Marvel Phase 4: Our informed guesses about who'll replace Thanos as primary antagonist
With the end of the Infinity Saga last year with Avengers: Endgame, the Marvel Cinematic Universe not only lost one of its greatest heroes with Iron Man’s demise, but also one of its best villains in the form of Thanos, a villain whose goal, despite his extreme measures, was dangerously close to being rational.
Never before had the MCU given us a villain that evoked such a degree of pathos and understanding from audiences, even if we did want to see him eventually defeated. Somehow, Marvel turned a genocidal lunatic who killed half of all living things, into a tragic hero in a movie where he was cast as the villain. But now that dust (excuse the pun) has settled on the reign of the Mad Titan, there is the question of who comes next. Thanos has left some big shoes to fill.
With no X-men, Fantastic Four or even an Avengers team-up film making it into the phase 4 lineup, it looks like we probably will not see an appearance of some of the biggest threats in the Marvel Universe, like Galactus, Apocalypse or Kang The Conqueror. But that is not to say that whoever will make the cut will not be enough of a threat to destroy the Earth, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
I will only be talking about the upcoming movies and not the Disney+ shows that are also planned as an official part of the phase 4 lineup. Mostly, that is because I do not have anything interesting to say about the villains we might see, apart from the news that Helmut Zemo from Captain America: Civil War is back for Falcon and the Winter Soldier sounds like fun. But if anyone asks, I am doing it on principle, because, despite phase four of the MCU cosying up to TV like never before, all of the current (or former) Marvel TV shows have been left out in the cold to die. And Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. deserves/deserved better than that."
Anyway, now that that is out of the way, here is what we know, what we think we know, and a little bit of wild theorising about the many threats that Marvel’s heroes, both new and old, will be facing in the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
First up is the much-awaited Black Widow standalone film, a movie so overdue that it stars a character who is no longer even alive in the prime Marvel Cinematic Universe, or at best, her soul is currently facing the prospect of spending eternity inside the Soul Stone. Of course, since the Black Widow film is a prequel, agent Romanoff’s ultimate fate is unlikely to factor into the proceedings.
What we do know is that it will take place mostly in the time period between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, after those heroes that supported Steve Rogers against the Sokovia accords went into hiding. But we also know it will feature at least a few important flashbacks that help us discover more about the shadowy past of everyone’s favourite redheaded assassin.
Hopefully, they do not go into too much detail about what exactly happened in Budapest (they did say some of the movie will be set there) so hopefully, they avoid developing a case of
Star-Wars-Prequel-itis and do not feel the need to over-explain past events that were probably best left to our imagination at this point.
Do not let the outfit fool you. This guy is more of a regular villain than a supervillain. His ‘big deal’ is that he has the ability to perfectly mimic the movements of anyone he can observe. That is pretty cool but that is about it as far as his fantastic powers go. In fact, most writers do not agree as to whether this ability even qualifies to be called a superpower. That said, he is also a master assassin and tactician, an expert combatant in several forms of armed and unarmed combat, and a master of disguise and mimicry. As far as being a good villain for a super spy, I guess he fits the bill well enough.
He is also known to be one of the people in charge of training low-level goons for all the major villains out there. So if you ever wondered who was undertaking the recruitment and training of all the mostly disposable henchmen that our heroes plough through in droves, you are looking at him
(Mostly) Confirmed: Yelena Belova
Another graduate of the Red Room’s Widow programme, Yelena Belova will make an appearance in the Black Widow film. That said, it is not clear what her relationship with Natasha will be in the film: they could be rivals, friends or enemies (They have been all of the above at one time or another). But for the time being, I am going to put her on the villain list, just to be on the safe side.
How about: Madame B & The Winter Guard
While not a high-profile character, Madam B is an important part of Romanoff’s life, having been the director of the secret Russian assassin training facility, the Red Room. We have actually seen her briefly in a Scarlett Witch driven hallucination in Avengers: Age of Ultron, where Natasha recalls a conversation with her former instructor. Since we will probably see Natasha go rogue during the events of the film, it is not much of a stretch for Madame B, assuming she is still alive, could feature as an antagonist at some point in the film.
There’s also the possibility that Widow will be encountering the Winter Guard, a team of Russian super… people, I shy away from calling them heroes, but I suppose they are usually on the right side. Red Guardian (pretty much a Russian Captain America), one of their leading members, is slated to show up in the movie, though it is not clear if he will be there as a friend (She was actually married to the second Red Guardian BTW) or if he has got a bone to pick with his old comrade regarding her defection back in the day.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Martial arts superhero Shang-Chi will become the first Asian character to take on a leading role in the MCU. Even before the recent confirmation, it was fairly clear to comic book fans who the main villain was likely to be just from the name.
