One of the hugest announcements at this year’s San Diego Comic Con was Marvel Studios’ revelation (and for the most part, confirmation) of what the movies leading up to 2015’s Avengers 2 will entail, when they will come out, and what they are called.
Shorthanded as “Phase 2,” the 2012 SDCC Marvel Studios panel covered all of these films and, most importantly, revealed what their titles were. But in doing so, they may have inadvertently revealed the overarching storyline that will lead into Avengers 2.
Spoilers ahead, naturally. The theory is based on information just released at San Diego Comic Con, as well as info from the end of The Avengers plus leaks from the set of Iron Man 3. The conclusions drawn from it are all speculation.
Let’s start with the end of The Avengers, specifically the fact that Thanos, the star-faring self-styled devotee of Death was revealed as the head of the Chitauri alien force that attacked Earth and aided Loki in The Avengers. (I swear that sentence made sense while I was typing it.) This post-credits scene was an awesome reveal to comics fans, but a nonsensical reveal to everyone else, and it leaves the future Marvel movies with a big Thanos problem. How do you introduce an unknown character with alien, universe-shattering intentions and still create a realistic, grounded, relatable Avengers 2 film?
Further, how do you do this and lure Joss Whedon back to the franchise? Marvel Studios’ efforts in crafting a believable superhero universe were what put the butts in the seats, but it was Whedon’s direction and script that kept them there (and kept them coming back, honestly). Speaking to SFX Magazine, Whedon considered what he would prefer in a hypothetical Avengers 2:
“[A story that’s] not trying to [go bigger]. By being smaller. More personal, more painful. By being the next thing that should happen to these characters, and not just a rehash of what seemed to work the first time. By having a theme that is completely fresh and organic to itself.”
Sounds good! But how do you meld this desire with a concept as huge as a big purple alien who wants everything in the universe dead? (And isn’t a Dalek.)
I have a theory. Let’s go through Marvel’s “Phase 2” and see how it might work:
Iron Man 3
Out on May 3, 2013
The rumored plot: Tony Stark comes full circle with his beginnings in the very first Iron Man film, as he comes under attack by the Mandarin. According to footage screened at San Diego Comic Con, Rhodey is crafted into a military-use Iron Man dubbed the Iron Patriot and Tony has started developing further abilities that put the Iron Man suit under his mental command. The story is rumored to include many elements of Warren Ellis’ “Extremis” comics storyline, which resulted in Tony effectively internalising the Iron Man suit.
What are the key Avengers 2 elements here?: The continued proliferation of the Iron Man technology and, most importantly, the Iron Patriot. Although footage and panels at SDCC connect Rhodey with the suit, leaked set photos showed another actor, James Badge Dale, inside of it, leading one to speculate that Rhodey loses the suit or is booted from it by the U.S. government in favor of a pilot with a less favorable attachment to Tony Stark.
Thor: The Dark World
Out on November 8, 2013
The rumored plot: No idea. SDCC revealed that the main cast from the first Thor will return (except for the actor playing Fandral), which means we’ll see Loki get up to more shenanigans. There’s an Infinity Gauntlet hiding in the treasure room of Asgard, as well. A treasure room that Loki knows how to pop in and out of undetected.
What are the key Avengers 2 elements here?: Of all the films in “Phase 2,” Thor: The Dark World will have the easiest time explaining the character of Thanos, his goals, and the huge stakes involved in thwarting his aims. I would not be surprised if Thanos turns up as the main antagonist here, trying to snatch the Gauntlet as a precursor to an invasion of Earth. (Or as a precursor to the end of all things.)
The Asgardian pantheon is larger than viewers yet know, as well. Most tellingly, the Asgardian God of Death, Hela, has yet to be seen on screen. What if Thor: The Dark World opened with Jane Foster in mortal peril and Thor unable to reach her? Would that guilt, that broken promise, send Thor venturing into Hela’s domain to save her? And would he find Thanos there and learn of the Death-courting alien’s intentions for Earth?
Finally, look at the release dates for the “Phase 2” Marvel Avengers movies. We’re on Earth with Iron Man, then out into fantastic worlds with Thor. Then we’re on Earth with Captain America and then out into fantastic worlds with the Guardians of the Galaxy. There isn’t just one overarching storyline here. There are two, and the 2013 Marvel movies will kick them both off.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Out on April 4, 2014
The rumored plot: We know a few things. Captain America: The Winter Soldier will go in-depth on how Steve Rogers is adjusting to modern life and, presumably, his struggle to continue being a pure American symbol in a century where the concept of America is at odds with itself.
Cap is also still a part of SHIELD after the events of The Avengers and as such, Captain America: The Winter Soldier will contain a lot of SHIELD-related set-up for Avengers 2.
What are the key Avengers 2 elements here?: The title says it all. In the comics the Winter Soldier was a mysterious assassin/terrorist who turned out to be a brainwashed Bucky Barnes, the sidekick of Captain America and the childhood friend of Steve Rogers. (He tried to blow up Philadelphia on the orders of some rogue Russian elements, among other things.)
