The Ten Most Romantic Couples In The MCU: Ranked!

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has (in)famously had a hard time establishing romantic relationships between its characters: even the few love stories that have helped to define the overarching story have sometimes gone through ups and downs, or simply collided headfirst with a brick wall and died (looking at you, Thor & Jane). And yet they keep trying to master the same old boy-meets-girl (or Norse-god-meets-girl, or boy-meets-alien, or computer-program-meets-girl) formula. That’s why, in celebration of Valentine’s Day, I’ve set myself a challenge: trying to find the ten most romantic, endearing, adorable couples in the MCU and ranking them.

Disclaimer: “ships” or non-canon pairings aren’t being considered on this list because that would be cheating – most MCU “ships” are at least ten times better than the majority of actual onscreen pairings. It’s simply not fair to compare.

10: Thor & Jane Foster.

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These two had something that looked like potential – I mean, if you squinted really hard. From the moment that Thor, the Norse God of Thunder and rightful heir to the throne of Asgard, crash-landed in the American Southwest, upsetting one of Jane Foster’s pseudo-scientific experiments, Marvel tried to convince audiences that a grand and glorious epic love-story for the ages was brewing – but all the magic (or “what your ancestors call magic”) words in the Marvel mythos couldn’t force Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman to look more than remotely disinterested in each other. And after Thor: The Dark World failed to turn up the heat, or really do anything at all, Portman had finally had enough: she quit the MCU, and Jane Foster was subsequently written out of the story. In Thor: Ragnarok, it was briefly mentioned that she broke up with the Thunder God offscreen – an uncomfortably awkward conclusion to what was supposed to be a cornerstone of Thor’s entire arc.

9: Stephen Strange & Christine Palmer.

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I’m actually tempted to move this couple ever so slightly further up the list, because while they’re not exactly memorable, they’re also probably not as bad and/or boring as you remembered. Dr. Stephen Strange, a snobbish, arrogant surgeon, wasn’t just the on-and-off boyfriend of Dr. Christine Palmer – he was also her work-partner, and it was mentioned (though never really elaborated on) that the two had even pioneered an important new surgical technique, making the couple basically equal. And after Strange’s run-in with karma, it was Palmer who tried to help him recover his strength and rebuild his life: their heated argument about Strange’s future is the most powerful scene in the Doctor Strange movie, and carries a lot of emotional weight. Unfortunately, Rachel McAdams’ character basically fades into the background after that, and apart from being privy to a battle on the astral plane and trying (unsuccessfully) to save the Ancient One’s life, she really has nothing more to do in the story. And she’s not returning for the sequel, so I guess that’s the end of that.

8: Peter Quill & Gamora.

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I don’t really like either Peter Quill (a.k.a. Star-Lord, an interstellar pirate armed with braggadocio, semi-Celestial powers that have proved to be entirely inconsequential outside of his own movies, and an impressive playlist of golden oldies), or Gamora (a.k.a. The Most Dangerous Woman In The Galaxy, who never actually lived up to that title before her untimely death at the hands of male screenwriters who didn’t know what else to do with her her own father, Thanos): nonetheless, I have to admit they had a spark of chemistry in both Guardians Of The Galaxy movies – and their interactions in Avengers: Infinity War, during which Gamora nearly convinced Quill to kill her (long story), are pretty emotional. There was something there! It wasn’t much, maybe, but it also wasn’t not there – much to the dismay of Thor & Peter Quill shippers everywhere. But in the end, Quill failed (because doesn’t he always?), Gamora got tossed off a cliff, and here we are with nothing left of their relationship but a sad trail of bubbles.

7: Natasha Romanoff & Bruce Banner.

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I like Avengers: Age Of Ultron. I know it’s unpopular to say this, but it’s honestly the best Avengers movie – not only because it references the events of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., but also because it successfully balances almost all of the main characters while still being able to add a couple new ones to the mix. There’s a cohesive plot, the stakes are raised, and the Avengers get to interact with each other on a more personal, intimate level than ever before. And then there’s Natasha Romanoff’s random relationship with Bruce Banner – while it’s not a bad idea, and they make a cute couple, the basis for their coupling up is based on the problematic idea that they’re both “monsters”: Bruce, because he transforms into a giant green killing machine; Natasha, because she’s…infertile? The messaging is weird and kind of sexist, especially since it would have been way easier to make Natasha’s murderous past with the KGB the reason for her guilt and self-loathing. It’s a shame, because Natasha actually did have better interactions with Bruce than she ever had with her former love interest, Clint Barton, but for better or worse their story arc was completely abandoned in Avengers: Infinity War.

6: T’Challa & Nakia.

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While there’s certainly an argument to be made that T’Challa, the catsuit-wearing guardian of the African nation of Wakanda, is slightly more low-key and subdued than many of his co-stars in Black Panther (let’s face it, he doesn’t have Okoye’s fiery energy, Killmonger’s smoldering charisma, or M’Baku’s macabre humor), there can be no denying that his relationship with Wakandan secret agent/humanitarian Nakia is super cute. The two are a power couple, with both characters having genuine hero moments – Nakia even briefly diverts the main focus of the film away from T’Challa, and considers becoming the Black Panther herself. By the end of the film, she’s also working around the world to help extend Wakandan aid to those in need. And when they’re onscreen together, they’re presented as a healthy, sturdy relationship that doesn’t have to rely on drama, troubling gender dynamics, or sarcastic banter to be interesting. They’re basically #CoupleGoals, and I love them.

5: Wanda Maximoff & The Vision.

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Ah, the tragic story of the computer program who became a man…once, for no apparent reason, and never did so again. The Vision, a sentient computer program outfitted with a cool new body (that, unfortunately for him, came along with the Mind Stone, one of the most coveted objects in the galaxy), didn’t really show any signs of attraction to the troubled witch, Wanda Maximoff, until Captain America: Civil War, but when their romance finally kicked into gear, and the two began to bond over spicy food, things got good – and then immediately got weird again, when Wanda blasted Vision through a floor, before suddenly…ending up on the run with him in Scotland? Where Vision was suddenly able to turn into a human man, but only did so once, for reasons that were never explained? Yeah, so there’s some serious gaps in what we actually know about their relationship, but at least it ended on a strong note, with Wanda having to brutally murder her lover in an attempt to destroy the Mind Stone before Thanos could get to it, only to watch Thanos use the Time Stone to reverse all her hard work, murder Vision again, and use the Stones to wipe out half the galaxy, including Wanda herself. If it’s any consolation, the upcoming WandaVision series on Disney+ will feature Wanda resurrecting her dead partner, only to have him presumably die once again when her entire reality inevitably comes crashing down around her. Cheerful, am I right?

4: Scott Lang & Hope Van Dyne.

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Technically, there have been two canon MCU power couples that call themselves Ant-Man and The Wasp: Hope Van Dyne’s parents, Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne, and then Hope herself and her partner, reformed burglar/single father/world’s best grandma, Scott Lang. But the latter couple has the edge on its predecessor, mostly because Janet doesn’t actually show up until the end of the second Ant-Man film, and most of her flashbacks with Hank were cut out of the movie anyway. Scott and Hope share the spotlight (and the title-card) in Ant-Man And The Wasp, which focuses almost entirely on their relationship – and their exchanges of playful, witty banter, coupled with their fidelity and focus on family, make them one of the most endearing couples in the MCU.

3: Steve Rogers & Peggy Carter.

