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When Ant-Man & The Wasp arrives in theaters on July 6th, it will be the 20th Marvel Cinematic Universe film, and there are no plans to slow down any time soon. Phase Four will begin next summer after the untitled Avengers 4, and it will launch a whole new slate of new projects, featuring both new characters and old favorites. But how exactly will those titles balance out? In the words of Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige, it's a good, unique problem to have, and one they have worked hard to hash out:
It's one of the reasons we've expanded to three films a year, is so that we could do the sequels to films that people have responded to -- because we love to make continuing stories with characters people have responded to -- but also keep doing the stuff that nobody's ever heard of, and people go, 'Why are you doing that?' That's fun. And that's what Phase One was built on, Phase Two was built on, Phase Three was built on, is having that... Whenever we announce the next year, two years, three years, five years, whatever we're going to announce, there will be plenty of those that, maybe people in the know like yourself will know what they are, but the world at large will go, 'What is it? Why are they doing that?' That's exciting, for sure.
I talked about a lot of big picture stuff with Kevin Feige last weekend when I had the chance to sit down with him at the Los Angeles press day for Ant-Man & The Wasp. It began with a discussion about not just Marvel's success, but the creative influence of that success. If a film does well, clearly there is an audience that wants to see more, but that must be balanced with the investment in risk-taking and new ideas. It's a challenge that Feige and his team face as they construct the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, especially as three movies a year appears to be a cap.
In this case, the enemy is basically exponential growth. With each new character introduced there is potential demand created for a direct sequel, and that becomes a touch problematic as more and more heroes enter the game. For example, if the expectation is to have each series be a trilogy, that means that at the start of Phase Four fans will be waiting for one more Guardians of the Galaxy movie; two more Doctor Stranges; two more Spider-Man sequels; two more Black Panthers, one more Ant-Man & The Wasp; and two more Captain Marvels. That's 10 titles by itself, equitable to half of Marvel's output in its first decade a.k.a. three Phases.
So what is the cure to this problem? Two words: scheduling, and patience. The expectation for those sequels to be made may exist, but Marvel has to make sure they are properly distributed within the framework of the bigger timeline, and in some cases that means there are going to be long gaps. Or as Kevin Feige explained it,
When you've got, what is it now, six, seven separate franchises? It's part of the scheduling process. Sometimes when people ask, 'What about this character, what about that character?' I go, 'Well, it's scheduling.' And they go, 'What's he talking about?' Scheduling. How many years between movies can you have? You know, [Thor:] Ragnarok was four years. There's four years between, right? He had an appearance in between there. So that seems to be maybe okay - sometimes, though, you want it to be less. Sometimes it can be more.
Of course, one of the great strengths of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the endless possibilities, and that very much works in the franchise's favor as well. Even when a character hasn't appeared in their own solo title in a while there exists the opportunity to have them show off their particular set of skills as a supporting character in a different series (a la Iron Man's part in Spider-Man: Homecoming). Kevin Feige illustrated this as he continued,
Sometimes it's where do those characters pop up? [Doctor] Strange, you know, whenever we do another Strange one, which we will do, it will be a number of years from the first Strange, and yet he's a very big part of [Avengers:] Infinity War. So it is just a good problem to have when you have too many beloved characters that people want to see more of, whilst keeping to our core belief that we need to keep exploring nuance and keep doing different types of things.
For those keeping track, it's so far been just short of two years since the release of Scott Derrickson's Doctor Strange, and it sounds like we may have to wait a bit for Doctor Strange 2. All the same, the guarantee of its development is exciting, even if we have to wait until 2020 to see it, and hopefully we will see him pop up in some other Marvel movies.
Marvel Studios hasn't done a full slate announcement since they unveiled Phase Three back in late October 2014, and we are still patiently waiting for official word on what to expect from Phase Four beyond Spider-Man: Far From Home and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Regardless of when it happens, though, it sounds like we will be in for some big surprises.