We saw Bucky die in the first Captain America film. Well, we saw him fall from an impossible-to-survive height. There was never any body seen, and you know what that means. No body, no death.
The important clue here is that the Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes came to prominence as the new Captain America after Steve suffered an ignoble defeat in a certain Marvel Comics storyline that pitted friend against friend for the highest stakes of them all:
Civil War was a crossover storyline in Marvel Comics that pitted heroes against each other in the name of accountability. It begins when a group of untrained superpowered “heroes” (in actuality, they’re filming a reality show) chases a washed up superpowered terrorist towards a suburban school. The terrorist summons one last burst of power to get everyone off his back and the entire school, and everyone in it, is destroyed.
The resulting outrage leads to the creation of the Superhero Registration Act. Anyone who has extranormal abilities must report their abilities, and their secret identities, to SHIELD or face incarceration.
Iron Man spearheads the charge for registration and assembles an army to hunt down any who resist registering. Captain America sees this as a betrayal of the very ideals his costume represents and heads the heroes in hiding. A confrontation inevitably ensues and Cap loses. He’s hauled off to court, but before he can be tried, he is assassinated.
Cap’s death is the final nail for Tony, who steps down from his duties and is eventually replaced by... the Iron Patriot.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Out on August 1, 2014
The rumored plot: Geez, who knows with this one. In the comics the Guardians are basically an outer space Avengers, comprised of heroes from many different worlds. We do know from the teaser art released at SDCC that the movie’s team will be comprised of five characters: Star-Lord, Drax the Destroyer, Gamora, Groot, and Rocket Raccoon.
What are the key Avengers 2 elements here?: Drax and Gamora have personal relationships with Thanos. (The former was created specifically to destroy Thanos, the latter was raised by Thanos into an unstoppable assassin before he ended up killing her.) This movie will probably serve to expand the context for this villain.
Out when it’s out
The rumored plot: There’s a guy. He can turn really tiny. He is often depicted as an asshole. Edgar “Shaun of the Dead / Scott Pilgrim” Wright and Joe “Attack the Block” Cornish are in charge so it kind of doesn’t matter what the plot is.
What are the key Avengers 2 elements here?: Honestly, there’s a good chance that there aren’t any. The film has barely begun production, as well, so we don’t know if it’s before or after Avengers 2. The only thing that comes to mind is that Ant-Man might be the untrained superhero who ends up causing a tragedy, echoing the start of Civil War.
Out when it’s out but currently projected for 2015 (fingers crossed)
How it all comes together: Because of the destruction that follows in the wake of individuals simply trying to get at people like Tony Stark, the Hulk, and so on SHIELD will require, or be required, to force anyone with supernormal technology or abilities to work for SHIELD or face incarceration.
The details are certainly yet to be revealed but the important part here is that because of events in the “Phase 2” movies a line is drawn regarding SHIELD, the Avengers, and any other forthcoming “superheroes.” It won’t be a question of “Will Iron Man/Captain America/The Hulk/Thor/etc. help us?” like in the first Avengers film, it’ll be a statement. Do what SHIELD (or whomever) says or be outlawed.
Such a mandate would produce differing reactions in all of the movie Avengers. Captain America might fall in line, with Black Widow and Hawkeye behind him, or he might go rogue. Tony Stark might toe the line and argue that if this has to be done then they are the only ones who can do it right. Or he might echo the beginning of Iron Man 2, where he resists any attempt by a government to regulate him as a weapon. Hulk might, well, Hulk out or he might take the safe harbor that the mandate promises him. Thor would probably laugh at the arrogance that any Midgardians could control him and then pity us for losing the honor he attributed to humanity.
Here, Joss Whedon gets the more personal, more painful story he wants. The Avengers came together as something bigger than themselves and now they’re being taken for granted, letting bureaucracy sunder them, or they’re being threatened with replacement by people like the Iron Patriot or the Winter Soldier. Bottom line, if they want to fight this then they have to really question who they are and if the good that they’re doing is worth the upheavel their lives will go through.
How does Thanos work into this? He might not at all. Guardians of the Galaxy might tie up that storyline. Or he might continue to be a looming threat, a warning from Thor that something dark is coming, something that is not being addressed because SHIELD or the U.S. or whomever has the Avengers fighting each other and not the real threat.
And that’s your theory?: For the moment, that’s my theory, that elements from the Civil War storyline will inform the “Phase 2” movies on a personal level while a separate storyline will fill in the approaching cosmic threat of Thanos. And that there will be lots of other stuff that we haven’t even thought of yet and probably we will love it.
The theory is also predicated on the hope that the Marvel movies will build in complexity and that the moniker “Phase 2” will live up to the promise. They succeeded in bringing a thin greatest-hits-ish concept like The Avengers into the world. Now let’s see what else they can pull off...
Chris Lough is the production manager of Tor.com and wasn’t on a plane when he wrote this particular 3000 word Avengers article, but kind of wishes he had been.