Marvel’s Changing Plans for Phase Three!

In October 2014, Marvel wowed the world with a staggering plan that ran all the way up to 2019! That original plan was:

  • Captain America: Civil War – May 6th, 2016
  • Doctor Strange – November 4th, 2016
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 – May 5th, 2017
  • Thor: Ragnarok – July 28th, 2017
  • Black Panther – November 3rd, 2017
  • Captain Marvel – July 6th, 2018
  • Inhumans – November 2nd, 2018
  • Infinity War Parts 1 and 2 – May 4th, 2018 and May 3rd, 2019

Eagle-eyed Marvel viewers will have noticed, though, that Marvel’s plans have kept changing. We’re now partway through Phase 3 – with Captain America: Civil War a tremendous success, and Doctor Strange due out in November – but a lot of other details have changed. Here are the key changes – and the reasons they’ve happened!

1. The Marvel / Sony Deal Brings Spider-Man Into the MCU!

Tom Holland's Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War! Image: Marvel Studios

Tom Holland’s Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War! Image: Marvel Studios

, Marvel’s original plans for Captain America: Civil War had included a certain wall-crawler, and the Studio had been in high-level discussions with Sony for quite some time. By October 2014, Marvel was offering Sony a deal where Marvel would produce a new Spider-Man trilogy, one set within the MCU, and would have freedom to use Spider-Man in their own films. Marvel would also regain the merchandise rights to Spider-Man. In return, Sony would retain “creative control, marketing, and distribution” of the Spider-Man trilogy. Sony said no, and Marvel went ahead with the Phase 3 announcement, no doubt disappointed but well able to continue the MCU without Spider-Man.

Then Sony was hacked, and countless emails leaked online. The leak included information about the proposed Spider-Man deal, while simultaneously revealed that Sony execs had no idea what to do with the franchise now they’d said no. In February 2015, under major pressure from stakeholders, key figures in Sony held a retreat to discuss the future of Spider-Man. We don’t know much about what happened next, but we do know that suddenly the Spider-Man deal was back on the table.

Spider-Man and his Marvel-ous allies! Image: Marvel Comics

Spider-Man and his Marvel-ous allies! Image: Marvel Comics

When the deal finally went through, Marvel announced major changes to their Phase 3 plans. Spider-Man would be introduced into the MCU in Captain America: Civil War, and Marvel would then produce a Spider-Man film in 2017 (that became Spider-Man: Homecoming). We don’t know whether or not the final deal has the same terms as the one leaked in 2014, but if so then Marvel will be contractually obliged to follow that up with another Spider-Man film in 2019, and another in 2021. With a whole new movie suddenly appearing in Phase 3, Marvel began to juggle around the dates of the films – with one very important consequence…

2. A Crisis for the Inhumans and Good News for Ant-Man!

The Inhuman Royal Family! Image: Marvel Comics

The Inhuman Royal Family! Image: Marvel Comics

As far back as , rumors from industry insiders suggested that Marvel Studios was working on The Inhumans. By August 2014, there were that Marvel had commissioned a screenplay from Joe Robert Cole, and the Phase 3 announcement gave the movie a release date of November 2nd, 2018.

The problem here, though, was with Marvel Entertainment. While Marvel Studios worked towards a 2018 release, Marvel Entertainment – who run the TV shows – introduced the Inhumans in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2. By last year, it was becoming clear that the Inhumans had the potential to cause a crisis in the MCU; Clark Gregg told :

“That writer and director will have free reign to do what they want to do with the Inhumans. But hopefully there’ll be some way that our Inhumans connect to that. It’d be too bad if that was wasted.”

Where most new writers have relatively free rein to adapt their concepts to the MCU, the writers of The Inhumans will have to deal with an MCU in which their creativity is already ‘locked in’, and the problem looked only set to become worse.

Little wonder that, by October 2015, Cole’s script had been abandoned. The Inhumans was originally delayed when Spider-Man: Homecoming was added to Phase 3, and has now been pushed out of Phase 3 altogether.

During the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. panel at , fans were told that the delay has had a beneficial impact on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., who now have the freedom to introduce “classic Inhumans”. In truth, it doesn’t actually sound as though The Inhumans is a priority at Marvel Studios any more.

