Black Panther concept art by Ryan Meinerding.
Not long after I finished writing up the Doctor Strange casting announcement, Marvel Studios dropped Thor’s hammer on the internet by holding a press event yesterday, in which they laid out their cinematic plans for the next five years. In all, there will be eleven Marvel movies released in that time, which averages out to two a year.
When you consider the fact that main rival Warner Brothers/DC Comics recently announced ten movies into 2020 — and judging by THE DARK KNIGHT RISES and MAN OF STEEL, it’s fair to have much less faith that these will be as good as Marvel’s imminent output — you have to shudder at the prospect of comic-book superheroes dominating the landscape so resolutely, even if you’re a fan. The war is over. The nerds won. The natural order has been entirely inverted. Superhero movies are now as widely popular as sports. Be careful what you wish for. Sure, for fanatic types, this month’s news cycle has been a bumper crop. But for longtime comic-book fans like myself who also enjoy branching out and watching films for actual grown adults, shit is getting ominous.
That said, at least one of these movies has me just as excited as anybody else is excited about the rest of them.
Let’s take a quick look at the schedule. Here’s a fitting soundtrack to listen to while we go through it.
Marvel announced nine movies yesterday, some many suspected and a couple surprises, but let’s not forget the two we already knew about for sure.
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON will pummel the box office on May 1st, 2015. Here’s the trailer if you haven’t seen it already. (I haven’t, and I’m starting to feel like the Omega Man.) Original AVENGERS director Joss Whedon again wrote and directed, and the nation’s new $1000 bill is set to be minted with his face on it. I think he’s great, so I’m excited for this movie as much because he wrote it as because it’s full of superheroes and robots and such. I’m not particularly interested in the new characters (since I’d rather see old favorites like Hawkeye get more screen time) and particularly not enthusiastic about the actors cast to play Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, since both of those kids bored the shit out of me in GODZILLA, but it’s hilarious to me that James Spader is playing the maniacal robot dictator Ultron, and that makes up for plenty.
ANT-MAN arrives two months later, on July 17th, 2015. Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish wrote the script, which has since been re-written by Adam McKay (who, just speculating, I would still bet will get in the ring for a shot at directing one of the upcoming Marvel Movies). Wright infamously left the director’s seat and was replaced by Peyton Reed (BRING IT ON). Paul Rudd stars as the title character, whose super-power is to get extremely small. He’s called Ant-Man because he rides them! I’m guessing this one will be more of a family movie than most. Remember that Marvel is now owned by Disney, the same studio who made HONEY I SHRUNK THE KIDS, which prominently featured a benevolent ant character. Hopefully this movie won’t defame scorpions the same way.
The third CAPTAIN AMERICA movie was the first of Marvel’s new announcements yesterday. Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige confirmed that Robert Downey Jr. will appear as Iron Man, as will Chadwick Boseman (who played Jackie Robinson in 42) in his first appearance as the Black Panther. The subtitle CIVIL WAR is telling. If you’re a comic-book fan, it’s not impossible to see where this is headed. In the Civil War comic book series, Captain America and Iron Man find themselves on opposing sides of a heated issue, leading to multiple incidents of superhero-on-superhero crime. It stands to reason that whatever happens in AVENGERS 2, it will culminate in the friendship between Downey’s Iron Man and Chris Evans’ Captain America fracturing. I could be wrong. I hope so. I’d hate to think that I’m contractually obligated to see all of these movies and there are no surprises in them for me. (I’m not much of a fan of the Civil War comic book series, and I thought the second CAPTAIN AMERICA was heading in a more promising direction.)
The main DOCTOR STRANGE announcement was the release date. We already know who’s playing him. The idea of this movie is to introduce the supernatural element into the Marvel movie universe. I’m all for it, if it means the Werewolf By Night is coming.
This summer’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY was a lot of fun, and now we know for sure that a sequel is coming, and when. I’d figure we’re going to see more of Josh Brolin as Thanos, and in turn an added focus on Zoe Saldana’s character Gamora, who has a personal connection to the Marvel Universe’s “Big Bad”, as Joss Whedon would call him.
