Friday, December 8

Mapping the multiverse: can Marvel use the Avengers to get back on track? | Film

Can we all admit that it was starting to look decidedly hairy for Marvel prior to last week’s info-splurt of a Comic-Con panel? After shaping the Hollywood architecture for more than a decade, the Disney-owned superhero studio has in the past nine months released a trio of movies – Eternals, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Thor: Love and Thunder – that if not quite duds , certainly came nowhere near the top ranks of the critical pantheon.

With a lingering sense that any movie not part of the Multiverse Saga (now officially concocting phases four, five and six) might as well have been subheaded “a filler you needn’t have bothered catching”, the studio seemed to be going through a sticky period. But let’s put this in perspective: we are talking about a few under par episodes in a series that now stretches to 29 films, the majority of which have received critical acclaim. Like Real Madrid falling to the occasional defeat, or the Beatles recording Rocky Raccoon, it was bound to happen sooner or later.

If we were starting to feel like doubters, Comic-Con turned us into believers. It wasn’t necessarily the release of the trailer for November’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (intriguing and inspiring, but you wonder how it’s all going to work out post-Chadwick Boseman) or even the announcements of Captain America: New World Order and Thunderbolts for May and July 2024 respectively, it was the overall sense that Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige does, after all, have some idea of ​​where this is all going.

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Everything from Black Widow onwards is now part of the Multiverse Saga, with the previous 23 movies (culminating in 2019’s Spider-Man: Far from Home) now renamed the Infinity Saga. This might seem like mere creative accountancy, the studio equivalent of a small child dividing his toys into Lego and Duplo, but it helps to make sense of the chaos.

Moreover, we now know where this is going to end up, just as we did with the first two dozen movies. Back then we were all waiting for the final climactic battle with Thanos, and wondering quite how badass the giant purple Titan might end up being. This time we know that phase six (and the Multiverse Saga) will climax once again with a pair of ensemble movies: 2025’s Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars.

Who will be taking charge of the ultimate superhero team this time around is the question films such as 2023’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3, Blade and The Marvels will be hoping to answer. The new Fantastic Four movie is due to debut in November 2024, six months before The Kang Dynasty, which means there’s still a chance the awesome foursome could play a part in events.

Time-travelling supervillain… Jonathan Majors is due to play Kang the Conqueror. Photograph: Aude Guerrucci/Reuters

With those Avengers films arriving just six months apart, it seems likely that Kang the Conqueror will be the villain of both movies. Comic book fans will be aware that the time-travelling supervillain often finds himself up against the Fantastic Four in print: it’s perhaps not surprising that we’re due to meet the MCU version (played by Jonathan Majors) in Quantumania, since it was the fluctuation of time dynamics in the Quantum Realm that first inspired Tony Stark and Bruce Banner to begin dabbling with time travel in Avengers: Endgame. Will Kang also be the powerful figure that transports all Marvel’s superheroes to a strange planet named Battleworld in Secret Wars (replacing the comic books’ The Beyonder?) It seems a fair bet.

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What we can certainly expect to see in the Marvel movies (and TV shows) released between now and 2025 is a slow build to that final double whammy of a finale. Perhaps new superheroes such as Mahershala Ali’s Blade and Tenoch Huerta’s Namor the Sub-Mariner (Marvel’s take on Aquaman who will appear for the first time in Wakanda Forever) are being lined up to start encountering the evil arch-manipulator. Or maybe he’ll turn up somewhere else.

Whatever happens, the sense that Marvel is treading water has been banished. The studio may not yet have restored its reputation but at least we know there’s a plan – even if only Kang himself knows what it is.

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