No one can doubt that this has been a great summer for superhero movies. The Avengers kicked it off with the best ensemble-cast superhero movie of all time as it assaulted box office records. The Amazing Spider-Man rebooted a movie franchise from only five years ago, but stayed truer to the comic books and removed the sour taste of Spider-Man 3 from our collective mouths. Finally The Dark Knight Rises, released this past weekend ( review here), concluded one of cinema’s most epic sagas as it tries to assault the box office like The Avengers.

It’ll continue as well. While The Dark Knight Rises was the last Batman movie (or so we think), The Avengers only finished Marvel Phase 1 of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger. Now, Marvel has completely unveiled its Marvel Phase Two slate; Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Ant-Man. Let’s examine each of those a bit closer, shall we?

Marvel Phase Two: Iron Man 3

If there is a film that’s a lock to be a box office hit in Marvel Phase Two (other than The Avengers 2), it’s Iron Man 3. The film has Robert Downey Jr. reprising his role as Tony Stark/Iron Man and a returning supporting cast of Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, and Jon Favreau as Pepper Potts, James Rhodes/War Machine, and Happy Hogan respectively.

The last time we saw Tony Stark he was feasting on schwarma with the rest of the Avengers as he rebuilt Stark Tower. He was definitely flying high as Marvel’s genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist who seemed to be settling down with Potts – not too shabby.

Iron Man 3 looks to shatter that reality and force Stark into a bad position. As Kevin Feige, Marvel Studio’s Executive Producer, told Collider.comIron Man 3 is a full-on Tony Stark-centric movie…very much inspired by the first half of Iron Man 1…we’ve always said let’s get Tony back to the cave, which is he’s stripped of everything, he’s backed up against a wall, and he’s gotta use his intelligence to get out of it.  He can’t call Thor, he can’t call Cap, he can’t call Nick Fury, and he can’t look for the Helicarrier in the sky.”

Iron Man 3 is a full-on Tony Stark-centric movie…very much inspired by the first half of Iron Man 1.”

Interestingly enough, Cobie Smulders will reprise her The Avengers role as Maria Hill, Nick Fury’s right-hand woman. So we know S.H.I.E.L.D. will somehow be involved.

Back to the plot, Iron Man 3 is known to borrow heavily from the “Extremis storyline, which was partially included in the first movie when Stark was taken captive by the Ten Rings terrorist group in the desert. The “Extremis” storyline involved a virus – meant to replicate the Super-Soldier Serum, which always ends badly, and in Tony Stark’s case allows him to mentally control his armor and equip it with his thoughts.

So we know Stark is going to get injected with the Extremis virus in a dire situation, and we know two of the main villains – Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin and Ashley Hamilton’s Firepower – who will most likely test Stark’s intellectual abilities as well as his Iron Man abilities respectively. It is worth noting that The Mandarin is Iron Man’s archenemy and wields the aforementioned Ten Rings of Power (where the terrorist group got its name), which have supernatural abilities.

There’s really nothing left to speculate other on than the actual plot, except for why the Mark VIII armor is so gold. Maybe Tony is trying to be a little more discrete?

Marvel Phase Two: Thor: The Dark World

Ok, so we finally have something that not a whole lot is known about, letting us speculate. We do know that everyone and their momma is returning to this film, except maybe Darcy, but her character should probably have her college credits and be gone by now. Also, Joshua Dallas can’t return as Fandral (to jog your memory, he’s who a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent calls Robin Hood) due to his other work, so Zachary Levi will take his role.

Since Jane Foster and Erik Selvig are included, we can assume that Thor figured out another way to move between Asgard and Earth, since he smashed the Bifröst. My guess is the Tesseract, since that’s how Thor and Loki got back last time we saw them, so Thor might bring Jane and Selvig to Asgard to show them the universe like he told Jane in the previous movie. So with all the planet jumping, something has to go awry (Loki probably has a hand in this) that sends them to “The Dark World”, which… well, who knows what that means!

