This is the third installment in my li’l series where I try to figure out where the Marvel Cinematic Universe should go after Thanos. As I know Kevin Feige and co. are regular readers of the blog, I like to help them out when I can. What can I say? I’m a giver. For ten years all the narratives across the MCU slowly converged, bringing all our heroes together to battle Thanos on his quest for the Infinity Stones. While Covid has delayed the beginning of the MCU’s Phase Four, we’ve still got a new overarching story about to unfold. So what has the gravitas to follow the MCU’s epic, medium-defining Infinity Saga? My first two ideas were character-centric, considering which villain could be intimidating and powerful enough to follow the Mad Titan. This time I’m focusing more on tonal issues. What type of story would be a worthy successor to the Infinity Saga? Turns out the best way to follow Thanos is with a Marvel Cinematic Universe rendition of the WAR OF THE REALMS. Huzzah!
This idea was born of two primary sources, my recent rereading of the end of Jason Aaron’s beyond-brilliant run writing Thor and my (like everyone else) falling completely into the world of WandaVision. As I read, with this incredible show on my mind, I saw all the pieces clicking into place.
War of the Realms was the 2019 Marvel event, orchestrated by Jason Aaron (writer), Russell Dauterman (artist), and Matthew Wilson (colorist). It served as the grand climax to Aaron’s seven year run writing Thor. The Dark Elf Malekith began sowing the seeds for a war to end all wars across the Ten Realms – Asgard, home of the gods; Vanaheim, home of the wise gods of old; Heven, the realm of angels; Alfheim, the land of the Light Elves; Jotunheim, home to the Frost Giants; Nidavellir, land of the Dwarves; Midgard, the realm of mortals; Svartalfheim, the Dark Faerie Realm; Muspelheim, world of fire; and Niffleheim, the underworld – in the very beginning of his time writing Thor. After the Odinson found himself unworthy of lifting the hammer, Mjölnir called to Jane Foster. During Jane’s time as Thor, she continued the fight to hold back Malekith’s growing war, yet more and more realms fell to the Dark Elf. The Odinson would eventually take up his mantle once more, but fail again to stop the tide of Malekith’s war machine and soon only one realm remained – Midgard. War of the Realms then is the story of the invasion of Midgard by Malekith and his forces, as he seeks to complete his conquest of all Ten Realms.
Before I go into why this would be brilliant and Marvel Studios needs to get to work on this NOW, let’s address a few concerns people may have about why it wouldn’t work. Obviously, the first and most glaring issue is the MCU’s already used a version of Malekith (played by Christopher Eccleston) and the Dark Elves in 2013’s Thor: The Dark World. Second, central characters in this story – most notably Steve Rogers/Captain America, T’Challa/the Black Panther, Lady Freya, Odin the All-Father, and (admittedly less central) Tony Stark/Iron Man – have left the MCU, with Chadwick Boseman’s passing and Chris Evans, Robert Downy Jr., Rene Russo, and Anthony Hopkins’ characters all having died (or lived happily-ever-after in the past) within the story.
The thing to remember is nothing in the MCU is a straight adaptation. In fact, it lands much further from the comics than most people may think. The easiest illustration of this is Thanos himself. In the comic series The Infinity Gauntlet, he wanted to wipe out half all life in creation because he was literally in love with Death, in an erotic way and wanted to prove himself worthy of becoming her lover. While I maintain this makes Thanos a far more interesting villain, I can’t imagine it would’ve worked for the “straights” who just dig the movies. Also, it’s Nebula – Thanos’ granddaughter – who is responsible for defeating the Mad Titan. The sequel, The Infinity War, involved evil doppelgängers of all the Marvel heroes and Thanos fought with the heroes against the Magus!
