Warning: This article is peppered with spoilers for every movie in the MCU and comic book storylines that might be guiding the general creative direction of the MCU.
As we approach the half life of the Marvel Cinematic Universe-- 10 movies deep into an as yet announced 21-- it's safe to say that Marvel has created the largest and most cohesive alternate reality in the history of film. One might go so far as to call the MCU the most full realized alternate reality in the history of fiction. Right now, it looks like all roads lead to Thanos and his magic knuckle duster as the most audacious and ambitious undertaking in the history of film making comes to a head with a 2 part franchisegasm in the summers of -18 and '19. But will this be the epic finale of not just the Avengers, but the entire MCU? Should Marvel finish the story they are telling, then reboot? Or will the new lineup (Antman, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and Tedd McGinley) continue in a post Thanos (and-dare we say-post RDJ) world?
First, let's look at some numbers so that we can get a bit of perspective:
21 movies have been announced through 2019,
The first 6 represent Phase 1:
Iron Man 2
Captain America: Birth of a Modern Honky overlord
Remember when Nick Fury showed up at the end of Iron Man? That was dope.
We've seen 4 out of the 6 entries in Phase 2 so far:
Iron Man 3
Captain America 2: Pay no attention to the government behind the curtain
GUardians of the Galaxy
Avengers 2: Age of motherfuckin ultron
No strings on me, bro. Safe bet that this one beats the first installment and cracks 1.5 billy's.
Antman finds himself in a tough position, releasing after blockbuster season is over and- more gravely- following on the heels of Age of Ultron. Perhaps Marvel is conting on the fact that nothing will feel BIG in the wake of the flagships next outing, so they will go small. With no other super-dupers running around and a whole new paradigm for action sequences (wherein anything from a hungry cat to lawnmower can be come as potent a threat as the Mad Titan), Paul Rudd have the opportunity to tell a really unique story. However, with a minor character in the lead and abundant drama in pre-production, Antman certainly has the potential to be Marvel films first bomb.
At 9 Films, Phase 3 is poised to be the biggest yet:
Captain America: Civil War
GUArdians of the Galaxy 2
The Avengers: Infinity War- Part 1
The Avengers: Infinity War- Part 2
We have 4 movies in this phase that are likely to crack a billion each. Even if Dr. Strange, Black Panther, and Captain Marvel fail to launch their own multi-film franchises or join the marquis players on the Avengers team, phase 3 is likely to double the total box-office haul of the MCU, and that's a pretty substantial number already.
To date, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has grossed $7,155,420,253.
That's before you factor in an announced 7 seasons of television, with that number highly likely to grow to upwards of 15, brining the total number of hours of screen time into the range of 200 and the net revenue to a number which I don't know how to calculate, but is likely obscene.
That's just not a horse you put out to pasture. But after we've already seen these guys fight off Frost Giants, Nazi's, Loki and his army of intergalactic space crickets, and the Mad Titan himself, what's left? How do you possibly build a bigger end boss?
You Make him Tony Stark's ex BFF.
If you think you wouldn't like Bruce Banner when he gets angry, just wait until you see him when his feelings get hurt.Based on the first trailer for AofU, it certainly doesn't seem like Anger Management is going all that smoothly for Hulk and he might just be getting a one way ticket to somewhere a bit more outer-spacey.
For the uninitiated, the Planet Hulk story goes as follows: All of the big brains in the MCU get together and decide Hulk is too much of a pain in the ass, so they stick him in a rocket ship and blast him into outer space. Things go wonky (as they tend to do for the Hulk) and he winds up on a gladiator planet where he makes good use of his propensity for smashing. . He misses his friends, though, so he decides to head back to earth and tell them about it. He understands that what they did (Shanghai'ing him off into the cosmos) was wrong, and he is hurt by their betrayal (as he has every right to be), but they had a lot of good times together too. And the truth is, Hulk knows that sometimes he can be a little bit unreasonable. "Hulk Smash" isn't really a mantra that lends itself to open and respectful dialogue. Hulk knows that he has struggled to maintain stable, balanced, relationships but if you want to really talk turkey, Hulk is a dad now. And that changes things. That changes everything. A man must hold close the values he wants for his son; peace, justice, forgiveness, love. So can Hulk rectify the sins of the past with his hope for the future. Which brings us to...
WORLD WAR HULK
The Conversation Goes Poorly
Or more accurately it brings us to Phase 4:
The flagship comes home! With Marvel (intentionally) tanking the comic and and Fox (unintentionally) tanking the film franchise, the value of this property is going down, which will make it easy for Marvel to scoop up Stan Lee's pride and joy and breathe new life into the prodigal son.
BLACK PANTHER 2
Marvel has already proved their cross-genre aptitude and this will make a fine international political-espionage thriller franchise in the vain of The Winter Soldier
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 3
Keep on space-truckin'.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK 2: PLANET HULK
Gladiator meets GotG is an easy sell.
A gritty urban shoot-em-up to temper all of the interstellar/transdimensional wackiness.
DR. STRANGE 2
Enter the Demon.
THE AVENGERS 4:
WORLD WAR HULK
And that will buy us some time for Galactus to get his shit in order.