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Which Upcoming Marvel Release Will Have The Biggest Impact On The MCU And Why?

To say that Marvel Studios' Phase 4 plans for the Marvel Cinematic Universe are big is an understatement. The umbrella franchise has more projects in store for MCU fans than Tony Stark (RIP) has pop culture references in his arsenal. Sequels, prequels, standalone movies, ensemble films, limited series, recurring series ... there's even an animated anthology series based purely on hypotheticals in "What If...?" It's pure insanity and nearly impossible to conceptualize without a pinboard, push-pins, and a lot of colored yarn. With all the content coming our way over the next few years, fans will get to explore the world, go beyond it to see the galaxy guarded, go mad inside the multiverse, and see how the very fabric of reality is sewn together. And this is in addition to a plethora of properties that are smaller in scale but no less worthy of attention and excitement.

And since we're so excited, we're thinking about which upcoming MCU release has us excited the most, and it's got to be the project that will have the biggest impact on the future of the MCU as a whole. But wait ... which one is it? Here's our take on each title in Phase 4 and what they'll potentially mean for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.


Marvel Studios' "Loki" series, currently releasing episodes each Wednesday on Disney+, has already flipped MCU canon on its head in a manner so casual that it's nearly unthinkable. This show follows the Loki (Tom Hiddleston) that escaped with the Tesseract during the time heist portion of "Avengers: Endgame," during events that took place canonically in the first "Avengers" film in 2012. This departure from the sacred timeline makes Loki a variant, something the fine folks at the Time Variance Authority do not like. They take him into custody and Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson) tries to convince Loki to help him fix all the damage he's done in order to avoid being outright deleted from existence.

But that's somehow not a strong enough incentive and it's only when the power Loki has been chasing is revealed to be absolutely meaningless that he complies. Remember: this version of Loki has experience wielding two Infinity Stones — the Space Stone within the Tesseract and the Mind Stone in the scepter he wielded — but did not get to see the power Thanos would bring to bear in his quest to complete the Infinity Gauntlet, because the variant was pulled from the timestream before that came to pass. In his shenanigans trying to escape the TVA's custody, Loki happens across a desk drawer chock full of Infinity Stones, cast aside like the world's most powerful costume jewelry. Amazed at the sight of them, and likely how many there are, he's further befuddled to learn they're often used as paperweights. 

That's what breaks Loki and convinces him to cooperate: learning that these items of infinite power are as cosmically unimportant as marshmallow fluff. In addition to serving as an important plot point, it also raises the stakes of the "Loki" series to the highest we've seen in the MCU. "Endgame" had all of existence at DEFCON 1, but the objects central to that film and most of Phase 3 mean essentially bupkis and the events that threatened existence itself were just another day of the office for the TVA. This is just Episode 1 of "Loki"; imagine the implications for the rest of the series — and the MCU from here on out.

Black Widow

"Black Widow" is perhaps the upcoming MCU entry that's least likely to have the biggest impact on the franchise, despite being a hotly anticipated film. The reason? It's a prequel; as Looper previously reported, "Black Widow" is set after the events of "Captain America: Civil War" and before things come to a head in "Avengers: Infinity War." As such, though we've been waiting for a solo film for the popular Scarlett Johansson character, its plot is essentially a foregone conclusion; while it will dig deeper into the background of the titular Black Widow, aka Natasha Romanoff, fans who have seen "Avengers: Endgame" already know the character's fate. She traded her life — a soul for a soul — so Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) could return with the Soul Stone to the world five years after Thanos (Josh Brolin) snapped his fingers, helping to reassemble the Infinity Gauntlet and undo the Mad Titan's life's work.

It's made abundantly clear that Natasha's death is a fixed point in time that no amount of meddling can change. Given what we've seen so far in "Loki," let's say the conversation probably isn't over 100%. Nevertheless, based on the current continuity, the "Black Widow" film seems to be the lowest-stakes project in Phase 4 as a result of its prequel nature. 

It's entirely possible we'll see Johansson in the future of the MCU; she discussed her "Marvel family" in an interview with Total Film and it didn't sound like the door is completely shut on the character. "I'll never feel ready to not be in it, because I hate to feel like I'm missing out on stuff with them. And who knows? Maybe at some point, we'll have some opportunity to collaborate in some other kind of way."

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

If there's a wild card among the upcoming entries into the Marvel Cinematic Universe mega-franchise, "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" is certainly in the running. Its title character, portrayed by actor Simu Liu, is among the more obscure characters to receive a solo film, but that doesn't really speak to his potential impact; after all, most Marvel film fans had never heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy, and that team managed to work its way into a trilogy while its members played significant roles in the Infinity Saga. 

