By Anthony Breznican
October 28, 2014 at 06:02 PM EDT

Marvel Studios spends most of its time clamping down on secrets, so when they open up the vault, it’s usually for something big. In this case, it was colossal—and bound to bust loose on its own.

Marvel announced so much news on Tuesday morning at the El Capitan theater in Hollywood, it’s difficult to know where to start: A two-part Avengers 3? Official confirmation that Iron Man and Captain America will do battle in a Civil War saga? More exploration of the cosmic realm in Inhumans?

It was also a major announcement in terms of diversity. Marvel is giving us its first superhero film to star a black actor, with Chadwick Boseman portraying Black Panther, and another that places a female character in the title role, Captain Marvel (although no actress has been chosen yet.)

The only way to approach it is to run through it in chronological order (before the Infinity Gauntlet renders time meaningless)

Read on …

The morning began with questions and suspicions. What would Marvel reveal, and what would they hold back? Such events are unusual, and tend to be saved for San Diego’s Comic-Con and the attention of 6,000-plus screaming fans.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange? (That leaked yesterday.) Full plans for Phase 3 after next May’s sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron? (Possibly.) As it turns out, the latter was exactly right.

10:35 — Among those sitting in the very front row of the theater were Anthony and Joe Russo, the directors of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, who are also overseeing the third Cap film. The brothers were also at Comic-Con last July and hoped to make an announcement about their film there, but held back at the last moment because some details weren’t finalized. Robert Downey Jr. has been in talks to co-star in Cap 3, bringing the clash between Iron Man and the do-gooder patriotic hero to the fore in a cinematic version of the Civil War comics storyline.

That was the first clue fans would be hearing more about that shortly.

10:45 — Avengers writer-director and Marvel brain-trust member Joss Whedon takes a seat in the second row behind the Brothers Russo, who turn around in their seats to talk with him and Marvel Studios co-president Louis D’Esposito. Whedon wouldn’t be here if the event didn’t involve the broader Marvel Cinematic Universe. That was the second clue that this reveal would be bigger than most people were expecting.

11:11 — Make a wish. The program begins, and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige takes the stage. “I’m going to show you something you’ve already seen, thanks to the fine people of H.Y.D.R.A. … The teaser for Avengers: Age of Ultron.” (The promo was supposed to air tonight during ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but leaked online last week.) Feige says over 70 million people have watched the footage since then. “I’m assuming some of those 70 million are in here today,” he says to cheers from the crowd, which includes hundreds of fans as well as scores of press.

11:14 — Feige points out Whedon in the audience. “He’s working very hard in the cutting room helping us finalize Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe,” Feige says, and then sets about filling in all the blanks on that “untitled” schedule the studio already announced through 2019.

He then moves on to mention Guardians of the Galaxy, the studio’s 10th film, and the highest grossing domestic release of the year, so far. “That’s thanks to you, who believed in Peter Quill, and Gamora, Drax, and Rocket Racoon, and… what’s the name of that other guy?” he jokes.

“GROOOOOT,” comes the sonorous reply from the crowd.

“That’s the one,” Feige says. “You guys came out and said you like new things. You like things that are fresh. Speaking of which, Ant-Man, Peyton Reed is working on it in Atlanta, Day 50 of shooting. Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, and Evangeline Lilly. We’re very eager to share … but we didn’t invite you here to tell you things you already know.”

Another loud reactions of glee from the audience.

“When we have information to reveal, we want to reveal it. Sometimes that’s in a press release. Sometimes that’s at San Diego Comic-Con, and sometimes it’s on a random Tuesday at 11 a.m. at the El Cap theater… Let’s talk about Phase 3!”

A chart appears on the screen behind him, showing half a dozen dates along a timeline, all of them marked “Untitled.” “Here’s what you know about Phase 3,” Feige says with a laugh, explaining: “You plant a lot of flags. You know you want to make a movie, but you’re not sure what the movie is, so you plant a flag on a weekend.”

11:16 a.m. –– Feige points out the Russo brothers in the audience, and says, “they reinvented the franchise of Captain America, they shattered and changed everything going forward, and they will be back for Captain America 3.” The subtitle for the film (out May 6, 2016) will apparently be Serpent Society. (Some disappointed faces in the crowd, hoping for Civil War.)

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11:18 — Finally, finally … Feige says he wants to show us something we don’t know. Nov. 4, 2016: Doctor Strange—”I feel like I’ve been talking about Doctor Strange since the day I was born,” he says of the film, which is being directed by Scott Derrickson.

