The End of an MCU Era
Can Hype Be Maintained after 'Endgame?'
You know it. I know it. We all know it.
It’s an event that’s been built-up for over the course of almost 11 years. Avengers: Endgame is the end of an era for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It has taken 21 films and countless battles, but we’ll finally see how it all ends when the 22nd film in the MCU premieres in theaters next week. A great number of moviegoers and comic book fans have grown up with these films, and it seems absolutely bonkers that we’re going to see the culmination of it all soon. Characters that I knew of from comic books were brought to the big screen and shared with audiences who weren’t entirely familiar with them, but have invaded the hearts of people across the globe. It seems sad that we might be saying goodbye to some of those beloved characters forever. Needless to say, there’s a lot at stake riding on this movie, and while there’s a huge spotlight being shined on the finale, some have set their sights on what comes after. How can Marvel maintain the hype surrounding Endgame going into Phase four of their cinematic universe?
In the beginning, there was only one.
Iron Man is universally considered the one that started it all. He was the first character introduced under the MCU banner, and quickly became the central star of the universe plot. It’s ironic because if you consider the filmmakers and Marvel Studios themselves stressed about the success and viability of the film as a jumping off point before its release. Yet, development was plagued with issues, ranging from Hollywood’s skepticism that Robert Downey Jr. could return as a leading man following his problems with substance abuse, to the fact that a final script wasn’t even finished when filming took place— and the cast had to improvise a chunk of the film’s dialogue. However, what a stroke of luck it was when the movie turned out to be an actual financial success. It was an action-packed thrill ride with some actually funny quips and flashy special effects. The 12-year-old me sat in awe of how well they adapted a B-list character from the comics that stood in the shadow of Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Hulk.
Then, the iconic post credits scene: the appearance of Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury and the first utterance of “Avengers Initiative.” I was mind blown. The absolute mad men were actually doing it; they were going to make an Avengers movie. Countless fanmade videos on YouTube that overused Requiem for a Dream‘s “Lux Aeterna” were finally coming true. Marvel Studios planted those first seeds of excitement with just that single line, and built towards the team-up movie that comic book fans had only dreamed of.
Oh, and when it came…my God, it was glorious. Joss Whedon, savior of nerds everywhere, delivered the best film we could have gotten for the introduction of Marvel’s central superhero team. I think we all remember how surprisingly good Avengers ended up being, considering it was an unprecedented type of film that hadn’t commonly been done before. Whedon had to strike a delicate balance, juggling all these characters who had already had their own solo film in which they were the sole star, but it worked. The hype that began with Iron Man, and stood strong even through Phase ones less than stellar follow-ups, burst forth in 2012 with the cinematic trend-setter we have today. Yet, now that the Avengers had assembled and the seeds of Phase one finally blossomed, where was Marvel to go next? Cue the second most iconic post credits scene in Marvel history: the first reveal of Thanos. Marvel Studios was starting to show their hand, cluing audiences in with the idea that they were adapting The Infinity Gauntlet storyline. Hype was back on track and was built-up again throughout Phases two and three with the confirmation of the existence of the Infinity Gems (or Stones in the MCU), and the introduction of a multitude of new characters to fully flesh out the universe.
Now, we’re finally reaching that climax after the release of Infinity War last year, and currently Endgame. Yet again, we have to ask: Where are Marvel Studios going to go next? That is where Marvel Studios might have their first real problem: keeping audience engagement. It will be hard to top the stakes that came with The Infinity Gauntlet and the extermination of half of the universe’s population. And while new characters like Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and Captain Marvel have certainly turned heads, people aren’t quite as familiar with them as they are with Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man who might be making their exit from the franchise following Endgame. Marvel might be able to add in another hype-building post credits scene that will tease where their new direction might be heading, but it won’t be upwards like it was with Iron Man and Avengers. The most that they can hope is that the hype and stakes might parallel that of Thanos. Although, the recent Disney buyout of 20th Century Fox has allowed Marvel Studios to get their hands on the X-Men and Fantastic Four, but they’ll need some time to find a way to properly incorporate them cohesively into the universe— which might take a few years.
We’ve seen some hints at what the future might contain: Spider-Man: Far From Home will be the first film in the new Phase four, Black Panther’s sequel and Black Widow’s solo film have already been confirmed, casting rumors have already circulated for Marvel Studios’ Eternals and Shang-Chi, and there’s still the indefinite release of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. This, compounded with Kevin Feige’s original plans for the MCU to delve deeper into its cosmic roots, might suggest more space and magic adventures for our heroes rather than Earth-based escapades. However, it will be hard to exactly determine what is in store at Marvel Studios until they announce what they have planned for the rest of Phase four after the release of Spider-Man: Far From Home. Unfortunately, some fans have already expressed plans to drop the franchise following Endgame. So, whatever Marvel has in store, it better be big or else we might see the decline of the MCU’s place in pop culture.
NOTE: It was previously stated in the article that Spider-Man: Far From Home would be the first film of Phase four. However, it has recently been revealed that it will instead be the final film of Phase three. Marvel Studios has yet to release a slate for the upcoming of Phase four.
-Derek Luat Tran