If you’ve already seen this weekend’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier you know that the film kicks over a lot of apple carts in terms of the status quo of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (And if you haven’t seen it already, you should probably stop reading right now because we’re going to spoilers in the very next sentence.)
As a result of the film’s storyline, the Marvel Universe’s spy organization SHIELD lies in tatters, broken apart after Captain America discovered that HYDRA, the Nazi splinter organization founded by the Red Skull in the first, World War Two era set Captain America film, had spent the last 60 years or so infiltrating its ranks, preparing a long game to seize control of the country. But since SHIELD has been a visible presence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since the first Iron Man film (2008) to this point, their absence is just one dangling plot point at the end of the film that will hopefully be addressed in upcoming films. Let’s take a lot at a few –
1. No more SHIELD. That this is also a rather monumental turn of events for a couple of reasons. On the creative side, this, and to a lesser extent the death of Frigga last year in Thor: The Dark World, clearly shows that Marvel is not afraid to shake up what might appear to be the status quo of their films, giving future films a sense of danger you might not normally find in other franchises that are less adverse to upsetting a winning formula. On the story side, we’ve seen in both the films and on the Agents Of SHIELD TV series that the spy organization has also been tasked with policing the world’s superheroes. With them out of the picture, that lack of oversight is bound to raise concerns with the general public. As most comics fans will tell you, concerns about powerful vigilantes running amuck and endangering civilians’ lives is one of the motivating factors in Marvel’s big Civil War miniseries from 2006-2007, which many fans seem to want to play out on the big screen.
2. Nick Fury has gone underground. With Fury seemingly no longer a player on the superhero scene, there doesn’t appear to be anyone to advocate for them to the World Security Council and presumably various national governments. Iron Man 2 and The Avengers hinted that those in power are nervous about the heroes and the strength the posses. (Though granted some of that fear could have been stoked by HYDRA.) Without his reassurances, some of those governments’ nervousness might grow and we could very well see a resumption of the superpower arms race we saw in Iron Man 2. It should be noted that Fury has gone off the grid before in the comics, most notably in one of the lead ups to the Marvel’s Secret War even from 2004-2005. And the fall out from that storyline led directly into Civil War.
3. Captain America knows who killed his old friend and SHIELD co-founder Howard Stark, Tony Stark/Iron Man’s father. One of the big reveals of the extent that HYDRA had been silently shaping events in the Marvel Universe was that the Winter Soldier was the one who killed Howard Stark, making it look like the automobile accident everyone thought it was. What kind of threat Stark posed to HYDRA isn’t delved into further, though it might be an easy guess to assume that he was close to discovering HYDRA’s infiltration of SHIELD. It will be interesting to see how Tony will react when he learns the news, but I can easily see how he can come into conflict with Cap/Steve Rogers, who is dead set on seeing the Winter Soldier/his old friend Bucky Barnes redeemed.
4. Might Avengers 3 not be the confrontation with Thanos that everyone is assuming that it will be? As you can see from the previous three points, it certainly can appear as if Marvel is putting some pieces into places very similar to the way things were at the start of the Civil War comics miniseries. But does that mean that we’ll being seeing that particular superhero versus superhero conflict on the big screen? Maybe, but I would not bet money on it. I still think we are fully on our way to Avengers 3 being the throw down between Earth’s mightest heroes and one of the universe’s biggest despots. The reasons are twofold and both have to do more with business considerations than storytelling ones. First is that next month’s X-Men: Days Of Future Past is going to cover some similar story ground covered in Civil War in terms of public fear and distrust of superheroes leading to registration laws and outright conflict and devastation. My feeling is that Marvel Studios mastermind Kevin Feige will want to steer clear of such comparisons in favor of bringing fresh stories to the big screen. Also, Avengers 3 marks the end of the current contract for Iron Man actor Robert Downey Jr and it has been hinted that they may want to give the character a bit of a rest before possibly bringing him back with a newly recast actor. I think that an Avengers 3 that draws more from the classic The Infinity Gauntlet comic storyline which featured Thanos as the Big Bad may be the more fitting way to give Downey his last big hurrah over doing Civil War. Besides, the fallout from Thanos attacking Earth in Avengers 3 would be the demonstration of why the planet needs an organization like SHIELD to begin with, opening the door to their re-establishment.
5. What are they going to call TV’s Agents Of SHIELD now? And what direction is the show going to take? Will Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his team of agents now become some sort of freelance, Marvel version of the A-Team or be considered rogue agents on the run from whomever? Will they be tasked with rebuilding a new SHIELD? The early part of the show’s season was a bit rocky as they took some time to figure out exactly what type of show it was going to be. Now that it seems to have found its groove it would be a shame to see the rug pulled out from under it, forcing it to spend several episodes redefining itself at the beginning of a second, as-yet-unconfirmed, second season.
But perhaps, Agents Of Shield can continue in an unexpected way. Following the positive reception the Marvel One Shot short film Agent Carter got when it was released on the Iron Man 3 blu-ray, there has been some discussion of a possible TV show that would highlight Hayley Atwill’s character of Sharon Carter from 2011’s first Captain America movie as she helped to found SHIELD in the late 1940s/early 1050s. Could Marvel be looking at resetting the show’s second season back in the early days of the spy organization? If so, perhaps subsequent seasons could even be set in different decades with new casts and new storylines, ultimately sketching out a whole secret history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There is a successful precedent for changing characters/location/storylines every season in FX’s popular American Horror Story, so why not steal a page from Ryan Murphy’s playbook here?
6. Hydra has now been established as the Big Bad terrorist organization of the MCU. Given that Iron Man 3 pretty much saw Tony Stark dismantling the terrorist organization Ten Rings (although the Marvel One Shot short All Hail The King throws that into some doubt), it is conceivable that some other group will be stepping up to fill that void. Winter Soldier gives us Hydra, quietly growing and stretching its tentacles into all manner of government. We know that frequent HYRDA leader Baron Von Strucker was going to be making an appearance in next summer’s The Avengers: Age Of Ultron and now thanks to one of the tag scenes in The Winter Soldier, we know that HYDRA know has Loki’s scepter from the first Avengers film. That is definitely going to be playing a factor as we go forward into Marvel’s Phase Three films starting in 2016.
This week it was announced that Marvel has a broad outline for its films that runs through 2028, which by my estimation means another three “Phases” past the three we already have seen and know upcoming details about. This weekend’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier definitely sets up a new paradigm with the Marvel Cinematic Universe which we’ll see play out into the future, though I suspect that even this new status will be only temporary and as we march through Marvel’s films in the coming years we’ll be seeing more such big shakeups.