Created in 1963, Strange “is a brilliant surgeon, a bit of an arrogant fellow, who gets into a car crash and ruins the tools of his trade—his hands,” Feige explains. “It’s a downward journey that leads him to stranger and stranger corners of the world, encountering quacks who aren’t going to help his hands, until he comes to one person named The Ancient One, who taps into what excites us most about this franchise, which is the supernatural…. That involves everything from quantum mechanics to string theory to parallel dimensions. The idea of this film is to open up a whole new corner of the cinematic universe.” He promises visuals no Marvel movie has shown before, capturing the psychedelic feel of the character, but … Feige doesn’t announce Cumberbatch officially.

11:10 — James Gunn, director of Guardians of the Galaxy, appears in a video from Japan to say the sequel will be released on a new date: May 5, 2017, moving it up slightly from the previously announced date in July of that year. Now, he says, “we can spend the whole summer with you guys. After the video, Feige said the move was motivated by the film’s blockbuster success. “We knew the movie was going to do well, but we didn’t know how well,” he said.

11:22 — Now we move on to July 28, 2017. “This is the return of one of the most popular Avengers,” Feige says as the screen reveals a title etched in stone, emerging from smoke—Thor: Ragnarok.

“It’s a very important word, which means essentially the end of all things,” Feige says. “It’s a very important movie for us in our Phase 3 timeline.” He says it will reinvent and upend the world of Thor the same way The Winter Soldier did for the mythology of Captain America. “Changing everything that comes after it—that is the plan for Thor: Ragnarok, to take Thor to another level. It picks up right after we leave him in Avengers 2, and will impact everything to come afterwards.” The film will star Chris Hemsworth, of course, and Tom Hiddleston will be returning as Loki. No director has been set.

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11:24 — After announcing films for existing franchise and only one new one, Doctor Strange, Feige says it’s time for another hero we haven’t seen before.

“It’s time. Here he is …” Feige says, presenting a title for—Black Panther. (Instead of just a title, Marvel released this concept image.)

“We have already started seeding things in the films leading up to this moment,” Feige says. “In fact, something I already showed you today is an Easter Egg leading into Black Panther.” This was most likely a reference to Andy Serkis as the Panther villain Klaw, featuring briefly in the trailer to the Avengers sequel.

Feige said the movie will “tap into the advanced African nation of Wakanda, the family drama, and all that comes with it. He’s a prince, but he may become a king. And it’s also about how this isolationist country of Wakanda needs to meet the world—maybe it goes well, maybe it doesn’t.” Feige says. That film will hit theaters on Nov. 3, 2017.

11:26  — Feige then skipped a movie dated for May 2018, saying he wanted to stick with introducing new characters. That brings news of one hero that many fans have been asking about for a long time: Captain Marvel.

“Let me clarify,” Feige says immediately. “Captain Marvel has gone by many names in the comics, has had many people who’ve inhabited that costume and used that power base. I want to make it very clear: This hero’s name is Carol Danvers.”

A fusion of human DNA and genes from the alien race known as the Kree, Danvers made her debut as the character in Marvel’s pages in 1977, when she was known as Ms. Marvel. (Devoted fans cringe and prefer the “Captain” designation now.)

Feige said this cinematic version of the character will “straddle two worlds. Her origins are very much Earthbound, but her adventures and power base come from the cosmic realm.” He said Guardians of the Galaxy helped open the door for this project.

The first superhero film from Marvel Studios to star a woman will be July 6, 2018.

 

 11:27 — Marvel’s 20th film will feature “not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, but dozens of new heroes,” Feige says. It will also be another galactic journey: Inhumans.

The Inhumans comics, introduced in 1965, focuses on a royal family of super beings, ruled over by their mostly silent king Black Bolt, whose voice has the power to level a city. Young members of the Inhumans family get their powers by venturing into the mutating Terrigen Mists to emerge as something different—and hopefully better—than what they were.

“It seemed time to open the floodgates a little bit wider,” Feige says. Look for it Nov. 2, 2018.

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11:30 — Okay, what about that May 2018 movie he skipped …?

“I forgot about that,” Feige tells the crowd, looking up at the date chart on the screen. It turns out, he just wanted to hold back on one of the biggest announcements of the day: The third installment of Avengers will be split into two parts: Infinity War: Part I, due May 4, 2018, with the second,  Avengers: Infinity War: Part II, coming out a year later on May 3, 2019.

