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Warning: spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 are ahead!
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 had a lot of exciting and clever moments, but there was one in particular that was significantly more enjoyable to longtime Marvel fans than to casual viewers. While Rocket, Yondu and Kraglin were struggling to stay conscious as their ship made 700 jumps, one of the areas of the MCU cosmos they passed by was where Stan Lee in an astronaut's suit was telling a group of tall, bald humanoids about his exploits on Earth. This moment, and the post-credits scene that came later, confirmed that Lee has been playing the same character in all his MCU cameos, but more importantly, it officially introduced the Watchers, a.k.a. the bald guys, into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While their inclusion in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was more of a throwaway gag, in the grand scheme of things, bringing in The Watchers could have big implications for the franchise, namely with how tied they are with this universe's history.
In the Marvel Comics universe, the Watchers are one of the oldest species in the universe, and they have one primary purpose. Can you guess what this is? Yes, as the name clearly states, they're tasked with observing civilizations across the universe, recording all events with their advanced technology. Millions of years ago, they attempted to help an alien race by bestowing them with advanced knowledge, but that act eventually led to the race's self-destruction. As a result, the Watchers as a whole declared that they are not allowed to interfere in events on any world. They are literally only allowed watch what happens in their respective sectors. The Watchers are primarily represented in the comics by Uatu, who was assigned to observe Earth and its solar system, but has broken the non-interference policy to help our world's heroes and citizens.
Although Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 marked the Watchers' first appearance in the MCU, there's been a fan theory running for years that Stan Lee was a Watcher given that his character popped up in all of these movies, be it on Earth or an alien planet and looking the same age no matter what the year. While Lee in that astronaut suit clearly doesn't look anything like a legitimate Watcher, those scenes were a fun nod to what fans had been speculating about, and they also set up that his mysterious character has a relationship with the Watchers. Sidetone: it's ironic that beings who only watch things for a living could grow bored listening to Stan Lee talk about being a FedEx deliveryman. But I digress.
The MCU has slowly been expanding its cosmic mythology through the Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy movies, and next year's Avengers: Infinity War will explore those corners further when Thanos attempts to obtain ultimate power through the Infinity Stones. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has admitted that the plan is to place more focus on MCU "cosmic universe," and hopefully that means that the Watchers will receive significant attention later down the line. These beings have been watching over us and other civilizations for nearly as long as this universe has existed, and while they've sworn an oath to not to interfere with other civilizations, that doesn't mean they couldn't make their presence known to Earth's defenders or one of the heroes roaming outer space. There may be a way for them to provide information in a moment of need without technically breaking that oath. If that can't happen, then at the very least they could relay important pieces of history, like how The Collector explained the Infinity Stones' origins in Guardians of the Galaxy.
The Watchers will certainly come in handy later on in the MCU, but it doesn't have to just be as glorified alien scholars. They could also be the key to utilizing the Fantastic Four within this franchise. As those most of you reading know, the Fantastic Four and X-Men reside at 20th Century Fox, but despite the fact that the Watchers debuted in the 1960s in the Fantastic Four book, Kevin Feige revealed to our own Eric Eisenberg that the MCU has joint custody of these beings: According to Feige:
There are particular Watcher characters that are Fox. But the Watchers, as a race of beings, we both [own].
Right now, the future of the Fantastic Four on film remains uncertain. Fox was hoping that the 2015 reboot would kickstart a new series, but after it bombed critically and commercially, the sequel was taken off the schedule, and the studio hasn't announced what their plans are with Marvel's First Family. Fans have wondered whether Fox might strike a deal with Marvel to work on the Fantastic Four together, similar to what Sony did with Spider-Man. If that happens, or if Fox just gives Marvel the full Fantastic Four film rights back in exchange for something else, the Watchers can serve as that direct connection to the Fantastic Four.
Whether the superhero team is living on the same Earth as the Avengers or are in a separate reality, Uatu could break his vow and task Mister Fantastic, Invisible Woman, The Thing and The Human Torch with saving reality, whether they've just gained their powers have long been established as heroes. The Fantastic Four is rooted in crazy science fiction and cosmic adventuring, and since we've seen plenty of Doctor Doom tales on the big screen already, taking advantage of the Watchers is a great way to make sure the next reboot starring the quartet is something unique and exciting. Plus, as those who've read the comics know, Uatu was the one in the comics who warned the Fantastic Four about the Silver Surfer and Galactus coming to Earth. Since Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer failed hitting with audiences, maybe using the Watchers is the way to give an adaptation of that infamous tale some cinematic redemption.
For right now, the Watchers can be briefly be seen in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 alongside a talkative Stan Lee, but rest assured, if any bigger plans for these classic Marvel beings are announced, we here at CinemaBlend will let you know.