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Marvel Unveils Phase Three: How the Studio Trumped Warner Bros. and What It All Means

Why Kevin Feige bypassed investors and threw down the Infinity Gauntlet in front of fans

Marvel’s Kevin Feige threw down the Infinity Gauntlet and pulled out all the stops on Tuesday at Hollywood’s El Capitan Theater, where the studio announced standalone films for “Black Panther,” “Captain Marvel,” “Inhumans” and “Doctor Strange” as well as further adventures for Captain America, Thor, the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Avengers.

Feige quarterbacked the lively presentation, which outlined the company’s bold vision for its ambitious Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which will conclude with an epic two-part “Avengers” finale titled “Infinity War” that will hit theaters in May 2018 and May 2019. Phase Two ends with Peyton Reed’s “Ant-Man,” which crawls into theaters next July.

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The last 10 movies produced by Marvel Studios have grossed $7.1 billion, with each one opening atop the domestic box office. Feige credited that staggering success for giving Marvel the confidence to increase its output from two to three films per year beginning in 2017, when the company will release James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” in May, “Thor: Ragnarok” in July and “Black Panther” in November.

Feige beamed with pride over Marvel’s winning streak, boasting that the studio is “firing on all cylinders” and assuring the crowd that Marvel won’t change its tried-and-true methods to meet fan demand. That includes its approach to publicity, which featured no shortage of showmanship.

Marvel’s exciting Fan Event on Tuesday stood in stark contrast to the cold, clinical approach Warner Bros. and DC recently took in unveiling their own ambitious plan for the DC Comics Universe.

Also read: Chadwick Boseman to Star in Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’

Marvel opted to bypass investors and take its news straight to the fans, who reacted in kind. When Feige took the stage, it was like Elvis was in the building, to say nothing of the enthusiastic response Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans received when they were introduced to promote “Captain America: Civil War.” The superhero duo put up their dukes to play up the fact that Iron Man and Captain America will be on opposite sides of what will surely be an epic battle in that film.

Fans saved their loudest applause for diversity, which Marvel embraced by announcing a “Black Panther” movie starring Chadwick Boseman and a “Captain Marvel” movie featuring Carol Danvers as the beloved character. In the comics, Danvers is a U.S. Air Force pilot who gains superpowers when her genes are crossed with those of a powerful alien race called the Kree.

A “Captain Marvel” movie has been in the works for sometime, said Feige, who described the character’s adventures as “very earthbound, but her powers are based in the cosmic realm.” That begs the question of whether Danvers will be introduced in Scott Derrickson‘s decidedly cosmic “Doctor Strange” movie, which will introduce a supernatural element to the MCU.

Also read: Marvel Announces ‘Black Panther,’ ‘Captain Marvel,’ ‘Inhumans’ Movies

Either way, Feige said that Marvel expects to hire a writer and director for “Captain Marvel” very soon. Earlier this year, Marvel relaunched the “Captain Marvel” comic book, which has a strong female readership that calls itself the Carol Corps.

While the press has pitted Marvel against Warner Bros. and DC, the rival companies will split the difference when it comes to solo superhero films led by a woman and an African-American actor.

While Boseman’s “Black Panther” (2017) will beat Ray Fisher’s “Cyborg” (2020) to theaters by several years, it seems that DC’s “Wonder Woman” has a leg up on Marvel’s “Captain Marvel,” who won’t get her own movie until 2018 — 13 months after WB gives Gal Gadot her own starring vehicle as Diana Prince.

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That prompted the crowd to ask Feige why Scarlett Johansson‘s Black Widow isn’t getting her own standalone movie given the actress’ recent box office clout (“Lucy” grossed $434 million worldwide). Feige said Marvel has “very big” plans for Black Widow, who plays a major part in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and like Nick Fury, serves a linchpin in the MCU. To be fair, Black Widow isn’t alone in being relegated to a key supporting role, as fellow superheroes Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and the Hulk aren’t getting their own standalone movies before 2019 either. Anything could happen after that, of course.

While Marvel left few Infinity Stones unturned for its razzle-dazzle, dog-and-pony show, there were several movie mysteries that remained unsolved. For starters, fans hoping Marvel would confirm Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange will have to wait a little bit longer for their Sorcerer Supreme.

There still seems to be a logjam of comic book movies over the next six years between Disney/Marvel, Warner Bros/DC, Fox (“X-Men” and “Fantastic Four”) and Sony (“Amazing Spider-Man,” “Sinister Six”), not that Marvel is concerned. Feige said the studio will stick to its plan and not worry about what others are doing while acknowledging that “there is going to be big movies on almost every weekend.”

Also read: Women, Blacks, Gays: Warner Bros. Catapults DC Ahead of Marvel in Superhero Diversity Race

Still, some breathing room would be nice, as there will be only two weeks between “The Fantastic Four 2” and “Thor: Ragnarok,” as well as “Black Panther” and Zack Snyder’s first “Justice League” movie.

Hollywood will give audiences a break in July 2016, as there’s no superhero movie on the calendar now that casting has delayed “Doctor Strange” until November, where it will go head-to-head with Universal’s “Skull Island” until that film’s inevitable move. Don’t be surprised if Sony’s “Sinister Six” follows in its footsteps, since it’s slated to open just one week later. Each studio is stubbornly standing their ground right now, but every picture pile-up is bound to have victims.

Meanwhile, with “Doctor Stranger” vacating that prime July 2016 date, some have raised the possibility that Warner Bros. could move “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” there from March. However, the studio already has “Tarzan” and “King Arthur” opening that month, not to mention David Ayer’s “Suicide Squad” in early August.

“Batman v Superman” was originally scheduled to open on May 6, 2016 until Marvel claimed the same date for “Captain America: Civil War” while holding the July slot for “Doctor Strange.” It’s unlikely at this point that Warner Bros. would move “Batman v Superman” to July, as not only will it likely benefit from launching the superhero season in March, but it could also reap the rewards of having its own release corridor.

The truth of the matter is that there just may not be enough prime weekends in a year to accommodate all of Hollywood’s comic book movies and give them time to breathe. The market will surely be over-saturated and it will be a test of each studio’s brand to see which films will flourish or founder.

Finally, there has been speculation for more than a year that Sony could license out Spider-Man for use in a future Marvel film, but Feige chalked it up to “just a rumor.” While Marvel would love to have the webslinger back in its stable, Sony doesn’t appear eager to give up the character, though the studio may be amenable to a trade-off — for example, use of a Disney-owned Marvel character, or trailer placement for Sony titles in front of Disney’s biggest Marvel movies.