The Eve Of Marvel’s Phase Four

MCU Phase 4

It is hard to believe that the last official offering from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was well over a year ago (Spider-Man: Far From Home). We fans underwent a severe drought thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic which left most theaters closed and films delayed. Thanks to the pandemic there weren’t any offerings from the MCU last year unless the TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is counted, and there are valid arguments that the show is no longer part of the MCU. However, all this will change later this week with the debut of WandaVision on the streaming app, Disney+.

It feels a bit strange that the MCU event that will kick off its Phase Four will be a TV show instead of a film, but that was inevitable given COVID-19. Black Widow was supposed to launch Phase Four last year followed by the show The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but many delays killed that plan. Many believed Disney would air Black Widow during the holidays on Disney+ but that never happened. Instead Marvel Studios and its head Kevin Feige were determined that the cinematic start of the MCU’s fourth phase would happen with Black Widow, which is currently scheduled to premiere on May 7. Of course, this is not guaranteed given the nature of the pandemic. Sure, there are vaccines available but the distribution has been awful and unless it ramps up, at this rate our society will not be protected enough by spring. However, if efforts to speed up vaccinations follow through as promised by President-elect Biden and others then it could be safe for a significant portion of the population to go back to theaters by the late spring or summer. Let’s hope so because there already is a scheduling casualty this year.

Sony announced that its Marvel film Morbius, originally scheduled to be released last fall and moved to this March, will be moved again to October 8 now. This is not a severe delay and will be a better fit given the time of the year and the fact that Morbius stars a vampiric anti-hero. But this is concerning. Does this mean other films will be shuffled again? So far, the MCU films slated for this year (Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and Eternals) are still on schedule. What helps is that after Black Widow, the other two MCU films will premiere in the second half of 2021, The pandemic better be winding down by then. If it isn’t, then Disney may not have a choice but to release Black Widow and maybe the other two films on Disney+ to avoid creating a backlog with 2022’s scheduled releases and causing more delays.

With that said, Marvel Studios has quite a trove of MCU fare for waiting fans. Except for the third MCU Spider-Man film from Sony, the MCU films slated for this year may not be eagerly anticipated like Thor: Love and Thunder, but the TV shows coming out this year will more than make up for that until 2022. The 2021 shows will feature beloved MCU heroes and villains played by the same actors and boasting movie-quality production values and effects. However, many of the shows promise to be quite…unique. The trailers for WandaVision have shown that it will be as unconventional and bizarre as Legion or Doom Patrol, which will be a creative boost for the MCU. Although the MCU films are revered worldwide, they can be faulted for following a familiar formula and look. WandaVision, Loki and What If…? should push the envelope and take chances as promised by Feige and Marvel Studios. 

Meanwhile for the more conventional shows, it is rumored that mutants will make their MCU debut in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Some have observed from BTS set photos that part of the show seems to take place in Madripoor, a country heavily featured in the Wolverine comics. The enemy mutant Omega Red is supposedly appearing either in this show or in the Shang-Chi movie. The final TV shows scheduled for late 2021, Hawkeye and Ms. Marvel will debut more modern and popular heroes, such as Kate Bishop and Kamala Khan. 

hawkeye kate bishop and pizza dog

 

Disney+ will premiere new TV shows next year starring other popular Marvel heroes making their live-action debuts. These are Moon Knight (with Oscar Isaac playing the psychotic title hero), She-Hulk (supposedly a legal comedy…the jury is out if this is the case, pun intended), Ironheart (perhaps this will have Robert Downey, Jr. coming back as an AI mentor this time?) and the event series based on important storylines from the Marvel comics Secret Invasion and Armor Wars. One other TV special will be mentioned below.

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Marvel (MCU) & Star Wars Have A Bright Future At Disney

By now, everyone reading this must have heard of the Disney 2020 Investor Day announcements on Decelber 10, which left us geeks and nerds salivating and tickled pink with excitement over what Disney has planned with our favorite IPs in their Disney+ streaming platform and theatrically. That last point alone is enough to hearten us since Disney more or less declared that the theatrical viewing experience will not die out. The best example of their commitment came when presenter and Marvel Studios head, Kevin Fiege, affirmed that the long-delayed Black Widow film will debut in theaters next May. This squashed any rumors that the film would premiere first on Disney+ and marks a return of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

MCU Phase 4

Marvelous News

Kevin Feige gave perhaps the most anticipated presentation since we’ve all been suffering from MCU withdrawal this year. Fortunately the wait will soon end as WandaVision will finally stream next month on Disney+ and the new trailer shown on Disney 2020 Investor Day was just as bizarre and trippy as the previous trailers. WandaVision looks like it will be a pivotal anchor in the MCU going forward and is rumored to be the first of a multiverse-connecting trilogy that will be further explored in the next Spider-Man film before concluding with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. It was confirmed that the Doctor Strange sequel will feature America Chavez.