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Specifically, their relationship in the first three Captain America films, before Avengers: Endgame happened. In the beginning, scrawny new recruit Steve Rogers and fast-talking, no-nonsense commanding officer Peggy Carter were actually quite a sweet pairing: they both had character arcs, and agency in their own stories. There was a quaint little 1940’s love story between them, but Peggy, by virtue of being in the military, wasn’t forced to play the damsel-in-distress or grieving-girlfriend-on-the-home-front roles: and in the post-war era, after Steve went down in the frigid Antarctic Ocean and was lost, she picked up her life and moved on, founding S.H.I.E.L.D. and starting a family. Her relationship with Steve after his resurrection from the ice was deeply emotional and interesting, and it was tragic when she passed away. But then to essentially reverse all the complexities of their post-The First Avenger relationship by having Steve go back in time and start all over with her, making her essentially a consolation prize for Steve after he failed to move on with his life, thus preventing her from moving on with hers? No, just no.

2: Tony Stark & Virginia “Pepper” Potts.

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They’re the MCU’s original duo: how could they not come in near the top of the list? Tony was a sarcastic, cynical mess of a human being; a war-profiteer who didn’t care one iota about the countless people killed daily by his weapons of mass destruction; Pepper was the very opposite, a cool, collected woman with savvy business skills and a friendly disposition. It’s a trope, and a tired one at that. But their relationship evolved into so much more than that – Tony became Iron Man, and Pepper took over as CEO of Stark Industries. They constructed the Avengers Tower in New York City. In the five years after Avengers: Infinity War, they got married and had a daughter. In Avengers: Endgame, where they even got to fight in battle alongside each other, their decade-long relationship came to an end with Tony Stark’s tragic death. In that final moment, as the former “Merchant of Death” gave up his life to save the world, Pepper stayed beside him and her face was the last thing he ever saw. I’m not crying: you’re crying.

1: Leopold Fitz & Jemma Simmons.

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Yes, I cheated! Fitz and Simmons, or “Fitzsimmons” as they’re more commonly known among the fandom, are not technically members of the MCU: they come from the Marvel TV division, where they made their debut on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and have endured through six grueling, torturous seasons of hardship, personal loss, tragedy and pure, wholesome romance. While they started out as the team’s two bumbling, socially-awkward scientists, it didn’t take long before the universe’s vendetta against them resulted in them standing up for S.H.I.E.L.D., and for each other, in incredible ways. Their tense, frantic struggle to figure their way out of an airtight box at the bottom of the ocean (long story) was one of the highlights of Season 1, as it showed just how powerful the two are as a team – so of course they were then split up. Jemma became an undercover spy, got eaten by a space monolith, was transported to another planet and had to survive on her own, fell in love with an astronaut who turned into an evil alien god, was possessed by the Kree, was possibly hinted to be bisexual (come on, we all know she had a thing for Daisy), and even met and defeated the demonic personification of her self-doubt: Leo lost his ability to communicate for a long period of time and became delusional, was possibly hinted to be bisexual (come on, we all know he had a thing for Mac), became a dashing secret agent, met his evil HYDRA doppelganger, fell in love with HYDRA’s cyborg overlord, and then got stuck in two different time-periods at once, which resulted in him dying but still being alive and yet somehow a space pirate in both timelines…it’s a wacky and confusing series, but their love for each other, which persists even against all odds, has always been at the heart of the story, and I would be lying if I didn’t say they’re the most romantic couple in what used to technically be part of (or at least adjacent to) the MCU.

So what do you think of my top ten, and would you have chosen differently? Did I leave your favorite couple off my list? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

“Black Widow” Super Bowl TV Spot Review!

Marvel Studios’ Black Widow is only a few months out, and with a new line-up of character posts, special Twitter emojis and recently revealed tie-in merchandise, the film’s marketing campaign is heating up. Tonight, we’ve got a new Super Bowl TV spot that gives us tiny glimpses of new material: nothing too substantial, but just enough to keep us talking.

The brief teaser, which highlights each of the characters who make up Natasha Romanoff’s team of Russian special agents, features a voice-over from Romanoff, the Black Widow herself, who tells us that the Avengers weren’t her first family – before she was the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s super spy and legendary assassin, she was a member of the Red Room program, which trained her (along with her “sisters”, Yelena Belova and Melina Vostokoff) to be the world’s most lethal killers. Now, in the Black Widow movie, she’s taking on the Red Room with the help of her comrades, and facing off against an impressive roster of villains.

We still haven’t seen the face behind Taskmaster’s skull-shaped mask, but we’ve now got more proof that he is indeed displaying his comics-accurate abilities, such as the photographic reflexes that allow him to copy any opponent’s fighting moves – in this new trailer, he flips his shield in a manner reminiscent of Captain America’s classic move, implying that at some point he fought the First Avenger.

The trailers for this film have been careful to avoid showing any spoilers, and this one is no different. We still have no clue what will happen to Natasha’s family on their mission deep into Siberia: a theory created soon after the first trailer’s release suggested that Natasha could be seen holding Yelena Belova’s jacket in a scene after a helicopter crash, leading the internet to believe that Belova might have died in the crash. That theory is disproved by this new TV spot, which shows the whole family safely reunited at the crash-site and gathering in a circle to hold hands – with Natasha being the only member of the team to stand to the side.

What do you think of the TV spot, and do you think any of Natasha’s family are doomed to die in the hotly-anticipated Marvel thriller? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Trailer Rating: 6.5/10

“Black Widow” Special Look Review!

In what could technically be considered the second trailer for Marvel’s Black Widow but is instead being called the first “special look”, ex-KGB assassin Natasha Romanoff is forced to reunite a lethal team of trained killers to take on a new wave of Black Widows, and all the might of the villainous, government-operated Red Room program that created both them, and her.

This special look gives us a hint of what has spurred the events of the Black Widow movie, which take place after Romanoff went on the run following Captain America: Civil War but before Thanos’ invasion in Avengers: Infinity War. All the way back in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Natasha made a brave decision to leak all of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agency’s deepest, darkest secrets (including her own) onto the internet in an attempt to expose the far-reaching corruption of organizations like HYDRA. In this teaser, Natasha seems to reference that, saying “I was trying to do something good” when asked why she’s suddenly being stalked and hunted by Russian operatives.

But Natasha learned a lot from her mentor Nick Fury, and one of his lessons must have been how to assemble a great team – because she’s got the help of some of the deadliest Russians ever to bear arms in the Marvel Cinematic Universe at her side in her fight: Yelena Belova, her “sister”, whom we still don’t see wearing her iconic spider-eye mask, much to my dismay; Red Guardian, (played by David Harbour, currently the only member of the main cast without an Oscar nomination in real life), who appears to be something of a father figure to Natasha; and the mysterious Melina, a white-suited martial artist who has a certain maternal charm in one scene, and then cold-blooded killer instincts in another.