Anyway, my point is things get adapted. Any villain could stand in Malekith’s stead. Maybe we can finally see the Enchantress in the MCU? Or perhaps Odin’s villainous brother Cull Borson, the God of Fear? Heck, between WandaVision, Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, and Spider-Man: Homecoming 3 (or whatever they’ll officially name it), the multiverse is becoming A THING in a big way in the MCU so we could, in theory, even get another version of Malekith. It’s not so much the villain at the heart of War of the Realms (although Aaron’s vision of Malekith is brilliant and truly the stuff of nightmares – image the Joker’s manic sadism and creativity pouring from a character raised in the fires of war who sees himself as total war’s perfect messiah) that makes me think this is perfect for the MCU’s next overarching narrative. It’s the nature of the story.
One of the many, many, many, many, many things I love about WandaVision is how different it feels. It’s showing us Marvel has plenty of innovation left! A moving meditation on trauma, it’s unlike anything we’ve yet seen. It’s filled with humor and heart, underscored by ever-increasing flashes of horror and tension. The emotions and mystery are center stage as it isn’t building to a big battle with a disposable CGI army. WandaVision, on the heels of Avengers: Endgame, is saying, “Hey, you ain’t seen nothing yet. We’ve got ten years of hits but we’re ready to rewrite the game.” And yes, OF COURSE, we’ll still see battles between superheroes and disposable CGI armies. But WandaVision reminds us how new the MCU can still feel. With so much new content on so many platforms always rushing towards us, the excitement of, “I’ve never seen this before!” is important to keep fans invested. I love Star Wars…but I watch/read the new stuff casually at best now, as it’s all come to feel the same and largely inconsequential. Marvel’s not hit that point yet and they need to be mindful of it moving forward.
War of the Realms would feel so, so different from Thanos and his quest for the Infinity Stones! It’s a story steeped in magic, with horror elements sprinkled throughout. As opposed to a battle across the cosmos, this conflict is fought across ten different mythic realms of existence. It places the Marvel heroes in a rich fantasy narrative, encountering characters and moving in a world more akin to Lord of the Rings than another alien invasion. With the enormous hit that is WandaVision and the upcoming Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, I imagine magic is only going to grow in importance in the MCU. (Darcy even started calling Wanda’s powers “hex powers”!!!) Plus, there have been rumors aplenty that Kevin Feige wants to introduce a horror dimension to the MCU via the Midnight Sons, a team of supernatural heroes (including Blade the Vampire Hunter, several different Ghost Riders, and Morbius the Living Vampire) who defend the Earth against demonic threats. Blade is already officially on his way to the MCU! Speaking of why they were bringing Blade in, Kevin Feige said, “We love that character. We love that world. Now with Dr. Strange, and the supernatural elements coming into the MCU, it felt like we could definitely start exploring that.”
War of the Realms would be perfect for this. That exploration can lead here. Can you even imagine??
Look at how Aaron, Dauterman, and Wilson weave a supernatural horror aesthetic through this story! From Dark Elves assaulting Odin to the creatures that serve Malekith to Malekith himself…this is all begging to shine on the big screen.
Then there are the characters who play central roles in the story – a brilliant mix of mystical and street level heroes. Dr. Strange is a member of Jason Aaron’s incarnation of the Avengers so he has a prominent role in the story and, especially with Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, and Robert Downey Jr. no longer suiting up, I imagine Benedict Cumberbatch will stay in a central leadership/snark-dispensing role. While the Scarlet Witch doesn’t show up in the War of the Realms comic, I can easily imagine Elizabeth Olsen on the front lines of a cinematic version of this!
She-Hulk is also a major player on Aaron’s Avengers. We know that Tatiana Maslany is bringing Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk to life on the upcoming Disney+ show so her role in the future of the MCU is a safe bet. While there are many incarnations of She-Hulk (my favorite being when Jennifer is completely in control of her mind and her physical strength as the She-Hulk), it’s probable we’ll see a more-Savage She-Hulk rendition, at least at first in the MCU. This is the persona Jennifer has on Aaron’s Avengers. Granted, it really doesn’t matter which She-Hulk we get but she’s coming to smash things up in the MCU and she is a major part of this story.