Shang-Chi, however, doesn't have superpowers. Instead, he's an expert-level martial artist, known as the Master of Kung Fu, and proficient in armed combat. As such, he'd generally be relegated to the realm of so-called street-level heroes, the likes of which include Daredevil, the Punisher, and others who generally operate within a designated municipality. This, too, does not mean he can't have an impact; Spider-Man is generally considered a street-level hero and he's a member of the Avengers, some of whom would also be considered street-level heroes on their own.

One of the factors working for the "Shang-Chi" movie is ... the rest of the title. The character is set to take on the mysterious Ten Rings organization. If that group sounds familiar, good, it means you were paying attention during two of the three Iron Man solo films. If it doesn't, it should. The Ten Rings is a reference to the literal powered jewelry worn by the Mandarin in Marvel Comics. In the original "Iron Man," Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) employs the Ten Rings to kill Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). Aldritch Killian (Guy Pearce) hid behind a Mandarin impostor (Sir Ben Kingsley) in Shane Black's "Iron Man 3." "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" will feature Wenwu (Tony Leung), aka the real Mandarin, who's the leader of the Ten Rings, Shang-Chi's father, and a formidable villain in Marvel Comics.


Oscar-winning director Chloé Zhao's "Eternals" has a lot of hype behind it. It's also arguably the MCU project fans know the least about, given that the characters in the films are likely to be completely unknown to casual fans. Think about how you felt going into the first "Guardians of the Galaxy" flick, except you should expect more practical filming locations and sweeping visuals instead of CGI rodents and sophomoric humor. You should also expect to meet the guardians of Earth: the titular Eternals.

Per the official synopsis from Marvel, the Eternals are "ancient aliens who have been living on Earth in secret for thousands of years." It looks like "an unexpected tragedy forces them out of the shadows" some time after the events of "Avengers: Endgame," causing them to reunite to take on "mankind's most ancient enemy." This, of course, raises more questions than it answers, chief among them: where the heck were these ancient protectors when Thanos came to town, threatening actual existence as a whole? Was that too big of a challenge or too small? Also: were any of them wiped out by Thanos' snap? It looks like we're getting 10 members of this ancient race in the film, and it stands to reason they shouldn't have been immune to that particular calamity. 

All signs point to the events of "Eternals" being confined to Earth, with no indication thus far that alternate planes of reality will come into play. But never say never. After all, they, along with the aforementioned "ancient enemy," the Deviants, were created by the Celestials, whose playground is typically on the cosmic scale of things. When the Celestials visited earth millennia ago, they created the Eternals with the idea of them becoming defenders of the planet. The thing is, they also created the monstrous Deviants, from whom the planet will need protection. If they had done neither, perhaps the Earth would be in a better place altogether, but then we'd have one fewer upcoming MCU flick to discuss.

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Fans get another potential wild card in "Spider-Man: No Way Home," the third web-slinging film to take place inside MCU canon. As previously mentioned, Spider-Man (Tom Holland) is generally considered a street-level hero whose normal operations don't impact the world at large, his Stark internship trip to Germany notwithstanding. After helping to save reality in "Avengers: Endgame," he was hoping for some normal teenager time but Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) insisted he help fight the non-existent Elemental villains created by Mysterio's (Jake Gyllenhaal) illusion tech.

Now that J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) has outed Peter Parker as Spider-Man, we've no idea where the kid is going to turn. While his day-to-day as the friendly neighborhood superhero is usually mundane, he also usually gets to operate with anonymity; now he doesn't even have the neighborhood. Also mix in the fact that Doctor Strange will be appearing in "No Way Home" — with the film confirmed to tie into "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness​" by Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige (via Entertainment Weekly) — and it's fair to say that Spidey's third film could have far-reaching implications, well beyond the scope of the first two films. The Sorcerer Supreme, after all, usually operates on a cosmic level. And oh yeah, there's also the vortex of rumors about previous Spider-Man actors Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield showing up — the film is confirmed to feature a villain from each respective actor's second outing. Alfred Molina will reprise his role as Otto Octavius, aka Doctor Octopus, from the original "Spider-Man" trilogy and Jamie Foxx is returning as Max Dillon, aka Electro, from "Amazing Spider-Man 2."

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

It's a fair bet that any film with the word "multiverse" in the title is going to have a major impact on the future of the MCU, so "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" should be the odds-on favorite in that regard. Doctor Strange, after all, pretty much embodies the polar opposite of a street-level hero; despite having mundane conversations with Wong (Benedict Wong) about what to order at the deli, the good doctor's milieu typically consists of existential threats, like the dreaded Dormammu from the first film. And, in case you missed it in the image above, Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) aka the Scarlet Witch, is appearing in the film — and we're talking about the fully-juiced, studying-magic-in-the-astral-plane-while-my-body-sleeps Wanda we saw at the conclusion of "WandaVision." The Scarlet Witch and Doctor Strange may have been allies in the events of "Avengers: Endgame," but it would be foolish to assume Strange wouldn't consider her a threat on some level; expect that potential conflict to be addressed in some form.

