Marvel’s “Phase Three” was officially announced by studio head Kevin Feige, confirming the worst-kept secrets in Marvel’s post-Avengers 2 plans. The news is not really the films themselves, but that the timetable for Ant-Man keeps getting pushed back. This means the official Phase Two films, in order, are Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Avengers 2.
Ant-Man, as of this writing, is still under the care of director Edgar Wright, and has been for a few years now. Its move to an official Phase Three anchor proves that Marvel still loves Wright, and is willing to be patient until the Scott Pilgrim director can focus 100 percent of his energies on the project. Does this open up the possibility of introducing Hank Pym, Ant-Man’s alter ego and scientific genius, in an earlier Marvel film (or the S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show)? I think so, and wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him turn up before Avengers 2 (as a scientist, not necessarily Ant-Man).
The other “well, duh” confirmation is Dr. Strange. I found it interesting that Steven Moffat, current captain of the Dr. Who franchise, and Benedict Cumberbatch met with Marvel in May 2012, right when Avengers mania was in full swing, and both seem like proper choices for the character as writer-producer and star, respectively. That’s pure speculation on my part, so take it as you will, but this is a property that Marvel’s been looking at for a while (I wrote about the Thomas Dean Donnelly/Josh Oppenheimer screenplay three years ago). Its formal announcement should come as no surprise to Marvel fans. I’m still beating the stump for director Tarsem, but I’d bet Marvel would love to hand Strange over to Guillermo del Toro, especially if that means Warners would have to find someone new for its Justice League Dark film. If Avengers 2 follows "The Infinity Gauntlet" storyline, as rumored, then expect Dr. Strange to appear there before his solo outing. Strange plays a big part in the original "Gauntlet" comic book miniseries.
We can assume Avengers 3 will wrap up the third phase, and I’m sure Marvel Studios will work in a sequel to an existing property somewhere in there (probably Thor 3 or Captain America 3; Iron Man will most likely sit out Phase Three until the third Avengers movie). I would guess Black Panther is still under consideration, and there’s not been much said about Big Hero Six, but its animated nature may put it outside of the formal “Phase One/Two/Three” plans (it didn’t stop Latino-Review from teasing it by using Big Hero Six as their header photo for the Phase Three confirmations). Anyhow, don’t expect Ant-Man and Dr. Strange to be the only films sandwiched between Avengers 2 and 3.
I don’t know if Bryan Singer’s casting announcement was perfectly timed to steal Kevin Feige’s thunder or not, but I am amused by the fact that Marvel movies are now competing amongst themselves at the cinema. Fox has the X-Men on lock, and it is treating the next film, Days of Future Past, as seriously as Disney did with Avengers. This thing is going to be huge. Singer welcomed returning X-Men cast members Anna Paquin, Shawn Ashmore and Ellen Page (!) to the production via his Twitter account.
Page is not someone I expected to return, but this news really gets the geek wheels turning on how faithful Days of Future Past is going to be to the Marvel Comics storyline. Page played Kitty Pryde in X-Men: The Last Stand, and Kitty is the central character of the original story. It’s Kitty’s vision of an alternate future, where mutants are hunted to the death by giant Sentinel robots, that causes the X-Men to prevent an assassination attempt on a popular senator by mutant militants. If the film sticks to the story at all, then Ellen Page could very well be the “star” of the Days of Future Past’s huge ensemble.
Personally, my instinct tells me that Days of Future Past is an amalgamation of its namesake story and the “Age of Apocalypse” - a popular storyline that revealed alternate X-Men, with different personalities and motivations, living in a hypothetical timeline ruled by the X-Men villain Apocalypse. With First Class and X-Men Origins complicating the continuity of the previous X-Men films, and with the all-star casting nature of Days of Future Past, I think they’re going to take a page from 2009’s Star Trek and reboot in a way that acknowledges that all of the films are canon. They’ll show these characters jumping through alternate timelines until the film ends with a fresh X-Men team, ready for new adventures on film.
This way, they can keep the characters they want (Fassbender’s Magneto, I’m sure), characters who are fine the way they are (Hugh Jackman isn’t going to give up playing Wolverine), and recast popular characters with all-new actors (Storm and Jean Grey seem likely). X-Men comic book readers are used to this. Right now, in All-New X-Men, the teenage X-Men of the past are living in our modern world, and in the X-books, the Nightcrawler we know and love is dead, replaced by a more ruthless version from an alternate timestream. There is precedent. This kind of stuff is X-Men’s bread and butter, but hasn’t been explored at all on film. If things get really wacky, maybe we can finally see Wolverine in his mask after six films.