By the way, very little information was given about the new Spider-Man, probably because it’s a Sony film, but the non-stop reports about cast members from all the previous Spider-Man  films coming back just leaves us very ecstatic.

Other highlights from Feige’s presentation were the news that the She-Hulk TV show will star Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany, have appearances by Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, and Tim Roth will return as the Abomination; two mini-series about the Secret Invasion and Armor Wars comic book events will stream on Disney+; the third Ant-Man film (Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania) will feature Kang the Conqueror as the villain; Christian Bale will play Gorr the God Butcher in Thor: Love and Thunder; and from the footage shown the best were the previews of the new Loki series which will deal with the Time Variance Authority, the animated What If…, and the tantalizing behind-the-scenes footage of Ms. Marvel, who will also appear in Captain Marvel 2. Perhaps the most exciting news was the confirmation that Marvel Studios will produce a proper Fantastic Four film to be directed by Jon Watts, who directed the MCU Spider-Man films. Finally, a chance to do the Fab Four correct! Hopefully Spidey can make an appearance in that film!

Aside from Black Widow it is at this point too early to go into the release dates announced by Feige because we all know the schedule can change. But it is exciting and comforting to know that Marvel Studios is plowing full-steam ahead with their productions and 2021 will mark the Great MCU Comeback. Continue reading

Sam Raimi & Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness

A few weeks ago, many of us lamented when it was announced that Scott Derrickson, the director of Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange, walked away from the sequel due next year. Known for his horror films, Derrickson promised that the sequel Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness would be the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) first horror film. While this delighted fans, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige quickly walked that back and quipped the film would be more mainstream with “scary” moments like in many 1980s genre hits.

As great as the MCU films are they can be a bit generic when mishandled by the wrong directors. Usually Marvel Studios hires talented if not well-known directors who would rise to the occasion. But for every Russo Brothers we get Alan Taylor or the duo that directed Captain Marvel. After Derrickson walked because of the dreaded and ambiguous “creative differences” reason, many worried the film was in trouble and probably delayed. This would have been a black eye for Marvel Studios because Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was one of, if not the most anticipated of the announced MCU films (seriously, is anyone excited for a Shang-Chi film?).

Who would Marvel Studios hire to take over given the short notice? The film is slated to begin filming this May. There are many terrific candidates, but one stood out and thankfully he may be the best alternative if hired.

Variety reported this week that Sam Raimi was in talks with Marvel Studios to direct Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. This would be great if the studio hired him and this must happen.

As we know, Sam Raimi directed the first Spider-Man trilogy, including Spider-Man 2, which is still considered one of the best superhero films of all time. Raimi helped introduced the modern era of superhero films with his successful Spider-Man films. Sure, he directed Spider-Man 3, which was a big disappointment and the object of Emo Peter Parker memes, but it still has its good points. Then throw in the proto-superhero film that he directed, Darkman, a goofy and original superhero film that starred Liam Neeson. So, yes, he has bonafide superhero film credentials.

However, we cannot forget his horror film resume which includes the popular Evil Dead franchise featuring the beloved hero Ash (Bruce Campbell). Raimi even spearheaded the recent TV show Ash Vs. Evil Dead and directed the pilot.

Obviously, Raimi’s experience in both genres makes him more than qualified to take over the director’s chair for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

He has a wildly kinetic directing style which fits in perfectly with superhero films, just look at any clip from his Spider-Man films. Many scenes were clearly inspired by comic book art, some of which paid homage to iconic comic book pages.

Sam Raimi is also a huge fan of Steve Ditko, the artist that created Doctor Strange (and Spider-Man) along with Stan Lee. It would be perfect if he could take on another of Ditko’s creations. Doctor Strange was even referenced in Spider-Man 2 when J. Jonah Jameson considered naming Doctor Octopus Doctor Strange, but stopped because the name was taken!

