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So the Marvel Cinematic Universe keeps on rolling, churning out success after success. It seems they can do no wrong, but all these movies have been working to one ultimate goal, a mega crossover event to end all mega crossovers: Infinity War.
On 27 April 2018 (in the UK at least), we will see the culmination of a decade's worth of movies, as we see our favourite heroes take on one of the most notorious villains in comics history. Thanos has his hands on the Infinity Gauntlet and is slowly collecting the gems one by one, and when he acquires them all, he becomes the most powerful being in the universe.
So this begs the question, once this movie is done and dusted, where can the MCU go from here? Sure, they can hit the reset button, but they may simply be better served by maintaining the canon already established, and re-casting certain roles a-la James Bond. Sure, this won't be a popular move with some fans, but we need to face the facts. Our favourite actors aren't getting any younger, and Thor can't wield Mjolnir forever, so he needs to, shall we say, regenerate. So unless we want to face reset after reset of the MCU, we need to simply be willing and able to accept different actors playing our favourite superheroes. Keeping that in mind, I'm sure Marvel needs to consider what big story they could work toward next. What giant story arc could they build up to be finalised in a massive crossover movie? Well, here's my top 5 picks of stories I would like to see in the MCU, and how I think these could be accomplished.
During our time with the cosmic aspects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we have been introduced to both The Grandmaster and The Collector, two Elders of the Universe. Played by Benicio Del Toro and Jeff Goldblum respectively, these two characters have found themselves wronged by our heroes in various ways. The Collector has found himself doing dealings with the Asgardians and the Guardians of the Galaxy. The Asgardians gave him the Aether (the Reality Stone) to keep safely, and he ultimately found his vault destroyed by the unleashing of the Power Stone's energy after the Guardians of the Galaxy had brought it to him.
The Grandmaster has also had dealings with the Asgardians as he had attempted to imprison Thor and force him to fight in a tournament against his former work colleague, the Incredible Hulk. Thor led a rebellion against the Grandmaster in order to ensure his escape, managing to get himself, and a number of other gladiators safely off Sakaar and to freedom. So how could this play into the MCU's version of Secret Wars? Well, arguably, the true power of the two brothers hasn't been shown in its true glory yet, and I think this story truly could give us a real glimpse into their cosmic might.
While Grandmaster is arguably the only one to feel truly jilted by our heroes, Collector would still also have an axe to grind. In leaked images of Infinity War, it shows the Aether being stolen from the Collector's vault by Thanos' people, so it's natural to assume that the Collector will be desperate to regain possession of the Reality Stone stolen from him. At the end of Infinity War, it wouldn't be surprising if the Avengers, along with the Guardians of the Galaxy, agreed to hide the stones at various different locations across the universe, leading to a very pissed off Collector.
So how would the story play out?
You could start it with an end credits scene after the 2019 Avengers movie, which will no doubt work as a "Part 2" to Infinity War, even if it's no longer named "Part 2." You see the two brothers coming together, maybe sat around a table getting drunk and chatting, talking about how they have been humiliated by mere mortals. Then their mutual competitiveness gets the better of them, and they turn this humiliation into a game of sorts. Both agree to use these humans against one another, forming their own "teams" and forcing them to battle it out against one another to the death. That way, they get revenge against those who have ruined their fun, while at the same time making a game of it to see who is the better brother.
Rather than be a massive arc over a 10 year period, this could simply work toward the next Avengers movie. Because, let's face it, there definitely will be a new Avengers movie, because as long as these things make money, they will keep getting made. Over the space of 5 or 6 movies, the arc would be built up using simple post-credits or cameo scenes, showing the Collector and Grandmaster plotting their devious scheme, kidnapping heroes one by one and putting them in a form of stasis until the time is right. This builds anticipation to what we know will be a big headsmashing blockbuster of a movie, no massive armies, no CGI villains; we would just get to see our heroes butt heads like we always wanted them to in massive arena on another world: Battleworld.
How would it differ from the comics?
Anyone familiar with the Comic story arc will know that the original Secret Wars saw an entity called "The Beyonder," a God-like being, transport heroes and villains to a planet created by them called "Battleworld." The Beyonder is fascinated by the potential of superheroes which have developed on Earth and seeks to see them fight for little more than his own amusement.
