Eternals was supposed to be this week. Instead, Marvel reimagined Phase 4.
The MCU's epic rescheduling could have major ramifications on its interconnected plot.
In a different timeline, we'd be buzzing over a new Marvel movie instead of being glued to our phones looking at election results. Of the many things the first week of November 2020 would have wrought, the Chloe Zhao-directed Marvel film Eternals (formerly The Eternals) would have opened in theaters on November 6. Instead, in this Covid-19 reality, we haven't even seen Black Widow. And who knows when we will.
With so many changes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the pandemic, it's about time we check in again on just what's the deal with "Phase Four" of the MCU at the moment.
As stated, November 6 would have seen the release of Eternals, a sci-fi ensemble about a family of alien superheroes. The cast, (Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Brian Tyree Henry, a ripped Kumail Nanjiani, Kit Harington, and more) was introduced last year on stage at San Diego Comic-Con. (Wow, remember conventions?)
Originally the second movie in Marvel's now-halted "Phase Four," Eternals — based on the comics from the legendary Jack Kirby — would have expanded the scope and scale of the MCU even more than past movies like Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange. The film, which riffs on the trope of "ancient aliens," would have introduced heroes who have been hiding on Earth and among Earth's civilizations for centuries.
Following a series of delays, Eternals is now set to release on November 5, 2021, nearly a full year after its original premiere date.
Had there not been a pandemic, we probably would have seen a trailer for Eternals at San Diego Comic-Con in July 2020. Instead, Marvel hasn't released any marketing material at all. Besides a few pieces of concept art projected onstage, no one outside Disney has seen a second of Eternals — unless you were one of the lucky few at CCXP in Brazil last December where Marvel screened footage to an enthusiastic audience.
It's something of a speculative exercise to think about what alternate pop culture environment we'd be in at this moment with Eternals. What would normalcy look like? is arguably the real question we're asking.
After Black Widow (a grounded spy movie in the spirit of Captain America: The Winter Soldier), a space movie that is said to star Kit Harington as the Black Knight and feature a Bollywood dance number would have created a different moment for geek movies. Newsworthy profiles of the cast would have populated our timelines. We'd read and reblog deep dives on Jack Kirby lore. There'd be plenty of Celestials fan theories. And yeah, at least one reporter would have dived into the making of that Bollywood sequence. (Seriously, what is Eternals going to look like?)
But we're not in that timeline. We're in this one, where we seem to know more about the forthcoming WandaVision series on Disney+ than we do Eternals.
WandaVision: The best (only?) Marvel thing of 2020
All the release date shuffling and postponing has made one unlikely Disney+ show the only new Marvel anything of 2020. That's of course not counting the final season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or Helstrom, a Hulu/Marvel show you're Googling for right now. (Since neither are really in the MCU, WandaVision still earns the claim.)
Originally meant to release in early 2021, ahead of the release of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (a movie WandaVision will have deep ties too), WandaVision was quietly pushed up to 2020 and is expected to begin streaming on Disney+ in December. An exact release date is unknown, but its place in the Marvel calendar has moved way up from where it was originally.
With one full trailer plus a cryptic Super Bowl spot, we've seen enough of WandaVision to guess the premise and plot. It's also intended to be a trippy show with weird genre satires, though, so it's anyone's guess what the plot is really about.
Shang-Chi wrapped filming
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, another new Marvel movie scheduled for 2021, recently wrapped filming in Australia, confirmed by star Simu Liu and director Destin Daniel Cretton on social media.
The movie, which will spotlight the kung fu superhero Shang-Chi alongside a majority Asian cast, is destined to be huge for Marvel. In the same way Black Panther represented Black and African culture, Marvel hopes Shang-Chi will strike the same chord with Asian audiences.
The movie was originally meant to release February 12, 2021, just in time for Chinese New Year. It was later delayed to May, which would have allowed Shang-Chi to open during Asian Pacific Heritage Month. But delays caused by Covid-19 forced the movie to occupy the July release previously reserved for the next Spider-Man movie. Shang-Chi will now be released in theaters on July 9, 2021.
What else is shooting now?
A quick rundown on other future Marvel movies and shows yet to come:
Morbius, a completed Sony/Marvel movie with ties to the MCU, was supposed to open in July. It is now scheduled for release in March 18, 2021.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, coming to Disney+, recently wrapped in conditions that star Anthony Mackie described as "horrible." Previously meant to be the first Marvel show on Disney+, it will now release after WandaVision sometime in 2021.
Loki, the first Marvel show announced for Disney+ with Tom Hiddleston back in the role of Thor's trickster brother, resumed filming in September 2020. It is unclear what state the show is in now. It has a vague release date of 2021.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has started, or is about to start, filming in London. Its release date is March 25, 2022.
Tom Holland recently landed in Atlanta to begin filming the untitled Spider-Man 3. Its release date is December 17, 2021.
Natalie Portman said in July that shooting Thor: Love and Thunder is expected to begin "early next year" in 2021. It has a release date of February 11, 2022.
She-Hulk on Disney+, which may or may not star Tatiana Maslany, is expected to begin shooting in 2021. It does not have a release date.
Moon Knight on Disney+, which may or may not star Oscar Isaac, was supposed to begin filming this month but delays pushed its production date to an unknown time in 2021. It does not have a release date.
Ms. Marvel on Disney+ has a star in Iman Vellani, but the show does not yet have a shooting date or a release date.
Marvel is currently seeking writers for Blade, which will star Mahershala Ali in a reboot of the film series that first starred Wesley Snipes. The film does not have a release date.
What do all these changes reveal?
It's tough to say, and as Marvel Studios moves forward, its movies (and shows) may not play out in chronological order like the mostly did in Phases 1-3. That said, starting Phase 4 with a trippy Disney+ show instead of a grounded superspy thriller could set the tone for the next few years of Marvel movies in more ways than we realize right now.