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The untold truth of Phase 4 of the MCU

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the most successful film franchise of all time — and one of the most prolific, having maintained a steady release calendar since launching with Iron Man in 2008. After starting out with a more traditional approach to planning releases, in 2014, the studio announced one of the most ambitious production slates in Hollywood history, laying out plans for nine upcoming releases over the next five years — from Captain America: Civil War to Avengers: Endgame. Considering the unprecedented lead time, Marvel has managed to stick impressively close to the schedule outlined in that announcement.

Moving forward into Phase 4, the studio plans a return to a more conventional approach. Speaking with Comicbook, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige said not to expect a comprehensive announcement, regarding the company's upcoming film plans. "I don't think we'll be announcing five or six years," Feige said, "but we know sort of where we want to head in the next five or six years." While official announcements have been scarce, plenty of rumors and reports are already worth noting. This is the untold truth of Phase 4 of the MCU.

The return of James Gunn

Acclaimed helmer of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise James Gunn was abruptly fired by Disney in July 2018 following a campaign by alt-right journalists to drum up fresh controversy surrounding offensive social media posts written by the writer-director more than a decade before. Prior to the termination, studio head Kevin Feige hinted at the importance Gunn's influence would have over the future of the Guardians films, as well as the MCU overall, as they moved in the direction of more "cosmic" stories. After Gunn was fired, Feige walked that statement back, saying, "His influence was Guardians... I think online, sort of the notion of 'architect across multiple cosmic things' was slightly blown out of proportion."

With Gunn out, Disney still planned on using Gunn's script, even while Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 was placed in production limbo. Eventually, Disney chairman Alan Horn made the decision to rehire Gunn, based on cast and fan support as well as Gunn's public apology and overall handling of the situation. According to reports, Disney never approached — or even considered — another director. With MCU releases trending toward off-planet narratives, it remains to be seen to what extent Gunn's unique style will inform the future of Marvel's ever-expanding cosmos.

Super Nova?

Adam McKay, the director of Anchorman and The Big Short, has claimed that Marvel is developing a Nova movie. In promotion of his political comedy Vice, McKay appeared on The Happy Sad Confused podcast and made some interesting comments about Phase 4. When asked about what Marvel character he'd like to take on, given the chance, McKay mentioned the golden-helmeted space cop, saying, "I think they [Marvel Studios] are kicking around a Nova idea."

McKay might be speaking from a place of true insight here. He already has a relationship with Marvel — when Edgar Wright stepped down as director/writer of Ant-Man, McKay jumped in to take the lead on rewrites. Marvel certainly could do worse than working with McKay — with a pedigree like that, and arguably one of the best comedy directing resumes ever, studio execs would be wise to toss him the Nova keys.

R-rated Blade

When Disney's acquisition of Fox was announced, many wondered what the House of Mouse would do with its R-rated properties, like the super-successful Deadpool franchise. Now that the deal is official, Disney CEO Bob Iger has stated that Disney doesn't plan to shut down production of R-rated films. "We will continue in that business," Iger said of R-rated movies like Deadpool. "There's certainly popularity with those types of films." Disney obviously has a long and successful history of producing strictly family-oriented content. But could this new shift in policy open the door for R-rated Marvel vampire hunter Blade?

An unverified report from We Got This Covered claims it's a very real possibility. A source close to the site has reported that an R-rated Blade movie — involving 56-year-old Wesley Snipes — is in the works. There's reportedly even a script, with a story that would likely center on Blade passing the Daywalking torch to his daughter, Fallon Grey. While this report is unconfirmed, Snipes himself has alluded to discussions about his version of Blade joining the MCU. In fact, he's gone so far as to hint that he's in discussions with Marvel Studios for two different Blade projects, although ultimately he's admitted it isn't his decision to make. "Up to Marvel," he said, adding, "My teeth still sharp."

​Who is Shang-Chi?

Marvel is reportedly fast-tracking its first-ever film to star an Asian superhero, Shang-Chi. According to Deadline, Wonder Woman 1984 screenwriter Dave Callaham is on board to write the screenplay, and Destin Daniel Cretton will direct. In the comics, Shang-Chi was born in China to a Chinese father and white American mother. The character first appeared in Special Marvel Edition No. 15 in 1973; after Marvel tried and failed to get the comic book rights to the television series Kung Fu, Marvel conceived of this character, both a superhero and martial arts expert. Trained as an assassin by his father, the character later becomes a hero by turning against his father's villainous ways. While not as well-known today, Shang-Chi was a popular character in the '70s and was returned to the comics as an Avenger during 2012's Marvel Now! series.

Who will play Shang-Chi? While there are yet to be any major casting announcements for this project, some fans are campaigning for Mike Moh, who stirred up interest following the release of the trailer for Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Moh will play iconic movie star and martial artist Bruce Lee, and a very cool scene featuring Moh and Brad Pitt is sampled in the trailer. Moh also has MCU experience, having played Triton on ABC's short-lived Inhumans.

Dark Avengers

The MCU's landscape has changed in a multitude of different ways since the beginning. Even before Thanos's Infinity War dusting, the continuity had both the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. officially disbanded. Will there be a place in Phase 4 for any iteration of a government-run super-team of Earth's mightiest heroes? It could happen: Marvel has reportedly commissioned — and received — a Dark Avengers script. In the comics, this group was a team of villains who took on the roles of the Avengers for a time under the leadership of Spider-Man villain Norman Osborn. Of course, this news doesn't necessarily guarantee a Dark Avengers film in Phase 4, as Marvel is currently sitting on several scripts for unannounced projects.

