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With the pandemic-related delay of ‘Black Widow’ last May (along with a plethora of delayed production schedules), 2020 marked the first year since 2009 that Marvel Studios did not release a new film. In 2021, things are starting to look up–U.S. COVID-19 vaccinations are being administered at a breakneck pace, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is poised to return with a vengeance.
Following the conclusion of Phase Three of the MCU, which began in 2016 with ‘Captain America: Civil War’ and ended in 2019 with ‘Avengers: Endgame’, Marvel Studios launched Phase Four not with a theatrical blockbuster, but with ‘WandaVision’–having just concluded its 9 episode run on Disney+, it marks a major turning point for the franchise.
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Unlike shows like ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ and Netflix’s ‘Daredevil’, ‘WandaVision’ was produced by Marvel Studios proper (as opposed to Marvel Television), marking the start of a cavalcade of new, Marvel Studios-produced series that will release episodically on Disney+ alongside their theatrical films–following ‘WandaVision’s conclusion is ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’, which will premiere this Friday on March 19 (CLICK HERE TO WATCH).
‘WandaVision’ also firmly establishes that Phase Four will not shy away from creative risks, promising to be a whirlwind of new content to usher in a new era of new stories and new heroes–here’s a look at what the MCU has in store for 2021 and beyond.
Everything Coming to Disney+
Starring Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan in returning roles, ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ will pit its titular characters against an anti-patriotism group called the Flag-Smashers. Also slated to return are Daniel Brühl as Helmut Zemo, who previously served as the antagonist of ‘Captain America: Civil War’, and Emily VanCamp as Sharon Carter, Peggy Carter’s niece who debuted in ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’. ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ is set to premiere this Friday, March 19 (CLICK HERE TO WATCH).
After that will be ‘Loki’, which follows its titular character, played again by Tom Hiddleston, after he steals the Tesseract during the events of ‘Avengers: Endgame’–finding himself under investigation by the mysterious Time Variance Authority (TVA), a time-traveling police organization, Loki finds himself in the midst of a crime thriller that spans time and space. Opposite Hiddleston is Owen Wilson in his MCU debut as Mobius M. Mobius, a member of the TVA. ‘Loki’ is scheduled to premiere on Friday, June 11 (CLICK HERE TO WATCH).
Later in 2021 will be ‘What If…?’, an animated series that will revisit major moments from various MCU films and explore how things could’ve turned out differently. Featuring narration by Jeffrey Wright as The Watcher, ‘What If…?’ will also have its plethora of familiar characters voiced by their respective live-action actors.
After that, ‘Ms. Marvel’ will star newcomer Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan, a 16-year-old Muslim Pakistani-American who gains shape-shifting powers. To end the year, ‘Hawkeye’ will have Jeremy Renner reprising his role as Clint Barton and explore his time as the vigilante Ronin.
A number of additional projects, including ‘Moon Knight’ (which will star Oscar Isaac), ‘She-Hulk’, ‘The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special’, ‘Secret Invasion’, ‘Ironheart’, ‘Armor Wars’, and an untitled Wakanda series, will comprise the rest of Marvel Phase Four’s Disney+ catalog, scheduled to be released in 2022 onward.
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Marvel Phase 4 – Return to the Big Screen–Four New Movies in 2021
With vaccinations well underway, a return to normalcy seems to be on the horizon–for Marvel, this means filling theater seats. With the addition of ‘Black Widow’, which was originally slated for release in May of 2020, Marvel will outdo their Phase Three pace with four new films in 2021.
First, Scarlett Johansson reprises her role as Natasha Romanoff in ‘Black Widow’, which follows its titular protagonist who’s forced to go on the run after the events of ‘Captain America: Civil War’. No longer an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Romanoff will instead confront her own past as a KGB spy, reuniting with old companions and combatting a dangerous conspiracy. ‘Black Widow’ is scheduled to be released on May 7, 2021.
‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ will introduce Simu Liu as Shang-Chi, a master martial artist who’s drawn into the clandestine Ten Rings organization. Featuring a fully Asian cast including Awkwafina, Tony Leung, Ronny Chieng, and Michelle Yeoh, ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ is scheduled to be released on July 9, 2021.
‘Eternals’ will introduce a team on par with the Avengers, featuring an ensemble cast including Angelina Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani, and Salma Hayek, along with ‘Game of Thrones’ alumni Richard Madden and Kit Harington. Following the events of ‘Avengers: Endgame’, ‘Eternals’ follows an immortal alien race who have secretly lived on Earth for over 7,000 years–after an unexpected tragedy, they must reunite to protect humanity from their evil counterparts, the Deviants. ‘Eternals’ is scheduled to be released on November 5, 2021.
Last on the docket for 2021 is ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’, whose title reveal was a masterclass in trolling. Little is currently known about the plot, but it will likely involve multidimensional shenanigans, courtesy of Dr. Strange–Jamie Foxx will reprise his role as Electro from Sony’s non-MCU ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’, as will Alfred Molina reprise his role as Dr. Octopus from Sony’s ‘Spider-Man 2’. Starring Tom Holland and Zendaya, ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ is scheduled to be released on December 17, 2021.
There are currently seven more films expected to be released in 2022 onward as part of Phase Four–’Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ (which is a direct follow-up of ‘WandaVision’), ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ (which will see Natalie Portman as Jane Foster taking up the mantle of Thor), ‘Black Panther II’, ‘Captain Marvel II’, ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’ (which heralds the return of the briefly-spurned director James Gunn), and ‘Fantastic Four’.
Final Thoughts–Marvel’s New Class
Since its inception, Marvel Studios has rested its success on creative risks. ‘Iron Man’ director and MCU mainstay Jon Favreau famously fought for Robert Downey Jr.’s casting–younger viewers might be surprised to learn that Downey Jr. was once a notorious enfant terrible whose acting career was on its last legs.
Today, ‘WandaVision’ proves that Marvel Studios is continually dedicated not only to produce fresh, creative content, but also to put burgeoning talent at the forefront of their projects. Chloé Zhao, for instance, who just won the Golden Globe for Best Director with ‘Nomadland’, is at the helm of the upcoming ‘Eternals’. Nia DaCosta, who debuted directorially with her 2019 crime thriller ‘Little Woods’, is set to direct ‘Captain Marvel II’, becoming the youngest filmmaker to direct a Marvel film, and Bisha K. Ali will serve as showrunner for ‘Ms. Marvel’.
We’re also seeing the end of the ‘Avengers’ era and the dawn of a new one–gone is the leadership of Steve Rogers’ Captain America or Tony Stark’s Iron Man. In their place will stand a new class of heroes, more diverse and robust than ever before, and an innovative catalog of unique stories that will undoubtedly expand the superhero genre.
By Daniel Choi
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DanielChoi is a writer who’s currently pursuing a BA in Film & Television from New York University. With a background in amateur film production, Daniel is fascinated by how artists’ cultural backgrounds inform their work, subconsciously or not, and how that work is then perceived by different audiences across time and space. He joined Hollywood Insiderto promote its mission statement of substantive entertainment journalism, and hopes to enrich readers’ understandings of cinema through insightful analysis.