2014 has been a great year for Marvel: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy dominated the blockbuster market this year, Agents of SHIELD found its footing and they unveiled big plans for the next 5 years. But 2015 might be the Studio's most important year since Iron Man débuted in 2008.
Warning: There will be major spoilers for the recently aired Midseason Finalé of Agents of Shield, What They Become, in this post. Read ahead on at your own peril!
Before you get too angry with me, hear me out: This is not about casting clouds of doom-and-gloom over Marvel's amazingly consistent parade. It's kind of hard to do that in the face of a studio projecting such confidence on a regular basis like they do - everyone thought that Guardians could break them this year, and instead it became the evidence that they could pretty much get away with whatever they want. But that doesn't mean 2015 isn't an important year for the MCU - if anything, it's an underestimation to say that the challenges Marvel face are anything but trivial. Let's break down Marvel's three big tentpoles of the year (that we know of so far) and see just how important they are going to be in defining where the MCU goes in the future.
Let's start with Avengers: Age of Ultron - the sequel to without a doubt one of the most popular movies in recent memory. No pressure there, right?
But the fact that Age of Ultron is the follow up to such a huge movie isn't why it's so important - although obviously following up on The Avengers is certainly an unenviable task. It's more of the fact that it's the beginning of the end for the cast of characters that have come to define the MCU as people know it. We've had confirmation that by the end of Age of Ultron will see a major change-up to the roster of the Avengers, and although the main characters all have planned movie appearances beyond it (Thor in Ragnarok, Cap and Iron Man in Civil War), this is going to be the first big change to the status quo that has been built and flourished since 2008 - and that's not maybe a huge thing to comic book fans used to teams changing up their roster over the years, but it's going to be to the mainstream audience that has got use to 'The Avengers' being shorthand to mean Cap, Tony, Hulk, Thor, Widow and Hawkeye. That changing, as well as the set up we'll see for the likes of Captain America 3, is going to be a huge moment for Marvel - if they can't sell people on the steady transitioning out of these huge characters ahead of them returning for Infinity War (and ahead of the cavalcade of new heroes we're meeting in Phase 3), it has the potential to be a point of contention for them going forward.
Meanwhile on TV, we have Agents of SHIELD - on track after the shaky start in its first season, but suddenly finding itself with the huge pressure of introducing the Inhumans to the live-action universe. With Raina and Skye successfully being exposed to Terrigen Mists during the climax of What They Become earlier this month, it's obvious that the season's second half next year will start dealing with the concept. And after all, the Inhumans are a very, very strange concept in the comics to translate to your average audience - and while the fact that SHIELD getting the honour of introducing them speaks to Marvel's confidence in the show, it's still going to be a weird one for series to handle. That's even setting aside the fact that the series is going to be setting all this up 3 years before the Inhumans grace screens in their own movie. That's a considerable period of time for people to get used to them - but at the same time, it's early enough that if it doesn't work out so well (after all, we've already seen the downside of SHIELD's storytelling being behold to the over-arcing plot beats of the MCU) it doesn't really matter - but it's still going to be a big deal for Agents of SHIELD next year.
But finally, we have perhaps the most important part of Marvel's plans for next year: Ant-Man. Ant-Man is a largely standalone movie within the MCU - even GOTG had the Thanos connection and enough 'it's like The Avengers... In Space!' comparisons made that even though it was a weird, tough sell to audiences, there was a familiar enough vibe with the wider arc of the MCU that it makes Ant-Man an all the more distant concept. There isn't really anything currently that we know about Ant-Man to tie it into the rest of the MCU, so while if it ends up faltering it might not have that big an impact, it's more interesting because if it works, it's going to go a long way in showing that the MCU can hold much more than just your average 'superhero' movie in its roster. Comic book fans know that 'superhero' isn't really a genre in and of itself, it's a mishmash of other genres brought together by superheroic characters - but while there's certainly been a lot of that in MCU already (this year alone had The Winter Soldier as a quasi-thriller about the surveillance state and GOTG as big budget space opera under the guise of being Superhero films), Ant-Man feels like it's by far the most radical step in that direction for Marvel so far. It's a heist movie that just happens to be a) in this universe populated by superheroes and b) involving a protagonist using crazy futuristic technology. We haven't seen something like that on the big screen from Marvel yet, and while it not coming together might not have a huge impact on the MCU at large thanks to its largely isolated nature going in, it working could be a big step forward in the variety of stories Marvel can tell in their live-action future.
It might not look it at first - the sequel to one of the biggest movies on the planet, the continuation of a stellar sophomore series for SHIELD, and a new hero to play with - but that's sort of beside the point, and not in a way where Marvel could completely mess up its prospects in 2015 if any of these things go sideways. If anything success is theirs for the taking, and with a 6 year track record of largely doing that, Marvel have more than proven themselves. If 2015 stumbles, plans for the future of the MCU might take a knockback, sure - but if it goes right for them, their position as one of the biggest forces in the movie industry is going to be solidified for a very long time, and will even help shore up the superhero market in time for DC and Warner to enter it in a big way the year after. Here's to 2015!
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