Why should the movies steer clear of this?
Honestly, the idea of a truly God-like being in the current MCU might be a bit far out there even now that they have fully embraced the weird aspects of the universe. I think the idea of an unseen "Beyonder" forcing the heroes and villains to fight for reasons no greater than their own amusement on a world created by it for that sole purpose might be a tough movie to sell. At least using the Grandmaster and Collector as the force driving toward the Secret Wars, and maybe even staging such a movie on the already established, Sakaar would keep the movie necessarily grounded and fun without the universe having to get even more weird for the casual fans.
'World War Hulk'
If I ever end up in a conversation with someone about comic books and the question comes up about what my favourite comic story is, I'm always quick to answer: World War Hulk. The current MCU has seen two people play Bruce Banner/Hulk; the first time was Edward Norton, the second has seen Mark Ruffalo become the angry green giant. Re-casting an important role is therefore not unheard of, and it definitely gives us scope for the build up to this story being something quite intense to what would wind up being an extremely satisfying pay off.
Up to this point we haven't really seen Hulk truly unleashed to his full rage potential. We've seen him mad and take on Tony Stark's Hulkbuster, but we've never truly seen Hulk's rage maxed out to the point that terrifies anyone in the Marvel Universe. One of my favourite parts about this storyline is that when Hulk first returns from Planet Sakaar and announces his desire to get revenge against the heroes that wronged him, they are terrified. They realise how much they have fucked up, and how the truly angry Hulk could easily destroy them in a fight, so imagine this on screen.
Imagine our favourite heroes so utterly terrified of facing the Hulk's immense rage at its fullest potential that they do the one thing you really can't do when Hulk is this angry: try to reason with him.
How could the story play out?
Well, this is the tricky part. The events of the preceding story arc of Planet Hulk naturally lead into what would become World War Hulk. In Planet Hulk he finds a wife on Sakaar and she is pregnant, but the rage of Hulk is fuelled by her death due to the explosion of the ship that brought Hulk to Sakaar. He believes the explosion of the ship to have been an attempt to kill him by his former friends, and as such blames them for the death of his wife and unborn child. But, technically, we have already seen a version of Planet Hulk play out in Thor: Ragnarok, so how do you tell a similar story without re-treading the same ground? Well, sadly, this means we're going to have to sacrifice a well-loved hero already in the MCU; this means we're going to have to say bye bye to Black Widow.
The introduction of a romance between Black Widow and Bruce Banner happened in Avengers: Age of Ultron. She was used as the one who is able to calm the Hulk out of his rage, which eventually turned into truly romantic feelings between the pair as they were intending to run away together. Now imagine if, maybe at the end of the Infinity War saga, they make good on that initial promise and run away together. Natasha quits the role of Black Widow, and Banner just promises to take care of her until they're both old and grey, and promises to never be angry enough again that he will turn into the big guy.
This story would have to kind of be told in two parts. The first would have to be a reason for Hulk to be sent off-world again, and the second would have to be for Black Widow's tragic death. In a movie, Banner could be brainwashed, similar to the way Scarlet Witch set him off in Age of Ultron, sending Hulk on an insane rampage that not even Natasha can calm him down from. Let's say, for instance, someone gets hold of the Mind Stone and uses it to control Hulk, and the only means by which he can be stopped is if someone else assumes control of the stone. Hulk's rampage kills thousands, so once the stone is back in control of the 'good guys' they use it to calm him down and to render Banner unconscious. Banner is unkillable, so the only thing the heroes can think to do is pack him up in a rocket ship and blast him into space. This is similar to the way in which Planet Hulk starts, but we can take that beginning as a sort of post-credit scene and leave it at that.
The next movie can tell Natasha's story; maybe they can tell this in a Captain America movie where he persuades her to join his side once more, now that Banner is gone for good. She agrees and they go on a dangerous mission, against a villain known as Dr. Faustus, who comic fans may know as the villain who brainwashed Sharon Carter into killing Steve Rogers at the end of Civil War. So imagine Black Widow gets brainwashed into assassinating Steve Rogers, her attempt fails, but in the ensuing battle she is killed, albeit accidentally, by Rogers as he tries to bring her under control. This death takes place in a very public space and is witnessed by many people, even being caught on camera and, while everybody knows it to be an accident in self-defence, this would play a part in the Hulk rage to follow.