Aaron adds a decidedly mystical dimension to his Avengers roster. In addition to Dr. Strange, his Avengers team also has Blade the Vampire Hunter and the Robbie Reyes version of Ghost Rider. As I’ve mentioned above, these characters seem to be a big part of where the MCU’s heading and they are a natural part of the War of the Realms.
We also get one of the most badass Captain Marvel moments in this story which, given the nature of her character, is certainly saying something! Especially with Chadwick Boseman’s passing, Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers is now the only real choice to lead the next incarnation of the Avengers in the MCU. So whatever big narrative lies ahead, she’s going to be front and center. And I’d LOVE to see her kicking Queen of Fire and Frost Giant ass on the big screen! As I’ve mentioned before, too, the MCU seems unsure what to do with a character as powerful as Captain Marvel – something they need to sort, not just for Carol but for Wanda as well, now that WandaVision is placing her powers in line with her incomprehensible reality-warping abilities from the comics. Armies of Frost Giants, Angels, Dark Elves, Fire Demons, and the undead, raining magic and metal and fire and fury down in a multi-front war across realms would be a believable threat giving even heavy-hitters like Carol and Wanda a real challenge.
Even if Captain Marvel is the one most likely to lead the next incarnation of the Avengers, Wakanda will remain central in the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with (presumably) Shuri’s Black Panther and Okoye leading the Dora Milage into battle. Naturally, Wakanda was central in the War of the Realms. Unlike Avengers: Infinity War, where Marvel Studios got a bit of criticism for having the African nation of Wakanda being the only people sacrificing and dying during the invasion of Thanos’ Black Order, here the Wakandans fight alongside heroes and gods, an equal part of the larger defense force.
Whether or not Spidey stays swinging around the MCU will remain to be seen, but it’s worth mentioning he is (naturally) a central part of the War of the Realms. We could see Tom Holland’s Spider-Man really grow into an adult hero in the MCU in another ten years. Seeing him go from catching cars in his hoodie costume and dreaming of being like Iron Man to leading heroes against Malekith’s forces could make for a very satisfying arc. It’d be fun, too!
One of the things I love about the whole “War of the Realms” event is how Aaron places street-level heroes like Spider-Man, Luke Cage, and Ironfist – who you’d never expect to be fighting mystical monsters from across the Ten Realms – in the center of this story. Of those he highlights, several seem destined for the MCU (again).
With Balder the Brave blinded after a devastating battle with the Mangog, Matt Murdock/Daredevil picks up his sword and becomes the guardian of the Bifrost – the God without Fear, as it were. There are plenty of rumors also swirling that Charlie Cox is returning to play Daredevil in the aforementioned Spider-Man: Homecoming 3, bringing his character into the MCU proper after his time playing the blind vigilante of Hell’s Kitchen on Netflix.
Wolverine, freshly back from the dead in the comics, is front and center as well. OBVIOUSLY the MCU is going to be introducing the X-Men in some way, shape, or form over the next few years (my personal bet is we’ll see a reverse House of M where Wanda, instead of erasing all the mutants from the world, brings them to the main MCU reality (this gets the X-Men into the story while also giving the people a plausible reason to fear them (hating, fearing, and persecuting “strange mutants from another reality” makes more sense than the seemingly arbitrary fear of mutants with powers…when you accept your world already has Thors and Captain Marvels and Black Panthers and the like))). Logan and all the X-Men would naturally be a part of this next epic and War of the Realms would allow Wolverine’s claws to excitingly clash against the steel of dark faire folk and demons.