MCU fans will also recognise the international terrorist organisation The Ten Rings, which have featured in all the Iron Man films (although their appearance in Iron Man 2 was only a few seconds long). However, it looks like the organisation is still going strong after all these years and Shang-Chi will be locking horns with them and their shadowy leader.
Confirmed: The (real) Mandarin
No, not that Mandarin! The real one.
It has been confirmed that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will feature The Mandarin.
After it was revealed in the Marvel one-shot ‘All hail the king’ that the Mandarin was not just a creation of an actor on hard drugs but in fact, an all-too-real terrorist/cult/militant/mystic leader, the mysterious magic wielder and his organisation have been radio-silent. This allowed other more in-vogue villainous organisations like the Advanced Idea Mechanics or a resurgent HYDRA to take centre stage. But it appears that with Iron Man gone and the Avengers at least temporarily dissolved, it appears that the time is ripe for them to make some bold moves.
The Mandarin, in the comic books at least, possesses 10 magic rings, each of which would be significantly powerful on their own, but together, making him a fairly spectacular force to be reckoned with and turning his plans for world domination from a pipe dream to something far more realistically attainable.
It is a bit odd that they are having Shang-Chi face him since The Mandarin, as Iron Man’s villain, was always about facing his diametric opposite: East vs West, Magic Vs Technology. In the MCU, he has literally waited for Stark to die before making his presence known. That said, having an Asian hero face an Asian villain is probably part of the plan to expressly avoid the perception of it being an East vs West story and it could potentially do for Asian representation in superhero films what Black Panther did for African and African origin communities.
Next up we have the Eternals. We know next to nothing about what the movie is going to be about, but what we know from the comics should allow us to make a few educated guesses. The Eternals are an off-shoot of the human species, having been granted certain abilities through the genetic meddling of (probably) well-meaning Celestials, who performed experiments on Neanderthals and early humans. They were created to be the defenders of the planet... a role that they appear to not be excelling at in the MCU so far, at least to the best of our knowledge. As for villains, there are a lot of candidates for that dubious honour, but I’ve got an inkling or two about the likely front-runners.
How about: Deviants & The Celestials"
First up we have the Deviants, think of them as Eternals that the Celestials left in the oven too long. With most of the abilities but none of the noble aspirations, Deviants and Eternals have been locked in a brutal struggle for supremacy for several thousand years, and across multiple planets and moons in our solar system. If there is an obvious pick for who the Eternals are going to be facing in their cinematic debut, it is these guys.
Then, of course, there are the Celestials themselves. There is a lot to be said about the potential for a confrontation between a powerful group of creators and their newly empowered creations who were altered without their consent. There is also the matter that the Celestials have a habit of visiting worlds that they have altered to determine whether they are still considered worthy.
Either way, the Eternals is likely going to go some way towards expanding the cosmic side of the MCU and possibly provide an explanation for what Nick Fury is up to in the post-credits scene of Spider-Man: Far From Home. They would also make a great world-ending threat, suitable for the next Avengers film to tackle if Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige and his crew are so inclined.
Doctor Strange: In the Multiverse of Madness
Billed as the first horror movie of the MCU, (Still retaining its PG-13 rating though so make of that what you will) Strange’s second solo outing should provide some fresh new insights into the world of the arcane arts. If we can trust the film to deliver on its title, give us the first real look at the possibilities of Marvel’s multiverse, after Quentin Beck’s deception in. With confirmation that Scarlet Witch and her reality-altering powers will make an appearance alongside the good doctor, there is plenty of scope for some serious future repercussions for the rest of phase four and maybe even beyond.
From what we have been told, the main villain of the movie looks to be a character called Nightmare. While that may sound like a 12-year old’s idea of an edgy Gamertag, he is apparently the real deal. An actual demonic lord of fear that thrives off the energy of negative emotions like fear or despair.
I do not really know much about the character myself, but it is a pretty bold move that Marvel seems confident enough to start introducing some of their more abstract and elemental characters into the MCU. That said, as a lord of the dream dimension, Nightmare, is also an immensely powerful antagonist. Perhaps all he needs is a revival, similar to how the Guardians of the Galaxy were catapulted to the fore of Marvel’s hero line-up from relative obscurity following their cinematic debut.
