It was not supposed to be like this. For decades, DC Comics’ characters ruled the box office and airwaves, especially with Batman, thanks to the backing of their parent company Warner Bros. That all changed starting in 2008 when Marvel Studios successfully launched their interconnected series of films, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which soon overtook DC and Warner Bros. in terms of critical and fan reception and economic success. Warner Bros. did put up a fight and launched their own version of interconnected films, the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), with the release of Man of Steel in 2013.
That film, featuring a new, updated version of Superman, had mixed reactions. Some applauded the grounded, grittier take of Superman, while others complained about the dark tone of the film and its over-stylized look thanks to director Zack Snyder. Still, thanks in part to Henry Cavill’s performance as Superman/Clark Kent, the film was the sound basis for an interconnected film universe featuring DC characters, which continued with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in 2016. At last, Warner Bros. had a true counterpart to the DCEU because the second DCEU film greatly expanded its cinematic world as it not only introduced the DCEU version of Batman, but Wonder Woman, and other members of the Justice League superhero team.
But as we all know, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice had a negative reaction thanks to its uneven and convoluted storyline and the DCEU never quite recovered with its sophmore film. The DCEU had an uneven track record with its filmography. For every critical and commercial success like Wonder Woman and Aquaman there were failures like Justice League and the Suicide Squad films. The film universe was inconsistent with its tone and output, meanwhile, the MCU churned out hit after hit without any legitimate competition.
What made matters worse for the DCEU was the fact that Warner Bros. seemed to give up on the DCEU by delaying long-announced films, including a solo followup to Man of Steel. This last issue drove Cavill away from the role as the film studio made announcements about new versions of Superman, which never materialized. Instead of focusing on the DCEU, Warner Bros. turned its attention to projects outside of the DCEU like Joker and The Batman, as well as TV shows that were not connected to the DCEU.
Many of these projects were successful, but they did not do anything for the DCEU. Fans asked for DCEU films featuring Superman and the other DC heavy hitters, but instead Warner Bros. greenlit films featuring lesser known characters like Black Adam, Blue Beetle and the Wonder Twins.
Then there were issues with the pandemic, which delayed film productions and forced Warner Bros. to debut films like Wonder Woman 1984 on their streaming platform, HBO Max. In fact, the parent company of the film studio, AT&T decided to forego or deemphasize film releases in favor of premiering films on HBO Max. This led to diminished financial returns for DCEU properties like The Suicide Squad.
Another sign that implied that the film studio had given up on the DCEU were rumors that the long-delayed DCEU film, The Flash, would be used to reboot the DCEU with new actors. Evidence for this lies with the fact that Michael Keaton is reprising his role as Batman in The Flash. Meanwhile the DCEU version of Batman, played by Ben Affleck and Superman, would be wiped out of existence thanks to the Flash and time travel hijinks. But that was nothing compared to the big changes instituted by new owners.
The aftermath of Marvel Studios’ announcement of their upcoming films and TV shows at last weekend’s San Diego Comic-Con is still ongoing. All the complaints about Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) have been vanquished as fans now contemplate Phase Five and Six,which will start early next year.
Although the reaction to the new MCU projects has been positive, many questions did come up about the films and TV shows or rather what was not announced. Observers pointed out there were gaps in the official release schedule for the upcoming phases, especially with Phase Six. In that phase only three films were announced (Fantastic Four, Avengers: The Kang Dynasty, and Avengers: Secret Wars), but there were slots for eight more releases. So, what could they be? Let’s examine further…
Where are the Mutants?
The mutant characters in the X-Men and other assorted X-teams were particularly absent during the Comic-Con announcement. Ever since Disney acquired 20th Century Fox and its film properties in 2019, which included the film rights to X-Men, fans have been anxious to see Marvel Studios’ take on the mutants. And some are becoming impatient. But given the many mutant-related films and TV shows over the last few years, it is for the best that the mutants be given a rest to build up demand and recharge the creative energy of those who would bring about more live-action mutant films and TV shows. Marvel Studios played it smart with drip, drip, drip Easter eggs and references to the mutants in the MCU. In last year’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, part of the action took place in the fictional country of Madripoor, a location well known as Wolverine’s incognito stomping grounds. It has been heavily implied in WandaVision, that Wanda Maximoff was a mutant. Professor Xavier, founder of the X-Men, turned up in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, albeit this was an alternate variant. In the most recent MCU TV show, Ms. Marvel, it was revealed at the end that the title character was a mutant, though that word was not actually used.