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These four are up against the Taskmaster, who has a much better showing in this teaser than he (or she?) did in the movie’s first trailer, which earned him/her a bunch of criticism for looking like a Power Ranger in the light of day. Interestingly, all of his/her scenes here are at night – and they look fantastic. In the first trailer it was hard to tell whether the character (who in the comics is legendary for his “photographic reflexes”, which allow him to mirror any opponent’s fighting moves) was displaying his/her unique power-set, but here there can be no question, as we see the masked mercenary perfectly replicate not only Natasha’s moves as they fight on a Budapest bridge, but also those of Natasha’s dear friend Steve Rogers, even employing the Captain’s very same shield-tricks. In the comics, Taskmaster is typically a man named Tony Masters – but it looks like Marvel could be shaking things up, because a couple other characters in this same movie have already been shown to have skills like “photographic reflexes”: Yelena Belova copies Natasha’s moves as they fight in her shabby apartment, and Melina emulates the fighter’s classic superhero pose at one point – and the “new wave of Widows” all seem to move in perfect harmony. Considering that all these characters originated in Russia’s Red Room, another possibility is that Taskmaster is the head of the program, or even the very first Black Widow (who in some comics is also Natasha’s identical clone, if I remember correctly).

So what do you think of the trailer? Do you think it’s a good idea for Natasha to work with a team, or will they stab her in the back (figuratively or literally)? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Trailer Rating: 7.8/10

77th Golden Globes Ceremony Review!

Appropriately, it was Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, a movie which celebrates a bygone era of film-making, that won big at the 77th annual Golden Globes awards last night, taking home three Globes in major categories. In many ways, the ghost of Hollywood Past was haunting the tired, slow-paced ceremony, which saw a mostly white and male ensemble of winners take the stage, during an event that felt unfocused and uninspired, barely held together by comedian Ricky Gervais, who looked bored to be hosting one of the most important events in the entertainment industry, and whose attempts to keep the audience’s attention off world politics felt sadly misguided.

Thankfully, his plea for political neutrality was steadfastly ignored by the majority of winners, many of whom took the stage to deliver impassioned speeches addressing a number of notable issues: from Best Actress In A Mini-Series Michelle Williams calling upon women to exercise their right to choose, Best Supporting Actress In A Series Patricia Arquette using her brief time onstage to demand that viewers vote in the 2020 U.S. elections, Best Actor In A Drama Motion Picture and animal-rights activist Joaquin Phoenix thanking the Golden Globes for serving an entirely plant-based dinner to the audience (a decision that was apparently met with mixed reactions), Australians Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett bringing attention to the deadly bush-fires currently raging across the country, and Best Actress In A Musical/Comedy Series Phoebe Waller-Bridge invoking the name of former U.S. President Barack Obama, who just recently included Waller-Bridge’s hit comedy Fleabag on his annual Presidential Favorites list. LGBTQ+ issues were at the forefront during Kate McKinnon and Ellen DeGeneres’ speech to honor the latter’s acceptance of the special Carol Burnett Award.

But in between these brief highlights, the ceremony still appeared outdated and backwards-thinking: outside of female-exclusive categories, women were handed a bare minimum of awards, with Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir being the exception to the rule, becoming the first solo woman to accept the award. People of color were also suspiciously absent from the proceedings, except as presenters – the exception in this case being Ramy star Ramy Youssef, and comedian Awkwafina, who became the first woman of Asian descent to win the Golden Globe for Best Actress In A Musical/Comedy. Small moments like these help to give the impression that progress is being made in Hollywood, but don’t make up for a list of nominees that is overwhelmingly representative of a long-gone period in Hollywood history – one of Gervais’ few on-point jokes was his callout of the all-male lineup of directing nominees, and his satirical suggestion that soon, Hollywood would go back to simply never hiring women directors: “problem solved”.

Anti-Disney and anti-Netflix sentiment ran strong at the ceremony, which witnessed an embarrassing turn of events for frontrunners Frozen II, The Irishman, Marriage Story and The Two Popes. Disney suffered their biggest loss of the night in the Best Animated Feature Film category, where they had not one, not two, but three nominees – all of which lost out to underdog Missing Link, a clay-mation movie from Laika Studios, in a move so shocking it even startled the Missing Link directors into near-speechlessness. Later, in the Best Original Song category, Disney was once again stunned by the surprise victory of Elton John and Bernie Taupin, who won for their work on “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” for Rocketman, beating out two Disney contenders, “Into The Unknown” and “Spirit” (both, admittedly, weak contestants). But Netflix’s film division was the biggest loser of the evening: going into the event, the main competition in both the Best Director For A Motion Picture and Best Drama Motion Picture fields had been The Irishman‘s Martin Scorsese versus Todd Phillips for Joker – but in both categories, it was neither man who took home the coveted prize, as Sam Mendes and war-drama 1917 won both times. That wouldn’t have been so humiliating if Netflix had been able to claim Best Supporting Actor In A Motion Picture (which they lost to Brad Pitt for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood), Actor In A Musical/Comedy Motion Picture (which they lost to Taron Egerton for Rocketman), Actress In A Drama Motion Picture (which they lost to Renée Zellweger for Judy, despite strong competition from Scarlett Johansson), Actor In A Drama Motion Picture (which Joker star Joaquin Phoenix easily won, beating out Adam Driver and Jonathan Pryce), or Screenplay Of A Motion Picture (an award that clearly belonged to either The Irishman or Marriage Story, but went instead to Once Upon A Time In Hollywood). Ultimately, only Laura Dern was able to carve out a small victory for the streaming service, winning the award for Best Supporting Actress In A Motion Picture for her fan-favorite role as a sassy, no-nonsense divorce lawyer in Marriage Story. A small win, but a win nonetheless, and one that Netflix Film desperately needed as they continue to fight against Hollywood bias.

The event should have been high-stakes, especially with the amount of surprises, snubs and gasp-out-loud upsets that occurred, but low-energy humor from the host and presenters, coupled with slow, largely repetitive victories (winners often had to walk absurdly long distances to the stage, and a few nearly got lost weaving through the crowd, making the ceremony move even slower) made the 77th Golden Globes an unmemorable footnote in awards season history. Here’s hoping that the Oscars will repeat last year’s surprisingly effective no-host format, and give us a more rousing, entertaining, and relevant ceremony than the Globes was able to offer.

“Black Widow” Teaser Trailer Review!

A decade in the making, the Black Widow solo movie is finally on the horizon, with a teaser trailer that has my heart racing and tears flowing. It’s emotional, it’s powerful, and it’s long overdue. The character of Natasha Romanoff had to endure setback after setback before getting to this point – and even now that she’s here, it’s a bittersweet victory for the character, who died in Avengers: Endgame. This movie is set to be a prequel, exploring her origins, and how she became the most fearsome assassin, spy and heroine the Marvel Cinematic Universe had ever known.

And the trailer gives us a tantalizingly brief glimpse into that story: we are quickly re-introduced to our protagonist, Natasha Romanoff, at a dark time in her life – sometime just after Captain America: Civil War, according to rumors. On the run from the government, she assembles a ragtag team of her Russian friends and former adversaries to help her infiltrate the notorious Red Room that created her and an army of other fiercely skilled (and perfectly choreographed) Black Widows.

Along the way, she will cross paths with the deadly Taskmaster, a master tactician and warrior armed with photographic reflexes which allow him to mirror the fighting techniques of any opponent. While his outfit leaves much to be desired (he’s being unfavorably compared to a Power Ranger online), it’s to be hoped that his superpower will make him a worthy adversary of the Widow’s. There’s also a fair amount of suspicion that Taskmaster won’t end up dying, but will instead return further down the line as a member of the Thunderbolts, a team of reformed villains from the Marvel comics – whose lineup also includes another Black Widow star, the antiheroine Yelena Belova. Belova, who I talked about many months ago, has finally made her onscreen debut in this trailer – and Florence Pugh is clearly having the time of her life playing the dangerously aggressive younger “sister” of Natasha Romanoff, armed with vicious sarcasm and a heavy Russian accent.