On that note, the Fantastic Four play a role in the War of the Realms as well. While the story wouldn’t have Steve Rogers/Captain America leading an expedition to rescue Thor Odinson from Jotunheim, that role could just as easily be filled by the FF (or Sam Wilson or Bucky Barnes). AND everyone has been speculating that we’ll meet Marvel’s First Family – Reed Richards at least – sooner rather than later in WandaVision. Whether or not Reed is the expert Monica Rambeau references in the show, the Fantastic Four are coming and the threat needs to be one they can’t just easily handle on their own. An invasion from armies across the Ten Realms certainly counts and Malekith’s dark magic would be unfamiliar to Reed and thus a puzzle he couldn’t easily solve.
But perhaps no single thing I read in War of the Realms #1-6 makes a better case for why Marvel Studios needs to make this happen than how Jason Aaron uses the Punisher. It seems very likely, although not official, that Marvel is bringing the Punisher back into the MCU. It seems very likely, too, they want Jon Bernthal to reprise the role from his Netflix series. And why wouldn’t they?? While it was deeply uncomfortable for me to watch, he was perfect as the Punisher – simultaneously brutal, broken, and unrelenting.
Now I want you to look at the following scenes where the Punisher travels to Alfheim to recruit Light Elves for the battle against Malekith and imagine Jon Bernthal bringing these to life on screen.
TELL ME YOU DON’T WANT TO SEE THIS HAPPEN!!! Kevin Feige, you need to make this a thing. YOU NEED TO. If we all didn’t deserve something as brilliant as Jon Bernthal acting the above scenes out before Covid, we certainly do now. And those are just two tiny little scenes! The Punisher is central to the whole story. We’d get lots of Jon Bernthal in lots of combat with lots of frightening, mystical creatures. There’s so much to love!
One final character note, it was widely believed that Thor: Love and Thunder would be Chris Hemsworth’s final time playing Thor with Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster taking over as the Goddess of Thunder. However, in a recent interview Chris Hemsworth seemed to make it pretty clear that wasn’t his plan, saying, “Are you crazy?! I’m not going into any retirement period. Thor is far too young for that. He’s only 1,500 years old. It’s definitely not a film that I say goodbye to this brand. At least I hope so.” Perfectly, the War of the Realms can work no matter who – or how many people – are wielding thunder-bringing hammers. In Jason Aaron’s War of the Realms, we see Jane promoted to All-Mother of Asgard, coordinating the defense of Midgard from Malekith’s onslaught while the Odinson seeks the knowledge and power to destroy Malekith’s and his forces once and for all.
Ultimately, Jane will pick up the hammer once more and become Thor to fight alongside the Odinson as they both battle Malekith. Whether it’s Natalie Portman’s Mighty Thor or Chris Hemsworth’s Thor Odinson or both, the War of the Realms can accommodate them naturally. As long as we have a Mjölnir-swinging Thor at the center of the story, it works. And if we should happen to have TWO Thors there, well that just makes it even more like the comic! And this would take very little adaptation, too. Let’s say Natalie Portman’s Thor is bouncing around the Ten Realms doing her thing (with Kat Denning’s Darcy I SO HOPE!!!) and Chris Hemsworth’s Thor is, too. We don’t need the back-and-forth mantle hand-off for the movie. We could just see them come together to stop Malekith (or whoever the villain is).
Marvel loves to do the slow build, too. It’s always nods and Easter eggs galore with this stuff. An Infinity Stone here, an Infinity Stone there – oh my gosh! A Thanos cameo! War of the Realms would serve that effectively, too, as creepy cameos of Dark Elves, fire demons, and the dead and undead marshalling their forces and slowly gaining territory become more and more prominent.
It seems the new additions to the MCU would fit well here, too. While the comic doesn’t feature the Eternals nor the Inhumans (who it’s widely believed will be rebooted on Disney+ (which makes sense, as Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel is coming (yay!!))), it isn’t hard to imagine them standing against Malekith’s forces. The Eternals are god-like beings themselves, so it’s natural they’d defend their realm against a threat like this. The Inhumans, too, as genetically-modified Kree-human hybrids who seek to live in their own autonomous peace, would not easily give themselves over to rulers from another realm. Lastly, while he wasn’t a central player in the comic, Shang-Chi does fight alongside Captain Marvel on her War Avengers. All the newbies fit!
