After The Avengers: Where Does Marvel Go Next? (SPOILERS)

The Avengers (2012) - Art

The Avengers poster - AustraliaWith the North American release of The Avengers, most of the world has now had a chance to see what is undoubtedly one of the biggest blockbusters of the year, and exhausted our collective hyperbole in the process. If you haven’t had a chance to read our review yet, go and check it out.

Be warned, the discussion below contains some MAJOR SPOILERS if you’re yet to sit through the credits of The Avengers, so read on at your own peril. Here we draw together a lot of the disparate information that is out there, and largely focus on confirmed sources on the Road to The Avengers 2. Who will they fight? What will be the lineup? What will happen in between?

The Story So Far

The ambitious project could just have easily failed, but early box office figures indicate that The Avengers is a winner, especially with a $200 million opening weekend  (now updated to $207.4 million) in the US and over $400 million prior to that internationally. Yet while all of the films have been a success, the box office figures have actually dropped as the series went on. Adjusted for ticket price inflation, 2008’s Iron Man took in $347,227,300 domestically, with the sequel dropping down to $307,717,400. Thor took a bigger drop in 2011, to $175,916,300, and surprisingly Captain America: The First Avenger had the smallest domestic gross of $174,207,200. The Incredible Hulk (2008) remained the outlier at an adjusted $147,010,900. Yet with an unadjusted worldwide gross of almost $2.6 billion (not including The Avengers) the future of the franchise is assured.

So the big questions remain: will the series now just stick with what it knows, or throw a few new cats in the bag and see if they land on their feet? As we discuss below, the three biggest earners already have sequels lined up, but would it be too much of a gamble to throw Ant-Man or Dr. Strange into the mix?

The Avengers - Stark Tower

Setting Them Up to Knock Them Down

This is where it gets a little bit spoilery. The Avengers does two things. Firstly, it is the culmination of the first chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It brings to a close a number of a threads that ran through the five previous films. The other thing in does is flash a giant neon sign, advertising the next few chapters in the universe as brightly as the name on the side of Stark Tower. Which brings us to the first major spoiler of the article. Really, this is a big one, so avert your eyes now. Go on, avert.

As we guessed a while back, thanks to a bit of a boo-boo on Disney’s part via their Facebook, a major villain is revealed in the post-credits sequence. For those of you who can’t hold your breath any longer, or have already seen the film forty times, the villain is Thanos, The Mad Titan who is a little obsessed with killing things en masse. Throughout the The Avengers, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is seen conversing with a shadowy figure known as The Other. That Other is revealed to have a master, a big grinning purple-headed warrior (stop it!) in a mid-credits sequence. Non-fans will be left scratching their heads, but Marvel acolytes will experience a fangasm. This could either be setting up Thor 2, as the Infinity Gauntlet weapon he was known to possess was seen briefly in the original Thor, or it could suggest the next threat to Earth that will draw the team back together again is Thanos going postal on the universe. Or will it be the set-up for a Guardians of the Galaxy film, which has been increasingly discussed lately. Or it could be a case of food poisoning from the shawarma. The latter option is looking more likely every day.

Yet there were so many threads set up in the course of the main film that didn’t pay off, possibly for one of the standalone sequels or for the next team film. These range from the status of the Tony Stark/Pepper Potts relationship, Hulk’s wilderness years, through to the shadowy council that sits as Colonel Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson’s) superiors. Some of these are clearly meant to be addressed in the sequels, which is one of the frustrating things about The Avengers as a film for non-initiates. Yet for the fans of the series, it slots in as the sixth issue of a major comic book arc that is setting up the next Big Event. But you’ll also have to collect the individual stories. Just like the comics.

Thus endeth the spoiler section. Now onto the sequels and what we do know.

Iron Man - The Avengers

Known Unknowns

The Universe is wasting no time in getting on with tying up those loose threads, with no less than two major films due out in 2013, a two more confirmed for 2014, one of which we known the identity of. Marvel Studio producer Kevin Feige has already confirmed with Cinema Blend that “the second 2014 movie is not going to be a Hulk movie“. The plan seems to be to announce the next film by Comic-Con 2012 (in July).

The ones we know about are as followed. Minor spoilers for The Avengers follow:

  • Iron Man 3 (3 May 2013) – The first film in the Marvel Universe to make it to trilogy status, Feige has also said thatIron Man 3 is a full-on Tony Stark-centric movie, and…is very much inspired by the first half of Iron Man…“. He is, of course, referring to the revised origin story based on Warren Ellis’ arc Extremis, which many sources suggest is the basis for the third chapter. Dealing with nanotechnology and a virus, Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle and Scarlett Johansson and possibly Sir Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce (as Aldrich Killian) (but not Jessica Chastain) in various roles. The Avengers sets up a number of things happening between Pepper Potts (Paltrow) and Tony, the reconstruction of Stark Tower and Tony carrying on his father’s legacy of a new power source as established in the somewhat disappointing Iron Man 2. This is also the first of the three to be written/directed by powerhouse Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), so expect it to be cranked up to 11. Black told Screen Rant last year that the plan was for it to be “more like a Tom Clancy-thriller, with Iron Man fighting real world villains”.
  • Thor 2 (15 November 2013) – Directed by Game of Thrones‘ Alan Taylor, it is set to start shooting in London later this year. The Avengers set up some very obvious things to follow up on, including the fate of Loki following Thor’s return to Asgard, the relationship Thor will have with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Feige adds: “Loki has a part, but there will be a different villain, another big villain”. This would suggest a direct sequel from the events of The Avengers credits sequence mentioned in the spoiler section above. The dark horse and major gamble of the MCU has now become a critical lynchpin. Chris Hemsworth also told /Film that director Taylor wants to give Asgard a more organic Game of Thrones feel, moving it away from the realm of sci-fi to something more tangible. This could be very special indeed.
  • Captain America 2 (4 April 2014) – One of the things that didn’t fully get followed up in The Avengers was the story of Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans). Early reports were that the film would be from the perspective of Steve Rogers, and that came straight from the mouth of Joss Whedon. “He’s the guy who just woke up and sees this weird-ass world”. Over at Collider, he recently spoke of deleted scenes from The Avengers in Cap’s apartment, but felt that the punching bag scene was enough. The Cap sequel will be written by Captain America: The First Avenger screenwriters Scott McFeely and Chris Markus, who said back in October 2011 that the second film will be “primarily set in the modern day” and “how does he react to a much more uncertain time?”. The Avengers, of course, gave hints at this, but a standalone film will give plenty of opportunities to explore this on a bigger scale. There’s also more stuff from Iron Man 2 to follow up, especially some more information about Tony’s dad Howard Stark transitioning from dashing science guy (Dominic Cooper) to Walt Disney-style figure (John Slattery) in the 1970s, and the whole super-soldier program’s fate while Steve was on ice.
  • Mystery Film! (16 May 2014) – No concrete information as to what this could be, but some of the contenders are a Dr. Strange film, or the long-developed Ant-Man movie (with Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish’s script apparently closer than ever). Indeed, Ant-Man could be the third film in 2014 if Wright’s schedule works out! While the latter two have been the most persistent, and we fully expect the announcement to be Ant-Man, other titles bandied about include Luke Cage, Iron First, Black Panther, the Inhumans and Guardians of the Galaxy. Expect an announcement by Comic-Con.
The Hulk - Mark Ruffalo - The Avengers

The Road to The Avengers 2

A second Avengers film is almost an inevitability at this point, with speculation for a 2015/2016 release. Yet fanboys and girls, that means another 3-4 years between drinks, but we already know of four other films to keep us going in that time, with at least another deuce of cinematic outings likely to drop on The Road to The Avengers 2. If Joss Whedon was to return, he suggests a smaller scale approach by “more personal, more painful. By being the next thing that should happen to these characters, and not just a rehash of what seemed to work the first time. By having a theme that is completely fresh and organic to itself”.

The Hulk Sequel

Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk demands a second turn as the character. For the foreseeable future, everything that isn’t listed above or confirmed is all open to speculation. Feige isn’t discounting another Hulk film, but as he told Collider:

“we’re gonna play it very carefully.  We had varying degrees of success on those first two movies, so we’re not gonna say, “Oh we did it! Another one!” We’re gonna be smart about it and play it out.  There are no plans right now to do another Hulk.  Hulk might be just the special guest in Avengers movies, who knows?”.

Given the reception to Mark Ruffalo’s take on the character, we could be looking at a 2015 release for this one. Ruffalo himself revealed (once again to Collider) that he has signed a six picture deal with Marvel, so it is possible we will be seeing Dr. Bruce Banner turning up in other movies for some time to come.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardian of the Galaxy, Ant-Man and the Rest of the MCU [More spoilers]

Of course, a sequel doesn’t necessarily mean using the same characters again. As mentioned, Ant-Man, Luke Cage, Iron First, Black Panther, Inhumans and Guardians of the Galaxy have all been thrown about as candidates. War Machine was introduced in Iron Man 2, along with Samuel Sterns, played by Tim Blake Nelson, in The Incredible Hulk, suggesting The Leader as a potential villain for the big green guy. These are all things we’d like to see followed up on, but the post-credits sequence for The Avengers and the potential direction of Thor 2 suggest something more intergalactic in the mix. Indeed, Feige was pushing the cosmic angle, but it was Joss Whedon who introduced the character of Thanos into the mix.

In a recent chat with /Film, Feige told the site:

“I wanted to get cosmic and did with Thor and told him [Joss Whedon] that we wanted it to be aliens, that a portal opens in New York and aliens poor out, because the cosmic cube opened a portal. Who they were, what they were, and how they interacted was all Joss and Joss is a huge fan of Thanos.”

Then again, DC’s Green Lantern sent warning signs out to everyone about how not to do that kind of film. The article goes on to hint that the Guardians of the Galaxy film is looking increasingly likely over the coming years. Could this be the second/third film of 2014, or is the scale too grand?

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow

More recently, Feige has begun to talk of a standalone Black Widow or Hawkeye film. Even Scarlett Johansson says she’s up for it. In an excellent interview with Movieline, Feige says:

“Well, I think you saw it in Avengers. I think that’s one of the many amazing things Joss Whedon can do. I think people are going to be surprised by how powerful Scarlett is in this movie, and how evolved her role is. We have already planned her next appearances and where to take that character because we believe in it and we believe in her in a big, big way. When will there be a standalone? Both is what we’re heading toward.”

Some of the rumoured films, or ones that have long been in development include the ones listed above, but also the world of television as well. The Incredible Hulk is kicking about for a return to the telly, and AKA Jessica Jones, which comic fans will know as Alias, a kind of detective story set within the larger MCU.

Whatever comes next, The Avengers has left us very excited for it.