What's next for the MCU after Ms. Marvel and Thor: Love and Thunder?
Warning: This episode contains spoilers for the season finale of Ms. Marvel.
Since the decisive defeat of Thanos in Avengers: Endgame, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has lacked an overarching villain and interconnected plot. The films and TV shows of "Phase Four" — with Thor: Love and Thunder and Ms. Marvel being the latest examples of each — have instead gone into multiple different story directions.
Next up on the docket are She-Hulk: Attorney at Law on Disney+ and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever in theaters, both due out later this year. But though the superheroes of the MCU don't seem to be building up for a fight against a shared supervillain anytime soon, various seeds have been planted that indicate the possible directions that future installments might take. Here's where we think things are headed.
Incursions and Illuminati
Thor: Love and Thunder didn't end with any teases for the MCU's future other than that "Thor will return" (though presumably not in Guardians of the Galaxy 3, since Chris Hemsworth's thunder god parts from them in the first act of the new film), but Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness had plenty. The star-studded Illuminati encountered by Benedict Cumberbatch's Sorcerer Supreme in another dimension spoke of the great costs incurred by fighting off "incursions."
Drawn from Jonathan Hickman's 2013 New Avengers comic (which starred the Illuminati characters), "incursions" are when one parallel universe in the Marvel multiverse crashes into another, with the two Earths as the impact point. The only way to avoid the destruction of both universes is to destroy one of the Earths first. That makes incursions quite a massive challenge to solve, since the solution is almost as destructive as the problem itself — and the whole universe is invested in figuring it out. Multiverse of Madness ended with Strange being recruited by Charlize Theron's Clea to jump through a portal and work on incursions, but it's only a matter of time until interstellar societies like the Kree start taking notice too — and that's definitely Captain Marvel's domain.
One member of the Illuminati that hasn't appeared on screen yet is Namor the Sub-Mariner, the king of Atlantis (basically Marvel's answer to Aquaman). Though there is no official confirmation, it has long been rumored that Namor will show up in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, since the character's rivalry with T'Challa was such an entertaining element in the same Hickman New Avengers comics that dealt with incursions. But without Chadwick Boseman's T'Challa, it's hard to say how that same dynamic might play out, and the film has had something of a troubled production. Now the focus in Wakanda is on female characters like Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), who might react even more harshly to Namor's macho arrogance than T'Challa did. How might a terrestrial interstate conflict between Wakanda and Atlantis play out in the midst of all these problems bearing down from the cosmos and the multiverse? We'll find out soon enough.
More Fantastic Four?
Speaking of the Illuminati, we've now seen the Fantastic Four's leader Reed Richards (John Krasinki) in an alternate reality…but what about the MCU's own universe? Unlike the X-Men, the MCU has officially announced an upcoming Fantastic Four movie, though its future seems somewhat in flux after the recent departure of director Jon Watts (Spider-Man: No Way Home).
Krasinski is a noted actor/director after the A Quiet Place films, so if Marvel intends on keeping him in the Reed role, it's not inconceivable that he might helm the project himself. Mr. Fantastic is also famously married to Invisible Woman, and Krasinski's real-life wife Emily Blunt (who once auditioned for Black Widow) could make an incredible Susan Storm. Their combined wattage could certainly power an MCU Fantastic Four franchise after Fox's failed attempts, and with incursions on the horizon they seem more necessary than ever. Reed's scientific super-mind was essential to solving the incursion problem in Marvel comics, so it's hard to imagine that storyline getting much further without him.
Then again, the alternate reality nature of Krasinski's appearance in Multiverse of Madness might have just been a way for director Sam Raimi to honor a popular fan casting without committing Marvel to a set path. We could still end up seeing a younger, all-new Fantastic Four in the main MCU timeline.