If I had to take a guess, The Dark World is Hel, one the planets that is part of The Tree of Life alluded to in Thor and Captain America. Hel is, well, it’s Hell minus an “L”. Its ruler is Hela, also known as Loki’s daughter and the Goddess of Death. She sounds like a lovely lady – tt only makes sense that Loki’s kid is a little peeved about her dad being defeated by her uncle, so making the Tesseract go haywire and luring Thor to Hel (perhaps by kidnapping Jane?) would make perfect sense.

If Hela is the main villain of this movie, it’s worth noting that she can kill with a touch. So Thor is definitely going to need backup, which is probably where Sif and the Warrior’s Three make their return as the five Asgardians venture to Hel to save Jane.

Hel would also make sense as unlike Hell, its more ice based than “Fire! Fire! Hot!” based, so transitioning from Jötunheim of the Frost Giants to Hel would be an easier one for audiences.

Finally back in Asgard, Loki is going to be up to some stuff for certain, because there’s a big chance that he won the Avengers and will somehow get the Infinity Gauntlet, seen in Thor for a only the briefest of moments, to the Avengers post-credits villain Thanos, who wants the gauntlet because it will let him rule the entire universe. Thanos in return would most likely anoint Loki as ruler of Asgard, because that’s what bad guys do.

Marvel Phase Two: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The theme of this film is vastly easier to predict based off reports and its title alone. The Winter Soldier is Bucky, Cap’s best friend who fell to his death in The First Avenger. Like his partner, Bucky fell into water and entered a cryogenic sleep for a very long time, with the big difference being that Bucky was found by the Soviet Union and not the United States. So, there’s some foreshadowing right there.

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain America is closely tied to S.H.I.E.L.D., which makes sense considering they are the only people he knows in what is a strange world to him. This means it should come as no surprise that Black Widow and Hawkeye are set to make a return. What about the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D.? We can assume that Nick Fury will return because Samuel L. Jackson has four movies left on his nine-movie deal with Marvel Studios. That leaves one missing character, the love interest.

What’s a superhero without a love interest? Iron Man had Potts, Thor had Foster, The Incredible Hulk had Betty Ross, and even Cap got some action with Peggy Carter in The First Avenger. So who gets to be the lovely companion to Cap this time around? A love interest that gets Cap out into the world and out of his 1940’s style apartment for the first part of the movie could go a long way towards establish character depth.

The problem is, comics love to make things awkward, so the love interest will most likely be Peggy Carter’s niece, Sharon “Agent 13” Carter. Sharon is an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., having joined the agency due to the stories of her aunt that she grew up hearing. In the comics, Captain America notices the facial similarities and it takes off from there.

Now for the international warfare! In the comics, when Bucky is revived by the Soviets, he is suffering from some massive amnesia and the loss of his left arm. The Soviet’s brainwash him into becoming the ruthless assassin known as the Winter Soldier, equipped with a bionic arm and sniper rifle (alluded to in The First Avenger, when he was the Howling Commandos’ sniper). In the present day, Bucky is sent to Philadelphia to retrieve the Tesseract (which will have to somehow made its way back to Earth in The Dark World). While there, he kidnaps Carter before escaping with the Cosmic Cube.

When Carter is rescued, however, she tells Cap of the Winter Soldier’s existence, which Fury confirms. This is how he’ll most likely be revealed as Bucky, causing Cap to start his hunt for his long-lost best friend. When they eventually confront each other Cap gains control of the Cube and uses it to restore Bucky’s memories. Bucky, overcome with guilt from his actions, goes into hiding for a while before joining up with S.H.I.E.L.D.

It only makes sense that Russia will serve as the perfect backdrop for the battle. It will be a foreign land to the S.H.I.E.L.D. members except for Black Widow, who during her days in Russia was a love interest of the Winter Soldier (surprise!). She will most likely be the one to recognize Bucky when he shows up in Philly. This will also be a perfect way to establish Natasha Romanov’s backstory through flashbacks.

