In Memoriam: Chadwick Boseman, Forever The Black Panther

King T'Challa

We are still in shock and grieving over the death a couple of days ago of actor Chadwick Boseman. Most of us in the geek community best knew of him from his playing the Marvel Comics superhero, Black Panther, in a few films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Of course, Chadwick Boseman contributed much more to acting besides King T’Challa of the fictional African nation Wakanda. He became prominent in the acting role for his breakout performance as Jackie Robinson in 42 and had distinguished roles such as portraying Thurgood Marshall in Marshall and James Brown in Get On Up. Boseman achieved superstardom when he was cast to play Prince (later King) T’Challa in Captain America: Civil War and in his own film Black Panther in 2018.

The cultural impact Black Panther had was revolutionary thanks to Chadwick’s measured and dignified performance. Even during his debut in Captain America: Civil War, Boseman exhibited a quiet sense of royalty and gravitas as his character was conflicted over the killing of his father. He also projected natural leadership and honor when he starred in Black Panther and later MCU films. As we know, Black Panther was a huge box office hit and reverberated in the cultural zeitgeist in that it was a wildly successful superhero film that featured Black characters in prominent roles. This was remarkable given the hesistancy of the head of Marvel Entertainment (Ike Perlmutter) to greenlight MCU films starring people of color and women, because he believed they would not be successful. That struggle to bring Black Panther and his futuristic kingdom to life was justly vindicated by the mammoth success of Black Panther.

black panther at wakanda

Boseman appeared again as T’Challa later in the year in the MCU epic film Avengers: Infinity War and last year in Avengers: Endgame. A sequel to Black Panther was announced last year but its production status was unknown because of the coronavirus pandemic. Still, the film was expected to be released in 2022; in the meantime, Boseman provided voice work for the same character in the upcoming animated series What If…where his episode would examine what if he became Star-Lord instead of Black Panther. At this point, it is unknown if a sequel to Black Panther will ever happen. It probably will with either T’Challa recast or with another character assuming the role of the Black Panther. The Marvel comics and the MCU films established that other people assumed the mantle of Black Panther.

The sudden news of Chadwick Boseman passing away hit many of us hard because of his young age (43) and the fact that he passed away after battling colon cancer for four years. Boseman looked healthy and fit in his appearances, which is why his death was so shocking. His burden as he portrayed the mighty T’Challa in Black Panther and other MCU films was truly remarkable in that he was able to continue his role while he underwent treatment while none of us were aware of his battle.

As we mourn his death and ponder what might have been, it is important to commemorate the man for his contributions and honor his memory. Another may take over the mantle of the protector of Wakanda but Chadwick Boseman will never be forgotten.

tchalla wakanda forever

Wakanda Forever.

 

Farewell To Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The final episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. that aired last night marked the end of an era in Marvel Comics-related television fare. The show was the last TV show produced without the involvement of Marvel Studios guru Kevin Feige. Of course, there are a couple of other shows that are coming soon like Hellstrom and some animated fare, which are not spearheaded by Feige. But with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s conclusion a chapter has been closed in a time of shows not directly related to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Early Missions

When Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. debuted in 2013, there was a lot of anticipation for it. After all, Joss Whedon, the director of the hit film The Avengers, created it and directed the pilot episode, but more importantly it was supposed to be set in the MCU. It did star Clark Gregg, who played S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson, a recurring character in the MCU films. The complication was that Coulson was killed off in The Avengers so a big mystery in the early episodes was how he was resurrected. There were numerous other connections to the MCU such as guest appearances by Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Jaimie Alexander as Sif, Maximiliano Hernandez as Agent Jasper Sitwell, Powers Boothe as Gideon Malick and a few other actors that appeared in the MCU films. Not to mention, the early seasons of the show were directly connected to MCU films, notably Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Thor: The Dark World.

However, many viewers came away disappointed with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in that many episodes were bland, unimaginative and did little to satisfy the cravings for the MCU between films. That was not entirely the fault of the show’s producers. It turned out the show was the victim of a turf war between Kevin Feige and the head of Marvel Entertainment, Ike Perlmutter. The two men often clashed over the direction of the MCU and while Feige was in charge of the films, Perlmutter handled the TV shows and other media. As we all know, Feige ultimately was allowed to directly control Marvel Studios and the MCU without having to report to Perlmutter and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. began its slow divorce from the MCU.

Tenuous Connections

Even before the schism fans complained about how the show was never referenced in the MCU films. Meanwhile, for a time it seemed as if Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. namedropped whenever it could every single MCU character or incident. It was clear any connection to the MCU was a one-way street.

Still, despite its missteps, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. did find its legs and made the most of its tenuous connection to the MCU. This was best seen during the latter half of its first season which tied-in with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and that film’s plotline of the S.H.I.E.L.D. spy organization revealed as having been infiltrated by the terrorist organization Hydra. Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), one of the core characters in the show, was revealed to be a Hydra agent and the show fully dealt with the ramifications of the film’s events.

