A date change for Sony’s untitled third Spider-Man movie leaves Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness opening out of order and results in Thor 4, Doctor Strange 2, Black Panther 2 and Captain Marvel 2 opening within six months of each other.
Today is technically the one-year anniversary, counting the record-crushing $60 million-worth of Thursday preview grosses of the domestic debut of Avengers: Endgame. The climax to the 22-movie “Infinity Saga” rode a wave of solid reviews and a decade of earned goodwill to open with a jaw-dropping (and possibly never-to-be-replicated) $357 million domestic and $1.2 billion global launch. The film would eventually earned $857 million domestic, second (sans inflation) to Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($937 million in 2015) and $2.8 billion worldwide, besting Avatar’s $2.789 billion cume partially thanks to a jaw-dropping (and +71% from Infinity War) $629 million in China alone. In a cruel irony, this anniversary was being marked by a series of MCU date changes, ones which, for the first time, put the broader narrative of the MCU into (relative) question and/or jeopardy.
This is not the first time a bunch of Marvel movies have been delayed due to coronavirus-related theater closures and production delays. Black Widow was moved from May 1 to November 6 of this year, while the rest of the non-Sony MCU was pushed back “one release date” accordingly. So Eternals moved to February 12, 2021, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings moved to May 7, 2021, Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness moved to November 5, 2021 (five years to the weekend after Doctor Strange) and Thor: Love and Thunder moved to February 18, 2022. Since Disney
While I’m assuming that there was some communication between Sony and Disney before the announcement were made, Sony moved Jon Watts’ untitled third Spider-Man flick from July 16, 2021 to November 5, 2021. That sent Sam Raimi’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse Of Madness to March 25, 2021 (five years to the day of Batman v Superman). Meanwhile, to slightly alleviate the traffic jam, Taika Waititi’s Thor: Love and Thunder, which will bring Natalie Portman back to the MCU as “The Mighty Thor” while introducing Christian Bale to the MCU party. Oh, and Sony moved Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse from April 8, 2022 to October 23, 2022, but put a pin in that for a moment. What this means is that Thor 4 and Spider-Man 3 will be opening before Doctor Strange 2. That might be an issue.
If we’re optimistic, then we can assume that the Phase Four MCU movies will be comparatively stand-alone and relatively interchangeable in terms of continuity, like most MCU movies. In Phase One, Thor, Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2 allegedly took place over the same week concurrently, while the Guardians of the Galaxy films take place within six months of each other and take place essentially anytime between Thor: The Dark World and Thor: Ragnarok. Yes, Civil War has to be watched before Black Panther, and Ragnarok needs to be viewed before Infinity War, but there is only so much required continuity in the first mega-arc. Most of the MCU movies are most connected to their own specific franchise save for references to the Avengers movies and certain mythology episodes like The Winter Soldier.
Even as Phase Three was setting up the big two-part finale, you could still walk into Black Panther or Spider-Man: Homecoming without having seen a single MCU movie, and you could enjoy Ant-Man and the Wasp whether or not you had seen even the first Ant-Man movie. Yes, the events of Captain America: Civil rippled through the Phase Three flicks, but each film contained just enough past-tense exposition to get newbies onboard. But what didn’t happen was a release schedule where Ant-Man and the Wasp opened before Captain America: Civil War, making us wait to see the events that landed Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang under house arrest. That would have been a problem, one that now exists if Doctor Strange 2, initially scheduled to open before Thor 4 and Spider-Man 3, was intended to be a “mythology episode.”
The original plan was for Phase Four to be launched this week (in overseas territories) with James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which was to set up whatever big arc was going to take place over the next phase or three. But that was scrubbed when Disney temporarily fired (and eventually rehired) Gunn, leading to GotGV3 being delayed indefinitely. Doctor Strange 2 was supposed to co-star Elisabeth Olsen’s Scarlett Witch AND play directly after the presumably universe-changing events of Disney+’s Wandavision episodic. It’s not insane to presume that, following three stand-alone flicks (Black Widow, Eternals and Shang-Chi), Doctor Strange 2 was supposed to be a mythology episode whose story would directly impact what came afterward. But if Doctor Strange 2 now opens after the Spidey sequel and the Thor movie, that may be a problem.
Maybe I’m wrong or overthinking it, and the Phase Four flicks will be generally stand-alone adventures whose narratives will combine in whatever the next big “everyone into the pool” MCU event movie happens to be. Spider-Man 3 was likely going to just be a sequel to Spider-Man: Far from Home while Thor: Love and Thunder look likely be as tied into the rest of the MCU as was, at the time, the first two Guardians movies. But the new release order complicates any plans for a more explicitly shared continuity and removes one big hook for Multiverse of Madness, a five-years-later sequel to a film that was well-liked but not necessarily beloved and earned ($677 million in 2016) closer to Thor: The Dark World ($642 million in 2013) money than Thor: Ragnarok ($854 million in 2017) money.
The other issue is that Marvel now has four huge movies opening almost concurrently in 2022. Thor 4 will open on February 11, 2022 (just in time for Valentine’s Day), while Doctor Strange 2 now opens six weeks later on March 25. Black Panther 2, still set to kick off the summer, will open six weeks after that on May 6, while Captain Marvel 2 opens two months later on July 8. God help any competition, but those first three films may self-cannibalize each other. The practical choice would be to move something to October 23, 2022, but Sony just snapped that date for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse 2. Nonetheless, I still expect some 2022 date shifting, perhaps moving Doctor Strange 2 to May 6, sending Black Panther 2 to July and moving Captain Marvel 2 to early 2023.
Forcing Doctor Strange 2 to move not just after Spider-Man 3 (which was already the case when Marvel shifted their release dates weeks ago) but now after Thor 4 as well may cause a real hiccup to whatever grand narrative plans Kevin Feige and friends may have dreamed up. Spider-Man 3 in November 2021 and Spider-Verse 2 in October 2022 has both potentially messed up Marvel’s continuity and resulted in four huge MCU movies essentially trapped in small release window (from February to July of 2022). None of this is fatal since the continuity is merely part of the MCU’s appeal, but it’s doubly ironic that this is what we’re talking about today, on the one-year-anniversary of Avengers: Endgame, instead of, say, overseas opening weekend numbers for Black Widow. Trust me, I’d rather be doing the math.