When the curtain dropped on Avengers: Endgame, it became evident that the Avengers team had gotten a lot bigger. It was stronger than ever too. Some of these superheroes had plenty of time to work together in the five years between Infinity War and Endgame. All the others came back to life to fight Thanos again. But it was also very clear that the Avengers team going into MCU Phase 4 will need at least one new leader. We’ve now enjoyed almost a year of Phase 4 adventures, and we’re slowly getting closer to that next Avengers movie we all want. Marvel has yet to announce the Avengers 5 cast, but we might have found the team’s next leader.
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Iron Man and Captain America
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) died in Endgame, and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) retired. Whatever Avengers 5 sequel story we’ll get, we’ll have a brand new Avengers team.
Iron Man and the original Captain America were the de-facto leaders of the original team. Nick Fury brought them together, and it was SHIELD that oversaw this group of extraordinary people. But it was Tony and Steve that led the team.
The former had a say in everything — and fans know that means everything. From technology to politics to the actual battle plan, Tony Stark always had something to say. Rogers was equally vocal about the things that mattered to him; about doing the right thing; and about the use of profanity in language. But he was calling the shots during battle.
Marvel kept increasing the Avengers cast as the MCU got bigger, making possible the massively consequential Captain America: Civil War movie. That’s when the Avengers had to choose sides between these two leaders. Like the Avengers, so did the audience. And it’s perfectly normal to keep switching sides as a fan the more you rewatch Civil War.
That’s not to say that the future Avengers crew has to coalesce around more than one leader. But Phase 4 will see the universe grow spectacularly. We’ll have multiple teams of superheroes in the MCU, thanks in part to Disney’s Fox purchase. The Eternals, X-Men, and Fantastic Four teams are some of them. Also, we’ll have plenty of new characters that could join a version of the Avengers down the road, and Marvel already cast some of the Young Avengers.
Avengers 5 cast members are still a secret
With that in mind, we’ll probably see a few of the stronger personalities in the group emerge as the new leaders. Some reports said that Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) could be the new faces of the MCU. Tom Holland’s Spider-Man might be another, but the character is far from being a leader. The main issue with Peter Parker is that Marvel doesn’t have complete control over the character.
Then there’s the new Captain America, and Anthony Mackie could turn out to be one of the Avengers leaders in future team-ups. It’s likely that Marvel will use one of the older Avengers, characters we’ve seen in at least a couple of movies and/or TV shows before, to lead the new group. But Marvel isn’t anywhere close to announcing Avengers 5 or the cast of this highly anticipated crossover. The studio confirmed that the film is in the works, and we have 2024 release dates for untitled Marvel movies. But we’re still waiting for new Avengers members and new big villains to be unveiled.
— Variety (@Variety) September 12, 2021
Asked point-blank whether Doctor Strange is “the new Iron Man” and whether he’s the leader of the Avengers, Cumberbatch offered a politically correct response. “I’d have to think about that one,” the actor said in an interview with Variety. Cumberbatch didn’t confirm or deny what many fans are already thinking about his character. And the way he phrased the answer leaves plenty of room for speculation.
But the fact that Cumberbatch leaves it to fans to speculate is itself a clue. He doesn’t outright deny the possibility. It must be clear to him that Strange is indeed one of the characters who could lead the Avengers.
Is Doctor Strange the new leader?
The actor might know a lot more of the Phase 4 plans than what’s coming in Doctor Strange 2. Or he’s just using this question to advance his own interests. What actor wouldn’t want their character to lead the most beloved superhero team right now? No matter who will make the Avengers 5 cast, we’ll all want to watch that movie as soon as it comes out.
Come to think of it, Cumberbatch might have been preparing to replace Iron Man for years. Talking to The Hollywood Reporter a few weeks ago, the actor recalled how he improvised an iconic line in Infinity War. It’s a scene early in the movie, showing us brilliant sparring of ideas between Tony Stark and Doctor Strange. The scene tells the audience that Strange isn’t going to let everything slide with Tony. And it can be seen as a direct challenge:
I remember on the set when I called him a douchebag, there was this sort of ripple effect. ‘Oh my God. Did you just call Iron Man a douchebag?’ They kept it, good for them. And then, it got the same kind of response at the cinema. I was just … I got bored of being compared to Liberace or whatever other retorts the guy with the same camp goatee had opposite me, so I tried to knock him down. It’s great fun to play with that stuff. You find your feet. The more times you do it, the more familiar it becomes.
Variety’s question came during an interview for a different Cumberbatch movie. Joining Cumberbatch on that couch is Kodi Smit-McPhee, as the two chatted with Variety about The Power of the Dog. That movie has nothing to do with the MCU, of course. But what’s interesting in all of this is that Smit-McPhee might theoretically cross paths with Cumberbatch in the MCU. Smit-McPhee played Nightcrawler in Fox’s X-Men. And some of those mutants might always spill into the MCU, especially via a movie like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.