It has been reported that Ryan Reynolds, who plays Deadpool, will reprise the role in a Deadpool 3 film for Marvel Studios, and it has been rumored the film will be part of Phase Five. Whenever the film comes out, it is bound to be a hit and increase demand for more X-Men-related films.
Secret Wars and Followups
Perhaps the mutant superhero team will be one of those unannounced films in Phase Six. One possible clue was the recent announcement that the director of Avengers: The Kang Dynasty would not be Joe and Anthony Russo but instead the director of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Destin Daniel Cretton. It was expected that the Russo Brothers, who directed the last two Avengers films to great success, were the go-to guys for future Avengers films. But in the past, they’ve expressed a desire to do their own take of the X-Men. Perhaps, they were offered their dream assignment and this will be announced at the D23 Expo in September. Or the X-Men won’t turn up until Phase Seven. It was reported earlier this week that Disney cannot recast the X-Men until 2025 and Marvel Studios will probably want to run out the clock until then before even starting work on the MCU version of the mutant superheroes. At this point it’s anyone’s guess.
Once Cretton was announced as the director of the next Avengers film, people began wondering who would helm Avengers: Secret Wars. It could go to the Russo Brothers, but that seems unlikely, given the possibility they could be busy with the mutants. Then again they could be tapped to direct Avengers: Secret Wars if it turns out the film will actually be a two-part saga. The original Secret Wars mini-series in 2015 was a sprawling epic that will be difficult to pull off with just one film. It could turn out that the story of Avengers: Secret Wars will have to be continued into Phase Seven, which could be called the Battleworld Saga. During Secret Wars, various patches of reality were merged into a world created by Doctor Doom. The Phase Seven films could explore these separate realities before coming to a concluding epic film.
Getting back to the director of the sixth Avengers film, if the Russos don’t direct it then another possibilty is Jon Watts, the director of the MCU Spider-Man trilogy of films. The concludng film of the trilogy, Spider-Man: No Way Home, was one of the most succesful films of all time and its head-spinning plotline about multiversal variants and characters from different film franchises meeting each other was well directed by Watts. This makes him an obvious contender for an Avengers film dealing with characters from alternate universes meeting and battling each other. This could be the reason why Watts left the Fantastic Four reboot he was supposed to direct. His success with Spider-Man: No Way Home demonstrated he had the skills to take on an even more epic film.
Putting aside speculating about directors and mutants, let’s ponder what other MCU offerings are coming up. It was a surprise that the previously announced Armor Wars TV mini-series was not part of the announcements at Comic-Con, yet Marvel Studios insist that mini-series will still be made. It is possible Armor Wars will be part of Phase Six.
It has also been reported that a TV series based upon Wonder Man will be produced and if so Wonder Man can be part of Phase Six. Other live-action TV series could include second seasons for Hawkeye, Moon Knight, and She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, and maybe a third season of Loki that could coincide with the upcoming Avengers films.
As for other films, a no-brainer would be a second Shang-Chi film, as well as a third Doctor Strange film. After all the last Doctor Strange film ended on a bit of a cliffhanger and was strongly tied to the Multiverse Saga. There are rumors that Marvel Studios is considering a followup to Eternals, but since that film had a mixed reaction what is more likely is that some of its characters will be important players in other films, perhaps one about the cosmic superhero Nova. Supposedly, Marvel Studios is developing a Nova film, which could not only feature the Eternals, but tie-in with the Guardians of the Galaxy. Of course, this depends on how the third and final Guardians of the Galaxy film concludes.
The Spider-Man Wild Card
Given the humongous success of Spider-Man: No Way Home, a new trilogy about the MCU Spider-Man should be a given. Yet, nothing has been announced. As many know, Marvel Studios does not have the film rights to Spider-Man and Spider-Man films were never made part of Marvel Studios’ big announcements. They just pop up and a spot on the crowded MCU schedule is found for them. Expect the same thing to happen with Phase Five and Six.