The trailer also reveals Rachel Weisz as the character Melina, and David Harbour as the Red Guardian, a genetically-enhanced superhuman created by the Soviet Union as an answer to Captain America at the height of the Cold War. Both characters seem to have come out of hiding or retirement to join Natasha’s desperate endeavor, though it appears that Melina still has some connections to the Red Room, as she is seen conversing with an unnamed character, possibly played by Ray Winstone, who appears to be the head of the covert operation.

Natasha herself is off the charts in this trailer: she’s always had to rely heavily on her wits in the Marvel Universe, since most of the Avengers’ enemies tend to be gods, cyborg superhumans or alien warlords who probably aren’t going to be too fazed by bullets and martial arts, but here, in her own territory, on her own terms, she has no reason to hold back. And that is the coolest part of this whole trailer – for the first time, Natasha Romanoff is on her own, without anyone telling her what to do or where to go. And assuming all goes well, Natasha will finally be able to prove, once and for all, that she always was a heroine – she never needed the “redemption” that the Endgame writing team had to offer her.

The next era of Marvel history is about to dawn, and it’s Natasha who will guide us into that new day.

Trailer Rating: 9.5/10

The “Broken Women” Of “Black Widow”.

Last night, I began my coverage of Marvel’s San Diego Comic-Con panel with a brief post about what had been revealed at the Black Widow presentation; there seemed to be very little at first – it was a prequel, Florence Pugh would play Yelena Belova, and the film’s villain would be Taskmaster. And that seemed to be it. Boy, was I wrong.

Since then, there’s been a bunch of interviews with the cast of Black Widow (who are about to head back to London for more filming): a lot has been revealed, and we’re going to have to go over it all. Forget basically everything in my initial post. There’s a lot to talk about now.

The big thing about the film, apparently, is that it’s a drama: what with Black Widow herself being something of a small-scale superhero, it makes sense to focus on finding creative ways to make this film stand out, since, honestly, in a universe where Captain Marvel can punch spaceships out of the sky with her bare hands and Thor can harness the power of a dead star, Black Widow’s skills with a baton just aren’t gonna cut it. Scarlett Johansson has revealed that this film is much more intellectual than other Marvel movies: she gets to “talk more” than ever before, and says that there’s a lot of dialogue. It’s an introspective movie that will explore Black Widow’s mental and emotional state during a very interesting period of her life, when she was a fugitive in between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. It looks like, during this time, Black Widow is on her own and trying to figure out her purpose in life when her past suddenly catches up with her and takes her on a wild ride back to places she remembers from her youth – the Red Room and Budapest, for example. The Black Widow we see here is someone who’s a little out of her element, and more than a little scared of what’s happening all around her: but we know from Avengers: Endgame that Widow will eventually pull herself back together and find her moral compass once again, only to have to sacrifice everything she’s won to save the world. Prediction: this film will prove, once and for all, that Black Widow is the most tragic character in the entire MCU.

What she finds on her journey will surprise her: first up, we have Florence Pugh’s character, Yelena Belova. We have a few new details on this elusive Russian assassin – she’s got a complicated history with Black Widow. The footage shown to the crowds at Comic-Con depicted Belova first attempting to murder Widow by strangling her with a curtain before sitting down with her to share a drink. Pugh says that Belova is very strong, but is dealing with her own issues – I think we’ll see Belova struggling between sticking with the Red Room that she’s known for her entire life, or leaving to follow Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, into the great unknown. It’s becoming more and more likely that Belova chooses to take on the mantle of “Black Widow”, when she learns of Romanoff’s self-sacrifice. Can you imagine how shocked the remaining Avengers will be when Belova arrives and introduces herself as Black Widow?

Now, we have a tidbit of information that has me flabbergasted: there’s no Taskmaster in this movie, apparently. Turns out, the footage shown at Comic-Con did not show the hooded villain as was previously reported – no, the character seen in that footage (footage which has not been released online) was a woman, Melina, who becomes the Iron Maiden character from the comics – the footage apparently showed Melina and Black Widow fighting in the wreckage of a fiery car crash. This character will be portrayed by Rachel Weisz, who says of Melina that she is an embittered woman who has been cycled and recycled through the Red Room program five times already, but had never been able to match the skill and prowess of her antagonist, Black Widow. She also mentioned that Melina is part of some scientific project which she couldn’t describe in any detail.

It looks like these three women will be at the center of the film: just as Captain Marvel explored the power of female friendships, Black Widow will probe deep into even more complex relationships of hatred, fear and resentment, as all three are trying to survive in a dangerous world.

But the two confirmed male characters both have interesting storylines as well – David Harbour confirmed that he is playing Alexei, the Red Guardian, a superhuman character born from Cold War conflicts; basically, the Soviet Union’s answer to Captain America. Considering that the Soviet Union disbanded quite some time ago, it would be interesting if Red Guardian was a relic of bygone days, someone who isn’t quite sure what he’s meant to do in a post-Cold War world: rather like Black Widow herself. Harbour promised that his character is very complex, which sounds awesome.

O.T. Fagbenle, meanwhile, is apparently not playing the villain, as previously speculated: instead, he’s a self-described “fixer” named Mason, who helps Natasha because of his romantic feelings for her. He’s a shady guy, who operates an extensive underworld of secret contacts and is always ready to help out his highest-paying customers by giving them emergency backup. He sounds like an interesting fellow, but we don’t know very much else about him yet.

So, now that we’ve gotten all this additional information; what do you think? Are you excited for Black Widow? Do you like the thought of it being a drama? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

“Black Widow” Is A Prequel!

Marvel Studios has officially begun its conquest of the next few years of cinema and culture, with an absolutely outstanding array of new films and TV shows being revealed at San Diego Comic-Con – the entire world responded accordingly, pushing Avengers: Endgame past its box-office competitor Avatar to make it the highest-grossing film of all time, while also managing to dominate social media, with all of Twitter’s top ten trends being Marvel-related, from Kate Bishop to Thor: Love And Thunder. Marvel has also given me quite the headache, giving me endless topics to discuss for the next few days, or possibly weeks – and discuss we shall, starting with the first film to be released next year (but the last film to be announced by Marvel president Kevin Feige at tonight’s showstopper presentation).

Black Widow, officially confirmed for a May 1st, 2020 release date, with David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, Florence Pugh and O.T. Fagbenle set to star alongside Scarlett Johansson’s KGB assassin in what will be a semi-prequel movie set in between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, during a time in which Black Widow was a fugitive from her own government: it was not revealed whether or not Captain America, Falcon or Winter Soldier would be in the film. It appears that large parts of the movie will be set in the fabled city of Budapest, though it is still unclear whether the events depicted there are flashbacks to the battle of Budapest referenced by Black Widow and Hawkeye in The Avengers – and Jeremy Renner was not among the cast members revealed for the film, so there’s a possibility Hawkeye isn’t even in it. Footage from the upcoming film was shown to a cheering crowd (who all received Black Widow hats afterward): the brief sizzle-reel showed Black Widow fighting Florence Pugh’s character, confirmed to be Widow’s antihero nemesis and “sister-figure”, Yelena Belova – called it! – before moving on to an intense brawl with the film’s main villain, Taskmaster, seen sporting his iconic shield: still no word on who will be playing that character, but we do know that David Harbour will portray a man named Alexi – in other words, Harbour will not be playing her father, Ivan, as was previously believed by many theorists. I’m still holding onto hope that my theory about Widow’s father being the Eternal, Ivan Druig, is correct. Eternals had its fair share of surprises during their opening presentation, but we’ll talk about that in a separate post. It was also confirmed that Fagbenle’s character “has feelings for” Black Widow, which is interesting. It wasn’t said whether she reciprocated his affections, or not.