Being that the film promises a multiverse of madness, this implies out-of-this-world visuals and scenes. This may include looks at alternate versions of Marvel characters and other dimensions. Imagine if Doctor Strange is shown traveling through alternate dimensions including one where Ash is battling the Evil Dead? Or better yet the one where Raimi’s version of Spider-Man exists and is played by Tobey Maguire? Of course, this is wishful thinking but just the thought of the possibility is enough to get us more excited for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

There is the concern that Marvel Studios will try to rein in Sam Raimi and soften his unique style.. But Raimi has proven in the past he can work well with major studios and has worked with Kevin Feige during the Spider-Man films, so the filmmaking experience might be stress free for all parties involved.

But before we start celebrating and get ahead of ourselves, let’s wait and see if the negotiations are successful. Fingers crossed! 🤞

A Closer Look At Avengers: Endgame & The Future Of The MCU, Part Two

We’re continuing our look at the superhero film event, Avengers: Endgame. This time we’ll speculate on a major plot device, what lies ahead for the team and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and even who will be in the team later in the future. As before, major spoilers will follow, so turn back now if you have not seen Avengers: Endgame yet.

 

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The Smallest Hero with the Biggest Impact

Avengers: Endgame didn’t just feature story arcs about the OG Avengers but on allies that joined the team and their mission to undo Thanos’ snap. Nebula and Rocket Raccoon from the Guardians of the Galaxy, along with everyone else were at the end of their rope, feeling defeated after Thanos’ victory in the previous film. There was significant time spent on them and they had their special character moments. While they made important contributions to the team’s quest to reverse Thanos’ snap, one of other ally became the most unlikely Avenger of them all: Ant-Man. He is not only the smallest MVP in Endgame but the most important one because the Avengers’ ultimate victory would not have been possible without Ant-Man.

Lang shows up

When Scott Lang aka Ant-Man re-emerged from the quantum realm after the film’s five-year time jump, he quickly realizes that time travel is possible due to the way he experienced time differently in the micro-dimension. He goes out of his way to locate the Avengers and presents them with this idea. Lang, fresh and eager from his experience in the quantum realm becomes a beacon of hope and new-found resolve for a defeated team. He inspires everyone into believing that the devasting effects of the Decimation could be undone.

ant-man in Avengers Endgame

To think this was all possible because of a rat. This anonymous rodent just happened to step on the controls of the quantum tunnel machine in a storage unit that brought Lang back into the world. Coincidence? Sure. Blind luck? You bet! But sometimes all it takes is the right circumstance to change everything. Even if some rat didn’t accidently save the universe, Lang would have been released some other time, what is important is that his re-emergence happened at the right time. Given his contribution, including his actions which later saved the Hulk, Rocket Raccoon and War Machine, Ant-Man is a shoe-in not only for another solo film, but as an Avenger in the team’s next film.

A Soldier’s Final Mission

At the end of Avengers: Endgame, Steve Rogers traveled back to different time periods to return the Infinity Stones and nip the creation of alternate timelines.

His final journey raised many questions given how his mission ended. As mentioned in part one of this post, Rogers decided to spend his days in the past with Peggy Carter and grew old with her. We know this because moments after he disappeared into the quantum tunnel, he turns up nearby as an elderly man.

This started rampant speculation about how he returned since he didn’t use the same quantum tunnel machine he left in. Some theorized he was in the Prime MCU all along and never created a new timeline. The writers for the film agree with this, but it’s hard to believe because given his heroic nature, there isn’t any way that Rogers, whether or not as Captain America, would not interfere with history. He would have prevented Bucky from becoming the Winter Soldier, stopped the Hydra infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D., or Thanos’ quest for the Infinity Stones, let alone real-world tragedies like the JFK assassination or 9/11. The Avengers: Endgame directors, Joe and Anthony Russo, contradict this notion and believe that Rogers lived out his years in an alternate timeline. Good evidence for this is the fact that he comes back with an intact shield. Remember that his shield was broken during his battle with Thanos. Rogers must’ve obtained the new shield in the alternate timeline. Perhaps that timeline’s Captain America died or the shield was no longer needed in the brave new world Rogers created.

The question is how did he return? The temporal/quantum technology in the new timeline must have advanced more significantly than in the Prime MCU. Or that timeline’s Doctor Strange could have used magic to transport Rogers back to his native timeline. This and how did Rogers return the Stones are intriguing material for a potential film or series on Disney+, though we’ll probably never know.

