let’s talk about Phase 3

With only one more film left in Marvel Studios’s Phase 2 of films, we start to look forward to what we can expect in the third phase of the studios expanding Cinematic Universe. With the recent successes of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy (link) Marvel Studios has shown us that they have things figured out. “While none [of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films] are perfect and a few might even be considered mediocre, Marvel Studios have not made a single awful movie, which means a lot today. This is the kind of track record that makes moviegoers trust the Marvel brand and why with the exception of The Incredible Hulk, all their movies have been box office hits.” (source)

The rumours have been flying about what Marvel Studios has planned for us in the near future, so I wanted to take a moment and talk about what I think may (and should) be coming for us in the next few years.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

With Ant Man lined up to be the first film in Phase 3, and with it, the introduction of Hank Pym, Pym is not really available to create the titular villain. Instead, Ultron will be the creation of Tony Stark. Similarly to the Ultimates line of comics, Ultron is created to control an army of expendable robot soldiers, whose creation, I think, is inspired by the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. With S.H.I.E.L.D. out of the picture, the door is open for Stark’s “privatization of world security”, like he mentioned in Iron Man 2. However, the Avenger’s can’t be everywhere and do everything, hence Ultron was created to assist. This, of course, doesn’t work out for the heroes when Ultron decides that humanity, and, in particular, the Avenger’s, are the greatest threat to the earth, and so decides to destroy them all.

And what of the heroes? We already know that Quicksilver (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and the Scarlet Witch (played by Elizabeth Olsen) will be joining the team. Also, Paul Bettany will be playing The Vision, who I assume will be a creation of Ultron who turns on Ultron and joins the Avengers. Then, there’s this interview with Joss Whedon:

Two important things to catch in that. 1) “Four prominent female roles … in the center of the movie” I can think of 3: Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, and Maria Hill. Who is the fourth? 2) His face may not have been a confirmation of Captain Marvel appearing in the film, but it’s also not a denial.

So, could we see Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel in Age of Ultron? Perhaps, but also perhaps not, but I certainly hope so. It would be a good way to set up for a solo film for Captain Marvel, and we so desperately need a female-led solo film from the studio.

Expanding the Universe

Phase 2 was entirely made up of existing franchises, with one notable exception: Guardians of the Galaxy. That was a very interesting, and a very deliberate choice. Phase 1 was all about establishing the Avengers, setting up and introducing us to the main characters, and Phase 2 was mostly about showing the aftermath and consequences of The Avengers. We saw what happened when those same people who we had met in the first phase tried to go back to their previous lives. However, as the last film before Age of Ultron Marvel decided to take a leap of faith, not only giving us a look at the cosmic side of the universe, but also a brand new (and completely unknown to the average viewer) group of heroes.

Phase 3 will be about expanding the MCU, and bringing in new characters. So far we’ve already got dates for Ant Man and Dr. Strange, which sandwich the third installment of Captain America. (source) This will likely be the trend in Phase 3: we’re likely to also see a third installment of Thor, we know we’re going to see a sequel to Guardians (source), if we’re really lucky we might see a stand-alone Hulk film with Mark Ruffalo, but I think we’re going to see a couple more new people as well. (Personally I’m hoping for Captain Marvel and Black Panther)

Update: Marvel seems to be moving ahead with an Inhumans film. (source)

MacGuffins

Whether or not they decide to do the Infinity War storyline in the third installment of The Avengers, Phase 3 will definitely introduce us to a few more infinity stones.

Marvel's Main Macguffins.  Say that 5 times fast.
Marvel’s Main Macguffins. Say that 5 times fast.

As a recap: so far we know of 3 infinity stones. The Tesseract is the Space Stone, the Aether is very likely the Reality Stone and the Orb (the MacGuffin in Guardians of the Galaxy) is the Power Stone. That only makes up half of the collection.

There is a lot of speculation on the part of fans that Loki’s staff contains the Mind Stone, but I do not think that is the case. For one thing, in Avengers it was pretty clearly stated that the staff drew power from the Tesseract. Additionally, we know that while the Infinity Stones will not match up color wise with their comic book equals, Marvel seems to not be duplicating colors between different stones. (source)

Three gems remain, the Time, Soul and Mind gems. What forms these will take I can’t even begin to speculate, however, I do have a couple of thoughts as to when we might see these last three Infinity Gems.