Almost Certainly: Baron Mordo
A few Marvel films have telegraphed the next intended villain for their hero to face in the sequel as the first Doctor Strange movie. By the end, Karl Mordo had abandoned his former allies, disgusted over their use (or misuse in his opinion) of primal forces that man was not meant to meddle with. Disillusioned with the Ancient One’s teachings and the new Sorcerer Supreme, he now seeks to rid the world of magic; despite the fact that he will almost certainly be using magic to accomplish this. An irony that is hopefully not lost on Mordo.
However, it has yet to be revealed if he will indeed make a comeback in Strange’s sequel, but I would say the odds are still good that he will put in an appearance, even if he is not the primary antagonist.
Thor: Love and Thunder
Closing out the fourth phase of the MCU is the earlier-than-expected next instalment in the Thor franchise. There is not a lot we know about it yet, but we do know that Taika Waititi has been picked to helm the film, which will not come as a surprise to anyone except the five people who did not enjoy Thor: Ragnarok.
Also, they have got Natalie Portman back so that Jane Foster can become the new Thor. How does she have Mjolnir? Is she from another dimension? Will Thor go through his “unworthy” phase (again) and begin going by just, Odinson? Is he going to lose his arm and get a prosthetic?
How about: The Enchantress & Adam Warlock
We have seen a lot of the major players of Marvel’s villain roster make their debut in the MCU over the last 12 years, but since the MCU heroes tend to deal with their villains far more permanently than their comic book counterparts, few ever have the opportunity to return.
But one character we have not seen crop up in the Thor films so far is Amora The Enchantress. With Asgard and its people having faired not so well under the short but eventful leadership of Thor Odinson, it would not be too hard to imagine there are many Asgardians that no longer respect their former leader. And also, would not really respect any heir to the throne that he may pick so that he can abdicate his throne, desert his decimated people, and go adventuring across the galaxy.
Amora could position herself as a populist rival to Valkyrie’s rule, maybe even inciting a civil war among the Asgardians in the process. And hey, even if no one wants to support her, enthralling others to do her bidding is something Amora is pretty good at and has no qualms about doing so in order to further her agenda.
And then there’s Adam Warlock. I have taken a few wild swings already in this piece, and this one is wildest yet. Particularly since there are already rumours about casting choices for Warlock in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, but there may be something to it. Warlock is usually a hero of course, but he has turned evil before (as Magnus) and his relationships with many heroes are not exactly friendly. With so much overlap between Thor and The Guardians of the Galaxy, it is not too far a stretch to say that Warlock could make his debut here, instead of the next Guardians.
And if a God-like being, with immense power and a chip on his shoulder about the burden of responsibility, does appear as an antagonist in the next Thor, who better to talk him into joining the ‘good guys’ by liberating himself from the expectations of his people and living for himself than Thor ‘The Dude’ Odinson… a God-like being with immense power and (formerly) a chip on his shoulder about the burden of responsibility.
This may actually be important for a few reasons. Thematically, it would be cool and different to see a new, wiser and more relaxed Odinson save the day by winning over an enemy rather than just with brute force. But beyond that, in the comics, Warlock is seemingly uniquely gifted when it comes to using the Soul Gem (or Stone if you prefer the MCU parlance), able to enter and exit it at will. And while the Soul Stone in our continuity has been destroyed, the Doctor Strange sequel is likely going to bring the Marvel multiverse into play in some way. Also, and I am really grasping here I admit, there is no specific reason to think that just because multiple Soul Stones exist, they do not all lead into the same singular soul world that exists entirely outside ‘normal’ reality, space and time, linked simultaneously to all points in time in every other universe.
It is a lot to take in, but by taking it slow, Marvel has got to a point where multi-thread time travel plots and multiverses no longer phase mainstream audiences, so I do not think it would be too hard for people to accept.
In that case, the souls of Gamora and Black Widow could potentially still be reachable by anyone interested in saving them… something that Peter Quill would probably be quite interested in by the time we catcWhoh up with the Guardians in their next appearance. Looking at the lineup, it does feel like Black Widow, Doctor Strange, and Thor: Love and Thunder are set up specifically to slowly drop all the pieces into place for a rescue mission to recover Gamora and/or Romanoff to become increasingly viable.
That is just a shot in the dark theory, but I liked it. Of course, that is assuming that either of them would even be interested in reprising their roles in phase 4, but that is a different discussion for another time.
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Updated Date: Aug 03, 2019 12:25:28 IST