Of course, his main conflict is likely to be with another former ally: Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Disillusioned after the events of the first film — namely, in his perception of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) as the Ancient Hypocrite — Strange's powerful then-ally will become his nemesis, in line with the character's depiction in the comic book source material. What can we expect from Mordo this time around? Well, when last we saw him in the "Doctor Strange" post-credits scene, he took the powers from one Jonathan Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt) — who channels dimensional energy to allow him to walk — explaining that there are "too many sorcerers." Mordo defined what he sees as the problem, and it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out what he sees as the solution — though Stephen Strange is, in fact, a neurosurgeon, if we end up needing one.

Thor: Love and Thunder

Speaking of the opposite of a street-level hero, where does a god land on that scale? Asking for a friend, a friend named Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth), who's set to become the first Marvel hero to get a fourth standalone film in "Thor: Love and Thunder." That alone is worth discussing, given that his first two solo movies rank among the lowest in the MCU's filmography (via Rotten Tomatoes). That all changed, of course, with Taika Waititi's "Thor: Ragnarok," which injected some much-needed mojo into the character and his doings. 

"Thor 4" will see Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) return to the franchise, though she won't just be doing science stuff this time around; Jane will take up the mantle of Mighty Thor and gain powers similar to those of her ex-boyfriend, and how that comes to pass will likely be pretty darn interesting. "Avengers: Endgame" confirmed what we knew all along — or at least since "Avengers: Age of Ultron" — that Captain America (Chris Evans) was worthy of wielding Mjolnir and carrying the mantle of Thor. Whether Jane's new powers will come in the same fashion remains to be seen. 

What is known, however, is the film's primary antagonist; as Looper previously reported, Christian Bale took on the role of Gorr the God Butcher for the upcoming film — a character who, for the uninitiated, was born thousands of years ago on an alien planet with no name. He earned his bloody title by merging with All-Black the Necrosword, a weapon he obtained from Knull, the progenitor of the alien symbiotes of Venom lore; All-Black is considered the first symbiote, for what it's worth. As the tale goes, Gorr nearly killed Thor in the 9th century, but he survived with the help of some trusty Viking friends. Given that Russell Crowe has been cast in the role of chief Greek god Zeus, we assume he's on hand because Gorr the God Butcher intends to live up to his name.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

When late actor Chadwick Boseman died of cancer in August 2020, he left a hole in many a heart. He was beloved for several great performances in his career, portraying larger-than-life characters such as Jackie Robinson in "42" and the godfather of soul, James Brown, in "Get on Up." In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he brought to life the noble and conflicted King T'Challa, aka the Black Panther and ruler of Wakanda, first appearing in "Captain America: Civil War." The depth and gravitas he brought to the role can't be overstated, which creates a massive challenge for "Black Panther" director Ryan Coogler when it comes to how to create a sequel that maintains the dignity of both the character and the actor behind him.

As Looper previously reported, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has made it clear that they won't create a CGI version of the character as portrayed by Boseman, nor will they cast another actor in the role. "Ryan Coogler is working very hard right now on the script with all the respect and love and genius that he has, which gives us great solace, so it was always about furthering the mythology and the inspiration of Wakanda," Feige told Deadline. While that's a relief to hear, it does make us wonder where to even start thinking about a "Black Panther" sequel. On one hand, the Black Panther is a mantle — one previously held by T'Challa's father, King T'Chaka (John Kani), and generations of warrior-rulers before him — so it's totally conceivable for another character to take it up. Theories range from Erik KIllmonger (Michael B. Jordan) reappearing to T'Challa's younger sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) following in her brother's footsteps, and everything in between.

The Marvels

"The Marvels" promises to be an intriguing project no matter what. It's meant to serve as a sequel to the 2019 prequel "Captain Marvel" — which introduced us to Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) as the title character — and the upcoming "Ms. Marvel" series from Disney+. The series will introduce Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan in the title role; it's worth noting that the alias Ms. Marvel is one Danvers initially held in Marvel Comics — before the company flexed its muscle on DC, at which point their character of the same name started going by Shazam — before she took the name Captain Marvel. 

In Marvel canon, Kamala Khan is a teenaged Muslim Pakistani-American who's a Captain Marvel superfan. She's also an Inhuman with the ability to shapeshift, altering her size, shape, and appearance altogether. Her base of operations is generally Jersey City, New Jersey, though we'd guess that's going to expand a bit if she's working alongside her idol.