  • Soul: In the comics the Soul Gem was embedded in the forehead of Adam Warlock, and artificial human who had great amounts of power. The Soul Gem gave him the power to control the souls of others, including killing people by absorbing their souls into the Soul Gem itself. (He even did this to a future version of himself, killing himself to prevent the evil Magus from every becoming.) We already have seen hints of Adam Warlock in the movies, the after credits scene of Thor: The Dark World had a long lingering shot of Warlock’s cocoon in the Collector’s collection, and his cocoon appeared opened during the post-credits scene of Guardians (source: the freaking movie. However, you could also read this) The most likely place for Adam Warlock (and subsequently the Soul Stone) to appear would likely be in the Dr. Strange movie. Hopefully not as major plot device (because there is so much that would be going on in a Dr. Strange film) but just as an introduction to that character.
  • Time: This gem I could definitely see appearing in the sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy. Of any of the established franchises this is probably the setting that a time travel story would fit the best without feeling out of place. However, they also might want to not do this, since the first film was very much driven by an infinity stone. We’ll just have to see.
  • Mind: This one I don’t really have a good idea for. One potential place would be the third Captain America film, but similar to the Time stone, I don’t think Marvel wants to introduce multiple stones within the same franchise. If it were up to me, I would save the Mind Stone’s introduction for Phase 4. (This is in part because I would like to see Civil War or some other non-Thanos story for the third Avengers, more on that in a few paragraphs)

A Female-Led Film

I also really hope that Phase 3 we will see our first Female Super-Hero film. It’s long overdo for Marvel to bring us a movie with a woman at the helm, and it’s very likely they will want to do it sooner, rather than later.

While lots of fans are rooting for a stand-alone Black Widow film, I would much rather see Carol Danvers’s Captain Marvel take to the big screen. I’ve already talked about a possible cameo in Age of Ultron, but I also think we’ll see her origin story in it’s own film next phase.

Now that the Kree have had their introduction, it is not unreasonable to have them play their part in the creation of Carol Danvers’s abilities. Of Marvel’s good female heroes, adding her to the universe would provide a lot of opportunity. She is a powerful hero, whose abilities are on par with Thor, which is excellent for the spectacle that we have come to expect from our super-hero movies. She also provides a good opportunity to act as a bridge between the earthbound heroes and the cosmic ones, herself being a hero with cosmic origins. Of all of the possibilities, she seems the most likely.

Hopefully we'll soon see Carol Danvers suit up on the big screen.
Hopefully we’ll soon see Carol Danvers suit up on the big screen.

Also, regarding Black Widow, according to Kevin Feige “if we do a Black Widow movie after Age Of Ultron, when she’s been central in three or four movies, I don’t think we’d get the quote unquote credit for it. People would say ‘she’s already a big giant superhero'” He also confirmed that they’ve considered Captain Marvel. “I think that would be very cool.” (source)

Black Widow, on the other hand, shines best when she is part of a team. Her role in Captain America: The Winter Soldier was incredible. I can’t wait to see her in future Captain America and Avengers films, but I don’t think that a solo Black Widow film is the right move for Marvel.

Civil War

As is the case with every other phase so far, we can expect Phase 3 to end with another Avenger’s film. While many people suspect that Marvel is building up to do the Infinity War storyline in the third Avengers film, I want to explore another avenue: Civil War.

It’s too early for Thanos. Thanos is basically the ultimate arch-villain in the Marvel Comics. He has been the hands behind both Loki and Ronan, but we still haven’t had the proper setup. Without making Phase 3 all about Thanos and the Infinity stones I don’t see them getting properly set up for Thanos in the third Avengers adventure. Also, where do you go after Thanos? After revealing the big bad, and defeating him, where do you go without rebooting? Marvel reportedly has their movies planned all the way to 2028, and I don’t see them rebooting, or revealing their hand so early.

What I think would be much more compelling, much more interesting, would be to do an adaptation of the Civil War storyline instead. For those that aren’t familiar, the story of Civil War in the comics revolves around what is known as the Superhero Registration Act, which forces everyone with superpowers to register themselves with the government, stating what they can do. This is so the government can track, evaluate, and in some cases, imprison those who are a danger to society because of their abilities. The heroes of Marvel are split on the issue, and end up forming two groups: Those who are in favour of the act led by Iron Man, with those that are anti-registration following after Captain America.

How interesting would that be, for the third Avengers, to have a film about superheroes fighting eachother. The political climate that they have set up in the MCU would fit well with the creation of this sort of act. Tony Stark has been haunted by the dangers and the damage that supers can cause, and would be supportive of this sort of act. Steve Rogers will have just spent his most recent film tracking down and finally fighting alongside one of his oldest friends, someone who is haunted by their own past and who deserves privacy, and would want to afford privacy to individuals who put their lives on the line to fight to defend others. This clash is something that would fit perfectly into the world that Marvel has been building.

One argument against this possibility is that Marvel Studios lacks a large amount of the characters involved in this story. The Civil War arc included Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, and tons of characters from the X-Men comics, both heroes and villains, all of which are properties that are licensed out to other studios. However, Civil War was also a massive story, so they would need to condense it to fit into movie length anyway.

