The Marvel Cinematic Universe is one of, if not the, biggest stories ever told on screen. Through 27 movies and five Disney+ series, and dozens more on the way, the MCU has built a vast roster of heroes that spread across the world, galaxy, and universe. The Infinity Saga featured the first three phases of this cinematic universe coming to a head to battle Thanos and his army and save half of the existing population. This was the finish line connecting the dots and bringing all of these beloved characters together in Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. But what next?
Post-Iron Man, post-Steve Rodgers, and post-Infinity Saga, many believed the MCU was in danger of running into an identity crisis. How are fans going to remain invested when the two staples of the franchise have said their goodbyes? With the overarching threat of the Infinity Stones and Thanos seemingly in the past, how do fans keep track of all the moving pieces left on the board, with more and more seemingly being added every day?
The approach from Marvel Studios CCO Kevin Feige and his team has been subtle. Many would not notice the positioning Marvel Studios is doing with its characters as the foundation is being set for whatever the next Endgame-level team-up project is. But if you look closely, it seems clear that Kevin Feige and co. are putting their extensive cabinet of heroes into various branches across the MCU.
This is an attempt to compartmentalize the universe into specific pockets so more niche storylines can be simultaneously focused and inclusive. These branches of the MCU are not set in stone and are still being developed with every new episode of a series and entry into the movie catalog.
But from what we can tell, here are the 7 different branches of the MCU and the characters that are contributing to these storylines.
1.) MCU Cosmic
The Cosmic branch of the MCU is oftentimes the most easily defined because the criteria are simple: off-world = cosmic eligibility. Many of these characters begin their stories on Earth but venture into space to tell their stories among the stars.
The foundation for this branch has been being laid since Phase 1 of the MCU, with Thor being the literal and figurative bridge between Earth and what is beyond our atmosphere. He has since added Valkyrie to his team of cosmic superheroes and fans will be meeting a new and improved Jane Foster as Mighty Thor in 2022 with Thor: Love and Thunder.
While Thor laid the first brick of the house of cosmic MCU stories, The Guardians of the Galaxy were the first group of characters that went beyond the nine realms and introduced a flurry of new worlds to audiences. This looks to continue in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 as some of the more traditional MCU cosmic characters like Adam Warlock and the Great Beyonder look to enter the fold.
The Eternals are the latest space squad to enter the MCU. Despite the majority of their debut story being told on Earth, the end of Eternals has sent these space-god-robots into the unknown of the cosmos to answer their crimes and find more like them. This is surely going to be the vehicle project to dive deeper into one of the MCU Cosmic branches' most storied villains, Thanos.
Finally, Nick Fury & Captain Marvel have started in the parking lot of a Blockbuster and are now front and center for protecting Earth from cosmic attacks. These characters are the closest in proximity to the Earth-bound branches, but make no mistake. Fury and Carol Danvers are the frontline of the MCU Cosmic team and are sure to be put to the test sometime in 2023 with The Marvels and Secret Invasion. Monica Rambeau has also graduated from the tortuous Westview and has been called up to join Fury in the intergalactic big leagues.
2.) MCU Avengers
The MCU Avengers is the cornerstone branch of the franchise. This is the branch that started it all and is also the branch that has seen the most turnover of the already-established branches.
The one consistent from the earliest days of the Avengers is Bruce Banner/Hulk. Many wondered what would happen with the founding Avenger after Endgame showed Professor Hulk in full form also taking a big hit from the snap that brings everyone back. But after seeing him be a part of the introduction of Shang-Chi into the Avengers branch, it is safe to say everyone's favorite rage monster is still the captain of this team.
Wong and Captain Marvel are also a part of that journey but seem to be splitting work between Avengers duties and other branch activities. Like the soccer player who kicks field goals for the football team.
Sam Wilson/Captain America and Bucky Barnes have not officially claimed to still be involved with The Avengers, but they have gotten as close as they possibly could. Sam began his new chapter doing freelance Avengering for different government agencies, while Bucky took some time to work on himself. But with Sam taking the mantle of Captain America and Bucky continuing his path of redemption, these two are favorites to be a big part of whatever future Avengers plans the MCU has.
James Rhodes/War Machine and Okoye were glue-pieces of the Avengers roster during the blip and all signs led to that continuing. Both characters have major projects coming up in Armor Wars and the pre-production Wakanda series respectively. Look for these vets to play valuable leadership roles off the bench.
3.) MCU Young Avengers
For the first time in its existence, the MCU has so much going on that one team of Avengers is not enough. A developmental team has to be opened to take advantage of the young talent who may not be ready for the big leagues just yet.
The Young Avengers have not been announced, and there is no official indication that this is something that will be happening in the MCU any time soon. However, that is only if you disregard everything happening on Disney+. Cornerstone members of the Young Avengers roster have been introduced in supporting roles from shows like WandaVision and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. While two more favorites to make up this team have their own series in the books for the future with Ms. Marvel and Ironheart.
