Now that rabid Marvel fans have finally gotten a few tantalizing looks at the forthcoming third Avengers film Infinity War, we can start looking ahead to what will happen after Avengers 4. After all, the only thing more fun than actually watching a Marvel movie is hotly debating Marvel Cinematic Universe fan theories with like-minded nerds online - which we unashamedly do time after time.
Marvel has long teased Avengers: Endgame will conclude Phase 3 of the MCU (which was kicked off by Captain America: Civil War). According to the evil mastermind behind Marvel films, Kevin Feige (the president of Marvel Studios), Phase 4 will be the start of something new entirely. But what the heck does that even mean? Will Thanos destroy the entire universe? Will we suddenly care about Hawkeye? Will Avengers: Endgame ticket sales empty the US treasury? The questions are endless.
The internet is littered with speculation about how the next phase of Marvel films will fit into the univerese's admittedly wonky timeline, so let's dig through some of the better Marvel Phase 4 theories below and see if we can outsmart Feige and his minions.
Although they've never been depicted onscreen, most fans are already aware the aliens known as the Skrull will make an appearance in the forthcoming Captain Marvel film. This naturally opens up the possibility of them appearing in any films afterwards, and boy, that's a pretty big deal.
In the comics, there's an entire arc referred to as the "Secret Invasion" whereby shape-shifting Skrull - who can morph to appear like anybody - invade Earth and masquerade as several of the planets greatest heroes and villains. Once Thanos is dealt with, the MCU will need a new, overarching event to propel the movies foward, and an invasion by a bunch of body-snatching aliens sounds like a perfect next step for the franchise. Is that where Marvel intends to go next, or is it just "fun" like Feige has said?
With all this talk about major superheroes being killed in the fight against Thanos, Phase 4 will likely be fronted by some fresh blood. Captain America and Iron Man have been the leaders of the Avengers since the beginning, but what would happen if they were obliterated by Thanos? Who would take the reigns?
Well, some believe the responsibility will fall on the powerful shoulders of Captain Marvel. While we've yet to see Brie Larson's character in a film - and won't until 2019 - Captain Marvel is widely considered one of the most powerful superheroes in the entire Marvel canon. She might have to explain where she was during previous near-cataclysmic events such as the Chitauri Invasion, but it's nothing Marvel's scribes can't work around.
Now we don't know Iron Man and Captain America will die or retire, but considering Marvel and superhero movies in general are becoming more diverse, it actually makes a lot of sense to put a woman in charge of the world's most powerful (and lucrative) team of superheroes.
For years, Hawkeye has been something of a joke among Marvel aficionados. His "super power" is being able to shoot arrows, like, really well, but he's on a team that features literal gods. The movies have made various attempts to portray him as a leader or upgrade his arrows to explode, but generally speaking, the name "Hawkeye" isn't likely to strike fear into the hearts of any serious Marvel supervillains.
That's why it would make perfect sense to do what the comics do and kill Hawkeye. Not forever, of course, but just long enough that Scarlet Witch can resurrect him as Ronin - a martial arts expert and one of the Marvel comics' greatest fighters. There have already been a few leaked set photos that appear to depict Hawkeye in a very "Ronin-esque" outfit. The beginning of Phase 4 sounds like the perfect time to take a boring character and turn him into something awesome.
Even if Chris Evans's Captain America does end up dying like a lot of these theories assume, that doesn't mean Captain America will disappear. In the comics, multiple characters have taken up the mantle when the "real" Captain wasn't available. That said, it sort of feels like the MCU has been preparing us for a switch for years.
Bucky, AKA the Winter Soldier, has already "become" Captain America three times in the movies. In Captain America: The First Avenger, Bucky picks up Captain America's dropped shield and starts mowing down Nazis just like the Cap would have. In Winter Soldier, he picks up and uses the shield again, and in Civil War, Bucky and Cap swap the shield back and forth almost like they're sharing.
Given the high amount of visual clues, this theory almost feels like a given. Captain America is arguably one of the MCU's most popular characters, and they'll likely do anything to keep his movies coming.
Update: Cap did retire at the end of Avengers: Endgame, but he passed his shield on to Sam Wilson, AKA Falcon.