Unfortunately, I’ll have to cover the rest of the SDCC reveals tomorrow morning – Black Widow happened to be the least eventful of Marvel’s many panels, so it was easy to talk about all the basics. Stay tuned for discussion of Lady Thor, the Multiverse, Kate Bishop, Eternals casting and more!

“Black Widow” Movie Adds Another Black Widow!

There’s a lot of news to cover on this front: I would have posted much earlier, when there was a report that Ray Winstone had joined the cast of Marvel’s Black Widow solo movie, but I suspected that a bombshell report would drop in a few days more, so I waited patiently – and I was rewarded.

Black Widow is currently filming in the city of Budapest – an iconic locale in Marvel lore, having been mentioned as the site of some huge battle/catastrophic event by Black Widow herself, and fellow spy Hawkeye, multiple times throughout the Marvel movies. While some maintain that the city is probably being used simply as a stand-in for Russian locations, it gives us at least a little glimmer of hope that we will finally see the origins of this oft-mentioned, never-explained anecdote.

Whether or not we do, we will undeniably see the origins of the Black Widow, Natasha Romanoff – the movie is rumored to be a prequel, exploring Natasha’s years working as a KGB assassin and then as a rogue agent defecting to S.H.I.E.L.D. While this might seem disappointing to fans who want to see the character in the present timeline, you can expect the film to drop all sorts of hints and clues about things that will be very important to the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Marvel president Kevin Feige made this very clear, while also being very vague, when he said, while being interviewed, that, even though he can’t say whether it’s a prequel or not, “there are ways to do prequels where you learn all sorts of things you never knew before”. He actually said quite a few interesting things: I recommend you check it out for yourself here.

Those “things we never knew before” might include all sorts of things – events, big battles, encounters with other superheroes. And that’s what leads us back to Budapest for a minute, just so we can take a look at some very interesting details that might have been inadvertently (or deliberately?) revealed in behind-the-scenes images.

WARNING: this might be considered a spoiler to some, so if you don’t want to know any of the characters who might be in the film, you should go now! Also – Avengers: Endgame spoilers!

The image in questions shows Scarlett Johansson’s stunt double (maybe, we’ll get to that in a moment) riding a motorcycle at dangerously high speed through the streets of Budapest, sporting a long red braid – still no sign of the iconic short red bob-hairstyle that would definitively mark this as a prequel. Her hair still looks very much like how she wore it in her latest appearance in Avengers: Endgame. She’s not alone on the motorcycle: behind her, with arms wrapped around Natasha’s waist, is another woman, with a blond ponytail. She could be anyone, right?

Twitter | @builtfromhope

Well, it could be – except those two women on the motorcycle are apparently stunt dummies, not even stunt doubles. In other words, they’re basically pre-packaged mannequins: who come in packages. Which would necessarily be marked with the name associated with the mannequin inside the package. See where I’m going with this?

Yep, Twitter user @bestofwidows shared pictures of the boxes which apparently carried those dummies – one marked Natasha, the other marked…Yelena.

And the reaction from the general audience is probably similar to Thanos’ when he encounters Scarlet Witch in Endgame“I don’t even know who you are.”

Oh, but you will. Yelena Belova is one of only a handful of well-known characters from the Black Widow comics – a dangerous assassin in her own right, equal to Romanoff in strength and agility, and a student of the Red Room program. Belova has been both a villain and an antihero in her comics appearances, but her most notable run has her initially working against Romanoff, only to team up with her and bring about the defeat of the Red Room. She is virtually a clone of Romanoff in every way, and even uses the moniker “Black Widow”, except that her hair is typically blond. Black Widow actress Scarlett Johansson supposedly had her character dye her hair blond in Avengers: Infinity War as an homage to Yelena Belova – which, naturally, has now begun sparking some rumors that the Black Widow in Infinity War actually was Yelena Belova, and that in this prequel we’ll discover that there never was a Natasha Romanoff or something like that. It’s a cool premise, but highly implausible: more likely is that a young Yelena will be introduced in this upcoming movie and will then make an appearance in the present timeline soon after – similar to how Captain Marvel’s prequel origin film ended with a startling post-credits scene of her arriving at Avengers HQ after the events of Infinity War.

There’s still the slim chance that this movie isn’t, in fact, a prequel: why haven’t we seen Natasha’s classic hairstyle? Why does she seem to be dressed in civilian attire in all the behind-the-scenes photos, such as she wore throughout Avengers: Endgame, rather than her black outfit? I can’t answer those questions yet, but I can propose a theory. Two, in fact.

My first theory relies on the movie being a prequel: I suspect that Budapest is not serving, at least in this case, as a stand-in for a Russian city. I think what we see here is a young Natasha Romanoff rescuing Yelena Belova from the clutches of their KGB captors, trying to bring her into S.H.I.E.L.D custody with her: something will go wrong, and Yelena will not be saved. In this scenario, we might also see Natasha’s friend and lover, Hawkeye, and maybe a team of S.H.I.E.L.D agents attempting to assist the Russian rogues. Ming-Na Wen of the ABC series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has already expressed her wish to be in the Black Widow movie, portraying a younger version of her character, Agent Melinda May. This would be the perfect place to have her appear: and with the recent cameos of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D actors Clark Gregg and Patrick Brennan in Captain Marvel, plus James D’Arcy of the TV show Agent Carter appearing in Avengers: Endgame, it seems like Marvel has begun to embrace its outlying spinoffs for the first time since Avengers: Age of Ultron.

My other theory, while much more unlikely, has basically the same premise, but the setting is now sometime in the post-Endgame universe. Here, Natasha would be brought back to life (there are dozens of theories on how this could be achieved), and would go on a search for her father, Ivan, whose identity was finally revealed to her after years of searching in Endgame, shortly before her death. As one of the last things Natasha would remember, it would make sense for her to try and find her father and any living family members, after being resurrected – this hunt would take her to Russia, where she would run into Yelena Belova and a similarly-resurrected Red Room. It’s unlikely, but still worth mentioning.

Either way, we now know that Yelena Belova is indeed going to be in the Black Widow movie – most likely portrayed by Marvel newcomer Florence Pugh, whose likeness the blond stunt-dummy apparently carries, and who recently arrived in Budapest.

The last bit of news concerning the movie comes from a small, blurry photograph of the film’s first official logo:

Twitter | @ripmarvel

Prepare yourselves for May 2020, folks. We’re in for a ride.

 

You can also watch my video review of this news story on YouTube!

“Loki” Update!

AVENGERS: ENDGAME SPOILERS! (have you seriously not seen the movie yet? What is taking you so long?)

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been suspiciously quiet these past couple of days: no Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D episode last week, a disappointing trailer for Jessica Jones Season 3 on Netflix, and only a few stray behind-the-scenes images of Scarlett Johansson filming the Black Widow movie. As the release date for Spider-man: Far From Home draws closer and closer, we’re looking towards an uncertain future for the MCU, one populated by largely unfamiliar faces – such as the Eternals, and Shang-Chi, both set to make their film debuts in the next couple of years. Characters like Black Panther, Captain Marvel and Doctor Strange are expected to become the next “holy trinity” of Marveldom, replacing beloved heroes like Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor – well, maybe not Thor: the God of Thunder is still very much alive after the events of Avengers: Endgame, and has jetted off to S P A C E with the Guardians of the Galaxy.