With those pieces in mind, the confirmed characters who are more than likely going to make up the MCU's Young Avengers are Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel, Riri Williams/Iron Heart, Eli Bradley, Tommy, and Billy Maximoff.
Speaking of Tommy and Billy...
4.) MCU Multiverse
This is undoubtedly the fastest rising branch in the league and it's all about to go ahead in full force. The Multiverse in the MCU was introduced with Doctor Strange, teased in the last project of the Infinity Saga, and has been center stage ever since. WandaVision, Loki, What If..?, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and even Hawkeye all ramped up the hype for the Multiverse and what it all means.
The roster is expansive and a large majority of it is by association. But it cannot be denied the major players working within the Multiverse branch. Strange brings with him Wong and America Chavez ahead of the Multiverse of Madness. Where we will also reconnect with Wanda as she searches for the aforementioned Tommy and Billy. And while all of that power seems like too much to handle, we still have Agatha Harkness floating around Westview.
These are the players directly involved with exploring the Multiverse and why it may be in Madness. But we cannot forget that Loki and Sylvie may have been at the forefront of this Multiversal story dealing with He Who Remains, aka... Kang.
Kang is the Thanos of the Multiverse in the MCU and his involvement with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantamania brings Scott Lang and Hope Van Dyne into the Multiverse branch.
This is the branch that holds the most weight in the MCU and will surely set some rules that will lead to these divisions of the universe coming together at some point.
5.) MCU Supernatural
The star of this team that has been subtly introduced in Eternals is the much-anticipated Blade. Blade seems to already be recruiting Dane Whitman on a journey into the supernatural, while this underground Midnight Suns-type team will seemingly be acting in the shadows.
The focus on the classic monsters of the spooky in the Vampire (Blade), the Mummy (Moon Knight) and the Knight (Dane Whiteman) all support the Werewolf by Night as the final member of this supernatural squad.
There is a ton of meat on this bone and Blade is the perfect catalyst to have a Guardians of the Galaxy-level meteoric rise through the ranks of the MCU.
6.) MCU Street
Existing alongside MCU Supernatural is another small-scale faction with big-name players. MCU Street is being developed right in front of our eyes with Hawkeyes: Clint and Kate leading the way. The events of Hakweye gave fans a look at the corner to corner actions of the MCU and how players like Echo and John Walker can become players within the lower ranks of crime across the world.
Other names like Yelena Belova and Matt Murdock have been rumored to enter this low-key branch as the underbelly of the MCU is developed. Look for some of the biggest emotions and personal stakes in this minor corner of the universe, as it isn't about saving the world, it is about saving yourself.
While Kang is the villainous figurehead for the Multiverse branch, we see players like Wilson Fisk playing a similar role here on the streets of the MCU.
A moment of silence for Peter Parker.
Spider-Man: No Way Home was a revolution in comic book movie storytelling that flipped the MCU on its head by seemingly resetting one of its biggest names. Spider-Man is still very much a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and will continue to be the face of the franchise. But the decision to erase the existence of Peter Parker as the ultimate sacrifice and leave Spider-Man remaining to tell a new story post-Homecoming trilogy makes Spider-Man his own branch.
Who knows who Peter will run into and what stories will be told? But the idea that fans were able to experience a three-movie origin story and are JUST NOW seeing what the next adventure for the most popular superhero name around is exciting to say the least.
It is unknown how this will work, but the possibilities are endless.
There are a few characters scheduled to appear in the MCU that could be dropped into various buckets across the universe. She-Hulk is set to premiere sometime in 2022 and all we know about connectivity to the rest of the universe is that Professor Hulk will be there. That leans She-Hulk towards the Avengers narrative across the MCU.
But her involvement with the street-level MCU seems more likely with the tone She-Hulk is presenting.
Another group of characters that has yet to be introduced but will likely play a major role moving forward is the Fantastic Four. Much like Spider-Man, Marvel's first family has the name-weight to form their own branch of science and interdimensional exploration. Between the Multiverse Branch, the Cosmic Branch, and even some Avengers-level situations, the Fantastic Four are the biggest free agents in the MCU talent pool.
Lastly, a character set to return in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is Shuri. It is unknown how big of a role she will play moving forward, but if promotional art and family lineage say anything, she is the favorite to take over the Black Panther mantle. If that is the case, she will be a major player for whichever branch she falls into.
These seven branches make up the MCU roster full of heroes that fans uniquely care for. This is an exciting and inventive way to have so many projects spread across so many storylines and still feel that organized and cohesive tone across the MCU. Each of these branches will be tweaked and developed with every project that releases. It will be interesting to see where the cards fall and where everyone stands when it is time for that next Endgame-level event.
And with all of these branches at different levels of establishment, the Fantastic Four have still yet to make their mark, and plenty of major stories already being told... as Kevin Feige once said... "we haven't even gotten to Mutants yet."