Marvel Studios may have just started Phase 3 of their cinematic universe with Captain America: Civil War, but that doesn’t keep us from already thinking ahead to what we’d like to see in Marvel Phase 4. Marvel has done pretty spectacularly for itself so far, but there are things we’d like to see improved, namely: a greater consideration of diversity in all that entrails. Many aspects of diversity have been subject to erasure within these superhero movies and we saw this as a chance to offer just a small measure of course correction. Against the odds, and despite the fact that each of our pitches were developed separately and without input from one another, there is a common theme running across these potential films: the erasure of history and the impact that has on the present. In both story and our attention to inclusion, we have crafted a Marvel Phase 4 worthy of this cinematic universe and the fans that keep it alive.

Fantastic Four

Mike Wieringo/Marvel Comics

Fantastic Four – Sean W. Fallon

It’s possible that Fantastic Four have had enough chances at being made into a movie franchise. Roger Corman’s unreleased nonsense, Tim Story’s broad comedy, which mostly existed as an excuse to get Jessica Alba to strip, and Josh Trank’s recent dark, gritty, and gloomy take have all failed one way or another, and it’s possible that audiences simply don’t want to see Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Johnny Storm, and Ben Grimm up on the big screen. Well, they’re wrong. The FF are prime movie material if you get them right.

To get them right, you set them in the 1960s. Mad Men meets The Avengers. Begin the movie with them already with their powers. Gloss over origin with newsreels or someone giving a tour of the Baxter Building. Have them already established as heroes and crucially already have them as a family, so bring in Franklin and Valeria, Reed and Sue’s mutant son and super-smart daughter. The actual story is not really an issue. You have a villain, they have to face it, etc. The thing with this story would be tone. Unlike other superhero teams you have the added tension of the family dynamic at play here which can reap vast dividends. Also the entire FF would be played by African Americans, so there’s a lot to work through there as it’s set in the 1960s so politically you’ve got outside tension for days (think: X-Men First Class and how well they tied in the Cuban Missile Crisis etc.). Also you’ve got the option to bring Peggy Carter in as an older version of her WW2 self. The trick is to put the FF into continuity. Perhaps the villain’s plot has something to do with time travel and the finale revolves around the FF sacrificing their own existences to save the world. They do something which wipes them from the timeline as a grand heroic act for a world that distrusts them. And then Doctor Strange 2 can be all about him trying to retrieve them from the ether or something and they can return to the modern day a la Captain America.

For casting I wanted to skew older throughout. Reed Richards would be Denzel Washington. He’s got the acting chops (obviously) and also I feel like he can sell doting father, absent scientist, and ass kicker.

For Sue, Kerry Washington. Also there’s something fitting about her powers, invisibility and force fields, considering her race and the period.

Ben would be CGI but images of his pre-rock self and the voice would be Anton Braugher.

Johnny Storm would be John Boyega. He might as well double down on that Disney money.

For a director I would have to go with either Ryan Coogler or Steven Spielberg. I feel like Spielberg can get the fun and wonder out of any concept and hopefully he could succeed in finding the fun where Story and Trank failed.

Nova

Ed McGuinness /Marvel Comics

Nova – Diego Crespo

Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy opened the door to the cosmic side of the MCU but we have yet to deeply dive into the entrenched weirdness of the literal universe. As a certain Baron once said “We’ve only scratched the surface.” With Infinity Wars potentially breaking the MCU in half and reorganizing it for new blood and newer heroes, we’ll need more exploratory missions to the weird alien realms. What better way to accomplish this than a fish out of water story. Not the same approach as Thor’s visit to Earth in his debut but with an Earthling traversing the stars. Sam Alexander (dedicated to Jeph Loeb’s son who passed away due to bone cancer in 2005) is a sixteen-year-old with his family. His dad drunkenly boasts about his time as a member of the Nova Corps. After an incident, Gamora and Rocket Raccoon inform him of his father’s time as a Nova. He’s also one of the few Latino superheroes so that automatically earns him a special place in my heart.