A major story line that was supposed to be carried over into the films was with the Inhumans. Originally, Ike Perlmutter wanted a film made based on the characters since he wanted these superhumans to fill in the role of the mutant X-Men. At this time, Marvel Entertainment did not have the film rights to the X-Men and Permutter did not want to promote them in the remaining media. Thus, characters who were Inhumans popped up in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and took on prominent roles. It went so far as to retroactively make another major character, Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennett), to be an Inhuman (the Marvel superhero Quake). But once Feige was allowed to go his own way, he dropped any plans for an Inhumans film and the show was left holding the bag.

While this was frustrating, this gave the show the opportunity to find its own voice. It wholeheartedly embraced the Inhumans plot point and then embarked on season-long arcs that allowed the show to shine. It introduced other characters from the Marvel Comics such as Ghost Rider, Mockingbird, the Hive and the Aborbing Man, and they were well received by fans. At one point, Ghost Rider was to be spun off into a new series but those plans were cancelled.

Arguably its best arc was during its fifth season when Coulson’s team was hurtled into a future where Earth was destroyed and the remnants of humanity were slaves of the alien Kree. A new character Deke Shaw (Jeff Ward) a scruffy, goofy, Peter Quill-type character was introduced and became part of the team after he and the agents returned to the present to prevent Earth’s destruction. Another interesting character that joined the team was Enoch (Joel Stoffer), a Chronicom anthropologist (a race of alien androids). He was perpetually fascinated with humanity and the actor’s befuddled and whimsically befuddled mannerisms were often the highlights of episodes.

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Bringing The X-Men Into The MCU

When Walt Disney Entertainment acquired 20th Century Fox the entertainment giant gained the rights to several Marvel Comics properties, particularly the mutant superheroes, the X-Men. Ever since then fans of the comic book and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) have speculated into oblivion over the possibilites of bringing the X-Men into the MCU.

Aside from the logistics of finding and hiring the right people (actors, writers, directors, etc.), there is the hurdle of making the mutants fit logically in the  intricate MCU. Consider the fact that the mutants in the comics and the Fox X-Men films have been a part of their societies for many years and were widely feared and distrusted. When watching an older MCU film, it is clear that mutants are not anywhere to be found (aside from a deleted clip from Iron Man where Nick Fury references mutants). Where are they? The simple answer is that mutants do not exist and the closest thing to the MCU had were the Inhumans who only appeared on TV shows and it’s murky if they are actually part of the MCU. That is a debate for another time, but looking closely at the TV shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. it can be said that most shows are part of the MCU. Otherwise, where were the mutants during the calamitous events of the Avengers films? The heroes could have used their help!

On a related note, the same headache is going on with the Eternals. If they existed in the MCU throughout history why were they MIA during Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame? We’ll find out how this is explained when their film comes out next year.

Now, Marvel Studios is free to bring the X-Men into the MCU, so how can it be done? There are a few options and hopefully, Marvel Studios will find the best one. Here is what can be done:

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Recasting The X-Men

With Disney and Marvel Studios now having regained the film and TV rights to the Marvel Comics property, the X-Men, it is inevitable that a reboot of the film franchise is coming. There is a ton of speculation and fan lists out there over who should be cast in a rebooted X-Men team that will appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). An issue with these lists (and this one, too) is that casting films and TV shows is more complicated than saying “Bryan Cranston is bald so he should be Professor X!” Complicating the casting is the crowded plate of upcoming MCU films, some of which are not in production yet, and these have been delayed.

At this point, it is hard to tell when an X-Men film will be made, so many acting choices will not be available or no longer suitable for the roles. By the time Marvel Studios gets around to casting Wolverine, fan-favorite Tom Hardy may be too old. But for fun, let’s imagine if everything was cleared up and Marvel Studios gave the X-Men a go to begin preproduction tomorrow. Who would be the best candidates to play the iconic X-Men and associated mutants? Take a look and feel free to add your opinions in the comments on these picks and of other mutants not included in the list.