How would it differ from the comics?
Well, already, the comic set up for World War Hulk has been put aside simply because we've already kind of seen Planet Hulk, and to re-tell that story might annoy some fans. But to bring Hulk back to Earth would need an intervention by some cosmic characters, namely, the Guardians of the Galaxy. They will have met Banner in Infinity War, so let's say they happen upon his ship just drifting in space and decide to help him get back to Earth. This could be told in a Guardians movie as they draft Banner in to help them out against whatever cosmic villain they're fighting this time.
Hulk returns to Earth with no real vendetta against his former friends. He's confused and pissed off about being sent into space in the first place, and is looking for answers, but let's say that the return to Earth gives Banner more answers than he was hoping for. The post-credits scene to a Guardians movie featuring Hulk could play out with them arriving into Earth's orbit, they get some random newscast on screen which plays the video of the moment Captain America kills Black Widow. We see confusion, then a flash of green in his eyes before the screen goes black, maybe we then hear a roar of pure rage from Hulk while the black screen remains, giving us a hint of what's to come.
The World War Hulk story in the film itself, whether a standalone Hulk movie or as an Avengers team up with the World War Hulk subtitle, would play out similarly to the comic in that Hulk gives the world an ultimatum. Turn over the heroes that have wronged him, or Hulk will destroy the world. Banner won't exist at all in this movie; he would be Hulk for its entirety, knowing full well that Banner would never set such an ultimatum, but Hulk would destroy anything that pissed him off. This is Banner completely out of control, with Hulk driving this rage fuelled bus.
The heroes disagree about how to respond, some agree to surrender to Hulk, while others believe they should stand and fight him, not giving in to threats. The leader of those not giving in should be Stark, as he's very much the type of hero that wouldn't surrender readily, while Cap would do so for two reasons. First, he is the one at fault for Natasha's death; and second, he thinks innocents should be protected at all costs, even if it means self-sacrifice.
In the build up to this movie I would love to see them introduce Sentry. By and large one of my favourite Marvel superheroes and, sure, while he's no doubt a Superman rip-off, even to the point of having a giant fucking S on his chest, this guy was badass. Plus, his alter-ego of The Void makes for an interesting aspect of the character that could be fully unleashed in his battle with Hulk.
Speaking of Sentry...
This could perhaps be one huge storyline that could culminate in a final good guys vs bad guys movie, but in a nutshell, the Dark Reign period of Marvel comics is a time where, essentially, the good guys are in charge. Following the "Secret Invasion" storyline, the Avengers are disbanded by the US government and a new Avengers team is formed by none other than Spider-Man's nemesis, Norman Osborne. Before this storyline could truly happen, the MCU would have to do a serious amount of work to lay the foundations, as it would essentially be forming a new Avengers team from MCU villains and, I think, they should aim to keep it as close to the source material as possible.
With Spidey already a part of the MCU, when we get his second movie, I suspect we will see Norman Osborne introduced, alongside a further development of Mac Gargan as a true Spidey villain. We would need the introduction of the Venom symbiote, the Gods of Olympus, the X-Men, and other characters central to the storyline that either don't yet exist at all in the MCU, or exist only in minor roles. It's with that then that it saddens me it'll probably not happen anytime soon.
How could the story pan out?
Well, we already have the Sokovia Accords in the MCU which means the Avengers can only really act when the US Government approves it. While this seems to have been totally thrown out the window in Avengers: Infinity War and beyond, this lays the groundwork for a more forceful approach from the US Gov to assume control of the Avengers brand. Following the events of a 2019 Avengers movie, the US Gov could approach one of the founding members of the group offering them a deal, that they will fund the work of the Avengers, but they must only act when the government sanctions it. Of course, they will refuse, leading to the Government to criminalise the current members and approach Norman Osborne to form a new group of heroes who will call themselves the Avengers. Stolen Stark Tech will grant Osborne the ability to transform into the Iron Patriot, and he will set about recruiting his own heroes Nick Fury style.
