Entertainment Weekly is showcasing Iron Man 3 stars Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey Jr on its cover this week, as the highly anticipated sequel arrived over the weekend.  Following up the universally beloved Avengers, all eyes were on this flick to see if it could maintain the momentum of Marvel’s recent hits or if we were going to see a stumble in the seemingly unending string of super hero blockbusters.  Well, it certainly seems that fans can’t get enough, as Iron Man 3 came in with the second highest grossing opening ever behind Avengers!

In addition to going behind the scenes on the already-a-blockbuster, Marvel’s president Kevin Feige spilled some juicy secrets about what’s next for the Marvel film universe.

Regarding Thor: The Dark World, the magazine summarized it by stating:

This sequel will spend more time in the galactic stomping grounds of the hammer-wielding hero as Thor brings his astrophysicist love (Natalie Portman) to the celestial realm of Asgard for safekeeping when life on Earth becomes too dangerous for her to stay there alone.

The sequel pits Thor against Malekith the Accursed (Christopher Eccleston), leader of the Dark Elves.  Alan Taylor, from Game of Thrones, takes over directing duties from Kenneth Branaugh.  “Alan is bringing a grittier, more visceral, more textured patina to the designs of the worlds, and to Asgard in particular,” Feige says. “It’s less to chase either Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings — because you’re not going to catch up. But part of the fun of Thor over the other characters is he doesn’t have to stay on Earth. We visit a few of the other realms in this new movie.”

As far as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, “We weren’t going back to World War II,” says Feige, especially since Chris Evans’ hero was introduced to modern times in Avengers. “Cap cannot travel in time. So while Tony can go home to Malibu and Thor goes up to Asgard and Hulk can sort of ride the rails, Cap was stuck.  So Cap does stay with S.H.I.E.L.D. because he has nowhere else to go.  But he’s not necessarily comfortable there. As you might imagine, somebody who’s spent 70 years in ice, frozen, wakes up and has to fight a bunch of aliens with a bunch of weirdos—he is trying to figure out what his life is.”

The film focuses on Cap coming face-to-face with his former best friend (and in a brilliant cinematic twist) protector Bucky Barnes, who has been revived as a cyborg assassin.  According to Feige, “Just as he’s given permission to let go of the past and to focus on the modern world… a ghost comes up.”

Perhaps because the first Cap movie made less money at the box office than Iron Man 2 and Thor, Marvel is padding the sequel by including Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, as well as adding a brand new super hero, The Falcon (Samuel Wilson) portrayed by Anthony Mackie.

Feige further elaborates, “With the greatest generation in World War II, there’s a tendency to reflect on that period and stay. Things were black and white back then, and now it’s hard to know who the bad guys are.  We wanted to play on that a little with Cap being uncomfortable with the way S.H.I.E.L.D., and in particular Nick Fury, operates.  Fury certainly rides a line, sort of rides the shadows.  He has, I think, lied to every character in every movie, though always for seemingly for the good.”

Certainly, the biggest risk among Marvel’s spate of new movies is Guardians of the Galaxy, featuring Parks & Recreation doofus Chris Pratt as Star-Lord, a half-human, half-alien warrior, battling alongside a giant animated tree and a gun-slinging raccoon.

Feige explains, “Guardians takes place within the continuity of the [other movies] but it’s on the other side of the universe.  We’ve always wanted to do a space movie. I’m obsessed with Star Wars, I’m obsessed with Star Trek.”

Regarding Pratt, who may seem an unlikely hero, Feige defends, “He’s a hilariously frumpy, doofy guy in Parks and Rec, and he’s an incredibly kickass ripped guy in Zero Dark Thirty and that’s pretty awesome.  He’s going to need that in Guardians. That’s a big range right there.”

And Saldana has proven to be science fiction’s biggest It Girl in recent years, headlining Avatar and Star Trek.

Can this long shot score or will it be marvel’s first big flop?  Guess we’ll see next year!