The Nova corps have already been introduced in Guardians of the Galaxy and Rocket Raccoon and Gamora are popular enough to play into his own movie for the small bit of an introduction although I understand the difficulties of that venture. Instead here’s what I had in mind.

Post-Infinity Wars, teenage Sam Alexander comes home one night to find his father and mother missing with only his only sister at home. After discovering his father’s Nova helmet, Sam is blasted off to space where he meets Rhomann Dey and Nova Prime (played again by John C. Reilly and Glenn Close, respectively) who informs him his father and mother were indeed members of the Nova Corps for a period of time. But foul play is involved as members of the Corps are vanishing across the galaxy. His parent’s helmets are the key to solving a galaxy wide mystery with Sam getting wrapped up in a villainous plan that will change the course of the MCU forever.

In a perfect world Alfonso Cuarón would direct this movie. Not only does he have an incredible visual eye and specific vision for every one of his movies, he has shown he can already play well within franchise confines (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the best Harry Potter for a reason). With Marvel opening up their producer/director relationships in the coming years (and dissolving several of the institutions that stopped Edgar Wright and Patty Jenkins from making their marks in the MCU) there are less and less reasons why one of the best living directors shouldn’t take a stab at the world’s largest franchise.

Ideally, the young Sam Alexander would be played by a newcomer or someone who hasn’t made huge waves yet. Take the Spider-Man approach and cast young. His parents should be played by Mia Maestro and Oscar Isaac as they can be badass while remaining warm and loving in the performances. For villains, I think there’s only one way to go: Al Pacino as Ego the Living Planet. How does he fit into the story? It doesn’t matter. Make Al Pacino Ego the Living Planet. Make it happen Marvel.

Black Widow

Phil Noto/Marvel Comics

Black Widow – Jack Godwin

A solo outing for Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow has been talked about ever since the MCU showed their confidence in a shared universe with The Avengers, and after how brilliant she was as a supporting character in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, people have only become more vocal. Last week USA Today ran a poll for fans to decide which Avenger they would most like to get a standalone movie, and Natasha Romanoff won with 48% of the vote. While I’m excited for the other movies lined up for Marvel Studios’ forseeable future, it becomes increasingly frustrating that Black Widow isn’t part of the line up. Both Kevin Feige and Johannson have said there have been conversations about it, but no commitments have been made. Aside from the fact that having another female-led film alongside 2019’s Captain Marvel would go along way to diversifying the superhero movie landscape, the character has a great history to delve into.

My idea for a Black Widow would be a prequel. It would be set entirely within the spy genre, before Tony Stark said “I am Iron Man” or Thor was banished to Earth. Natalia Romanoff, an only child of an impoverished family in Volgograd, makes extra money by acting as a courier to local gangsters. During a delivery for them she witnesses her employers shaking down an old shop owner (someone she has known since she was a child) for protection money. Already in a frail state, he dies shortly after the attack. His last words to Natalia are “Look after yourself. Survive.” Later, unable to bear hearing the same gangster joking about the death, she steals his gun and shoots him in the back. She manages to escape, but is then caught by the police. She is kept in a cell overnight, until she is retrieved by a mysterious man. He introduces himself as Ivan Petrovich, an agent of the K.G.B, offering her the chance to train with him. He tells her that the USSR is on its last legs, and they need to act in the shadows to protect their country. She declines as she wants to stay with her family; he orders them to release her regardless and drives her back to her home. She finds her house burnt down, with the bodies of her parents outside, presumably killed by the gang members she had attacked.

With nowhere to go and nothing to tie her to her home, she goes with Petrovich to the K.G.B. training facility known as the “Red Room,” where she is psychologically tormented and systematically built to be the perfect spy. She becomes known as the elusive “Black Widow”, a spy that can infiltrate any building and take down any target. This is the point where we can have some fun and dive deep into the spy genre. With the fall of the Soviet Union, Petrovich, now both her boss and surrogate parent, starts to bring her private contracts, as an assassin and a saboteur. On one of these missions she can come to blows with the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Hawkeye, and through a number of chance meetings and fights come to have a liking for one another, even though Natalia has been brought up to hate S.H.I.E.L.D.

