It's official: San Diego Comic-Con 2019 was the moment where the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) took a bold and exciting step into the unknown, as the franchise's Phase Four slate was finally rolled out.
In front of a packed crowd at Hall H, Marvel president Kevin Feige delivered a 90 minute presentation teasing the future of the superhero franchise. With the audience on tenterhooks in the wake of Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home (which concluded phase three of the MCU), every reveal was met with cataclysmic applause.
"There always is [a bigger vision], and it sort of only comes into view for others as it all solidifies," Feige told CNN. "But I will say, post-Endgame, we were always about the new. We were always about doing what we always tried to do in Phase One, Two and Three, which is do a film or character you already know, [like] Black Widow, in a way that you don't expect."
Here's your essential guide to the dates and movies arriving in the next stage of the MCU.
What are the Phase Four MCU release dates?
- Black Widow – 1st May 2020
- Eternals – 6th November 2020
- Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – 12th February 2021
- Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – 7th May 2021
- Thor: Love and Thunder – 5th November 2021
Are Black Panther 2 and Captain Marvel 2 being released in Phase Five?
Yes, Kevin Feige confirmed that Phase Four will only be comprised of five movies, and will only span two years, the shortest MCU phase in a while.
Black Panther 2, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and Captain Marvel 2, meanwhile, will all be released in Phase five and will be joining some other pivotal titles...
Are the X-Men joining Phase Five of the MCU?
That they are, and they'll be joined by a brand new Fantastic Four movie. No release dates are set for any of these movies. And there's one more surprise...
Is there a brand new Blade movie coming in the MCU?
Yes, there is – Kevin Feige revealed the Marvel vampire hunter, played by Wesley Snipes in the first three (non-MCU affiliated) Blade movies, will now be portrayed by Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali. However, no release date is officially confirmed yet.
Ever since Black Widow's debut in 2010's Iron Man 2, fans have been clamouring for Scarlett Johansson's assassin Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow to get her own movie.
She met her tragic fate in this year's Avengers: Endgame, so the only way forwards is backwards with an origin story that delves into her shadowy Soviet past. This was previously alluded to in both Avengers Assemble and Avengers: Age of Ultron.
It's directed by Australian film-maker Cate Shortland, best known for tense thriller Berlin Syndrome, and stars Johansson, Rachel Weisz, Florence Pugh and David Harbour.
Footage was shown to the rapt Hall H crowd showcasing the movie's Budapest locations, one of the many ways the film calls back to classic espionage thrillers. A suitably savage fight scene then played out between Johansson and Pugh's character.
"I get to play Natasha as a fully realized woman, in all of her many facets," Johansson said. "I’m excited for fans to see what she perceives to be the flawed side of her, and I’m looking to wipe out some of that red in my ledger."
We already knew that Angelina Jolie was down for this mystical Marvel epic. And both her character and the rest of the film's star-studded cast have now been confirmed, as well as the film's release date (see above).
Jolie will play Thena for director Chloe Zhao, whose powerful Western The Rider was one of our favourite films of last year. (Click here for the full list). Jolie will be joined by Richard Madden (Ikaris), Kumail Nanjiani (Kingo), Lauren Ridloff (Makkari), Brian Tyree Henry (Phastos), Salma Hayek (Ajak), Lia McHugh (Sprite), and Dong Lee (Gilgamesh).
For Mexican star Hayek, the movie is a triumph of representation and increased diversity within the MCU.
"I take my inspiration from our leader, Chloe, who’s also a strong woman and it takes a strong woman to do a movie like this because it’s so big and amazing and I’m so excited to be a part of it," Hayek explains. "The way she approaches leadership as a woman, as a strong woman, is that she sees them as a family. So there’s a lot of mother instincts in this Eternal, who is not supposed to have kids. So this is very exciting, and I feel very honoured to be a part of a movie that is going to allow people who never felt represented in superheroes, or in this case Eternals, represented because I am proud to have a diverse family."
Who stars in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings?
Canadian-Chinese actor Simu Liu will portray the MCU's first Asian lead character, Shang-Chi. Directed by Short Term 12 director Destin Daniel Cretton, The Legend of the Ten Rings will be our introduction to this fearsome martial artist, and will also re-introduce the character of feared nemesis The Mandarin.
Created in 1973 by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin, Shang-Chi is is the son of Fu Manchu, who raised and educated his son in his reclusive compound, closed off to the outside world. Trained in the martial arts, he is eventually introduced to the outside world to do his father’s bidding, He then has to come to grips with the fact his revered father might not be the humanitarian he has claimed to be and is closer to what others call him: The Devil’s Doctor.
And before you ask, no the aforementioned Mandarin won't be the imposter as portrayed by Ben Kingsley in 2013's Iron Man 3. Instead this will be the fan-favourite comic book villain, portrayed by In the Mood for Love actor Tony Leung. Both actors will be joined by Crazy Rich Asians scene-stealer Awkwafina in an undisclosed role.
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What do we know about Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness?
It's time to prepare for the franchise's first official horror movie, as Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness unlocks demonic new dimensions of the MCU.
Director Scott Derrickson reunites with star Benedict Cumberbatch following the hit 2016 movie, which acted as our first proper introduction to the dimension-manipulating title character. And Feige is promising a connection to the recent Spider-Man: Far From Home.
