Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase 2: A Primer (Part 2: The Next Phase)

Earth’s Mightiest Heroes eat for free.

In the last entry we went through the narrative and industry lead up to Marvel’s The Avengers. Marvel Studios made their movie, set up the pieces, and gave us a ride. The Avengers saved the world, Marvel and Nick Fury’s Avengers Initiative proved successful in-universe and reality. But now what? Where do we go after the ‘New York Incident’? What is Phase Two? To convey how Marvel Studios is going to deal with this the first thing everybody needs to square with is how shared comic book universes work. Basically; we need to respect that heroes probably have each other on speed-dial, but won’t make any calls. This is essential, actually.

They’ve assembled, now they go home.

Avengers Disassemble:

Think of the Avengers as a big wedding. It’s an event that brings together people that may not have seen each other in ages, or maybe never met at all. Different personalities and lifestyles mix for a short time, and then everybody goes back home. Back to their own lives and problems, back to their individual stories. This is how comics treat crossovers; a big team book unites various superheroes but the fact is, they have their own lives. Now that Marvel Studios successfully united these icons, so to must they return to their own lives. For us, that means movies set in a post-Avengers world. Phase Two brings us five new stories that will lead us into Avengers 2, and we will touch on all of them. But first, I’d like to honor mention the official start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase Two:

The real start of Phase Two!

Item 47 was the third, most recent, and most ambitious Marvel One Shot bundled with the Avengers DVD release. It introduces a criminal couple who employs the last alien weapon SHIELD failed to retrieve. I won’t spoil it for you, but this fun little film slightly expands on SHIELD’s actions post Avengers, and really is the kick-off to Phase 2 (especially if these characters were to appear in one of Phase 2’s vehicles to be detailed below). Do yourself a favor and check out the first story in a post Avengers world; but it is still a short film. You wanna know about the big boys, right? Let’s do this.

Iron Man 3:

What’s better than an astronaut? Me.

Who better than to kick off the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase Two than the movie series that kicked off Phase One? Tony Stark is back and things are about to get personal for him. While the Avengers was a glorious victory on and off the screen, Iron Man returns to his own life with some challenges also on and off the screen. As a character, how does one deal with the fact that for all his tech savvy – there was a guy from another planet who matched you toe to toe? He barely survived a trip to outer space with a nuke on his arm. The ego-maniacal Tony Stark spent the better part of the Avengers movie being humbled. He may be one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, but Earth isn’t the only arena, is it? Now as a movie, third of a popular franchise, how will Marvel handle this challenge?

Shane Black takes the director’s chair to help us answer these questions. With a story informed by himself, he takes Tony Stark on a personal journey where he’s obsessed with taking his armor to their most advanced and powerful. The New York Incident left him in a form of post-traumatic stress, and Iron Man 3 deals with this fact. Joining him is love interest and still Stark Industries CEO Pepper Potts, who may have her hands full with a guy who’s taking Keeping Up With The Jones’ to the next level. Also returning is James Rhodes, but not as War Machine – but Iron Patriot. Of course we’re all well aware that the villain, waiting for his chance to strike, is the Mandarin (bought to life by an enthusiastic Ben Kingsley). With some inventive action and hero deconstruction, along with a possible meeting of certain galactic heroes (made possibly by Tony’s answer to space experience), Iron Man 3 should be a terrific start to Phase Two.

Thor: The Dark World:

Once more… with feeling.

Ah yes, Thor. Personal favorite hero of mine who’s movie was Marvel Studio’s previous gamble before the Avengers. All of the Phase One movies were fantastical, but Thor gave us another world, and cosmic abilities that basically amount to magic to us and characters in the first film. Now that everyone’s down with Asgardians, Thor returns with the subtitle, “The Dark World”. It’s established that there are nine realms of which Earth (Midgard) and Asgard are two. Now we may see more worlds, specifically Svartalfheim, land of the Dark Elves. Directed by Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones), The Dark World also dials down the alien aesthetic of the previous movie for a more medieval look and feel.

And who dares challenge the Son of Odin this time? A few people, apparently. I’m sure a whole movie could be done with Loki causing a fuss again, but now Thor must contend with Malekith the Accursed – ruler of the Dark Elves (portrayed by Christopher Eccleston). Thor also crosses paths with alien villains from another world, perhaps as an early action sequence (and to further establish a larger universe). Jane Foster returns, as does Prof. Selvic. And I’m happy to say Darcy returns as well, because Kat Dennings is beautiful. Speaking of beautiful, Jaimie Alexander’s Sif returns along with the Warriors Three (Fandral will look a bit… different). Thor should excite fans of the more cosmic and fantastical side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I wonder if the Infinity Gauntlet, known as Thanos’ signature weapon and last seen in Thor, will make an appearance. What do you think those alien villains are after..?