Eventually, as is stated in The Avengers, Fury sends Hawkeye to take her out. Having seen her skillset, and her potential for empathy even in the shadows, he makes a different call and offers her the chance to work the red out of her ledger, and come work for with him. Coming over to their side, Natalia learns from S.H.I.E.L.D intelligence that the gangsters of her youth were armed by the K.G.B. and Petrovich had ordered the murder of her family to motivate her to join him. Hoping to make up for her misdeeds and get vengeance, she plans to interrupt a huge arms deal between Petrovich and the Soviet espionage agency Leviathan. They’re meeting on neutral ground, which leads them to – Budapest. Going against protocol, Hawkeye joins her to intervene in the deal, but they find themselves taking on both sides when they’re discovered…

I may have gone into specifics here, but it basically comes down to wanting to see a complicated past only alluded to so far. It would also give us a chance to see how Natasha and Clint met, and how they built a bond despite being on different sides of the spy game. For those who want to see more of the single, goofy screw-up Clint Barton of Matt Fraction’s seminal Hawkeye comic, we could see a younger pre-marriage version here. But the most exciting prospect for me is seeing an entry into the MCU that feels completely different – a spy thriller with shades of Jason Bourne, James Bond and John Wick. This doesn’t need to be a 2 1/2 hour film with the fate of the world in the balance, but an intense thriller about a woman finding redemption in a morally grey world. Even with a few quick lines of dialogue Natasha Romanoff has hinted at a fascinating life with more than enough content for a film. Her mysterious first encounter with The Winter Soldier could even be included, it could be flit from the past to the present… there’s so much opportunity.

They have the general structure of her story already set up, so all it needs is some talented writers and a director with an eye for action. I’d get Christopher Markus and Stephen McFreely to write the screenplay, as they did an excellent job with the character in The Winter Soldier. In my dreams, we would get the unparalleled action director Gareth Evans to helm the project, as he showed with The Raid 2 that he could balance his mastery for shooting martial arts with an intricate story of deceit and betrayal. And with most of the primary characters already cast, why not have some fun with Ivan Petrovich? Gender swap the character to Alyona Petrovich and cast Milla Jovovich.

Nick Fury

Jim Steranko/Marvel Comics

Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD – Richard Newby

Samuel L. Jackson’s top spy Nick Fury has been an integral part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe since its inception but there’s very little we know about him, especially when it comes to his past. If there’s one narrative area that Marvel Studios hasn’t taken full advantage of, it’s the full scope of history within this universe. We know that superheroics didn’t just stop when Captain America went into the ice in the 1940s, and the Captain America films, Ant-Man, and TV shows Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter have all provided brief glimpses of the world before 2008’s Iron Man. Well here’s our opportunity to delve deep within that world and create more layered cinematic universe.

The year is 1974 and 26-year old Nick Fury has just returned home from the Vietnam War. He’s angry, shellshocked and prone to violence. This isn’t the cool Fury we’ve become used to, but a man whose battles have left him exposed. He never wanted to join the army, but the draft didn’t care about desire. Unfortunately for Fury, neither does SHIELD. Volatile as Fury is, he’s more than an unthinking solider. When his anger isn’t getting the best of him, no one has the foresight to lay out plan like Fury. He’s a man with vision, a vision that SHIELD desperately needs. Recruited by Director Peggy Carter, Nick Fury is brought into the spy-world of the 70s in a film that blends elements of Training Day, Apocalypse Now, and Jacob’s Ladder.

