The chatter surrounding the next two Avengers movies -- both Avengers: Infinity War and the yet-to-be-titled Avengers 4 -- says that this will be some form of closure, a finale to a story that started with Iron Man and ran through 22 films by the time all is said and done. That number includes 2018's releases of Black Panther and Ant Man and the Wasp, as well as 2019's Captain Marvel. But does this mean the MCU is ending? No, as James Gunn took to Twitter to clarify... seeing as how he's tasked with writing and directing a movie that will fall into the "Whatever Happens Next" phase of Marvel's grand plan. Says Gunn:
This might not be new news, but it does add some clarity into the thought process happening at Marvel Studios. The overall story arc that has been playing out in the background of Phases One through Three in the MCU has been the rise of Thanos -- introduced in the closing credits of the first Avengers movie -- and his quest for the Infinity Stones (which have played major roles in multiple Marvel movies, but likely will be put to bed after Avengers 4). We know that Josh Brolin will play the Mad Titan in Avengers: Infinity War, but have no clue whether the battle against his forces will extend into Avengers 4... or if that movie will be more of a clean up and an epilogue to the 22-film journey that has been the MCU up to this point.
But, as James Gunn states, this will not be the end of the MCU. It will simply be the conclusion of that story, with his own Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 being the beginning of a new story. Even though, as Gunn notes, his sequel ALSO will be the conclusion of the story of his current Guardians roster:
Now, the questions can resume. Is the "new" story that will begin with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 meant to be as massive as the 22-film-spanning Thanos saga that loosely connects the whole of the MCU to this point? Unlikely, as there are few Marvel storylines that could sustain so many films, and even at that, the MCU worked in standalone stories like the Age of Ultron, Civil War and the Winter Soldier drama into the individual plotlines of the main heroes.
What might change, however, are the faces who are considered the main Marvel players heading into the post-Avengers 4 time period. There are a handful of MCU characters who will have only had one movie by the time the current MCU story ends. We'd expect characters like Doctor Strange, Black Panther and Captain Marvel to keep getting movies, but we also fully expect heroes like Iron Man, Thor and Captain America to no longer get movies. Do you see a Part 4 happening in any of the franchises tied to the Big Three of the MCU? It's possible, but I'd be surprised if they happened. (A Captain America movie with Bucky or Sam in the suit, though, is highly probable.)
One thing tripping me up on the "Start of a new story" is that the disconnect between the Cosmic and the Earthbound directions of the MCU will seem more pronounced after Avengers 4. As James Gunn says, his own Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 will begin the new MCU story. But the only other movie on the docket in a post-Avengers 4 world is the sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming, and the hook of that character is how grounded and down-to-earth his adventures need to be. And if Doctor Strange or Captain Marvel get second films, they would only take the MCU in totally different and opposing directions. Maybe the future of the MCU will mean no longer will we have connected stories where heroes could share scenes? That would be so strange. (No pun intended).
We won't have to wait that much longer for these answers to fully crystalize. Avengers 4 will be in theaters on May 3, 2019. Bookmark our Upcoming Marvel Movies guide for a full breakdown on every future Marvel movie, as well.