The big question with future MCU Spider-Man films is will Jon Watts return to direct them? If not him then who else can direct a Spider-Man film? Marvel Studios cannot make that decision because that will be up to Sony Pictures, which holds the film rights to Marvel’s most popular character. Unfortunately, instead of focusing on more Spider-Man films, Sony is obsessed with mining other Spider-Man-related properties. The problem is that what they have planned does not sound promising aside from Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. So, fans will have to wait and see what Sony decides.
No matter how this all ends up with Phase Five and Six of the MCU, fans will end up happy, upset or somewhere in between. Either way, there will be something for everyone.
San Diego Comic-Con made a huge return this weekend after a couple of years of inactivity thanks to the pandemic. Demonstrating that life in geekdom was returning to normal were all the presentations by and appearances of countless companies and individuals for the genre properties we love.
The big news this weekend at Comic-Con was the bigger-than-exptected splash made by Marvel Studios about their upcoming properties. Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige appeared in Hall H of the convention and made several exciting announcements, which included the revelation that Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) will end this year with the release of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. By the way, the presentation for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was quite emotional given the loss of Chadwick Boseman. However, the trailer released for the film was exciting with the reveal of Namor the Submariner and the Atlanteans.
Phase Five of the MCU starts next year with the release of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania on February 17, 2023, and concludes on July 26, 2024 with Thunderbolts (Marvel’s version of the Suicide Squad). Other films and TV shows, which will stream on Disney+, during Phase Five include SecretInvasion (spring 2023), Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 3 (May 5, 2023, and by the way the leaked images of a baby Rocket Raccoon were adorable!), The Marvels (July 28, 2023), Echo (summer 2023), Ironheart (fall 2023), Blade (November 3, 2023), Agatha: Coven of Chaos (winter 2023), Captain America: New World Order (May 3, 2024), and Daredevil: Born Again (spring 2024). The last two entries were the most exciting announcements as the fourth Captain America will feature Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) who takes up the mantle of Captain America, while the new Daredevil TV series will have Charlie Cox resuming the title role he originated in the Netflix series. Fans have been teased about Daredevil with Matt Murdock’s appearance in last year’s Spider-Man: No Way Home, and even more enticed by his quick cameo in the latest trailer for She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. The She-Hulk series looks like fun, even though some of the CG still looks sketchy.
However, Feige was not finished. He announced the most important Phase Six MCU films, and the sixth phase will begin with Fantastic Four on November 8, 2024 and continue on and conclude with two Avengers films! Avengers: The Kang Dynasty on May 2, 2025 and Avengers: Secret Wars on November 7, 2025.
Of course, there are significant gaps in the release schedule for unannounced projects, which could go to future Spider-Man films or something to do with the X-Men. Keep in mind, that despite all the buzz going into Comic-Con there was not an official announcement that Deadpool would join the MCU and not a word was mentioned about possible followups to successful Phase Four properties like Doctor Strange or Shang-Chi. But more information will be revealed in the September 10, 2022 D23 Expo. Perhaps the cast and director of Fantastic Four will be announced by then or it will be revealed that the Russo Brothers will direct the new Avengers films.
When it comes to Spider-Man, aside from some details on the upcoming animated series Spider-Man: Freshman Year (which won’t take place in the MCU), there weren’t any annoucements by Sony Pictures, who owns the film rights to Spider-Man, about the future of the MCU Spider-Man. However, given the mammoth success of Spider-Man: No Way Home, a fourth MCU Spider-Man is inevitable, as are the future hot garbage Sony is filming like Kraven, El Muerto, and Madame Web.
Surely, there were other huge announcements at Comic-Con that did not deal with Marvel or the MCU, but they paled compared to Marvel Studios. It should be noted that Marvel Studios’ rival, Warner Bros. Discovery had a presentation about their DC film properties, which turned out to be a bit of a dud hampered with controversy. One of the big rumors going into Comic-Con was that Henry Cavill would appear or there would be an announcement that the actor would return to play Superman in either Black Adam or an upcoming DC Extended Universe (DCEU) film. But the actor was a no show, which melted the internet as furious fans lamented about this and the fact that the only involvement director Zack Snyder will have with DC properties will be an appearance in the animated show Teen Titans Go! The only revelations made about the DCEU were two trailers for Black Adam and Shazam! Fury of the Gods. But nothing about upcoming DCEU projects like Blue Beetle and The Flash. It’s a shame because both DCEU trailers were very well done. Perhaps if Warner Bros. Discovery puts out another DC Fandome with more and substantial announcements then all will be forgiven, but to date there is not any information about a DC Fandome for this year.