Phase 3 seems to be geared toward expanding the universe as well. With the new characters available to Marvel I could see them making a really good adaptation of Civil War. It would be great to see Iron Man and Captain America go head to head in a battle of both strength and ideals. While these two characters are not the close friends they are in the comics, they still have developed a mutual respect that I see only being developed further in Age of Ultron. We also have access to not only the new characters that may or may not be introduced in Phase 3, but also the minor characters that haven’t been a part of the Avengers, people like Warmachine, Falcon and the Winter Soldier himself.

One more reason why I think Civil War will be a good place to go: The Death of Captain America.

Chris Evans has 2 more films in his contract after Age of Ultron, which we can assume to be the third Captain America Film, as well as the third Avengers film. Sebastian Stan (who plays bucky) currently has 7 films left in his. In the comics, Bucky Barnes takes over as the new Cap after the death of Steve Rogers, which is the event that finally ends Civil War.

Hopefully in the movies they wouldn't bring him back in a dumb way a few years later.
Hopefully in the movies they wouldn’t bring him back in a dumb way a few years later.

Also, Steve Rogers is killed by Crossbones, aka Brock Rumlow, who was played by Frank Grillo in Winter Soldier. (Well, technically Crossbones is only one of two people who shot him, another was a brainwashed ally of the Captains) While he was never identified as Crossbones in the film or credits, the fact that he was emphasized as a character (including the shot of his burned but living body found in the wreckage of the Triskellion) hints to me that they are setting up for him to kill Cap at the end of the third Avengers film. While they could do the death of Steve Rogers without Civil War, it’s such an integral part of the Civil War story that I think they will do it there.

I may be completely off, however, and they will instead jump straight to Infinity War for the third installment, but I think that would be a huge missed opportunity.

Guardians of the Galaxy

tl;dr: Guardians of the Galaxy was easily the most fun I have had at the movies this year. You should go see it. I mean, right now, stop whatever you are doing and go see this movie.

By the way, the fuzzy stuff is for spoilers, don’t click on it unless you want to have stuff spoiled (or have seen it already)

While it took most of my social circle quite a while before they got excited about Guardians of the Galaxy, I was an early boarder of the hype train, starting to get excited and do research as soon as I heard that this film was announced. Having been introduced to superheroes through films (I was 11 when X-Men came out in 2000, and I never really had a comic store near me growing up) I had to do some research to really get a grasp on who the Guardians of the Galaxy are, which made me even more excited.

As with all my reviews that I’ve done this one is going to be pretty much a stream of consciousness and I will mark any spoilers.

origin stories – aka bringing the team together

Like in The Avengers, Guardians is a film about a team, rather than just one individual character. Whenever you have a story about a team there is always the challenge of getting them all together. In The Avengers there had been previous films that had established the characters, the characters had their own arcs, their own demons, their own franchises, and The Avengers was about taking those characters and bringing them together to fight a threat none of them could handle alone.

Wait, I thought this article was about Guardians of the Galaxy?
Wait, I thought this article was about Guardians of the Galaxy?

So, how do you do that? In the case of The Avengers Marvel Studios decided to use S.H.I.E.L.D. as the driving force behind the Avengers assembling. In Avengers it works, but in the case of Guardians not really an option.

Origin stories are also hard, and are usually the biggest struggle and the weakest part in most superhero films. (That’s why, in my opinion, Winter Soldier is a much better film than the first Captain America film, the origin story roadblock wasn’t there to screw with the pacing. Similar story with the Thor films.) In Guardians, I think they did a really good job at solving this problem, they skipped it. They don’t spend half the movie introducing us to the characters, telling us their back-stories, they instead get into the action of showing us how they meet, how they grow to stand one another, and they do it by doing things. There is a scene at the beginning that shows us Peter Quill leaving earth, there is a silly dance number and then BOOM, almost non-stop action at that point. They show us Peter’s origins, and then they leave us to divine the rest from context and from dialogue, they don’t spell it out for us, which is the right way to do it. (This is related to a point I’m going to make a little further down about respecting the audiences intelligence, I’ll get to that in a minute.)

Near the end, when Peter gives his big “people who’ve lost stuff” motivational speech we, as an audience fully understand the pain that each of the characters have experienced. We understand because we’ve gotten to know these characters, we’ve seen it, and they didn’t have to spend enormous amounts of time showing us what it was like for Gamora growing up as Thanos’s favourite daughter, they didn’t have to show how Rocket was tortured and created, or have a scene of Drax weeping in rage over the bodies of his wife and daughter. We know about all that, we can identify with all that, and we don’t need to be taken on that journey, because those aren’t the journeys the film is about.

As far as the team getting together, I think they handled it excellently. No S.H.I.E.L.D., no heavy handed fate or anything, it just flows, it just works.