"Just because – spoiler alert – [Spider-Man: Far From Home] Quentin Beck makes up lies about the multiverse doesn’t mean it isn’t real," Feige explained.
Derrickson said the movie is possessed of a "psychedelic weirdness" and is poised to be the "first scary MCU movie". Surely we can't be the only ones to have picked up on the pun contained within the title? Multiverse of Madness sounds like a twist on writer H.P. Lovecraft's seminal horror tale At the Mountains of Madness, a classic example of cosmic-induced weirdness – if this is an influence on the movie, we could be in for a creepy treat.
What do we know about Thor: Love and Thunder?
Previously known as Thor 4, Thor: Love and Thunder will be directed by Taika Waititi who returns to the MCU following the triumphant Thor: Ragnarok in 2017. And the movie has more than a few surprises up his sleeve.
Picking up in the wake of Avengers: Endgame, we see the Asgardian baton pass from Chris Hemsworth's title character to new queen Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). And it seems she's on the hunt for a new queen...
It turns out that Natalie Portman's Jane Foster, absent from Ragnarok but present, briefly, in Endgame (via archive footage), will be returning to the MCU as the new wielder of Thor's hammer.
While many of us assumed Portman was done with the franchise (particularly after the character's passive role in 2013's underwhelming The Dark World), it seems she's now being teed up for a significant role.
As per the above image, Portman even turned up on stage to accept hammer Mjolnir from Waititi, an official endorsement of her new status.
And in a further quest for representation, it seems Love and Thunder will introduce the franchise's first LGBTQ character. Thompson explains: "[Valkyrie] has some ideas, I’ll keep you posted". She adds the character is "reinvesting in her people, and a cool thing is to create refuge for any person that might need it. That, to me, is the idea of a perfect Asgard, the kind of kingdom she’d want to rule over."
That he is – Moonlight and Green Book Oscar winner Mahershala Ali is portraying the trench-coated vampire hunter, created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan in 1973.
The character was portrayed in attitude-laden fashion by Wesley Snipes in the first two Blade movies (1998 and 2002), which skewed towards the 18-rated market with the gory violence and monster horror. The franchise went on ice after 2004's disastrous Blade: Trinity, but now this Marvel behemoth is set to make a comeback.
No release date is scheduled yet, but it's being lined up for a Marvel Phase Five slot post-2021. Here's why Kevin Feige thinks Ali is the perfect choice to portray Blade.
What do we know about Marvel's plans for X-Men and Fantastic Four?
The exact details of the new X-Men and Fantastic Four movies are vague, with Feige leaving the announcement as a surprise at the very end of his presentation. Given Disney purchased the Fox-owned properties as part of their studio acquisition deal, the time is right for the two franchises to finally become amalgamated with the MCU brand.
Feige did mention that he's "extremely excited" about the inclusion of the Four, who have been treated to three flatlining, non-MCU movies in the past. Fans are hoping that their official integration with the MCU brand will finally do the characters, widely considered the first superhero family (and inspiration for Disney-Pixar's Incredibles), justice. Feige says he will bring "Marvel's first family up to the platform they deserve".
Is there an Avengers movie in phase four of the MCU?
Sadly, Feige has said we're not getting a new Avengers movie just yet. In his own words, the phase four slate that has been announced is comprehensive, meaning a new Avengers movie is highly unlikely if not impossible.
"It is the complete Phase Four. The way I announced the complete Phase Three five years ago - things can move, things can change as they did if you go back and look at what we talked about five years ago for Phase Three, but we’ve been working on this for quite a while and it’s pretty set. But there are always changes possible."
What Marvel TV shows are being released soon?
As per the new Disney+ streaming service, due for release later this year, we'll be getting Loki starring Tom Hiddleston. And if you're thinking the trickster god died at the beginning of Avengers: Infinity War, this series will follow the Loki who escaped from the alternate Avengers Assemble timeline as featured in Avengers: Endgame.
Then there's WandaVision, centering around Elizabeth Olsen's Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (who will also be appearing in the Doctor Strange sequel). And following the events of Endgame, we pick up with Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, exploring how he inherited the mantle from Captain America (Chris Evans).
And finally there's What If...?, nothing less than an animated bonanza of our favourite Marvel characters. Westworld's Jeffrey Wright stars as The Watcher, our narrator guiding us through a maze of alternate Marvel timelines. Deep breath – those featuring include Michael B. Jordan, Sebastian Stan, Josh Brolin, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Hemsworth, Hayley Atwell, Chadwick Boseman, Karen Gillan, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Neal McDonough, Dominic Cooper, Sean Gunn, Natalie Portman, David Dastmalchian, Stanley Tucci, Taika Waititi, Toby Jones, Djimon Hounsou, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Rooker and Chris Sullivan.
What other Marvel movies are planned for the future of the MCU?
Black Panther director Ryan Coogler is hard at work writing Black Panther 2, and we can also expect Captain Marvel 2. Meanwhile, James Gunn is on board to direct Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 once his DC Suicide Squad movie has completed filming.
Is that enough Marvel news for you? Tweet us @Cineworld if you're thrilled at the direction the franchise is taking. And be sure to stay tuned to this blog post for additional Phase Four updates as they happen.