It’s Thor’s brother Loki whom we’re discussing today, however. Loki’s familiar face is now just cosmic ash floating in the space between stars, ever since Thanos strangled him in Avengers: Infinity War, and then snapped his neck, and then blew up his spaceship using the Power Stone – the chances of him ever coming back to life are slim to none at this point. Unless, like many, you believe that Loki got off the spaceship just in time, and it was one of his clones that met a horrible fate at the gloved hand of giant purple Josh Brolin.

But, due to the events of Endgame, Loki doesn’t need to be alive to still be around in the MCU. When the Avengers went back in time to the 2012 Battle of New York, looking for the Space, Time and Mind Infinity Stones, they inevitably ran into 2012 Loki, who had just been defeated by the 2012 Avengers, and was being escorted into S.H.I.E.L.D custody along with the Space Stone. While Captain America was able to snatch the Mind Stone from…himself, and Bruce Banner persuaded the Ancient One to relinquish the Time Stone, the Space Stone wasn’t so easily won. In fact, it wasn’t won at all: due to the present-day Avengers interfering with the 2012 Avengers, Loki ended up grabbing the Space Stone and escaping in a flash of blue light, forcing Tony Stark and Captain America to go even further back in time, to 1970, to get the Space Stone from Tony’s father Howard Stark.

But that’s where things get tricky. At the end of Endgame, Captain America heroically volunteers to go back in time once more and replace all the Infinity Stones they stole, to the exact moment at which they were taken: thus erasing all the messy alternate timelines that had been opened due to the time traveling. The Time Stone will be easily returned to the Ancient One; the Mind Stone can be quietly snuck back into Loki’s scepter; the Space Stone can be put back into its safe in S.H.I.E.L.D HQ, circa 1970…

But Loki’s escape still happens. Captain America would have no way of returning the Space Stone to 2012, because he didn’t take it from the 2012 timeline: he and Tony took it from 1970. In this elaborate game of alternate realities and dimension-hopping, the 2012 Loki is still out there, somewhere in the universe, armed with the Space Stone. And this is a feral, unreformed Loki; one who still wants to kill his brother Thor, and is possibly still suffering from the effects of 2012 Thanos’ mind-control. In other words, this Loki is still a villain, and he has an Infinity Stone, and he needs to be stopped, or else bad things are going to happen.

I’ve already covered in a previous post how the Russo Brothers have suggested that Captain America might take it upon himself to hunt down this rogue Loki and wrestle him back into his proper timeline – but seriously, how is that going to work? We’re talking about Loki, the Trickster God, here. He’s not going to go down easily, and that’s presumably why we’re getting a Loki miniseries on the Disney Plus streaming platform. While the series, titled Loki, has not yet begun filming, it would appear that actor Tom Hiddleston is outfitted, styled and ready to go. Marvel President Kevin Feige was at a meeting for Disney investors and shareholders when he unveiled a picture of Hiddleston looking dark and suave, standing on a city street in full Asgardian costume, in front of a marquee for…Steven Spielberg’s Jaws?

comicbook.com

Now…that’s completely in line with the earliest rumors we had about the show, that it would be a prequel focusing on Loki’s meddling in human history. But the events of Endgame and the hints offered by the Russo Brothers, have suggested that Loki will be using the Space Stone to evade capture and try to make his way back into our present timeline. The Space Stone, however, only gives its user the ability to travel…well, through space. Not through time. There are a few possibilities for why this image shows Loki comfortably situated in the year 1975 – one is that he also has the Time Stone, somehow; by stealing it from the Ancient One? Or from Captain America, when he comes to return it to the Ancient One? This theory seems unlikely. It’s possible that the Space Stone has the power to travel through time as well as space, but that somewhat negates the whole purpose of it being the Space Stone to begin with. Then again, maybe Loki has the power to travel back in time? He’s never had that power before, but maybe. The image could also dispel all those rumors about Loki being about 2012 Loki at all: maybe the things we saw in Endgame were just a cruel misdirect, and the Russo Brothers were lying about Cap’s involvement. Maybe this is from a flashback scene, and the majority of the series isn’t set in the past: but it seems peculiar to tease time travel if it’s not the focus of the show.

We don’t know anything for certain, yet, but we are expected to get more details about Loki and all upcoming Marvel projects at San Diego Comic Con and Disney’s D23 in August. Stay tuned for more information!

“Black Widow” Begins Filming!

Marvel’s highly-anticipated Black Widow solo movie was expected to begin filming next month, at Pinewood Studios in London, but apparently things have been moving quicker than anticipated, as leaked photos show that Black Widow star Scarlett Johansson has arrived in Norway.

Johansson touched down in the Ørsta Municipality in a private plane, but cameras still managed to catch a glimpse of her (or, at least, someone who looks identical to her) being driven around the picturesque Norwegian landscape. However, it seems like the actress is here, not for sightseeing, but for filming, as other photos show signs with Black Widow‘s working title “Blue Bayou” written on them in a distinctly Cyrillic typeface. The Russian assassin Natasha Romanoff is clearly on her way to Norway.

@bestofwidows | Twitter

There’s no good reason as to why, just yet, but it’s easy to imagine that Norway, with its fjords, mountains and miles of uncharted wilderness, could be the perfect place for some impressive action sequences, or a secret KGB hideout. Norway is also, notably, where Thor builds New Asgard in Avengers: Endgame, but it seems unlikely that there’s any correlation – Black Widow is expected to be a prequel, set before the events of Romanoff’s first appearance in Iron Man 2. Other rumors, yet to be confirmed, suggest that the movie will take place in between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, following Romanoff as she flees from the law and the restrictions of the Sokovia Accords, helped by a rogue Steve Rogers. The problem with that scenario is that the film would kind of need…Steve Rogers, not to mention Falcon, and possibly Scarlet Witch and Vision. Those would be all great additions to the film’s cast, admittedly, but this is a solo film, not a team-up, and Captain America’s time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is supposedly over. It’s probably best to keep the focus on Widow herself, and have it be a prequel, where we can finally learn the truth about the Red Room program, and maybe even see some classic comics characters like Yelena Belova (expected to be portrayed by Florence Pugh, of Fighting With My Family).

That doesn’t rule out the possibility of characters like Hawkeye and Nick Fury appearing, since both had close relationships with Black Widow. And it seems likely that we’ll finally see what happened in Budapest. Rumors have been circulating like wildfire – most recently, some speculation that star David Harbour will be playing The Thing, one of the Fantastic Four, in Black Widow…despite the fact that this (a) makes no sense, and (b) wouldn’t work due to the timing of the Disney/Fox merger.

One last thing to note is that Scarlett Johansson was wearing the red braids she sported in Avengers: Endgame, not the iconic short red haircut seen in earlier films, or even her curly hairstyle from Iron Man 2. While it’s possible that this was Johansson’s own stylistic choice, it’s definitely an intriguing one, one that might bode well for the many people who want this movie to be a sequel. The behind-the-scenes video showing Johansson’s hairstyle can be found here.

With filming having now begun, expect more updates, castings, and theories to follow!

Marvel Phase 4 Timeline!