Embellishing upon the movie continuity, ABC (which is also owned by Disney, Marvel’s parent company) is developing Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. which would star Clark Gregg reprising his fan-favorite role as Agent Phil Coulson and would showcase Marvel’s super spy agency.  Avengers director Joss Whedon is executive producing, co-wrote and directed the pilot, so that should prove promising.  Also Gregg’s Coulson was already featured in a series of popular shorts and is beloved by fans, so a Coulson television show should be an effortless hit.

When EW inquired about using this series as a way to bring in additional Marvel super heroes, Feige replied, “If that works the way everyone expects it to work I think that would open up another avenue, another outlet for some of those characters.  Maybe they guest star, I don’t know. I think they’re avoiding the cameo of the week on that show, which is very smart.”

According to the article, all of the Avengers from the first movie will be back for Avengers 2, at least, that’s the plan. Robert Downey Jr. has currently fulfilled his contract obligations as Iron Man, but nobody – including the actor himself – expects that he’ll skip this one.  Heaven forbid we’ve seen the last of RDJ as Tony Stark!  So here’s hoping that he signs on.  One issue that may arise is him demanding more money, which will balloon the budget.  But hopefully, he’ll think about the fans more than his bank account.

It’s already been pretty much confirmed that Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch will be added to the cast, so Feige replied, “When it becomes a cameo or Easter egg, [audiences] become less interested in it.  If we’re going to add new characters, there’s going to be a reason and they’re going to be a major part of the movie.”  He cautioned, though, “The draft could change six months from now.” As an example, he notes that the Mandarin was the main villain in the first Iron Man movie until shortly before filming began.

Just as Avengers capped Phase One of Marvel’s movie universe, Avengers 2 will climax Phase Two.  Now, Phase Three begins with…

Ant-Man, the long gestating feature that will be directed by Edgar Wright, the man behind Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.  Wright actually began developing the film before Iron Man came out, but he kept putting it on the back burner.  Feige admits, “Frankly, now we have to re-write it to put it a little bit more into the [Marvel Cinematic Universe] because it was written before it existed.”

As far as casting (*cough* Alan Tudyk *cough*) “We’ve talked about various names over the past eight years but as you can imagine they keep changing as time goes by.  But towards the end of this year, we’ll buckle down and start casting and start refining the script, which is great and which is very Edgar. He has done a great job being incredibly true to the comics but is putting his own spin on it, so we’ll be drawing on multiple mythologies for this one.”

The article also points out that the rights to the formerly farmed-out Blade, Daredevil, Ghost Rider and The Punisher have reverted to Marvel, so Marvel could conceivably cash in on the fact that these are already known commodities and create new vehicles for them.  “Whenever a character comes back to us, it’s usually because the other studios don’t want to make the movies anymore– and that usually means the [previous] movies may not have been particularly well-received… But we’re not going to say, We got it back– make it!”  Though Blade was surprisingly successful, the others were #1 horrible and #2 bombed.  Maybe Marvel needs to let these air out before revisiting them.

Regarding Doctor Strange, Feige says, “Within the next year or so we’ll really start the advanced planning on post-Avengers 2, and I would love Strange to be a part of that.  There’s a whole supernatural/magic dimension going on in the Marvel comics that we haven’t ever touched on.”

The Incredible Hulk is one of Marvel’s most famous names, yet both solo movies (under two different directors with two completely different casts) underperformed.  It wasn’t until Mark Ruffalo’s performance in Whedon’s Avengers that the character connected with viewers.  But don’t expect a Ruffalo-starring solo Hulk relaunch any time soon.  “All the Hulk energy right now is on Avengers 2,” says Feige, who also shot down rumors that the comic book story arc ‘Planet Hulk‘ would serves as the basis of a new movie.  “What we’re excited about exploring and expanding is Mark– and Bruce Banner is not in ‘Planet Hulk’ at all.  The fun of Hulk is his interaction with humans.”

I know we’re all still coasting from our highs from Iron Man 3, but it’s very exciting to think about what is coming up!  What Marvel heroes do you think deserve movies?  (Captain Marvel!)  Which movies are you most excited about?  Do you think Guardians of the Galaxy will be a hit?  Leave a comment below!