As for Hawkeye, he may just be relegated once again to a side role in a movie filled with heroes, though supposedly his backstory will be revealed a bit. His story involves him falling in love with Romanov (love triangle!) when he originally becomes a hero, which would explain their “love,” as Loki put it, in The Avengers.

Finally, Jeremy Renner’s The Hurt Locker co-star Anthony Mackie is signed up to be Captain America’s crime-fighting partner and fellow Avenger, Falcon. Falcon was one of comic’s first black superheroes after Black Panther and has the ability to fly and train birds, including his beloved falcon Redwing, who is trained to follow his orders in combat.

Between Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Falcon, and the Winter Soldier, we’ve got a mini-Avengers assembling, so it seems The Avengers 2 will get real crowded, real fast. More on that later.

Marvel Phase Two: Guardians of the Galaxy

Oh boy. For Marvel Studios this movie has no middle ground, like The Incredible Hulk. It’s all boom or bust and it will be the hardest movie to pull off. This is because only the hardest-core comic book fans even know who the hell the Guardians are – so let’s start with some background.

The Guardians of the Galaxy are, as Tony Stark calls them, “space Avengers.” The confirmed lineup for the movie is the current comic book team, as seen in this concept art. The center character is the leader of the Guardians named Peter Quill, the Star-Lord. Quill is the only human Guardian, who became an astronaut, and gains his powers from a super-being while aboard a NASA space-station. He’s a pistol wielding, master strategist, so he’ll be in charge of the Guardians operations.

On the far left is Drax the Destroyer. Drax was a human named Arthur Douglas, but was killed by Thanos, who decides to visit Earth one day. The Titan god Kronos decides that the Mad Titan Thanos needs to be taught a lesson and take’s Douglas’s soul and places it in a new body christened Drax the Destroyer. He was created with the sole purpose of slaying Thanos, so we can assume Thanos will be the movie’s major villain.

If you’re still with me, those are the two most understandable backgrounds, so it only gets weirder from here.

On the far right is Gamora, who is the last of her species. She was adopted and raised by Thanos to become a weapon against his enemies. Dubbed the “most dangerous woman in the galaxy,” she eventually realized that Thanos was evil and teamed up with The Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy to stop her psychotic father. Man, between Gamora-Thanos, Captain America-Peggy Carter-Sharon Carter, and Odin-Thor-Loki-Hela, Marvel loves to make family reunions incredibly awkward.

Finally, the last two come as a package. The raccoon is named Rocket Raccoon, who was an animal that was experimented on to give him human like intelligence. Rocket is a wise-cracking, aggressive raccoon who has OCD and an affinity for heavy weapons… like rocket launchers. Most likely feeling left out as the only non-humanoid in the Guardians, he kept a sprig from a tree-monster named Groot. Groot was originally a giant tree shaped alien who attacked Earth in the 1960’s, only to be defeated by termites. Did I say this movie is going to be either hit or miss yet? Just checking. However, back then and in the future with Rocket, Groot has the ability to regrow to full size from a single branch.

If you’re expecting him to say much though, Groot can only say “I am Groot,” which due to his species wood-based organs is what non-trees hear. He is apparently incredibly intelligent; it’s just that no one can understand him, again, because he’s a tree.

Now, having given the background of five very strange characters, I won’t delve into other heroes that might join them. I will delve into the most likely plot; the Guardians biggest enemy is Thanos. They team up with superheroes of Earth, in this case the Avengers, to take down Thanos who has acquired the Infinity Gauntlet, most likely via Loki. So that’s where the Guardians fit in as the Avengers will need cosmic allies to take down the cosmic entity that is Thanos. This would be The Avengers 2, while Guardians of the Galaxy will most likely focus on Thanos’ attempts to defeat the Guardians so they would be unable to stop him once he acquires the Gauntlet.