With Avengers: Endgame out in theaters (and crushing the box-office), Marvel is already looking ahead to the Fourth Phase of their cinematic universe – we’ve already discussed what movies will soon be coming to the big screen in the near future: now let’s talk about when we’ll probably see them.

So, leaving aside Spider-man: Far From Home, which long ago wrapped filming and is set to release on July 5th of this year, the next Marvel film to start production should be the Natasha Romanoff origin story Black Widow, which, according to star David Harbour, should begin in June, possibly in the United Kingdom. Director Cate Shortland is attached, and Jac Schaeffer is the scriptwriter. Scarlett Johansson will be returning to the role of the Russian assassin. We should see Black Widow on May 1st, 2020.

The Eternals, which may star Angelina Jolie and Kumail Nanjiani, is probably next in line, as cameras are expected to start rolling in September, also in England. Chloe Zhao is the director, making her Marvel’s third female director, and their first of Asian heritage. Matthew and Ryan Firpo will be the writing the screenplay for this ambitious project, rumored to have a massive ensemble cast with five female leads and three male leads. The Eternals does not yet have an official release date, but it seems likely that it could make the November 6th, 2020 slot that is currently reserved by Marvel.

Beyond that, things get a little trickier, but it looks like the eagerly-anticipated Black Panther 2, sequel to the 2018 box-office giant, is moving along at a swift pace, with the first film’s director Ryan Coogler and stars such as Chadwick Boseman, Letitia Wright and Danai Gurira – and even Michael B. Jordan, whose character died in Black Panther – all expected to return. Filming will probably begin early next year, and the movie could easily make the February 12th, 2021 release date.

After a strong outing in Avengers: Infinity War, Doctor Strange has also been confirmed for a sequel – Benedict Cumberbatch is expected to reprise the role, though there has been no official announcement. Director Scott Derrickson and screenwriter C. Robert Cargill are likely to return. The release date for this movie has been a matter of contention, with some outlets reporting it could arrive in 2020 – that seems highly improbable, as there has been no word on any production dates yet: though actor Benedict Wong did suggest it might start filming earlier than expected. But it’s a pretty safe bet that Doctor Strange 2 will arrive, at the earliest, in 2021. The only question is what month, exactly. Aside from the February 12th slot, there are just two other confirmed Marvel slots that year – May 7th and November 5th. Considering that the first Doctor Strange came out in November, and some other developments, I’m predicting we’ll next see the Sorcerer Supreme on November 5th, 2021.

So what takes that May 7th date? Well, the aforementioned developments have to do with the fact that Shang-Chi, Marvel’s first Asian-led film, is rumored to begin filming soon after The Eternals wraps. That should place its start date early next year, and could point to Shang-Chi making that May 2021 release date. Destin Daniel Cretton is onboard to direct the film, and David Callaham will write the script, but no casting announcements have been made yet.

Then there’s the whole question of when Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 will get off the ground – director James Gunn was fired and went to work with the DCEU over at Warner Brothers, only to suddenly be rehired by Marvel earlier this year. Now, Gunn has two commitments to the two rival studios, which is rather intriguing: thankfully, he’s decided to do the courteous thing and finish filming Suicide Squad for DC before picking up where he left off with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. But, surprisingly, this sequence of events could start much sooner than anticipated: Suicide Squad is moving at full speed ahead, and Guardians 3 is now rumored to start filming sometime next year. It seems to me that we could see the return of Star-Lord and his band of intergalactic bandits on May 6th, 2022.

Beyond that there’s also a July 29th, 2022 date that could fit a Captain Marvel sequel, something that is likely to start sooner than later, based on the film’s incredible box-office run and astonishing staying power. There is a peculiar February 18th, 2022 release date as well, one that intrigues me: it doesn’t seem well-suited to Guardians of the Galaxy, which has been a Summer franchise, but Shang-Chi looks to be moving too quickly to get pushed back so far. It’s possible this is where Black Panther 2 ends up, or it’s also conceivable that this slot will be changed in the coming months. So far Marvel’s president Kevin Feige has said nothing about when we’ll see any of these films.

And that’s what brings us full-circle, back to Spider-man: Far From Home. Feige is apparently waiting until that film debuts before he will unveil the official Phase 4 timeline: that reveal will probably be made at San Diego Comic Con in July. We don’t have long to wait.

What’s Next For The MCU? Phase 4 Predictions.

The ending of Avengers: Endgame leaves us with a bittersweet taste in our mouths. Things have changed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, for better or worse, and now we have to continue on in a world that deals with Endgame‘s ramifications – a world with some new characters we don’t yet know much about, new storylines we’re not yet emotionally invested in: where do we go now, and who can we expect to see more from in the coming years?

Naturally, there are major spoilers for Avengers: Endgame ahead. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, I encourage you to go do so – like, now.

You’re back? Good, so let’s talk about what happened, and what happens next. The original Avengers (Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Thor, Natasha Romanoff, Bruce Banner and Clint Barton) have had their stories concluded in a variety of different ways: Tony is dead, and likely to remain that way; Rogers has now gotten everything he wanted, including his dance with Peggy Carter, and his arc is finished – he’s not dead, but he’s now an old man; Thor has joined the (As)guardians of the Galaxy and seems likely to enjoy a whole bunch of new adventures; Romanoff’s broken body is lying at the foot of a cliff on the planet Vormir, where she sacrificed herself for the Soul Stone; Banner is now Professor Hulk, and his entire story seems to have ended; Barton has returned to his family.

Of these, Thor, Romanoff and Barton are probably going to continue on into the next phase of the MCU.

Thor has joined forces with the Guardians of the Galaxy, and will presumably be a key player in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which seems likely to focus on an unresolved plot point from Endgame: Star-Lord, the Guardians’ leader, was temporarily reunited with his girlfriend Gamora, but she disappeared at some point afterwards. We see him searching for her at the end of the movie, so it looks like that could be a critical focus of the third Guardians installment. Star-Lord, thankfully, has help from Gamora’s sister, Nebula, who has been more than redeemed by events in Endgame – and from Thor, who has relinquished all of his other duties so he can join his friend Rocket Raccoon here on an intergalactic mission. Certainly Thor’s presence on the team will be welcomed by other Guardians such as Drax and Mantis, both of whom seemed infatuated with him in Avengers: Infinity War, and by Nebula and Rocket, who have now become friends with the God of Thunder. There’s already some tension between Thor and Star-Lord, however, about who gets to be captain. Considering the overwhelming support for Thor, I think Star-Lord’s in for a surprise – I wonder if this might carry through into real life. Star-Lord actor Chris Pratt has been the unchallenged star of the Guardians franchise for two movies now, but Chris Hemsworth’s Thor is a fan-favorite and could easily overshadow the rest of the group. Hopefully, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 director James Gunn, newly reinstated to the franchise, will be able to give all the characters their proper screentime.

Meanwhile, Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, seemed to have a definitive conclusion in Endgame, sacrificing herself so that the other Avengers could win the Soul Stone and complete their construction of an Infinity Gauntlet. However, Romanoff is getting her own solo movie next year, and even though Black Widow seems to be a prequel, it doesn’t seem very Marvelous to make the very first move of the next phase be a callback to the past. I’ve speculated before that I feel Black Widow has a major connection to events in Phase 4, specifically the upcoming Eternals franchise, but that’s still just a guess. At the moment, all we know about Black Widow is that she’s dead. Her death, however, could hypothetically be reversed – Captain America returns the Soul Stone at the end of Endgame, which might be enough to undo Black Widow’s sacrifice and bring her back to life. Her movie is set to star Rachel Weisz, Florence Pugh and David Harbour (with some outlets also reporting that Emma Watson might still be involved in the project), and is going to be the stepping-stone into the next phase of the MCU. Whether or not Black Widow ends up being linked to the broader Marvel universe, though, it will still be a very interesting foray into an unexplored corner of the timeline, one that involves spies, political intrigue, and (hopefully) the often-alluded-to-but-never-properly-explained incident in Budapest that both Black Widow and Hawkeye remember so differently.