My other predictions were very similar to the Infinity Saga, just with a different villain at the fore, leading a different CGI army. And I still maintain those would be fun, exciting stories! But as WandaVision has shown me the excitement of the MCU going in a new and unexpected direction and rereading War of the Realms has reminded me of how vast, mystical, and downright creepy the Ten Realms can be, this seems the perfect fit. It brings all our heroes together yet again to face a mystical threat wrapped in the tonal trappings of fantasy and horror creatures, to save not just the cosmos but all Ten Realms from being subjugated by a sadistic, self-proclaimed war messiah. Oh yeah, and we’d get JON BERNTHAL LEADING A LIGHT ELF BRIGADE.
You’re welcome Kevin Feige. I can’t wait to see you pull this off! I’m sure you’ll do it justice ;D.
And, um, to be honest, I kinda got really excited thinking about an MCU War of the Realms as I wrote this so if it doesn’t happen now I’ll be pretty disappointed. So, uh, can you please make this a thing, Kevin Feige? Please? It would be so great! You can trust me! I don’t wanna be sad if it doesn’t happen now :/. I’ll even promise to watch extra Disney+ shows and still see all your movies opening night and even a couple times opening weekend if it means we get a big screen War of the Realms!
As I mentioned above, this wasn’t my only idea! If you’d like to see more ways the MCU could top Thanos, here they are:
 Evan Lewis, “Marvel Reportedly Wants To Do A Midnight Sons Movie,” We Got This Covered, Published 2020. Accessed February 12, 2021. https://wegotthiscovered.com/movies/marvel-midnight-sons-movie/
 Dirk Libbey, “Mahershala Ali Pitched The Blade MCU Movie To Marvel, Kevin Feige Reveals,” Cinema Blend, Published July 22, 2019. Accessed February 12, 2021. https://www.cinemablend.com/news/2476912/mahershala-ali-pitched-the-blade-mcu-movie-to-marvel-kevin-feige-reveals
 Kelly Knox, “Marvel’s She-Hulk Explained: Who Is Tatiana Maslany’s MCU Character ?,” IGN, Published January 20, 2021. Accessed February 12, 2021. https://www.ign.com/articles/she-hulk-mcu-jennifer-walters-disney-bruce-banner
 Kevin Burwick, “Will Peter Parker Get to Stay in the MCU Following Spider-Man3?,” Movie Web, Published February 20, 2020. Accessed February 13, 2021. https://movieweb.com/spider-man-3-peter-parker-tom-holland-mcu-future/
 Rachel Labonte, “Kevin Feige Plays Coy Over Charlie Cox’s Daredevil Returning To The MCU,” Screenrant, Published January 13, 2021. Accessed February 12, 2021. https://screenrant.com/daredevil-mcu-charlie-cox-return-kevin-feige-response/
 Brenton Stewart, “WandaVision Theory: Monica Rambeau Already Knows a Fantastic Four Member,” CBR.com, Published February 6, 2021. Accessed February 13, 2021. https://www.cbr.com/wandavision-theory-monica-knows-fantastic-four-reed-richards/
 Jon Fuge, “Jon Bernthal to Return as The Punisher in His Own MCU Movie or TV Show?,” Movie Web, Published January 28, 2021. Accessed February 12, 2021. https://movieweb.com/the-punisher-jon-bernthal-returning-mcu-marvel/
 Jordan Moreau, “Chris Hemsworth Is ‘Definitely Not’ Saying Goodbye to Marvel After ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’,” Variety, Published September 12, 2020. Accessed February 12, 2021. https://variety.com/2020/film/news/chris-hemsworth-thor-love-and-thunder-1234768042/