The Original Team

Cyclops

While the previous two actors who portrayed Scott Summers were fine, their roles were rather limited. In an MCU version of Cyclops, he has to be shown as undeniably the team leader, not Wolverine or Mystique or a mutant played by some other A-list actor. A true leading man is required for this role, which is why Chris Pine would be perfect for playing Cyclops. With his role as Captain Kirk, good looks and charm, Pine could believably come off as the leader of the X-Men and go toe to toe with Canadian upstarts with healing powers. Other candidates: Armie Hammer, Charlie Hunman, Matt Lanter, Garrett Hedlund

Jean Grey

The tortured telepathic member of the X-Men has to be portrayed by someone who can evoke sympathy, yet fear and dread when she transforms into the deadly Phoenix. In her role as the rebellious and complex artificial person, Dolores Abernathy, in Westworld, Evan Rachel Wood has demonstrated the acting range to bring us a Jean Grey struggling with her immense telepathic powers as she becomes the Dark Phoenix; which should happen in the third or fourth film of the rebooted franchise. Other candidates: Felicity Jones, Emilia Clarke, Rebecca Ferguson, Rosa Salazar

Beast

Both actors who portrayed Hank McCoy ran with the roles and made them memorable. This role of the team’s brawny, yet eloquent scientist needs to be portrayed by someone who comes off as intellectual but able to hold his own in a fight. It would be great if Kevin Feige could look the other way and allow Nicholas Hoult to reprise his role, but since that will not happen let’s go with Chad L. Coleman, who can do the job well and bring something new to the role. Other candidates: Joel Edgerton, Cillian Murphy, Pedro Pascal, Josh McDermitt

Angel

In his previous appearances, Warren Worthington III aka Angel, has been largely delegated to a background character, despite some interesting setups. In an MCU X-Men film, Angel, along with the original lineup, should take center stage. For this role Liam Hemsworth should be hired to play the flying mutant. He has the good looks, lanky build and acting ability to stand out. Besides casting a Hemsworth in the MCU worked out before! Other candidates: Sam Claflin, Jack Reynor, Garrett Hedlund, Logan Lerman

Iceman

Many fan castings for Bobby Drake often pick Nick Robinson, and that is because Iceman is a homosexual and Robinson played a gay teen in Love, Simon. Robinson is a good choice, but there are better candidates and he may not want to be typecast simply because he portrayed a gay character. Justice Smith is an inspired choice; he’s younger than the other actors, and more importantly talented enough to make Iceman shine in a new X-Men film. Other candidates: Chandler Riggs, Nick Robinson, Dylan Minnette, Curran Walters

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Pining For New Superhero Films & TV Shows!

OK, let’s be honest, we need our superhero film and TV fix! By this time, during normal circumstances the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) drought we’re experiencing would have been quenched by the May release of Black Widow and we would have been going wild over the release of Wonder Woman 1984, which would have been yesterday. But nope, a deadly coronavirus had to ruin everyone’s year. *Disclaimer time* This by no means is meant to make light of the pandemic our world is suffering through. No matter what, our lives and well being are more important than being inconvenienced with social distancing, self quarantines, and no new superhero films. We all should continue do our part to prevent the spread of the coronavirus until a viable treatment or vaccine is available.

MCU Backed Up

We have not had a new MCU film since last July’s Spider-Man: Far From Home and we are certainly overdue. It is hard to believe that soon it will be a year since any new MCU material has come out. Sure, there were the Marvel TV shows that came out in the time period such as Runaways and currently Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. But they are treated as non-entities by the powers that run Marvel Studios to the point that fair arguments can be made that these TV shows are not part of the MCU and can be ignored. But that is an argument for another day.

Anyway, it is hard to accept that for over a year no MCU film has been released. The last time this happened was in 2009 when the MCU was in its infancy and we had plenty of films that year to keep us occupied!

We also would have had the Disney+ TV show The Falcon and the Winter Soldier to look forward to in a couple of months. Originally the program was to stream in August of this year, but that show along with Disney+’s other MCU show for this year, WandaVision, have been delayed because filming stopped earlier this year. The safety of the cast and crew are more important than a schedule but it just plain sucks they could not have finished by the time the pandemic ravaged us. Rumor has it that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier needs to be rewritten and reshot because it supposedly had a storyline about a pandemic and that would not go over well today.

One flaw about the interconnected nature of the MCU is that the films (and soon TV shows) cannot be shown out of order. For example, WandaVision directly leads to the upcoming film Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. It would have been awkward if that film was ready to go before WandaVision was completed but in this case it worked out because the Doctor Strange film has not even begun filming (and its release date has been changed from next year to March 2022). In other words, even though it is a prequel film, Black Widow probably has to be released first before we can see The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and so on. Black Widow has been rescheduled for November 6, 2020. But given the impatient deniers who won’t wear masks or keep social distancing and the ongoing protests it is quite possible that a second wave of the coronavirus will come with a vengeance. So, Black Widow’s new release date is not a guarantee.

Hopefully, Black Widow will not suffer the fate of The New Mutants, a film that has been forever rescheduled. Can anyone believe it was supposed to be released back in 2018? The ironic thing about The New Mutants is that many of us had little interest in the film and gave up on it as a last gasp from the defunct Fox X-Men film franchise. Now, with its latest release date being August 28, 2020, it will be the sole Marvel film fix until the MCU films can be released.

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