Secret wars, secret invasions
The incursion storyline from Hickman's New Avengers climaxed in an event comic called Secret Wars. No such title has been announced for the MCU, but it's possible that might be where that storyline is headed. In the meantime, there's another "secret" on the way: Secret Invasion. That Disney+ show is set to follow a widespread infiltration of Earth by the shapeshifting Skrulls, who first appeared in the solo Captain Marvel film before demonstrating that they had infiltrated SHIELD (in the post-credits scene of Spider-Man: Far From Home) and the FBI (at the end of WandaVision).
Secret Invasion will feature Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Mendelsohn reprising their roles as Nick Fury and the Skrull Talos, alongside new characters played by Emilia Clarke and Kingsley Ben-Adir. What's confusing is that when we saw Mendelsohn's Talos in Captain Marvel, he was the leader of a refugee race, seeking a new home to protect themselves from extermination at the hands of the Kree. This is one of the MCU's most major departures from Marvel comics, in which the Skrulls are a powerful, bloodthirsty empire in their own right. Hence the story of Secret Invasion, in which they attempt to conquer Earth!
So how does that storyline fit within the MCU, where the Skrulls are on friendly terms with the head of SHIELD? Maybe that's how some of these big storylines will intersect. Remember that Earth is the focal point of mulitversal incursions; perhaps the Skrulls are aware of this and want to dominate Earth in order to control what happens in an incursion.
Marvels and mutants
We'll probably find out more about what the Skrulls are planning in next year's film The Marvels, which is set to unite Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani) with her icon Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) and Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris). The last time we saw Monica at the end of WandaVision, she was face-to-face with that Skrull sleeper agent. Back in Captain Marvel, Carol took it upon herself to find the Skrulls a new home planet. How did we get from there to here, with lots of Skrulls secretly on Earth? Either Carol knows, or she'll be very interested in finding the explanation as soon as possible.
Her plans might be thrown into disarray by the final scene of Ms. Marvel, in which Kamala and Carol switch places through an effect of the former's bangle, which we know can create space-time portals. Carol seems put off enough by suddenly finding herself in a teenager's bedroom decorated with her own iconography (a reference to the first issue of the Ms. Marvel comic by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona, when Kamala's shapeshifting powers first manifested by transforming herself into her idol), but Kamala must be even more thrown off by being shunted to whatever far-off planet Carol had been in the midst of protecting.
But Ms. Marvel also gave us another important piece of information that might reveal even more about the future of the MCU. Though Kamala was an Inhuman in the comics, there has been no reference to this origin in the show. Instead, her friend Bruno Carelli (Matt Lintz) tells her in the season finale that her DNA shows signs of "mutation." Accompanied by the animated X-Men series theme song, this can only mean that the MCU version of Kamala is a mutant.
Since Kamala is one of Marvel's most important up-and-coming characters, this seems like an indicator that an MCU X-Men movie is inevitable at some point, even if nothing official has been announced yet. We've already seen Patrick Stewart's Professor X pop up in Multiverse of Madness, and the actor told EW he'd be open to a return. One thing Thor: Love and Thunder did teach us is how much Marvel Studios loves drawing on recent Marvel comics as source material, and the publisher's current X-Men comics have ideas to spare.
Though the X-Men were once Marvel's pop culture crown jewel, it was believed by many that their comics were purposefully de-emphasized by the company while Fox owned the movie rights; instead they pushed the Inhumans as an alternate explanation for superpowers. But the Inhumans didn't have staying power, either in the comics or in the MCU (aside from Anson Mount's Black Bolt making a quick cameo in Multiverse of Madness), and shortly after the Disney-Fox merger in 2019, the event comic House of X/Powers of X by Hickman, Pepe Larraz, and R.B. Silva restored X-Men comics to critical and commercial popularity. It's too early to say whether we'll see anything like the mutant nation-state of Krakoa arise in the MCU, but mutants manifesting on Earth could be explained by the interdimensional chaos of incursions, and could also clarify why Skrulls have now become even more interested in the planet.
Either way, Marvel's future is full of possibilities, and the storytelling machinations don't seem to be slowing down anytime soon.