While these 'heroes' very much started out as bad guys, fundamentally they do take the place of the good guys, doing good deeds and taking action against criminals in a more aggressive and forceful way. So it wouldn't necessarily mean we would need to have movies focused on the good guys while just putting the bad guys on the sidelines. You could very much have, for example, an Iron Patriot movie with Norman Osborne as the central focus. While it was critically panned, a movie focused on a group of bad guys doing good was shown can work to some degree in Suicide Squad. How cool, for example, would it also be to see Ares kicking ass in an MCU Gods of Olympus movie, or even Daken taking the helm of Wolverine now that the X-Men Universe and the MCU can be joined together?
The final movie in this saga would, of course, be Seige, which would see Loki return in a role of evil and manipulation to get Norman Osborne and his band of evil Avengers to attack Asgard, which is located on Earth in the comics at the time. The events of this story also lead to the abolition of the Superhero Registration Act, but in the movies could lead to the abolition of the Sokovia Accords, allowing the Avengers to do as they wished yet again in the fight for justice. If the MCU execs were brave enough, they absolutely could show the badass moment that saw and out of control Sentry literally tear Ares, God of War, in half.
It's a savage moment, but a truly amazing one too, and while it's unlikely to ever make it into an MCU film, even if they do decide to make the Seige movie a reality, it's one of my favourite moments from comics, and one of the reasons I'm a big Sentry fan.
How would it differ from the comics?
As explained above, I think for this to work, there has to be a lot of ground laid to establish more consistent, and formidable villains in the MCU. One of the big problems for Marvel is that they have a villain a movie; there's no general carry over from one movie to the next. The only real villains we've seen more than once have been Loki and Thanos, with the latter being the big bad of the next two Avengers movies. The way the current MCU tells stories doesn't allow for a Dark Reign story to be told, which is unfortunate. Their willingness to kill off villain after villain makes it annoying that they move from one threat to another without seemingly any consideration for what future benefit a villain could have on a movie universe.
I truly believe for this to work on the screen, they need to aim to be as loyal to the source material as possible, but that's why I consider this as being the most unlikely to ever be adapted. But hey! I could be wrong.
Now I know, I know. There was a big shit storm over this when the story first appeared with Captain America whispering "Hail Hydra" revealing that he was, all along, an agent of the evil, Nazi-like organisation of the MCU. But imagine, if you will, just for a brief moment, that at the end of the 2019 Avengers movie, just before Thanos is defeated, let's say just before he is killed, we see a sly grin creep across his face and a slight flicker of light come from the Reality Stone just before he dies. We don't know what that grin means, but we do know that Thanos thinks he has won, and that he has gotten the last laugh. We're all confused right, the credits start to roll and we're questioning that ending, but ultimately satisfied that the big bad is no more. Well, then imagine the first post-credit scene pops up. Captain America survived the potentially universe destroying war with Thanos, and he's in his civilian clothing, walks down an alley and meets a shadowy figure. He tells this figure the war with Thanos is won, and kneels before the figure who speaks in a familiar sounding voice, saying: "That was merely one battle in the greater war to come, Herr Rogers." We see Rogers nod, then stands, giving the salute before uttering "Hail Hydra."
AWWWWWW SHIT, MOTHERFUCKERS!!!! Did you hear that? Captain motherfucking America just said Hail Hydra, BUT WHO WAS HE SAYING IT TO?!?!?!?!
Well, anyone broadly familiar with the comics knows that Cap's history has been re-written, and he's been a sleeper agent of Hydra all along, determined to bring Hydra up as the supreme political power across the world.
How would the story play out?
After that initial post-credits reveal, we would begin to see Cap take more and more drastic action that seems to be completely contrary to what we would usually expect from him. Cap is, after all, the true arbiter of what's right and wrong, but if we start seeing, for example, him beating people to a bloody pulp when they're already down and out, this would surely raise alarm bells to those around him, right?
Ultimately, Hydra is already in control since they took over SHIELD, but what would really get Hydra the win is if they had Cap on side leading the charge. This could very much reflect the real-world political landscape, as some aspects of the comic storyline do too in drumming up feelings of xenophobia, racism, white supremacy, etc.
The build up to a culminating movie would gradually see more and more people recruited either to the Resistance side or the Hydra side of things and the end game being an all-out brawl to end all brawls. Now I know what you're thinking, this has already kinda been done in Captain America: Civil War, and you're right, it has, but where this would differ is in both the consequence and broader scope of the arc.