Ultimately, we'll have to see how "Ms. Marvel" plays out before we can even begin to conjure what "The Marvels" has in store. Captain Marvel hasn't been seen in the MCU since Tony Stark's funeral at the end of "Avengers: Endgame," though not being around Earth for long periods of time is kind of her thing. A report from Deadline suggests that Zawe Ashton was cast as the film's main antagonist, though which character she'll portray is not yet known.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

Which brings us to Ant-Man, the biggest little superhero around. While his first two standalone films were pretty well encapsulated, save for a brief tangle with Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) — then-aka the Falcon but now-aka Captain America — he stepped up to a much larger role — pun intended — in between them in "Captain America: Civil War." Following some more shenanigans involving the Quantum Realm in "Ant-Man and the Wasp," Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) accidentally survives Thanos' snap in Avengers: Infinity War" in a "billion-to-one cosmic fluke." When he emerges from the Quantum Realm in the first act of "Avengers: Endgame," he plays a critical role in figuring out how to set things right via the time heist to retrieve the Infinity Stones from the past to undo the Mad Titan's dirty deed.

Ant-Man is joined in the title once more by Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), aka the Wasp, for "Quantumania." And he's going to need all the help he can get, because the film's primary antagonist will be none other than top-tier villain Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors) — and "the Conqueror" isn't the kind of title they just throw around like "Senior Vice President" or "Brand Ambassador." His official entry on the Marvel website calls the character "A menace throughout time, on a journey to become the ruler of the Universe"; that's not at all intimidating. He's a time-traveling wunderkind from the future; a maybe-probably descendant of Mr. Fantastic, Reed Richards; and once subjugated the ancient Egyptians as Pharaoh Rama-Tut, per Marvel Comics canon. Assuming Ant-Man manages to survive a run-in with this dude, it's a fair bet Kang will show back up at some point in other future MCU features.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3

Speculation for the third installment of the "Guardians of the Galaxy" franchise is a tricky game at best. The reason? We have no idea what the team will look like at that point. The Asgardians of the Galaxy — Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), aka Starlord, Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Nebula (Karen Gillan), and Groot (Vin Diesel) — will be appearing next in "Thor: Love and Thunder," as led by the titular Norse god. The outcome of that film will heavily influence James Gunn's third "GotG" flick. 

We do know two things. First, Gunn has promised it will be "huge." In April 2021, he responded to a tweet asking for a tidbit and his answer didn't disappoint. "Our designers & visual development geniuses are busy creating new, fantastic designs of other worlds & alien beings. I'm not sure the galaxy is big enough for all this magic. This. One. Is. Huge. I'm excited. #Vol3." OK, Mr. Gunn, you have our attention.

The other confirmed detail is, perhaps, less exciting: it will be Gunn's final "Guardians of the Galaxy" film. As recently as May 3, the celebrated director — who at one point had been fired from "GotG 3" by Marvel's parent company Disney — confirmed via Twitter that he would not be making a fourth film in the franchise. While it's likely sad news for many fans, there's something admirable about knowing when to hang it up, rather than stretching your vision for a project beyond what's tenable. It also follows a tried-and-true Hollywood adage: leave them wanting more.

The Fantastic Four

Crazy as it may seem, the "Fantastic Four" MCU film Disney announced in December 2020 could have the biggest impact on the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After three spectacular swings and absolute misses at getting a film about Marvel's first family right, fans have yet to see the titular team done justice on the big screen. It seems only proper that the fourth attempt will be the one to get it done. 

We only know scant details about the project. Marvel Studios tweeted that Jon Watts will direct the film. It currently has no release date, no synopsis, no cast — outside of assuming Reed Richards, Sue and Johnny Storm, and Benjamin Grimm will appear — and every chance of being better than the first three films. Why's that? Well, Watts, for starters, is responsible for the two delightful MCU Spider-Man films, "Homecoming" and "Far from Home," with which he's proven his ability to balance heavy action with humor and humanity. Further supporting this idea is the fact that this fantastic fourth film will be made in the MCU. The previous films bombed because they had no singular vision. The next "Fantastic Four" being made in the MCU comes with certain expectations and will have to fit within the franchise's overarching schema. Frankly, it will work because it will be made to work, because it has to work.

When it comes to subject matter, the Fantastic Four plays in the cosmic sandbox and their canon is chock full of useful material to be adapted. The team has tangled with tons of villains, many of which have already shown up or been hinted at in the MCU. Skrulls? Check. Kang the Conqueror? Yep. The alien Kree race and Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace)? You betcha. Reed and Sue Richards even hired Agatha Harkness (Kathryn Hahn) as a babysitter in Marvel Comics, though we assume the respective versions of these characters won't be meeting anytime soon.