It may be that The Inhumans has been written off completely, and the reason may be as much organizational as anything else. Last year, the growing friction between Marvel Studios visionary Kevin Feige and Marvel’s reclusive CEO Ike Perlmutter forced an organizational restructure, with Marvel Studios pulled out of Perlmutter’s company and Feige now reporting in directly to Disney. Comic book fans have long believed that Perlmutter is an evangelist for the Inhumans brand – many X-Men fans blame him for pushing the Inhumans to the detriment of the X-Men. It’s entirely possible that The Inhumans was Perlmutter’s baby, but Feige isn’t interested. If so, it would explain why the “classic Inhumans” are now available for Marvel Entertainment’s use.

There was another unexpected side-effect of the restructure. The first Ant-Man film had been a subject of real controversy behind the scenes, with Ike Perlmutter’s Creative Committee effectively trying to micro-manage the film. There are that their interference was a major reason director Edgar Wright backed out of the project. As part of the 2015 restructure, the Creative Committee was disbanded, and shortly afterwards Marvel announced , Ant-Man and the Wasp. The timing is hardly likely to be a coincidence; Kevin Feige clearly has a very different vision of Marvel’s future to Ike Perlmutter.

3. Joss Whedon Moves On – and Infinity War Changes!

As I’ve already alluded, by 2015 Marvel Studios was a pretty uncomfortable place to work. Nobody felt the pressure more than Joss Whedon, who had headed up the MCU with Phase 1’s classic The Avengers. The sequel – Avengers: Age of Ultron – saw Whedon in real conflict with Marvel executives over his plans for Hawkeye and the Scarlet Witch in particular. As he told :

“It’s weird because the first one was very, very, very, hard. This one was much harder. It a little bit broke me.”

It seems more than a little likely that Whedon was expected to stick around, and that he’d been heavily involved in the initial preparation for Phase 3’s Avengers: Infinity War (he constantly talked about his long-term plans for Thanos). But the experience of Avengers: Age of Ultron clearly exhausted Whedon, who stepped out of the MCU altogether.

The pool scene caused real controversy. Image: Marvel Studios

The pool scene caused real controversy. Image: Marvel Studios

By April 2015, Joe and Anthony Russo had been signed on as directors for Parts 1 and 2. It didn’t take long for the Russo brothers’ vision to seem a little different to the one we saw teased in October 2014. In April 2016, Anthony Russo was :

“It’s not a part one and part two scenario, necessarily. They’re just two different expressions. I think it creates a misconception that we’re shooting them at the same time.”

The latest news is that Marvel’s plans have completely changed. Avengers: Infinity War is now a standalone film, with a fourth untitled Avengers movie due in 2019.

All these changes mean the Phase 3 slate now looks like this:

  • Captain America: Civil War – May 6th, 2016
  • Doctor Strange – November 4th, 2016
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 – May 5th, 2017
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming – July 7th, 2017
  • Thor: Ragnarok – November 3rd, 2017
  • Black Panther – February 16th, 2018
  • Avengers: Infinity War – May 4th, 2018
  • Ant-Man and the Wasp – July 6th, 2018
  • Captain Marvel – March 8th, 2018
  • Untitled Avengers sequel – May 3rd, 2019
  • Untitled Marvel movie – May 1st, 2020
  • Untitled Marvel movie – July 10th, 2020
  • Untitled Marvel movie – November 6th, 2020

As you can see, Marvel fans typically imagine Marvel as having a roadmap stretching a decade into the future – I saw some fans speculating that this year’s SDCC would include Marvel revealing the Phase 4 slate! The truth is very different; while Marvel Studios does have a long-term vision, that vision is a very flexible and fluid thing. Changes in business structure, staffing, and even negotiations with other studios have all had a major impact on Phase 3. While I suspect most of Phase 3 will remain fixed as we now know it, the reality is that only time will tell.

Are you expecting to see any more changes in Phase 3? Let me know in the comments!

Avengers assemble! Image: Marvel Studios

Avengers assemble! Image: Marvel Studios


I’m a British guy who has a particular love of superhero movies – and I’m having a great time writing for Movie Pilot! Feel free to follow me on Twitter @TomABacon!