Marvel Phase Two: Ant-Man

Ant-Man will most likely be the final film before The Avengers 2, and has been in development since 2005 by Scott Pilgrim vs. the World director Edgar Wright. Wright showed a test reel at Comic-Con last week, which according to those in attendance demonstrated a blend of action and humor. Ant-Man repeatedly shrunk and returned to normal size to bewilder two criminals and take them out.

It is worth noting that there are two different Ant-Men in the Marvel Universe. There is the original Ant-Man, Henry Pym, who involved the gas that allows him to shrink down in size and wears a helmet that allows him to control ants. Pym was already mentioned in passing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe when Dr. Erik Selvig says in Thor that he has a friend who has dealt with S.H.I.E.L.D in the past. Kevin Feige confirmed that it was Pym, though why he remained unnamed remains unclear.

Then there is Scott Lang, a thief who broke into Pym’s home to discover the Ant-Man’s suit and size changing gas. Now, Wright said the film intends to establish Pym in a prologue then jump to modern day with Lang. I think that’s fine, as long as they keep Pym in some capacity.

A good way to keep Pym around is to give him his post-Lang identity of Yellowjacket, who has ultimately the same powers, but with electric “stingers” and the ability to fly. It’s also worth noting that Pym and his wife Janet van Dyne, also known as the flight-enabled, size shrinking hero Wasp, were founding members of the Avengers. It was actually van Dyne that came up with the name, so it would be nice to see the duo suit up with everyone else.

An Ant-Man film could have Lang adopting the Ant-Man costume while Pym could be working as a scientist for S.H.I.E.L.D., like his colleague Selvig. Here he could create the robot Ultron, who develops artificial intelligence and is one of the Avenger’s mighty foes. The big thing is that Ultron serves a dual purpose as the creator Vision, an android who Ultron sent to defeat the Avengers to only see him join them.

So why is Vision a big deal? It’s because it has long been speculated that everyone’s favorite S.H.I.E.L.D agent Phil Coulson could return as Vision. One reason overlooked in that link is that in the comics, Vision dates a cellist. It is stated numerous times in the previous movies that Coulson dated a cellist from Portland.

So, my guess for Ant-Man is that it will focus an older, semi-retired hero in Pym invent Ultron to fight crime, to only watch the robot turn against him, Wasp, and Lang.

But most importantly, this is the opportunity to bring back Phil Coulson.

Marvel Phase Two: The Avengers 2

Now, I’m not going to spend much time on The Avengers 2 without knowing what happens in the other films for certain. The best guess I can venture is that Thanos gains complete control of the Infinity Gauntlet causing the Avengers to team up with the Guardians to defeat the Mad Titan. Now, I will speculate on the roster.

We know that it’s almost a lock that the original roster of Captain America, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Thor, Hulk, and Nick Fury return, as they made the original movie so great. It’s from there that it gets complicated (and crowded).

It’s safe to assume that the five Guardians of the Galaxy join up with the Avengers, bringing the roster to twelve heroes. Then you can throw in the possibilities of James Rhodes/War Machine, Falcon, Agent Carter, the Winter Soldier, Sif and the Warriors Three (seeing as this will be on a cosmic scale), Ant-Man, Yellowjacket, Wasp, and Vision. So that brings the possible mega roster to twenty four.

Then throw in the biggest Marvel hero of all in Spider-Man. While Spidey is under control of Columbia Pictures, Kevin Feige was still an executive producer for The Amazing Spider-Man. Plus Sony and Disney were in talks about including the Oscorp building in the Avengers. The fact that Sony and Disney were even in talks means that there is a slight chance that Spider-Man appears in The Avengers 2. If there is even the smallest possibility of Spidey being in the movie, Marvel Studios will jump all over it – and fans will geek out even more!

With twenty five heroes to choose from, there are lots of places The Avengers 2 can go and if Joss Whedon is back on board as the director, I have no doubt it will be fantastic.

What are your thoughts? Which movies are you most-excited for? Let us know in comments!


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