In the lead up to the literal Endgame for the Avengers, Marvel faces a curious dilemma. After more than ten years at the top of the cinematic food chain, this comic book juggernaut is faced with a question: What the hell are we going to do once Endgame is finished?
Over ten years, Marvel has characterised its filmography with a sense of increasing momentum. An ever-expanding legion of heroes has faced a similarly expanding number of villains with ever-increasing stakes. What started as a Robert-Downey Jr-led revival is now a labyrinthine tapestry of intersecting stories, characters and worlds. We’ve gone from Earth to Xandar; from Hala to the Quantum realm. We’ve grappled with kidnapping, terrorism, world domination, the destruction of the universe and the murder of half of all life. Just thinking about how Marvel has heightened its stakes and the methods they’ve employed to represent these stakes, is astounding – and they have the usual six-figure box-office profit to match. But with the fourth Avengers film coming in just over a month, there’s a very literal endgame fast approaching.
With Avengers: Endgame, Marvel has reached the apex of its towering franchise. It’s been eight years since we were introduced to Thanos. Since then, each film has been leading up to his appearance. Basically, Marvel has orchestrated what is essentially a cinematic drum roll for a single two-finger click. Movies like Doctor Strange, Spiderman and even Captain Marvel were justifiably considered “filler movies” to serve the approach of Thanos. They were designed to introduce characters, or entire worlds, that would prove important to the next Avengers film. While not necessarily a comment on the quality of these films (except for Doctor Strange, that shit is gArbAge), Marvel’s marketing for these films draws on an assumption that they are essential viewing before the next big Avengers flick. Basically, if you don’t see Rachel McAdams being criminally underused in Doctor Strange, then you won’t understand two seconds of the next Marvel movie – a film that you’re actually looking forward to.
This conceit has been a successful economic strategy for Marvel thus far. With it, they have assured profitability for even the worst of their filmography (I’m telling you, Doctor Strange was dirt). But come April 24th, we will have reached the end of this lead up and the Avengers will face the precipice of a franchise made up of twenty-two films.
There is a very literal fallout that we can already expect before going into the film: it’s Robert Downey-Jr’s last stint as Iron Man, and Chris Evans’ last time as Captain America. Chances are Marvel will recast both characters in their next phase of world domination but they face an uphill battle in re-constructing a Universe that’s already too vast for them to get a complete handle on. Maybe the Marvel Universe has simply outrun its creators. At what point will it make like our own Universe: expand to its limit and drag us all into some inward-facing implosion masterminded by D.C. At least, that’s what D.C. seems to be hoping for.
Already, the D.C. Universe has announced a slew of titles designed to fill the Thanos-sized gap they hope will temporarily paralyse Marvel. Shazam!, Wonder Woman 2, Joker, Harley Quinn-led Birds of Prey are just some of the titles slated to fill the DCEU. If any of these continue the success of Aquaman and Shazam!, then we can expect DC to at least take a stab at their own Thanos-style click against Marvel. I don’t want to wade into the waters of fanboy competition between both companies but it’s clear that DC is pursuing new projects with renewed vigour.
Importantly, each of their new films stand alone; they’re usually interested in the development of one key character. With Justice League, DC attempted its own Avengers-style master narrative. But until we get the Zac Snyder cut, I think we can all agree that this attempt was an obvious failure. Let’s just be grateful that DC has decided to focus in on individual characters rather than connect them to some larger overarching narrative. Perhaps, that’s where Marvel’s future also lies.
The President of Marvel, Kevin Feige, has already alluded to “the potential of future stories” that focus on the past of key characters in an interview with ScreenRant. We can already expect Spiderman: Far from Home, Black Panther 2, Guardians of the Galaxy 3 and a movie for the Eternals but what else could the world-according-to-Disney have in store for us? The Russo Brothers insisted in an interview with Box Office Pro that the Marvel Universe is always intent on “expanding and surprising people”. But what will this expansion look like in the shadow of a ten year-long lead up? And what will the Russo brothers do after Endgame? In that same interview, the pair insisted that “the door is always open”. But what door? To where? For whom? Why Gamora!!?
It might be pointless Reddit-style theorising to query about the future of Marvel. There’s no doubt that Disney will find a way to continue making money with any number of possible cross-overs they have access to. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see what Marvel does with a “clean-slate” and how they will seek to inject this slate with the anticipation and complexity that pulls us ever closer to April 24th.
We would love to hear your predictions about the future of MCU in the comments!