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Avengers: Infinity War Is A Bold, Explosive Epic Event For The MCU (NO SPOILERS)

Avengers IW poster The latest entry of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Avengers: Infinity War, is the culmination of ten years of this phenomenal film series. For that reason, so much is riding on the success of the third Avengers film. Fortunately, Avengers: Infinity War delivers an astounding blockbuster epic that recalls the old-time, star-studded movie events that made Hollywood famous. That is the kind that had posters featuring headshots of big stars and had sprawling storylines that spanned many different places with assorted characters. Avengers: Infinity War brings together most of the stars from the previous 18 MCU films such as Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Pratt, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zoe Saldana, Chadwick Boseman, Chris Hemsworth and so much more.

There won’t be any spoilers in this review because Avengers: Infinity War has so many game-changing developments that it is best to be vague for those who have not seen this spectacular film. On that note, run out at the first opportunity and be prepared to have a great time.

After Avengers: Age of Ultron failed to measure up to the first Avengers film, there were concerns about this third film. After all, both sequels boasted humongous casts of characters with their own stories and were loud and explosive. Avengers: Age of Ultron failed to deliver because it felt bloated and noisy, too much was going on that didn’t seem necessary. Anyone having concerns about this with Avengers: Infinity War can rest easy to know that it does not have those issues. Yes, the cast is large, the biggest yet in a superhero film and it is an action fest, but the directors Joe and Anthony Russo pulled off a seemingly impossible feat of crafting a well-paced, exciting, and cohesive narrative. The fight scenes have a desperate intensity that is typical of the Russo Brothers’ other MCU films. But more impressive are the film’s fascinating characters and its chilling sense of dread.

What is even more amazing is that though the characters have limited screen time, they have their moments to shine and the film is faithful to their core essences.  All of the actors in Avengers: Infinity War bring their A game to this film and each of them manage to stand out in the crowded field. The most is made out of their screen time and though there is a lot going on (and the film walks a tightrope over this challenge) there is payoff for all the character arcs. Credit to this goes to the Russo Brothers and the well-written script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.

The dialogue is crisp, it is funny, it is also tragic and heart stopping, and it is such a joy to see all the unique interactions and team ups as unlikely superheroes meet each other for the first time. Sometimes they clash like when the similar arrogant natures of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey Jr.) and Doctor Strange (Cumberbatch) collide with each other. Other times the meetings come off awkward for the characters but are fun to watch like when Strange meets Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) or when Stark and company meet the Guardians.

What is interesting about these interactions is that the tones of their perspective films so unique are repeated here. For instance, the wonderful chemistry and humor of the Guardians of the Galaxy films is cloned perfectly. When Thor (Hemsworth) is onscreen, the otherworldly and faux Shakespearean nature of the Thor films takes center stage. On top of that when the diverse characters and their worlds intermingle it creates joyful, dynamic interactions that stay with you long after the film is finished.

Despite the film’s epic nature, it has an unexpected emotional core with captivating, romantic moments that add heart and weight. This aspect adds more levity and raises the stakes for our heroes and the situation. A common complaint about MCU films is that they can feel lightweight without any consequences. Well, this film dispels that critique as each and every development builds and builds. There are dire consequences for actions and decisions, which prove that even our favorite characters are flawed and all too human.

Thanos and moon

One character in the film that deals with consequences is the main villain of Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos (Josh Brolin). He is a gargantuan, imposing presence who has a frightening, yet magnetic presence in the film. Unlike some MCU films, Avengers: Infinity War allows time to explore his dark character and we understand why he is on his mad quest. Every time he is onscreen, Thanos brings a sense of doom as he is an unrelenting and formidable force of nature. Through his dire actions and twisted philosophy, Thanos manages to become possibly the greatest villain in the MCU.

Easily, Avengers: Infinity War is a blockbuster triumph that celebrates ten years of the MCU. Hands down it is one of the greatest MCU and superhero films, even with its faults. Admittedly, it would be helpful that the average viewer has some knowledge of the previous films to better appreciate them here and revel in their developments and interactions. There are also a few moments when the film threatens to lose its cohesion as it jumps between different storylines. Yet, the Russo Brothers manage to keep everything coordinated. That in itself is a marvel (no pun intended) that has to be experienced. Like any great film, you are left satisfied and wanting more of the film experience. Thankfully, we will be satiated next summer with the next Avengers epic.

José Soto