The comic book roster of Dark Avengers included Osborn as the Captain America/Iron Man mashup Iron Patriot, Venom in the guise of Spider-Man, Moonstone as Ms. Marvel, Bullseye as Hawkeye, and Wolverine's son Daken taking Logan's place as the hero. As pointed out by ScreenRant, while it would be difficult to include that comics roster in the current MCU, once the universe's population is restored, it could make a lot of narrative sense to include a government-controlled team working under the Sokovia Accords highlighted in Captain America: Civil War.

Marvel takes a break

Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home could be the last Marvel movies for a while. Deadpool comics co-creator Rob Liefield predicted via Twitter that following the highly anticipated releases of those MCU films, Marvel will do something it hasn't really done before — take a break. "Still wrapping my head around the fact that there are no Marvel movies currently filming," wrote Liefeld. "So a full year absent Marvel films following Spider-Man?" According to various reports, the next Marvel release date is set for May 1, 2020. But which title will fill that release date?

All signs point to the standalone Black Widow movie as the one to bow in the May 2020 slot. Of the mostly confirmed (but as yet unannounced) Phase 4 projects — including Dr. Strange 2, Black Panther 2, and The Eternals — it seems as though Black Widow is the furthest along. The film has a director in Cate Shortland, and a script (reportedly currently in rewrites) from Jac Schaeffer. The film is rumored to begin shooting in June 2019, and if all goes to plan, that would make it the first film to go into production following Far from Home

Miles Morales

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was an unmitigated success, with more than $370 million in worldwide box office, a 97% critical consensus on your friendly neighborhood Tomatometer, and an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, the first time since 2012 that Disney didn't win in the category. With Disney and Sony sharing Tom Holland's Spider-Man so nicely, fans have wondered: will Spider-Verse protagonist Miles Morales appear in the MCU? Would it even make financial sense for Sony to partner with Marvel? The terms of the deal struck between Disney and Sony gives Marvel creative control over the Spider-Man movies, while Sony pays for the movies and keeps the profits. Marvel benefits by owning the lucrative merchandising rights to Spider-Man, and is able to include Peter Parker in MCU storylines. An extension of this agreement for Miles Morales could be a boon for all parties involved.

The character already exists in the MCU, according to Kevin Feige. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, Donald Glover's character Aaron Davis makes a passing reference to his nephew — who, in the comics, is Miles Morales. Aaron Davis is better known as the Prowler, a skilled burglar who's pulled off a number of high-tech heists with his brother Jefferson, who just so happens to be Miles Morales' dad. Although Jefferson gives up his life of crime after the birth of his son, Aaron continues on as a thief and becomes an integral part of Miles' story. Feige has said that "anything that's happened in the books" is available to Marvel for inclusion in MCU storylines.

Ms. Marvel

The runaway success of Captain Marvel pretty much assures audiences of an ongoing franchise for Carol Danvers, in addition to the character's appearances in Avengers films and other MCU properties. One character in the Captain Marvel sphere that has inspired lots of internet speculation is Kamala Khan, or Ms. Marvel. One of Marvel Comics' most popular latter-day titles, Ms. Marvel tells the story of a Pakistani-American teenager who looks up to Carol Danvers and takes on the Ms. Marvel name as an homage to her hero.

Marvel Studios has teased that Kamala Khan is part of their larger plans, but without any solid details. Again, Kevin Feige has filled in some of the blanks. Speaking with the BBC in promotion of Infinity War, Feige was asked what chances Ms. Marvel had of appearing in the MCU; he seemed to indicate that not only is there a very good chance of her joining the fray, but that it could happen sooner rather than later.

More Thor

With many of the Avengers' keystone actors nearing the end of their contracts, including Robert Downey Jr., and Chris Evans, might Chris Hemsworth's Thor also be on the way out? "Contractually, right now — yeah, this is it. I'm done. I won't be playing the character again," the actor told USA Today speaking of his appearance in Endgame. It may seem like an appropriate time to move on from the core characters to make room for new talent and storylines. But with director Taika Waititi reinvigorating Thor with Ragnarok, fans are clamoring for more of the cosmic action and humor that worked so well in that film. "I felt like we reinvented him," Hemsworth said of Thor in Ragnarok.

If the MCU were to follow the lead of the comics, there's also a chance we could see a new Thor — a female version of the character. In 2014, Marvel Comics rolled out a female God of Thunder eventually revealed to be Jane Foster — the original Thor's sometimes girlfriend — who you of course remember was played by Natalie Portman in Thor and Thor: The Dark World. With Marvel promising an emphasis on a more diverse lineup of characters, a female Thor could be on deck. Feige, speaking to Movies.com, said of a new female Thor, "We always look back to the comics to get those ideas... anything that's happened in the comics, even a female Thor, become great potentials and the ideas from which future movies can be born."

What about Fox?

Most fans of the MCU are well aware of the ramifications of Disney's acquisition of Fox. With properties like X-Men and Fantastic Four now in play for the MCU, how soon could these franchises start to be seeded? The Hollywood Reporter's sources say it may take longer than you think.

By most accounts, Disney and Marvel's newly acquired characters won't be added into the MCU right away. Unless there's some sort of secret project in the works, it's likely that we won't see a Fox property incorporated into the MCU canvas until 2021 at the absolute earliest. Will we see Wolverine in a Phase 4 film? Will Phase 4 serve to establish not only the cosmic universe, but the dawning of the Fox universe as well? No matter the direction the MCU ends up heading in, it's safe to say that the one thing we can count on is change.