Phase 4 is in full swing, and after coming off the Infinity Saga, Marvel Studios is ready to start telling new stories with new characters.
The recent Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings trailer has the excitement on a new level for the newest member of the MCU roster. And, for the first time in six years, fans will be meeting a new title character without any previous mention or post-credit tease. The Master of Kung-Fu is also only the fourth solo character to make such a solo-movie entrance in MCU history.
Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige and company have been teasing future characters ever since a hammer was dropped in the desert in Iron Man 2. The same team has successfully converted a variety of secondary characters into lead heroes in the future. Throw in a shield prototype and surgical namedrop, and Marvel Studios has nearly 75% of its leads getting a nod in other films.
It is that type of universe-building in the MCU that has lead to 15 characters leading their own projects, with 10 more scheduled to do the same over the next three years.
With Phase 3 of the Infinity Saga filled with sequels and payoffs, Simu Liu's Shang-Chi will be the first lead character to get a solo movie with nothing but trailers and promotion to build the hype since Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang in 2015’s Ant-Man. The six-year gap is the longest of its kind in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Here is a look back at how Marvel Studios handled introducing its extensive roster of MCU-leading characters.
TRAILERS: IRON MAN TO SHANG-CHI
The idea of Shang-Chi being only the fourth MCU character to get a solo project before being teased is pretty crazy. When considering that both Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk released before Marvel Studios fully committed to the idea of universe building, the numbers show just how rare this is. And, beginning as early as movie number three, Feige started promoting future movies within the credits of other movies.
That led to the second-biggest gap between this rare instance as fans did not meet another un-teased character until five at once with 2014's cosmic team-up, Guardians of the Galaxy. While some cosmic characters such as Thanos and The Collector were introduced in previous films, the rag-tag quintet was first shown in a trailer, and then, a movie. This was the first instance of the MCU branching out of the main Avengers cast and drawing from the depths of cosmic comics.
Shortly after, the world was introduced to America's sweetheart, Scott Lang, in 2015's Ant-Man. Unlike the Guardians expanding out from the core roster, Scott Lang was a look inside the civilian perspective of the MCU. Despite characters like Hank Pym being rooted into the lore of movies past, there was no hint of Ant-Man in nearly two phases of Marvel films.
Phase 3 was an entire phase of title characters ranging from mentioned to heavily involved in previous movies. Now, Shang-Chi joins a very exclusive club comprising of just Tony Stark's Iron Man, Bruce Banner's Hulk, and Scott Lang's Ant-Man who have received a title role in an introductory, single-character MCU solo movie with nothing but trailers to back them up. Simu Liu has embraced the culture of MCU fans and seems more than ready to lead his franchise. And, the trailers for Shang-Chi so far have the excitement stock for this movie on a perpetual rise.
SPIN-OFFS: BLACK PANTHER TO BLACK WIDOW
That is only five Marvel characters that have gone into their first solo project with nothing but trailers and promotional material to build hype. That leaves 21 characters who had some sort of tease or appearance in another MCU project. Many of them got their name on a marquee the old fashion way: with a spin-off.
Through the advantages of Disney+, the list of established characters receiving their solo projects has more than doubled in the past two years. But, the first spin-off film in the entire MCU wasn’t until Phase 3 when Peter Parker was introduced in Captain America: Civil War, leading to Spider-Man: Homecoming. This was shortly followed by Black Panther after the late Chadwick Boseman was introduced as T’Challa in the same movie.
This was the first look at characters being introduced in a project that led directly into their debut solo movie. The fact that this storytelling device was used for characters like Spider-Man and Black Panther proved that anybody could be getting a soft pilot at any time.
The debut of Marvel Studios’ Disney+ slate was a huge payoff for a variety of heroes who finally got their time to shine after multiple MCU appearances. Vision, Bucky, Sam Wilson, and Loki all received their first solo project after seven or more years of service in the MCU. This will continue to be the case as Marvel Studios mines the MCU history books for expanding this established universe.
The case of Black Widow is a rare combination of a spin-off, prequel, and swan song for one of the MCU’s most beloved characters. There is plenty of conversation to be had about the placement of this movie at the beginning of Phase 4 and the fact that fans have already seen how Natasha Romanoff’s story ends. But, the fact remains that Black Widow is the last core member of this roster to receive a solo project (besides Hawkeye and War Machine, who are receiving their Disney+ series over the next couple of years).
TEASED: THOR TO CAPTAIN MARVEL
The last group is those who were introduced as teases in other movies before their first projects. This group is the smallest of the three but features four of the most important characters in the MCU.
At the end of Iron Man 2, Agent Phil Coulson arrived in the desert and informed a superior that he had found Thor’s hammer. This was the first time audiences got a tease for a character within another character’s movie. And, the hype for Thor began to grow.
As iconic and memorable as this post-credit tease was, it was the first of only two post-credit teases leading directly into that character's first solo project. Captain Marvel was teased at the end of Avengers: Infinity War.
Wanda Maximoff is a unique circumstance of being a post-credit scene tease, but Elizabeth Olsen showed up to give fans a look at the Scarlet Witch in person. Olsen would go on to play Wanda in secondary roles in Avengers and Captain America movies until her widely successful lead role in WandaVision.
Finally, Chris Evan’s Captain America and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange were the most subtle of introductions into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While the iconic shield of the Star-Spangled Man was featured in not one, but two Iron Man movies, Stephen Strange was name-dropped within a blink and you’ll miss it “threat to the plan” list in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
A NEW ERA: ETERNALS TO SHE-HULK
The new era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe features a plethora of new and intriguing characters with varying degrees of involvement in the lore of the MCU. After Shang-Chi breaks the six-year gap of un-teased characters, Phase 4 is littered with new heroes who have yet to be hinted at in previous movies.
Eternals, Ms. Marvel, Moon Knight, and She-Hulk are all set to join the roster over the next few years. And, while there is still room for them to be pointed to between now and their respective releases, this seems to be a new crop of post-Infinity Saga heroes for Marvel fans to love. Plus, with Hawkeye, Secret Invasion, and Armor Wars ahead, there is still plenty of time to shine for MCU veterans.