d be willing to bet that the Black Panther sequel is going to be used to springboard some major elements of Phase Four, because it’s a guaranteed win for the studio.
There’s no way that Disney’s acquisition of Fox won’t somehow factor into all of this. The studio now has possession of its most historically popular superhero team, the X-Men, and it’s original superhero team, the Fantastic Four. A re-booted X-Men would expand the world of Marvel on Earth, while the Fantastic Four could work with Captain Marvel to act as a bridge between Earth and the cosmos.
But the deal wasn’t truly done until just weeks ago, and planning for both Marvel’s mutants and the First Family is likely in early stages. Kevin Feige likely knows that rushing them would just result in more bad X-Men and Fantastic Four movies – both of which we already have too much of. And so despite these heavy hitters, we’re still left wondering.
Right now, this is all conjecture. A few years ago, the future of the MCU was clearly mapped out, and we knew every step the MCU would be taking. Now, the expectations are an incalculable weight being shouldered by two directors and a cast of beloved characters, and the future is more than uncertain.