Despite Dum Dum Dugan’s insistence that Carter send Fury back to the ghetto she found him in, Director Carter makes it her mission to train Fury. But Fury doesn’t trust her. This isn’t the same Peggy Carter, we’ve gotten to know in The First Avenger or her self-titled TV series, this is one who has had to make the compromises alluded to in The Winter Soldier. In an underground facility filled with secrets, the only person Fury comes to truly trust is another young agent, an Italian-American named Valentina Allegra de Fontaine. The two strike up a romance, but Valentina’s investment in Fury is largely for the sake of SHIELD, who she believes needs him.

After a series of training missions with Peggy Carter, Fury finds out why SHIELD has recruited him. In the midst of the political struggle within Vietnam, a new player has arisen, a woman calling herself Madame Hydra. Madame Hydra seeks to turn the country into a breeding ground for HYDRA agents, using the damaged mental state of both American and Vietnamese troops as a means to help them find salvation in the promise of a new world order. Carter needs Fury to return to Vietnam, along with a team, and destroy Hydra’s influence. Fury realizes that if he does this he’ll not only have to be placed back in the situation he found himself in during his time as a soldier, but that he will also have to turn against his fellow American soldiers. Fury, Valentina, and a team are sent to Saigon, where poisonous gas has been released that disorients and creates frightening visions of ruin for the SHIELD agents. After making their way through dozens of armed HYDRA soldiers, Fury and Valentina finally reach Madame Hydra. Madame Hydra reveals that she has more agents than they can ever hope to find, that HYDRA’s reach is infinite. Just as Fury is about to kill Madame Hydra, Valentina stops him and argues that with a head of HYDRA, they know who they are fighting against and that organized evil is easier to combat that chaotic evil. Valentina believes that SHIELD can remain a force for good with a clear and opposing force of evil. Fury tells her that this isn’t about SHIELD, it’s about saving lives here and now. Valentina counters that they’ll never find all of Madame Hydra’s agents and that these broken individuals will be a greater threat to the world without supervision. Fury kills Madame HYDRA regardless, leading to a fight between him and Valentina. Valentina stabs Fury in the eye and leaves him, disappearing from his life and from SHIELD.

Fury is brought back into SHIELD where he dons an eye-patch. He meets with Director Carter and finally understands the compromises she’s had to make. He asks her if he made the right call. Carter tells Fury that only time can prove what calls were right and which were wrong. The film ends with Fury receiving a SHIELD badge that he holds up to light and looks at solemnly with his one eye.

In first post-credit scene, Vietnam vet Henry Stern is seen making campaign posters for local government office. The design is subtely similar to the HYDRA Logo.

In an undisclosed location, Valentina Allegra de Fontaine gives orders to a group of mercenaries who respond in unison, “Yes, Madame Hydra.”

Besides Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, Neal McDonough as Dum Dum Dugan, Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD would mostly feature new faces in the MCU. Nick Fury would be played by Daniel Kaluuya (Sicario) who can portray both a reckless sense of anger the calm cool of the Fury we’ve come to know.

Valentina Allegra de Fontaine is one of the toughest characters to cast in this because every decision she makes, including her decision to fulfill the role of the new Madame Hydra at the end of the film, is done in the service of SHIELD and her belief that good is only achievable through devoted compromise and control. She must be immensely charismatic, and complex enough that she doesn’t fit into the category or hero or villain. Alexandra Daddario (True Detective, San Andreas) has had talks with Marvel before and she’d be perfect for this role.

Madame Hydra should not only be commanding but portrayed as a powerful leader who deserves the love of her followers. She is a mother-figure to an army of lost children and as evil as she is, we must see how her mental manipulation succeeds on a level Red Skull did not. For this role, Maggie Q (Nikita, Mission: Impossible III) is our pick.

And as for a director, Park Chan-wook has proven time and again that he remains one of the best filmmakers when it comes to creating a sense of mystery and dread. His focus on morality in his films would also lend itself well to this story of spies who morality has become muddled by violence and long-term goals. And as a visual master who isn’t afraid of risky shots, Park chan-wook can surely replicate the trippy aesthetic of Jim Steranko’s SHIELD comics.

So there you have it, folks! What Marvel movies (Phase 4 and beyond) would you like to see?