Getting back to Marvel Studios and the MCU, the announcements were expected, but a pleasant surprise when they were officially announced. What was unexpected was that the early films of Phase Five were anticipated to be part of Phase Four, which seems to have ended prematurely. This could be because of the mixed reaction to Phase Four and a decision could have been made to end it soon in order to give fans a sense of starting over with more alluring and crowdpleasing films and TV shows in the next phase. So, even though Phase Four of the MCU turned out to be a mixed bag, fans can put that behind and look forward to what awaits with Phase Five, Six and beyond.
The toughest thing about being king of the mountain is staying there to paraphrase an old saying. Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige is certainly experiencing this now given the stumbles and headaches with Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The film universe devoted to the Marvel Comics heroes absolutely ruled the box office in the past decade with their interconnected films. Many memorable characters became part of our popular culture in a way not seen since the original Star Wars films. The MCU reached its zenith in 2019 with the release of Avengers: Endgame, as that film concluded the Infinity Saga. But since then, there are cracks in the once-invincible armor of the MCU as their recent entries in film and television streaming have had a mixed reaction from fans and critics.
The films and TV shows are successful as seen with most recently with Thor: Love and Thunder and Ms. Marvel. However, in the past an MCU entry would both be well received by fans, critics and profitable. But as seen with the most recent entries that is no longer the case. Thor: Love and Thunder was not as well received, but it is a genuine box office hit, while, Ms. Marvel received excellent reviews, but was the least viewed MCU TV show. This is nothing new with Phase Four of the MCU, which began when Black Widow was released in theaters and streamed at the same time on Disney+ in May 2021. Due to the pandemic and the availability of the film on home media, Black Widow did not make as much money as many of the previous MCU films and had a middling reception by critics and fans. As the pandemic eased and subsequent films were released exclusively in theaters, they performed better with Spider-Man: No Way Home becoming the biggest hit of Phase Four and acclaimed by fans and critics, alike. But most of the other film entries have proven to be controversial or derided by all.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is an excellent example as it was equally revered and derided, Some enjoyed the more viceral horror elements of the film, but others complained about the film’s content, the way certain characters were treated and so on. Others wanted to see more bizarre explorations of other dimensions and alternate takes of the MCU aside from the Illuminati. Basically, these critics felt the so-called Mulitverse of Madness did not live up to its name.
That leads to another gripe with the recent MCU fare. Before a film or TV show comes out, the speculation about who will appear in them goes overboard which will disappointment fans. This was evident with WandaVision when one of the TV show’s star promised an important character would appear in the last episode, leading to wild rumors that the X-Men would finally debut in the MCU, but this did not happen. Then there were all the supposed cameos for the second Doctor Strange film that never materialized. What is more infuriating are the reports that many characters were supposed to appear in these films and TV shows, but for one reason or another these appearances did not happen.
Here are some examples: Doctor Strange was supposed to appear in a cameo in WandaVision, Deadpool was supposed to pop up in a post-credits zinger in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, director Sam Raimi was supposed to reunite with Tobey Maguire as the universe of Spider-Man was supposed to be visited in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Beta Ray Bill would finally debut in Thor: Love and Thunder, Werewolf by Night was supposed to appear in Moon Knight, and so on. Now, the speculation continues as Doctor Doom will supposedly make his MCU debut in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and that Ben Grimm and Matt Murdock will turn up in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. This speculation is a great way to generate interest but it is bound to disappoint many, no matter what. Of course, there have been notable and important cameos in the Phase Four films and TV shows, such as the characters from the Netflix Marvel TV shows turning up in Hawkeye and Spider-Man: No Way Home, Captain Marvel appearing in a post-credits scene of Ms. Marvel, and of course the appearances of several Marvel heroes like Reed Richards and Professor X in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
Forty years ago this month, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was released in theaters and captured the collective hearts and minds of moviegoers everywhere in 1982. To say it was a cultural phenomenon is certainly an understatement, yet it can be hard to believe for those who were too young to remember or were alive at that time. That is because unlike other culturally relevant properties from that time period like Star Wars, Star Trek, Alien, etc. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial did not have the staying power in our collective minds.