You're Welcome.
You’re Welcome.

respecting the audience’s intelligence

This is, to me a very important point, far too many films and video games and other media seem to not respect the intelligence of the audience. There are many that feel the need to explain things to a ridiculous degree, as if the audience won’t appreciate a plot point or an aspect of the world without it being explained to them. (A good example of this unfortunate trend being Star Wars Episode I and the lame-ass Midichlorians explanation. It’s THE FORCE, we don’t need to know how it works.)

A good example of this in Guardians of the Galaxy is the character of Yondu. Yondu has an arrow that he keeps in a holster thing on his side, and he is able to control it, make it fly, etc., by whistling. The film does not take the time at all to explain this, no character feels the need in unnecessary dialogue to mention Yondu’s sound-sensitive arrow, he just uses it, and we, the audience understand intuitively that he controls the arrow by whistling.

This is especially the case when he uses the arrow to kill a bunch of Ronan’s troops. The second he opened his coat I could understand and get excited for what was about to happen. It was an epic moment, and it wasn’t one that I had to be explained.

If you were a fan of the comics (or, like me, had researched the characters beforehand) you may have already known about Yondu and his ability to control his arrows with sound, which would add to your appreciation of the character. However, even if you weren’t aware of this, you are able to understand it because it is shown happening. This is what I mean by the film respects your intelligence, it doesn’t feel the need to give you explanations about things like that.

these guys

These guys completely stole the show.
These guy completely stole the show.

Rocket and Groot were by far my favourite characters in the film. They were hilarious, they were charming, they were heartwarming. Rocket, the result of illegal genetic and cybernetic experimentation on a raccoon-like creature, has a bad attitude and a love of advanced weaponry and is voiced by Bradley Cooper. Groot, the talking tree creature who is only capable of saying “I am Groot!”, who is a tough brawler but is deep down just a bit softy, voiced by Vin Diesel.

While all the characters of the film are great, are well written and well acted, I especially wanted to mention these two, because in a lot of ways they are really the heart of the movie. They had, to me, a similar vibe as C-3PO and R2D2 did in the original Star Wars. Groot, as previously mentioned, is only able to say “I am Groot”, constrained to those three words in that exact order, however, for whatever reason, Rocket is able to understand exactly what he means. Because of this we get scenes where Rocket plays as Groot’s voice, and others where Rocket and Groot banter back and forth while we only hear one side. The exchange and dynamic between these two is really funny, and at the same time, really heartwarming. I just about broke out in tears when Rocket begs Groot not to sacrifice himself for everyone else near the end of the film.

Unlike R2D2 and C-3PO, however, these two are also bad-asses. Groot is just a tank, while Rocket is an ace pilot and a sharpshooter.

Actually, that brings up another good point. None of the characters ever had a moment in the film where they were useless. The team had a really good dynamic, even Starlord, who is for the most part a smooth talker, had his moments of action where he got heavily involved in the fighting.

Rocket is also, in my mind, my favourite character. While his dynamic with Groot makes him a very interesting and fun character, on his own he stands as one of my favourite characters who has ever been on the silver screen. He is angry, full of pain, witty, wise-cracking, and in many instances the voice of reason. At the start of the film he only has Groot. There is nothing else in the Galaxy like him, and it is something that pains him and gives him depth. In a drunken rage fight against Drax, he breaks down, weeping “I didn’t ask to be made. I didn’t ask to be taken apart and put back together again over, and over, and over.” That moment made me feel attached to the character, gave me a glimpse into the pain and loneliness of Rocket. By the end of the film Rocket, and all the others, finally have one another, finally have a family, and a place to belong.

When Guardians was first announced I knew people that were skeptical about a movie with a talking raccoon. In the end, I am so glad that they did.

"What's a raccoon?"
“What’s a raccoon?”
Additionally, tiny dancing Groot during the credits was freaking hilarious.

conclusion

Guardians of the Galaxy was one of my favourite movies of the past few years, and easily the most fun I have had at the movies this year. It’s fun, full of action, really well paced, has a good mix of funny and dark/serious, and is overall a wonderful addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

To finish off, here are a few other favourite moments from the film:

  • Finally getting a good look at Thanos and hearing his voice. Gave me chills and made me really excited to see more from the Mad Titan in upcoming films (Avengers 3, maybe?).
  • The prison escape.
  • Drax’s complete inability to understand metaphors.
  • The way the characters meet, by beating the shit out of eachother.
  • Just about every scene with Yondu.
  • “Where did you learn to do that?” “I’m pretty sure the answer is ‘I am Groot’.”
  • The final showdown with Ronan. I loved the fact that Ronan is the one who first called them the Guardians of the Galaxy, and the sequence where they collectively master and use the Power Stone was epic.
  • Nebula. I didn’t talk about her at all up above, but Nebula is a really interesting character.
  • The Howard the Duck cameo at the end, I just about laughed up a lung.