Ragnarok is, in Norse mythology, the end of the world, the twilight of the gods. All we really know about THOR 3 as of now is the subtitle and the release date, but from the subtitle we can rightly imagine that some seriously apocalyptic shit is going to go down. As somebody who’s concerned about the expanding running times and the mounting clamor of these movies (and as no particular fan of the Thor character), this is the one I’m dreading. How much can these movies keep escalating the epic calamity? In the first movie Thor fought a giant robot. In the second he took on a LORD OF THE RINGS styled army. This one’s bound to be bigger still. My head hurts already.
Okay, now for this one I’m amped. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the pages of Fantastic Four, the Black Panther made history as Marvel’s first black superhero. To be played on screen by Chadwick Boseman, he’s the third or fourth black Marvel hero, after Sam Jackson as Nick Fury, Anthony Mackie as the Falcon, and Idris Elba as that brother with the five-foot-tall Lo Pan helmet in the Thor movies. Sure it’s cool that a black superhero is finally getting his own movie, and that’s news, but the Black Panther specifically has always been one of my favorite Marvel characters.
The Black Panther out of costume is T’Challa, prince of the imaginary African nation of Wakanda, whose costumed alter ego is a tribal tradition — a unique spin on the secret identity trope of superhero comics. Beyond the fact that Black Panther looks even cooler than Batman, though like Batman he kicks tons of ass without needing superpowers, he’s also a brilliant scientist on the level of Tony Stark. Just a great character, and one long worthy of a feature film. The closest I’ve ever gotten was SHAFT IN AFRICA. The fact that I’m now getting the real deal is a thrill I will gladly accept on behalf of my twelve-year-old self.
It’s still hard to comprehend that the world has gotten so nerd-friendly that something as unrepentantly goofy as Marvel Studios releasing a movie called CAPTAIN MARVEL is really happening. Imagine a big-budget movie called SERGEANT SONY, or CHIEF PETTY OFFICER PARAMOUNT. The big news with CAPTAIN MARVEL is that this is the first time Marvel is giving the lead role to a female superhero. That is big news, and in this case I’m more excited about that than I am about the character herself, who dates back to the 1970s at least but who I never had a handle on as a fan. (There are a bunch of Captain Marvels in comics.) Without taking anything away from the important development of a prospective female superhero franchise, I do notice how the equality-now advocates (who I stand with entirely, by the way) nonetheless seem to have a narrow focus. Why is this conversation always just about women and black people? Women and black people are some of my very favorite people, don’t get me wrong for a second, but diversity is about more than that. The largest minority interest in America — by far — is the Hispanic population. When are those folks going to get to see a Latin superhero on screen? Danny Trejo can’t do everything, you know.
Also introduced by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the pages of Fantastic Four, the Inhumans are a race of super-powered people who live in a kingdom on the far side of the moon. It’s a monarchy. Their ruler is a guy named Black Bolt — no relation to Black Panther — who never speaks, because his voice can level entire cities. He’s the least bizarre character of the group, which includes a lady with super-powered hair, a merman, a centaur, and a gigantic pug dog with a tuning fork on his head. (Don’t ever drop LSD while Googling, kids.) There are no details on THE INHUMANS movie so far, other the fact that it’s coming. And thank God for that, seriously, because I’m in favor of anything that makes the world a little more weird.
This is the movie where the Avengers finally fight that purple guy who showed up at the end of AVENGERS, way back in May of 2012. So basically, all of the Marvel movies have been building to this one, which in the grand tradition of TWILIGHT and THE HUNGER GAMES and THE HOBBIT, has been split into two. So now don’t you feel bad about making fun of those movies? Everybody’s a nerd for something. And in a time of Civil Wars and Infinity Wars, maybe that call for unity is the place to leave this conversation. For now.
What’s so civil about war, anyway?
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