Regardless, the sci-fi film by legendary director Steven Spielberg is a bonafide classic that knows just how to hit a viewer in the feels. Spielberg was in top form (and remains so to this day) and received a well-deserved status as a master storyteller with his tale of a stranded alien being in the forests of California who befriends a lonely boy, Elliott (Henry Thomas). As Elliott introduces the being he calls E.T. to his suburban lifestyle and pop culture, he does what he can to keep E.T. hidden from the outside world while E.T. tries to contact others of his kind to rescue him. The film boasted many classic Spielbergian tropes and themes, such as a reverance for middle-class childhood while exploring family trauma, examing a magical sense of wonder about the world through the use of lighting, pop cultural references, and of course, those famously long natural takes that define a Steven Spielberg film.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is a fairly simple tale about an unlikely interstellar friendship or as a sci-fi version of a boy and his dog tearjerker, but the film excels in emotion and Spielberg pulled out all of his skills to wrench our heartstrings. He was aided by an exemplary filmmaking team which included special effects guru Carlo Rambaldi, a deeply emotional script by Melissa Mathison, genuine acting by the cast, breathtakingly beautiful cinematrography by Allen Daviau, and John Williams brilliant score. The master composer won a well-deserved Oscar for the film as the film won several technical Oscars. Unfortunately, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial failed to win the major Academy Awards like Best Picture or Director because by the time the awards ceremony came around, the allure of the film had worn off and the Academy instead bestowed the major awards to more standard fare like Gandhi. Go figure.
Perhaps if E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial had won the major awards it may have been more remembered these days. Another reason could be because the film was overhyped by media and in-your-face marketing and merchandising during that time and it finally burned out its good will after some time. It may be hard to imagine today but think of the constant merchandising of Star Wars, the Marvel and DC films, and Jurassic Park and picture that for one film that dominated the box office for 16 weeks straight. This is something that would be nearly impossible to pull off today in our fractured society. Many films released that summer in 1982 fared poorly because E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial sucked out all of the air from the competition. What is ironic is that many of those films are better remembered today and are considered classics in their own right. These include Blade Runner, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Tron, and The Thing.
Yet, another factor that probably impeded E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’s legacy is that no sequel film or reboot was ever made to keep the film in the public consciousness. The closest instances it received for follow ups were a sequel novel by William Kotzwinkle called E.T.: The Book of the Green Planet, a well-received 2019 Xfinity commercial featuring a now-adult Henry Thomas, who is reunited with E.T., and then introduces the alien to his family, and a theme-park ride at Universal Studios Florida, Japan and Hollywood (the Hollywood and Japan versions closed down years ago).
As to why Spielberg did not adapt this novel or went ahead with a film sequel, the answer is that E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial holds a special place in his heart and he did not want to dilute it with follow ups. However, he did consider it. He and Mathison wrote a treatment in 1982 called E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears, which would have had Elliott and his friends kidnapped by evil aliens and E.T. rescuing him. But as we all know, Spielberg abandoned the idea and moved on to other projects. The last time E.T. was actually seen in theaters was when he and members of his race appeared in a gag cameo during Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
Even though the film is not in the forefront of the public these days, it is still fondly remembered and still commands attention as seen with the positive word of mouth from the 2019 commercial and successful re-releases in theaters and home media. During its 20th anniversary the film was re-released and Spielberg altered the film with improved special effects, deleted footage and digitally altering a scene where federal agents who originally brandished guns and threatened E.T., Elliott and his friends, now had walkie-talkies instead. Spielberg has changed his mind about the alterations and encourages that only the original film be viewed.
With so many properties commanding our attention these days, it is so easy to overlook E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which would be foolish. The film is a cinematic wonder that should be required viewing for film buffs, genre fans and families. Simply put, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is a perfect showcase for the artistry and magic of Steven Spielberg.