After 22 movies and 11 years of anticipation, we’re at the “Endgame” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The fourth (and final?) chapter of the Avengers saga arrives in theaters across the world this weekend. It’s already pulling in record amounts of money as movie theaters run 24-hour screenings to meet demand. It doesn’t feel so much like the release of a movie, and more as a pop culture holiday.
“Endgame” itself is, paradoxically, more intimate and epic than any Marvel movie before it. There are truly shocking surprises in terms of the story, even if it ends up where most fans more-or-less guessed it would. As always, there are genuinely hilarious moments, mostly involving Thor. But beginning with the opening scene, there’s a palpable solemnity to the movie, a seriousness about the mission that makes its tragic moments feel earned.
The ending feels like an ending. For the first time in Marvel Studios history, there is no post-credits bonus scene. Although Marvel obviously isn’t going to stop making movies, this chapter feels concluded. The question is, where does the MCU go next?
Plenty of Timelines
**SPOILERS for “Endgame” follow**
Like the Avengers themselves, before we move forward, we have to look back. Let’s pour one out for Tony Stark and Black Widow. Both sacrificed their lives to defeat Thanos and bring back those who were snapped away in “Infinity War.” Tony’s death, in particular, was a shock, given that most fans assumed it would be Captain America who would make the ultimate sacrifice.
Instead, Cap is tasked with returning the Infinity Stones to their original timelines, thereby ensuring narrative continuity and closing the time loop. Except that Steve Rogers decided to stay in the past and grow old with the woman he loved, Peggy Carter. The final shot of Endgame is of their long-promised dance, a moment teased all the way back in the first Captain America movie.
Narratively, that certainly closed a loop. Timeline-wise, not so much. That’s because “Avengers: Endgame” lays out a fairly specific set of time travel rules while leaving a lot of wiggle-room for divergent timelines. In other words, the future of the MCU could hinge on events of the past.
Low Key Paradox
Let’s start with Loki. The trickster shows up in “Endgame,” following the immediate aftermath of the “Avengers'” Battle of New York. When Tony Stark accidentally loses the Tesseract (never make Hulk take the stairs), Loki snatches it up and immediately teleports away. No prob, Cap and the team just go back even earlier in time to retrieve the Tesseract. Tony even gets to have a man-to-man conversation with his late father.
The problem is, according to the movie’s time travel rules, the Infinity Stones needed to be placed back in the timeline immediately after they were taken to ensure continuity up to “Endgame.” If Loki snatched the Tesseract and disappeared, they didn’t end up back in Asgard for the events of “Thor: The Dark World.” While Captain America could have returned to 2012 to prevent Loki from getting the Tesseract (perhaps by making room for Hulk on the elevator), there would still be a divergent timeline in which Loki escaped Avengers’ custody.
This could be where the new Loki TV series comes in. At an event introducing the upcoming Disney+ streaming service, it was confirmed that Tom Hiddleston will reprise his role for a show on the new subscription site. According to the Hollywood Reporter, “Loki – which will be run by “Rick & Morty” writer Michael Waldron – “will follow Loki as the trickster and shape-shifter pops up throughout human history as an unlikely influencer on historical events.” His quick, conspicuously unresolved exit in “Endgame” could set up in-canon continuity for the show.
MCU Enters the Streaming Wars
In fact, following the release of “Spider-Man: Far From Home” on July 5 (more on that in a bit), the next phase of the MCU will play out on the Disney+ streaming service after it arrives Nov. 12. Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige is overseeing the Disney+ shows, a change from Marvel’s approach with Netflix and ABC. According to The Wrap, Feige promised that the “post-‘Endgame’ MCU will be extremely different and extremely focused on Disney+ tying into our future movies.”
The “major storylines” Feige hinted at became clearer after “Endgame.” Marvel’s Disney+ shows also include “Falcon and the Winter Soldier.” “Endgame” saw Sam Wilson take Cap’s shield from a geriatric Steve Rogers. It’s likely the show will focus on the Falcon (or perhaps Bucky Barnes) assuming the role after Rogers.
— Variety (@Variety) April 24, 2019
There’s also “WandaVision,” which will center on the romance between Scarlet Witch and Vision. With “Endgame” reiterating that Vision is still dead, it’s less clear how this show will fit into the MCU canon. But given a promotional image that featured the title couple in the ’50s, it’s possible that time travel (or collective hallucination) figures into “WandaVision” as well.
The final big Marvel show for Disney+ is a Hawkeye series that will star Jeremy Renner. According to Variety, the show will see Hawkeye “pass the torch” to Kate Bishop, who also takes over for Clint Barton in the comics. Noticing a pattern yet?
The Future Awaits
On the big screen, the only feature with a confirmed release date is “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” This is where the ramifications of “Endgame” get interesting. To the “Snapped,” it felt as if they were gone but an instant. But five years had passed in real time. This means some of Peter’s classmates from “Homecoming” are now five years older, which is practically a lifetime for a teenager.
It’s also telling that Feige recently clarified that “Far From Home,” not “Endgame,” is the final movie of phase three of the MCU. Presumably, at least some of the plot will be concerned with getting the world back in order after five years of built-up clutter (and no professional baseball).
Remember, the “present” of the MCU is now 2023, four years ahead of our present. In contrast to phase three, Marvel hasn’t laid out a long term release plan for their upcoming features. However, according to Den of Geek, the schedule is jotted with potential release dates all the way up until, you guessed, 2023.
Here’s what we know officially: Director Ryan Coogler will be back for a “Black Panther” sequel. Ditto James Gunn, who was, thankfully, rehired by Disney for “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.” Doctor Strange will also return for a movie in which he’ll reportedly face Nightmare. And Black Widow will finally get her own spin-off. Her swan song—presumably a prequel—will also reportedly star Rachel Weisz and David Harbour.
As for new properties, Marvel is reportedly developing a movie based on “The Eternals,” mythic deities who have presided over human history. Angelina Jolie and Kumail Nanjiani are rumored to be in negotiations for the film. Marvel is also reportedly developing a feature around Shang-Chi, a kung fu master who would be their first Asian hero.
And that’s it. For the most popular film studio in history, there’s a dearth of information, at least on the feature film end. However, it’s fitting. With its epic stakes and loss of major characters, “Endgame” felt like a thunderous conclusion to the MCU’s opening era. It should take time for the weather to clear.