“Phase Two” of Disney's “Marvel Cinematic Universe” begins Friday, with the U.S. opening of “Iron Man 3.” Internationally, however, “Phase Two” has already begun, and apparently the Marvel juggernaut is in no immediate danger of leaving the rails.
This past weekend, “Iron Man 3,” yet to open in Germany, China, and Russia, pulled in $195.3 million abroad, which is $10.2 million more than last year's “The Avengers” made in its first weekend of international release. “The Avengers” went on to rake in more than $1.5 billion worldwide.
“Phase One” officially began with the release of 2008's “Iron Man” ($585 million worldwide). Reviews were overwhelmingly positive, and most of them credited Robert Downey Jr.'s nuanced yet somehow jubilant performance as arrogant-billionaire-genius-playboy Tony Stark.
“Iron Man 2,” which opened in May 2010, pulled in a whopping $128 million its opening weekend and went on to gross almost $624 million worldwide. "Thor" scored nearly $450 million worldwide, and "Captain America: The First Avenger" another $368.6 million. The heroes were in place.
Each film had contained a post-closing credits scene linking it to the next, building toward the final “Phase One” installment. Each movie stood on its own, offering fans and the general viewer entertaining adventures of some of Marvel's most revered heroes. But each film also served as a chapter in a much larger story. There was only one thing left to do: Assemble “The Avengers.”
Joss Whedon, known for creating the ensemble supernatural TV series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” took his cast of disparate Marvel heroes and thrust them together in a massive world-saving adventure rocked with action, humor and tragedy. He perfectly captured the spirit of the original Marvel Comics of the 1960s, but with a clear 21st century sensibility. His efforts were fully rewarded when “Marvel's The Avengers” became the third-highest grossing movie of all time ($1.5 billion worldwide), behind only “Avatar” and “Titanic."
All told, "Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One" had garnered $3.8 billion in box-office revenue -- not to mention merchandise, DVD and Blu-ray sales.
As the opening salvo of "Phase Two," "Iron Man 3" picks-up a few months after “The Avengers.” Tony Stark is suffering from PTSD -- an atomic blast during an alien invasion at the end of "The Avengers" almost killed him. A new terrorist threat has emerged in the form of the Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley. Stark challenges the Mandarin to attack him, and, of course, all hell breaks loose; he's forced to reconnect with the qualities that made him a hero in the first place if he is to defeat this new enemy. Don Cheadle returns as Rhodey/War Machine/Iron Patriot, and Gwyneth Paltrow's back as Pepper Potts.
Next up is "Thor: The Dark World," due out this fall. The cast of the original film, including Anthony Hopkins as Thor's Dad, Odin, and Natalie Portman as Thor's love, Jane Foster, returns. An evil force threatens to plunge all nine realms, including Earth and Asgard, into permanent darkness. Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth, and his evil stepbrother Loki, Tom Hiddleston, must join forces and engage in a universe-spanning battle to prevent essentially the end of everything. Unlike the previous movie, directed by Kenneth Branagh, Alan Taylor ("Game of Thrones") is piloting "Thor: The Dark World."
In April 2014, Chris Evans and company return to theaters in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." The star-spangled Avenger must confront a mystery from his past while attempting to unravel a conspiracy in the present. Cap's joined by fellow Avenger, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and his former comics' partner, the Falcon (Anthony Mackie). Samuel L. Jackson will appear as S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury, and Cobie Smulders will reprise her role as agent Maria Hill. Robert Redford has joined the cast as Alexander Pierce, a "high-ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. official." The Cap sequel retains the writers of “The First Avenger,” Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely, but Joe and Anthony Russo (“You, Me and Dupree”) assume the directing duties from Joe Johnston.
August 2014 brings Marvel's big departure from the “Phase One” formula, an interstellar adventure fronted by "The Guardians of the Galaxy." The Guardians consist of:
• Peter Quill/Star-Lord, played by Chris Pratt (“Parks and Recreation,” “Zero Dark Thirty”), who's an adult child of a human mother and an alien father.
• Rocket Raccoon, an intelligent space-faring raccoon who's also an expert marksman and tactician.
• Gamora, an alien super-powered former assassin, played by Zoe Saldana (“Star Trek Into Darkness”).
• Yondu, played by Michael Rooker (“The Walking Dead”), who's a Centaurian mystic, archer and expert hand-to-hand combatant.
• Drax the Destroyer, played by the W.W.E.'s Dave Bautista (“The Man with the Iron Fists”), a former human spirit who occupies a super-powered body.
This film will be directed by James Gunn (“Super,” “Movie 43”) and is expected to involve intergalactic super-villain Thanos, teased at the end of “The Avengers.”
All of which leads to the climax of “Phase Two,” 2015's “The Avengers 2.” Joss Whedon returns to write and direct, and the cast of the first film is to return. Whedon has hinted that additional Avengers from the comics may appear, indicating that Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch may show up.
Don Cheadle has supposedly been lobbying to appear as Iron Patriot, and Anthony Mackie would like to join the team as the Falcon. Just how many Avengers can play an active role in one movie remains to be seen, but Whedon has indicated that Thanos will be the ultimate villain.
If the successes of “Phase One” and the apparent success of “Iron Man 3” are any indication, it appears as though “Phase Two” may be well on its way to further justifying Disney's $4.24 billion purchase of Marvel Studios in 2009, a far cry from our 2005 expectations.
Disney, which purchased Lucasfilm last year for $4 billion, has similar plans for its revival of the “Star Wars” franchise, with recent announcements that they will produce a “trilogy film” every two-to-three years and spinoff films involving individual Star Wars characters every year in between.
With both “Avengers 2” and “Star Wars: Episode 7” planned for release in 2015, Disney's grand scheme for world box-office domination may at last come to fruition. Stay tuned.