Guardians of the Galaxy:

Last time Thor, with it’s otherworldly atmosphere, was the big question mark of the MCU. Now it’s a rag-tag team of intergalactic heroes – one of which is a talking raccoon and the other a humanoid tree. Yeah, hammers made from star dust is looking reasonable now.

Earth’s Mightiest Heroes? Like… just one planet?

This is Guardians of the Galaxy, the movie that will take the Cinematic Universe to… universal heights, even beyond the scope of Thor. Directed by James Gunn (who’s shot many strange films), Guardians follows a team of space traveling heroes led by the human Star-Lord (recently cast with Chris Pratt). Not much is known of the story details, but this galactic movie will more than likely set up the coming Thanos threat that will lead into Avengers 2. In fact, it is the last movie before Avenger 2 – and Marvel Studios are careful about which movie leads into which (since the post-credit stingers do have a sense of chronology). Will they really meet one of the Avengers before their movie? Will they have some relationship with the alien villains appearing in Thor 2? Will Nova cameo!?

Don’t know, don’t know, and don’t know. But I can’t wait to see it!

Captain America: The Winter Soldier:

Title card is all we got, folks.

And what of the Soldier, the Man Out of Time? Steve Rogers returns from the Avengers event working for SHIELD, and as such bears the most resemblance to Phase One’s narrative chain. We’ll even see the return of Nick Fury, Black Widow, and Maria Hill. The government agency themes will make for a movie closer to a Tom Clancy story than any other MCU movie, also making it the most grounded relatively. Most exciting is the new villain and new hero joining the universe; the Winter Soldier and the Falcon respectively.

The Winter Soldier raises all sorts of questions as far as mythology goes, as most of us know it’ll more than likely be Cap’s old buddy, Bucky Barnes. His survival, and extended life, should make for interesting revelations – particularly in regard to Nick Fury himself (who may have secrets of his own). The Falcon should be fun to watch, a SHIELD agent who can fly as the name implies, and was often an Avenger himself in the comics. Will he make the team come the second Avengers movie? Here’s hoping.

S.H.I.E.L.D:

Comic book character? Death? Please.

The final and most interesting Phase Two media (from a narrative perspective) would be SHIELD, the TV show. To my knowledge I don’t think there’s ever been a concurrent shared continuity between (several!) movies and an ongoing TV show. If the pilot gets the ball rolling for a show (and it certainly will), then they’ll have about two seasons worth of story telling before Avengers 2 drops. The narrative implications are boundless, and only with a unifying vision can something like this work without falling apart (in Joss Whedon we trust). So what’s SHIELD about?

I actually think the aforementioned Marvel One Shot, Item 47 gave us a good look of what to expect. It follows the shadowy agency that oversees and polices… special events. Like hammers falling from space, men who make hi-tech battle suits, and discovering legendary soldiers on ice. In the Cinematic Universe, they must have come across some wild stuff, and we’ll get to see their day to day. And okay, elephant in the room; AGENT COULSON IS BACK. Not in a flashback, not as an android (though jury’s still out), but alive and well post-Avengers. Explaining this should be interesting, but Joss seems confident since he’s the star of the show. Aside from him, other agents will debut, expanding SHIELD’s personnel. And maybe we’ll see some cameos from SHIELD superstars like Nick Fury, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Falcon, and Captain America himself. This is on top of the show being a vehicle for clues into movie events or bringing characters from the comics. Rival agency SWORD (actually very likely with Phase Two being so cosmic)?

Avengers 2:

This is it, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes must confirm Nick Fury’s assurance from the first movie that they will come together when needed most. After all, they can’t buddy up at every crisis that goes down in this universe. Remember that wedding example? Well sometimes people are gathered together for a funeral as well. They’ve grown apart, got wiser, and may look at each other in a different light. This seems to be the tone of Avengers 2, as Joss Whedon (returning to the writer and director’s chair), aims to dig deep into our heroes. Things get more personal, and the stakes will be higher.

True Power

All fingers point to Thanos being the main villain, and he is well beyond any of the threats our heroes will face throughout Phase Two. Will they be ready to face him by then? It is a conflict well worth the years of set-up across five venues of story telling.

Phase Two Upon Us:

Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is every bit as ambitious as Phase One. And how exciting to know it’s even more organized under the watch of Joss Whedon. Marvel Studios is changing the game with these ventures, and history as well. They do have the future in mind, which is why the last blog in this series deals with what we know of Phase Three, and what all of this efforts means to comic book movies in general. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!

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