Speaking of Hawkeye, Clint Barton finished out Endgame still very much alive, and very much still the family man he’s always been. At the beginning of Endgame, we saw him and his daughter practicing archery, and now that he’s back he’ll presumably continue his lessons with her. However, everything might not be as happily-ever-after as it seems for Barton, who did a lot of questionable things during the time that his family was snapped out of existence by the Titan Thanos. Aside from renewing his semi-romantic relationship with Black Widow, Barton also adopted a new identity – under the name Ronin – and began systematically killing people across the globe. We even saw him dealing with Japanese criminals in a particularly vicious scene, which saw Hiroyuki Sanada wasted in a seemingly pointless cameo as one of Ronin’s victims. But could karma catch up with Hawkeye in the future? It’s been rumored that he’s getting his own streaming show on the new Disney Plus platform, where we might also see the Hawkeye mantle pass on to Kate Bishop, a comics character who has yet to enter the MCU. Maybe some figurative ghosts from Barton’s bloodstained past come back to haunt him and his family, and he has to team up with Bishop to stop them.

Interestingly, Hawkeye wouldn’t be alone on Disney Plus: Scarlet Witch, Vision, Loki, Winter Soldier and Falcon are the Marvel characters currently confirmed to be getting their own streaming shows. Scarlet Witch and Vision will be starring in the oddly-named WandaVision, which will see actors Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany reprise their roles as the telepathic mutant (they’re allowed to use that word now, due to the FOX merger), and the deadpan android. Very few details are known about their show so far, except that it might take place in the 1950’s – which is confusing, to say the least, since neither Scarlet Witch nor Vision have shown any interest in time traveling previously, and Vision is actually dead at the moment. The Loki show, aptly titled Loki, could potentially explore one of Endgame‘s most intriguing moments – where Loki, in an alternate timeline, manages to escape with the Space Stone after the Battle of New York. This timeline, unlike others, might not have been affected by Captain America returning the Infinity Stones to their proper timelines at the end of the movie. This means we could see Loki on a wild, galaxy-hopping adventure through space and time in his own show: who wouldn’t be down for that?

Falcon & The Winter Soldier, on the other hand, is by far the most easy-to-understand of the three confirmed shows: at the end of Endgame, we saw Steve Rogers pass the title of Captain America to Falcon, who accepted it with the silent blessing of Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier, who stood nearby. A new Captain America means (most likely) more trouble with organizations like S.H.I.E.L.D and HYDRA, which can’t ever seem to get their act together. We’ll see Falcon and Winter Soldier team up against a new threat to American freedoms and values, while also coming to terms with what it means to be Captain America. Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan have such fantastic chemistry, both onscreen and off-screen, that I think this show will be a big hit.

Not everything is so simple, though. On the big screen, the MCU is going to continue getting larger and more complex, with the addition of the Eternals, a divine race of superhumans who will show up in theaters in late 2020, ushering in what could be Marvel’s most ambitious goal yet: a cosmic phase. It’s long been speculated that, after Endgame, things are going to get crazier in the MCU, with the addition of more out-there concepts such as Eternals, Deviants and Celestials, or characters like Galactus and the Silver Surfer. If that is what they’re doing, The Eternals is the perfect place to start this: the members of this ensemble team are relateable enough that they might be able to sell some of these strange new ideas to audiences, especially with the help of confirmed stars Angelina Jolie and Kumail Nanjiani. The film looks to be a crowded one, with rumors of five female leads and three male leads, including Marvel’s first openly gay male lead, and a female lead of color. This project is one that I’m highly anticipating.

After The Eternals, though, the MCU doesn’t look to be diving into otherworldly and galactic storylines: instead, we’ll probably first be returning to the tranquil African nation of Wakanda, where Black Panther and his sister Shuri will face some new, as yet unknown, threat to the throne. There are very few details about this eagerly-awaited sequel to the 2018 cultural phenomenon that was Black Panther, but you can be sure that the film will go into production as soon as possible.

Another sequel that has yet to be officially confirmed is Captain Marvel 2. Air-force pilot Carol Danvers flew higher, further, faster at the box-office this year, proving that a female superhero is more than capable of carrying her own franchise. While there is no word on when such a sequel might be released, it’s probably only a matter of time. Carol got her comics-accurate haircut and sash in Avengers: Endgame and looks like she’s ready to take on her undefeated foe from her solo movie, the Kree Supreme Intelligence, or possibly even her former mentor Yon-Rogg, who was allowed to escape unharmed at the end of Captain Marvel. The alien race of Skrulls, villains in the comics, were portrayed in a more sympathetic light in the MCU, but that doesn’t mean all of them are benevolent – I’ve already questioned whether one character established in Captain Marvel might walk down a dark path in a future movie. Endgame teased the appearance of several new female superheroes, including Valkyrie as the new Queen of Asgard and Ant-Man’s daughter Cassie Lang: it’s possible that, in a nod to the A-Force storyline from Marvel comics, we could see these heroines team up under the leadership of Carol Danvers to take on some cosmic threats.

But while battle rages among the stars, the earth itself might be threatened by more mystical forces – Doctor Strange, who became one of the Avengers’ most crucial players in Infinity War, is now unprotected by the Time Stone. This could leave him and the Sanctum Sanctorum open to attack by characters such as Karl Mordo, or even Dormammu. Magic is still pretty new to the MCU, and doesn’t yet have any clearly-established rules, so it will be interesting to see what director Scott Derrickson chooses to do with it here, in Doctor Strange 2, which will presumably see the Sorceror Supreme dealing with the fallout from Endgame. Hopefully we see him team up with the Scarlet  Witch, assuming she isn’t permanently relegated to Disney Plus.

Beyond even that, Marvel is already planning for its first film headed by an Asian lead – an origin story for the martial-arts master and spy Shang-Chi, whose appearance in the MCU doesn’t seem to have been foreshadowed by anything we’ve seen so far: unless it might be that the Japanese criminals from Endgame that Ronin killed were somehow associated with Shang-Chi’s infamous father, the crime syndicate Zheng Zu (previously known by the racist moniker Fu Manchu). Marvel’s president Kevin Feige has been surprisingly willing to discuss this particularly project, but there are still no concrete details.

And that’s all in the future. Only a few months away now is the last installment in Marvel’s Phase 3 – that is, Spider-man: Far From Home, which will pit the web-slinger Peter Parker against a reality-bending villain named Mysterio. While this isn’t officially part of Phase 4, according to Kevin Feige, it will still be an entertaining and exciting epilogue to the events of Avengers: Endgame, a much needed respite after huge battles and intergalactic politics, where we can sit back and enjoy some smaller-scale conflict for the safety of Spider-man’s neighborhood.

Which Phase 4 movie are you most excited to see? Let me know in the comments. Considering the fast pace at which projects like The Eternals, Black Widow and Black Panther 2 are being rushed along, it seems likely we’ll get more details about these and other movies sooner than later.