July 21, 1969, had the moon landing. Fifty years later, July 21, 2019, had everyone talking about a batch of movies and TV shows that are – with the exception of “Black Widow” – well over a year away. NASA conquered the moon, and now the Marvel Cinematic Universe has conquered the Earth, as the Phase Four announcement at Comic-Con proved. Here are my thoughts on these five movies and five TV shows, along with “Go Bananas” Levels on a 10-point scale:
“Black Widow” (May 1) – A lot of fans have been looking forward to this one since Natasha Romanoff’s introduction way back in “Iron Man 2.” It looked like Marvel missed its window to give her a solo movie, but I think Natasha’s sacrifice inside the world of the Soul Stone in “Avengers: Endgame” is a perfect springboard to tell her backstory while also resurrecting her for movies to come. (I think Natasha’s resurrection might tie in with Gamora’s, which will likely be the thrust of “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3.”) Throw Florence Pugh into the cast, and I couldn’t be more on board for this one. “Go Bananas” Level: 10
“The Eternals” (Nov. 6, 2020) – The Eternals’ path to the big-screen is reminiscent of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Despite being created by the legendary Jack Kirby, it was a lesser comic title in the 1970s, with its plot lines going unresolved in its initial run. (Interestingly, “The Eternals” was itself a reworking of Kirby’s “New Gods,” which was also canceled.) Its rise to a big-screen entry starring Angelina Jolie and Kumail Nanjiani is a combination of niche popularity and riding the overall coattails of Marvel’s success. If the movie is good, it will unleash a distinct new batch of fans for the film version like “Guardians” has done. GBL: 6
“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” (Feb. 12, 2021) – Some argued that Danny Rand should’ve been played not necessarily by a white actor (matching the comics) in the “Iron Fist” Netflix series, but by the best martial-artist actor available, since Danny is supposed to be an elite martial artist. Digging up an actual Asian martial artist – to be played by Simi Liu, cast for his martial arts skills – from the Marvel vault for this film should please both purists and those who want to see great mano-a-mano fights on the big screen. (Arguably, we’ve already seen it on the small screen, but from “Daredevil” rather than “Iron Fist.”) Also neat: The villain will be the Mandarin, teased way back in 2014 in the short film “All Hail the King,” wherein we learned the Mandarin is not pleased with someone posing as him (in “Iron Man 3”). GBL: 7
“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” (May 7, 2021) – Thanks to Captain America’s late-film journey in “Endgame,” along with the fact that the “Loki” TV series follows the Loki we see in that film, we know the MCU plays out in a multiverse – multiple connected universes. The methods by which people travel between the universes haven’t been fully explored, though, and this “Doctor Strange” sequel promises to answer our questions while also perhaps creating a doorway for the entrance of the Fantastic Four and the X-Men, whose sagas started over at Fox and are now back with Marvel Studios. (It’s also possible those heroes could simply be relaunched for the MCU, like how it handled Spider-Man.) Also of interest to continuity buffs: Scarlet Witch joins Doctor Strange for this adventure, which will tie in with the TV series “WandaVision.” GBL: 9
“Thor: Love and Thunder” (Nov. 5, 2021) – Although “Thor: Ragnarok” is the best of the three “Thors,” I have a soft spot for the human perspective Thor’s girlfriend Jane (Natalie Portman) and quirky audience surrogate Darcy (Kat Dennings) bring to the first two entries. So the fourth film gives us the best of both worlds, with the comic stylings of “Ragnarok” writer-director Taika Waititi and the return of Jane, whose role will be beefed up, which apparently was crucial for Portman’s return. If Darcy also comes back, it’ll be icing on the cake. GBL: 10
For the first time, the MCU is including some of its TV series under the banner of a movie “phase.” The distinctions appear to be that 1) these series will air on the Disney+ streaming service (which will launch Nov. 12), 2) they will tie in more closely with the movies than other MCU TV series, and 3) they appear to be limited series (one season and done) – although there isn’t clarity on the last point.
Keep in mind that there are more MCU series beyond these five: “Ghost Rider” and “Helstrom” are slated for 2020 on Hulu; Hulu’s “Runaways” and Freeform’s “Cloak & Dagger” are ongoing; and ABC’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” will return for a seventh and final season.
“The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” (August 2020, six episodes) – “Endgame” peppers in a friendly rivalry between Anthony Mackie’s Falcon and Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier in regard to who will take the handoff of Captain America’s shield. Whether it’s a big deal or not that Cap chooses Falcon (after all, we’re talking about a symbol here, not a set of superpowers), both are heroes, and both will get fleshed out in this series. GBL: 5
“WandaVision” (early 2021, 6-8 episodes) – Again, this is a case where two engaging but underexplored heroes – the romantic couple Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) – get the spotlight. It’s overdue, especially for Olsen, who has long since passed her older sisters in acting ability and has arguably caught up to them in fame, too. It’s also neat that this series’ events will tie in with “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” which will hit theaters around the same time. GBL: 7
“Loki” (early 2021, 6-8 episodes) – I’m not as enamored with Loki as most fans are, although I admit Tom Hiddleston is entertaining in the role of the sometimes bad, sometimes decent brother of Thor. This series follows the mischievous other-timeline Loki from “Endgame,” so its very existence confirms that the multiverse exists and that events in other universes affect the main storyline. Given the multiverse theme, it’s interesting to note that this series’ release date, like “WandaVision’s,” is roughly concurrent with “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” GBL: 5
“What If …?” (mid-2021, TBA) – This animated series is based on the comic book that imagined alternate narrative possibilities (the first issue in 1977 asked “What if Spider-Man joined the Fantastic Four?”). Unlike most animated series, it will employ the live-action actors in the voice roles. (Leave it to Marvel Studios to have money for that.) In terms of continuity, this is the least essential MCU series, but the fun factor could be high – especially for those familiar with what “really” happens. GBL: 5
“Hawkeye” (late 2021, TBA) – Under the old rules of the game, Jeremy Renner’s sixth-wheel Avenger wasn’t popular enough for a standalone movie (it wouldn’t make enough money) yet was too popular for a TV series (the actor was too expensive). A possible middle ground was a miniseries, but the MCU didn’t do miniseries … until the advent of Disney+. We’ll learn more about Clint Barton’s time as the assassin Ronin, as glimpsed in “Endgame.” But Clint is only part of the equation here, as he’ll be training the next Hawkeye, the as-yet-uncast Kate Bishop, who made her comics debut in 2005. GBL: 9