To introduce it, Marvel presented clips from past movies, freighted with ominous lines from the heroes we know, concluding with an image of cosmic death-dealer Thanos (glimpsed at the end of the Avengers, and pulling strings from his asteroid realm in Guardians of the Galaxy) extending one hand clad in the fabled Infinity Gauntlet, a metal glove encrusted with mystical stones that allow the user to wield total power over time, space, and living beings. So, you know… that’s important. Expect to see Josh Brolin, who plays Thanos, punching the universe in the face with that thing.

“We have always had a plan,” Feige says. “We have always had a plan from the moment Nick Fury broke into Tony Stark’s house and told him he was part of a bigger universe, he just didn’t know it yet. Well, I think he knows it now.” Feige calls this pair of sequels “the culmination of everything that has come before.”

11:33 — With Avengers: Age of Ultron headed to theaters next May, Feige let the audience at the El Cap see one short scene between Captain America’s Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Iron Man’s Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), chopping wood together in a field at a remote country house. “It comes in the middle of the movie when the Avengers, frankly, have had their asses whipped by Ultron,” Feige says. “This is two Avengers struggling and dealing with that fact.”

Stark: Thor didn’t say where he was going for answers?

Rogers: Sometimes my teammates don’t tell me things. I was kind of hoping Thor would be the exception.

Stark: Yeah, give him time. We don’t know what the Maximoff kid showed him.

(This would be a reference to Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch, who is able to reveal the future, look into the past, and reveal alternate realities.)

Rogers: I don’t know what she showed you. I just know it made you do something stupid. (Shakes his head.) “Earth’s mightiest heroes …” They pulled us apart like cotton candy.

Stark: Seems like you walked away all right.

Rogers: (Straightening.) That a problem?

Stark: I don’t trust a guy without a dark side. Call me old fashioned.

Rogers: Well, let’s just say you haven’t seen it yet.

Stark: I was doing research …

Rogers: That would effect the team.

Stark: That would end the team. Isn’t that why we fight, so we can end the fight, so we get to go home?

Rogers: Every time someone tries to win a war before it starts, innocent people die. Every time.

11:39 — It turns out, there’s a reason to show this clash of heroes. A bit of foreshadowing.

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After that Avengers 2 footage showing the hard feelings between Rogers and Stark, Feige says he’s been having second thoughts about that Serpent Society subtitle for Captain America 3. A new title card appears, giving the fans what they want: Civil War.

Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans walk out from opposite sides of the stage and raise their fists when they meet in the center.

Civil War was the epic 2006-07 crossover series that pitted hero against hero in a storyline that mirrored national fears about privacy, and what kind of safety our society is protecting if we allow terror to motivate our actions. The original storyline, written by Mark Millar (known for Wanted and Kick-Ass) featured Captain American and Iron Man on opposite sides as the U.S. government tries to eradicate secret identities and force those with superhuman abilities to register and be monitored. Tony Stark is on board with the plan, while Captain America sees it as encroaching fascism, and a violation of everything they fight for.

“This is heartbreaking to me. I can’t believe something would come between us,” says Evans.

“Yeah well, you know. Get used to it. Sometimes you’ve just gotta pick a side,” says Downey

11:35 — Downey then introduced an actor who will face that question in Civil War: 42 and Get on Up star Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther.

“Welcome to the fray … what do you think, do you want to drift one way or the other?” Downey asks Boseman.

“Well, Iron Man, Captain America, as much as I respect you both….as much as I respect you both, Black Panther is kind of his own guy. So I’m not going to decide today. In all seriousness, I’m blessed to be part of this Marvel Universe and I’m looking forward to making magic together,” says Boseman.

WHAT WE DIDN’T GET:

1.) Iron Man 4 — There is a lot of Tony Stark in these upcoming movies, and Downey is clearly committed to sticking around as the character. But we won’t be seeing a standalone Iron Man film in the near future. After 2020…? Maybe, Feige says, if the planet is still around.

2.) Hulk —  Hulk and Mark Ruffalo will also appear in all of the Avengers films, but he has not yet been placed in a solo film, following lukewarm reactions to the previous two big-screen efforts to tackle the big, green guy. So where will we see Hulk apart from the Avengers flicks?  “Who will be in what movie is a spoiler, due to what will happen to them in the earlier movies,” Feige tells reporters.

3.) Spider-Man — Will Marvel Studios join up with Sony Pictures to share the webslinger? The comics company licensed him out long before they planned to launch their own studio, and there has recently been talk that the two rival studios may reach a compromise that would allow a crossover. “Anything that wasn’t specifically revealed today  is either not true at all or still rumor,” Feige says.

For more on his post-presentation press conference, check out Lindsey Bahr’s: Kevin Feige tells us everything he can on Marvel’s Phase Three

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