How would this differ from the comics?
The main difference would be in how Cap's history was rewritten in the first place. In the comics, his history is re-written by Kobik, a Cosmic Cube rendered sentient and able to simply re-write reality itself. Well, perhaps the finale of a "Secret Empire" movie story would reveal that Thanos' last act was to re-write Cap's history, making him the bad guy in all of this, and getting the last laugh. In order to correct history, it's required that the Reality Stone is found and history corrected.
This could also serve as a jumping off point for other branches of the MCU to be brought into question. If Thanos brought back Red Skull—oh yeah, the shadowy figure was Red Skull by the way—and re-wrote Captain America's entire history, what else did he manage to achieve that went unnoticed? This would raise a lot of questions and a lot more possibilities for the further manipulation of the MCU for the benefit of creating better and more unpredictable stories. One of the other unfortunate truths about the MCU is that it's become oh-so-predictable in its story structure.
Yet another 'Secret' storyline, but is one of Marvel's most popular. The "Secret Invasion" posits that some of our most beloved heroes have been kidnapped and body-swapped by the shapeshifting alien race known as the Skrulls.
Now Marvel did, up until recently, face a bit of an issue with using the Skrulls in their movies, and that is that the rights to the Skrulls are co-owned by Marvel and 20th Century Fox. Of course, since the acquisition of 20th Century by Marvel, this is no longer a problem, although there are currently plans in place to introduce the Skrulls in the forthcoming Captain Marvel movie; it is suggested that certain aspects of the Skrull race can't feature in the movies, although it's unclear precisely what that means. That being said, though, I doubt this will be a problem moving forward.
So what's the story all about? Well, it's simple: some heroes have been kidnapped, and in their place shapeshifting aliens preparing for a full-scale surprise invasion of planet Earth. Discovered only by chance by Tony Stark, the atmosphere in the comic storyline is one of distrust and paranoia. Relationships questioned and, ultimately, allegiances doubted as it becomes a case of questioning whether anything really is as it seems. This could in theory be tied in neatly with my idea for a Secret Wars movie as the Grandmaster and Collector would work with the Skrulls on the kidnapping of the heroes and replacing them so as not to cause a stir on Earth over so-called 'missing' heroes.
How could the story pan out?
Well, really, this could only be finalised in one big movie, and the only hints we could be given should maybe be in the odd post-credits scene here and there. Maybe a meeting between foes, the odd shot of a hero's eye as it flashes green, suggesting they may or may not be an alien, that kind of thing. While a "Secret Invasion" movie would be fun to see, I think this is possibly something that could only really carry over a couple of movies before needing to be tied up, so this is where I think you would need to couple it with another story to drag it out.
Uniting Grandmaster and Collector with the Skrulls would make sense from a storytelling perspective. The two brothers aren't the type to go out and kidnap heroes themselves, but they don't want to make their game overly public until they're in the position of power given that the Avengers have a lot of friends in the Galaxy, and that list of allies would undoubtedly expand after the events of Infinity War.
Performed in secret, this gathering of foes would make it believable and intriguing to see who was taken and who wasn't. Wondering how the invasion would pan out and, ultimately, how the Skrull invaders would be defeated with many of the heroes taken off the board. If the MCU introduces Mutants and Inhumans into their movie-verse, then this would make for a far more interesting dynamic as the viewer would know that there's more power out there than just the central heroes. In fact, the MCU could use this as an opportunity to introduce more low-level heroes to the big screen, thus expanding the roster further.
How would it differ from the comics?
Other than maybe not having the same roster of heroes and villains, this movie could also serve as a solid means to branch together the TV and movie-verse. We know they all exist in the same universe, so why not use such a large scale movie as this to bring them together, even if it's just a one-time thing?
Some characters would be left out and others introduced based on their current standing in the movies and TV shows, but it would be largely immaterial players. Given that one of the first characters to be discovered as having been swapped out for an alien was Elektra, this would be prime fodder for crossover fun, so should definitely be something to happen in the MCU at some point.
So what do you think, MCU and Comics fans? What big event would you like to see hit the big screen and why?