By now, you’ve seen Avengers: Endgame, you’ve wiped the tears from your eyes, and you're wondering what's next for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Where can things go now that the Avengers are no longer leading the charge against a giant purple alien or sentient AI?
There’s been plenty of foreshadowing about the MCU's future already. While that has inevitably led to speculation among fans about the heroes, villains, and stories that may await them, Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige has been tight-lipped about what's in store. Endgame may bring a decade of storytelling to a close, but it also offers significant hints about Marvel's forthcoming Phase 4 - you just have to know where to look.
A Hawkeye TV show has already been announced, a limited series on Disney+ that will involve both Jeremy Renner's existing verson of the character and Kate Bishop, the second incarnation. The opening scene of Endgame also suggests the possibility that Clint Barton's daughter may take up his arrows at some point. Father and daughter not only have taste in food in common - they're in firm agreement that a penchant for mayo on hot dogs is weird - but she's taken after him with her bow too. Just before the Snap takes her, Lila hits a bullseye.
Whether Lila eventually makes an appearance as the world's greatest markswoman - a legacy entrant into SHIELD, perhaps - is pure speculation. But given that Endgame also shows us Tony Stark's daughter wearing an Iron (Wo)Man helmet, there's at least a hint that the progeny of our original Avengers may be cut out for the hero business too.
Avengers: Endgame picks up pretty much where the previous film ends. Struggling to comprehend the loss of half the life in the universe, the Avengers get their act together, chase down Thanos, and once they realize he's eliminated the Infinity Stones altogether, remove his head. Then, there's a five-year time jump.
As for what happens during that period, details are sparse. But there are hints here and there about what the characters have been doing. Black Widow is leading the Avengers in some form or fashion, with the remaining members of the team conducting their own missions - reconnaissance and otherwise - across the universe. Spurred by the disintegration of his family, Hawkeye has gone full vigilante, taking on the mantle of "Ronin" and wiping out surviving evildoers throughout the world.
There are plenty of stories to mine from this period, and the best part about a film set during the time gap is that it could just be a one-off. Audiences may not want a trilogy about Clint Barton fighting the Yakuza, but it would be a fun ride for 110 minutes. The in-the-works Black Widow film could also be the right fit - and give the character, who sacrifices herself in Endgame to recover the Soul Stone, one last hurrah.
We haven't seen a lot from Bucky Barnes lately. In Avengers 3, he was snapped out of existence after briefly fighting in Wakanda; in Endgame, he doesn't show up until the final fight against Thanos. He does, of course, get in some serious brooding time at Tony Stark's funeral.
It's what happens after the funeral that may change his fate within the MCU for good. During the film's dramatic epilogue, an aged Steve Rogers returns. He reveals that, after dutifully putting each of the Infinity Stones back in their rightful time and place, he found his own rightful time and place - and stayed there. Soon after, our suspicions about the ring on his finger - that he went and reunited with Peggy Carter - are confirmed.
Steve's best friend has long since left his Winter Soldiering days behind, but Bucky's presence during this final sequence is noteworthy. Even when Steve bequeaths the Captain America shield, Sam Wilson first looks to Bucky, who nods his approval in a pivotal close-up. Whether he's going to stay in Wakanda, team up with any of our remaining heroes, or go solo, Bucky seems primed to take on a somewhat larger role in the MCU - at least if Endgame's emotional focus is any indication.
Speaking of sidekicks, Rhodey is all over Endgame. He takes on a more prominent narrative role than he has in recent entries, including what turns out to be a crucial (in ways both good and bad) side quest with Nebula to retrieve the Power Stone. With Tony gone, he's the only person - aside from Pepper Potts - who's trained to use an Iron Man suit. With those resources at his disposal, it would be a shame not to spend some more time with him.
Endgame confirms that time travel is not only possible within the MCU, but functional - despite Tony Stark's initial doubts and Bruce Banner's early miscalculations. Whether this is a one-off for the purposes of undoing the Snap or a tease for possible future use remains an open question.
To oversimplify the concept for the sake of brevity: the Avengers, using Pym Particles and some kind of nebulous temporal equation, are able to transport themselves to any point in time, do what they need to do, and return mere moments after they left.
There are plenty of rules governing the MCU's interpretation of time travel, so don't expect Phase 4 installments to revolve around superheroes going back in time to right the wrongs of the past. There are, however, scenarios within this universe that feel tailor-made for the concept. Imagine how fun it would be to see Ant-Man and the Wasp - their years of quantum experience in hand - bend space-time to pull off a heist. Between those two and Doctor Strange, the MCU already has a couple of franchises for which time travel makes intrinsic sense. But now that it's been introduced to everyone - across galaxies, for that matter - it may be hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube.