Get Ready For Your Head To Explode. Here’s Part Of Phase Four Of The Marvel Cinematic Universe!

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Marvel Studios are back at the 2019 San Diego Comic Con, and as expected, Kevin Feige has been onstage (after officially confirming Avengers: Endgame as the biggest film of all time – sorry Avatar) to announce the next slate of movies we’ll all be getting excited about and buying tickets at the box office for years to come.

First up, on November 6th 2020, will be The Eternals, a huge cosmic adventure featuring more characters created by the great Jack Kirby! Alongside Richard Madden, Bryan Tyree Henry, Don Lee and Kumail Nanjiani, Marvel have landed the big guns of Salma Hayek and Angelina Jolie to star in director Chloe Zhao’s first epic.

Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan then took to the stage to discuss their upcoming limited series for the new Disney Plus channel, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which will also feature Daniel Bruhl reprising his role as Baron Zemo, from Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Next up on the movie front, we’ll see Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The film will finally introduce the real villainy of  arch bad guy The Mandarin (as opposed to Ben Kingsley’s Trevor Slattery in Iron Man 3), to be played by screen legend, Tony Leung. The title role of Shang Chi, the Master of Kung Fu, is taken by Simu Liu (best known for appearing in the TV series, Kim’s Convenience). Awkwafina also stars in the film, which will be released on February 12th 2021 (that’s a great birthday present for me) and be directed by Destin Daniel Cretton.

Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen then came out to promote WandaVision, their limited series for Disney Plus in spring 2021, which will see the Scarlet Witch and Vision in adventures taking place after Avengers: Endgame.

Tom Hiddleston also appeared to announce his Loki mini-series, also for Disney Plus (I guess we’ll all be subscribing to this channel…), also in spring 2021.

Excitingly for yours truly, director Scott Derrickson then came out to announce the fabulously-titled, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (take that, the days of just adding a 2 to the title), which will cast its spell in cinemas May 7th, 2021. “We’re going to make the first scary MCU film,” said Derrickson, making this Doctor Strange fan positively salivate!  The sequel will feature Elizabeth Olsen, as Scarlet Witch teams up with Doctor Strange and it will follow on from the events in the WandaVision series. That subscription just became even more unmissable!

The always wonderful Jeffery Wright came out to announce he would be the voice of The Watcher in What If…?, the first animated series in the MCU, with many actors from across the MCU reprising their roles as voice talent. Streaming exclusively on Disney Plus, in the summer of 2021.

Also for Disney Plus (oh, just take my subscription money already), Jeremy Renner will reprise his role as the Avengers’ ace archer in a Hawkeye series, which it was confirmed will feature the character of Kate Bishop from the comics and also look at more of Hawkeye’s time as Ronin.

The Cinematic Universe gets another fabulous title with Thor – Love and Thunder, reuniting Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, and directed again by Taika Waititi. In even better news, Marvel have persuaded Natalie Portman to return as Jane Foster and (as in Jason Aaron’s run of comics) she will become the female Thor! This, my friends, is going to rock and will hit our theaters, November 5, 2021.

As regular readers of this blog will be more than aware (since we broke the story of its Norwegian location filming) Scarlett Johansson, David Harbour, Florence Pugh, O-T Fagbenle, and Rachel Weisz star in Black Widow. Directed by Cate Shortland, the film lands in theaters May 1, 2020. “I’m looking to wipe out some of that red in my ledger,” said Johansson, and I’m happy we’ll get the chance to see her do that at last. Footage shown at SDCC promises a very Jason Bourne feel, which I’m totally down for.

As if the announcements couldn’t get more insane, the MCU will be reintroducing Blade, the vampire slayer, as played by Academy Award winner (and huge favourite at Out of Dave’s Head), Mahershala Ali! No release date has been announced yet.

Finally, get ready for your geek heads to explode (as mine did), because alongside the likes of Black Panther 2, Guardians of the Galaxy 3 and Captain Marvel 2, Feige also mentioned… New Mutants (which will presumably preclude the some way off introduction of the X-Men) and… huge drum roll for those of who’ve been clamouring for this, Marvel’s First Family, the Fantastic Four!

Okay, so that’s everything announced for Phase Four (and the accompanying TV shows) FOR NOW (well, for the next two years)! Remember we haven’t even mentioned The Avengers or Spider-Man yet. It’s safe to say we’ll be throwing our money at Marvel forever so I’m considering some kind of neural transfer of half my earnings until retirement.

UPDATE: In the crazy rush to put this news piece together, I ascribed New Mutants to be one of the forthcoming projects from Marvel Studios. Fiege actually said “there’s no time left to talk about mutants, and how mutants fit into the MCU.”
This leaves the fate of the Fox New Mutants film up in the air, but bodes well for even more exciting news to come about Marvel’s Mutants, possibly at the forthcoming D23 even in August. Stay Tuned!

Meanwhile, courtesy of the fine folk at JoBlo.com, here’s a handy visual (including all the newly released logos) to help you keep track on the Marvel Madness…

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This Is The End! Avengers: Endgame* *spoiler-free review

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This is, without a doubt, the hardest review I’ve ever had to write, because in order to keep it spoiler-free, there’s really very little I can tell you.

Certainly, in terms of specifics I’m going to tell you absolutely nothing, because the film will work even more effectively if you go in cold. Suffice to say if you’ve seen any of the trailers, you know nothing, Jon Snow!

So, let’s keep this general: directors Joe and Anthony Russo, and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, left the universe in a much-reduced place this time last year – cosmic villain Thanos (father of Gamora and Nebula, from the Guardians of the Galaxy films) achieved his aim to place the Infinity Stones in his gauntlet, snapped his fingers and wiped out half the population of the universe in an instant. The Avengers, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, lost.

Avengers: Endgame picks up some twenty-plus days later, the remaining heroes split asunder in different corners of the galaxy, in bad places both geographically and emotionally.

What happens next is, quite simply, astonishing. The structure of the (three hour long and not a dull moment) film is continually surprising: the first thirty incredibly intense minutes arguably take the story where you might have expected the entire film to go, and then you’re left with two and a half hours of some of the most bravura narrative you’re likely to see in a franchise movie for a long time.

That the film acts as a total summation of Marvel Studios’ bold and innovative, ten year, interconnected, multi-franchise, long form storytelling is perhaps no surprise: this is where we, and the characters, have been heading all along. But the sheer level of smarts on display is something to be admired.

Because the story is concluded so satisfyingly should not however, lull you into thinking this is an easy ride. The fact we’ve had so long to become attached to these characters means that Marvel pull out all the stops to put the audience through an emotional wringer: I can honestly say I lost count of the amount of times I cried, but I can tell you there were tears of both sadness and joy.

I sat with a goofy grin on my face, with tears of pure happiness streaming down my face, at the audaciousness of the penultimate forty-five minutes. And in the last fifteen minutes the real tears began. To be clear, the film left me a total wreck.

This unrestrained emotional response is a testimony to the genuine skill not only of the storytellers, but also of the actors. I’m sure it would be so very easy to coast through roles like these, but there isn’t a single moment where the cast aren’t completely in the moment.

There is a strand, an emotional arc involving Thor, where the balance between comedy and pathos strains to tip too far in one direction, but Chris Hemsworth manages to keep things just in check.

There might also be an argument to be made that some of the solutions (and yes, I’ll avoid details) lead to a little head-scratching which will no doubt fuel fan arguments for months to come.

It’s also fair to say that while all previous Marvel films have strived to pay-off for both casual viewers and fans, Avengers: Endgame, rightly, is full-on about resolution, and therefore will probably leave newbies wondering what the heck is going on. But after ten years, that’s perfectly right and fair. And earned.

But these are very minor negative points in what can only really be considered as Marvel’s crowning achievement.

Avengers: Endgame not only gives you everything you could possibly have wanted from this finale, but also gives you so much more in terms of narrative twists and turns, satisfying emotional arcs, thematic pay-offs for threads linking almost every single Marvel film and genuine surprises, particularly for those of us who’ve been along for the ride for the past decade.

And while there are plenty of seeds for the next Phases of Marvel movies (interestingly, Phase 3 officially ends with Spider-Man: Far From Home, in July), you’d better believe this is the end, beautiful friend.

This Is The End – Avengers: Infinity War * spoiler free review

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The Marvel films have always struggled with villains, it’s a frequently heard complaint that few villains beyond Loki and, arguably, Erik Killmonger, have left too much of an impression. So let’s get this right out there – not only was Thanos worth waiting for, but he instantly ranks at the top of the hall of infamy.

There was concern that the Mad Titan would be a let down, that he couldn’t possibly live up to the almost ten-year build which has led us to this point. But the combination of a wonderfully layered performance from Josh Brolin and superlative animation effects work brings Jim Starlin’s deranged creation to full, terrifying life in Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War.

This feat is even more impressive in a film which (as I’m sure you know from the hype) brings together all the expected characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and perhaps even some unexpected ones).

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo (and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) do a splendid job of pulling together an increasingly active number of franchises, giving most characters a neat arc and/or several great moments, though there are exceptions, inevitable even with a two-hour forty minute running time, and a certain amount of shorthand is definitely at play. That they manage this without spending an hour on exposition is a minor miracle, and a testament to deft storytelling (and the good will engendered by eighteen previous films).

There’s an undeniable frisson of excitement (especially for a Marvel geek like me) to see new combinations of characters, having Spider-Man and Doctor Strange interact left me with the biggest grin on my face, but the filmmakers know they need more than just a Marvel Team-Up to make a satisfying film.

There are real stakes here, literally the fate of the universe (or half of it… you’ll see…) hangs in the balance, with a number of different strands occurring in different locations on different worlds, and the action feels all the more vital because Marvel have taken the time to build these worlds and make us care for the characters. And it’s no spoiler to say your emotions will really be put through the wringer – I wept a solitary, manly tear on more than one occasion.

But don’t think the threat of the universe coming to an end or talk of tears means it’s all doom and gloom: this is a thrill-a-minute adventure that hits the ground running and barely lets up on the action, but as usual it’s mixed in with some fabulous and funny character interplay – Thor with Peter Quill and Doctor Strange with Tony Stark bring unexpected delights.

There’s also a distinct feel here of the beginning of a changing of the guard – the first ten years of Marvel movies has seen a very definite roster of characters and Infinity War shows us that the company’s willingness to shake things up is part of what makes them so successful, and which lends even more weight to the story, of course. Even the obligatory post-credit scene nods in that direction (it’s a nod that literally made me whoop in the cinema).

Is there a downside to all this? I suspect that a casual filmgoer would be rather lost but y’know in that case, get with the Marvel game like the rest of the population, I guess.

Avengers: Infinity War is a huge, and hugely exciting, comic book, sci-fi epic that really sees the gutsy long-game approach taken by Marvel pay off, giving us the Empire Strikes Back of their bold, long form narrative, and finally giving the Marvel Cinematic Universe its own Darth Vader, a cosmic villain with a welcome emotional core.

And really, so as not to wander into the spoiler zone, that’s about all I can say, except that this is the huge Marvel adventure we’ve been waiting for.

This is the end*… but bring on May 3, 2019 and Avengers 4 as soon as possible please, I only have so many fingernails left to chew through.

*Speaking of the end, you KNOW to stay right through to the very end of the credits, right…!?

Here Comes Thanos! The Final Avengers: Infinity Wars Is Rather Exciting.

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There’s really not a heck of a lot I can say about this trailer. If you’re not down for Marvel’s All-Star Mash Up by now then there’s probably nothing more here to convince you. You are hopelessly wrong, of course.

For the rest of us, April 27th really can’t arrive quickly enough as Avengers: Infinity War is the beginning of the culmination of ten years of narrative and the chance to see all of Marvel’s flagship characters facing off against the big, bad and purple cosmic Trump, Thanos (as played by Josh Brolin). And seen here? Spider-Man and Dr.Strange, together on screen for the first time! Oh boy! Captain America going mano y mano with Thanos! Gosh!

Marvel have gotten particularly adept and not blowing their wads in trailers and this still feels mighty restrained to me. What do you think? Are Marvel still playing their cards close to their chests?

I’ll see you in the theater in just over a month. I’ll be the one hyper-ventilating.

Have You Heard The One About Thor: Ragnarok?

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Thor: Ragnarok has laughs. Plenty of them. Perhaps too many. Allow me to explain…

I’ll start by saying there is a huge amount to love about Marvel’s third solo outing for the God of Thunder. First of all it’s the most fully rounded vision of Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby’s four-colour hero to date, Kirby’s cosmic visuals are like a roadmap for Thor: Ragnarok. It’s also yet another step forward for both the Thor solo franchise and indeed the Marvel Cinematic Universe in embracing its comic book roots.

There’s little desire to coddle non-comic book fans with grounded scenes set on Earth (and the whistle-stop moments we do get on our home planet actually push things into even geekier comic books realms, particularly in one cameo sequence, teased at the end of a previous movie). Within the first twenty minutes or so we’ve been taken to Hell (or the Norse equivalent), Asgard (including another couple of genuinely jaw-dropping cameos), Earth and then into the vast reaches of outer space. It’s all colourful, exciting and breathtaking, and the pace doesn’t really let up, cutting between Thor’s adventures in space and events back on Asgard.

We’re also given the best version of the onscreen Hulk yet, realised by Mark Ruffalo along with state of the art mo-cap, animation and fine attention to detail with character so he now has full Hulk-speak dialogue scenes (and jokes) with other characters. Special mention to Tessa Thompson too, for giving us a delightful, kick ass version of a much-loved Marvel character. I really hope we see more of her in future movies. Idris Alba is given a little more screen time as Heimdall but still feels wasted. Director Waititi features as another comic character, alien stone man Korg, engaging and pretty much played for laughs.

The film also mostly succeeds in breaking the curse of the underwhelming Marvel villains by giving us several of them, all in various hues and shades of villainy. Cate Blanchett is obviously having a bad guy ball as Hela, Queen of the Underworld, Karl Urban crops up to reaffirm his geek cred as Skurge, The Executioner, there’s the ever mercurial Loki brilliantly essayed by Tom Hiddleston, of course, plus we have Jeff Goldblum doing his best Jeff Goldblum thing as The Grandmaster. They’re all layered, interesting and fun.

Ah yes, then we get to the laughs. Ragnarok might best be described as Marvel’s first comedy, so far do Waititi and his team push the humour of the film. I’m all about seeing Marvel broaden their canvas, playing with expectations and giving each film a fresh tone,  an approach that’s paid dividends with the likes of James Gunn and it mostly pays off here as this is most definitely a Taiki Waititi film. It’s an approach which should help the longevity of Marvel movies and keep audiences on their toes (and anyone who thinks of Marvel films as being cookie cutter affairs really needs to open their eyes to the palettes of movies as far apart as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and now Thor: Ragnarok).

So far, so Marvel dandy. However, we’re also here for the drama, and occasionally the jokes are laid on so relentlessly in Thor: Ragnarok that they frequently end up severely undercutting the drama.

A major event, foreshadowed all the way through, actually comes to pass near the end of the movie. It should be quite the dramatic moment, as it affects most of the characters and shakes up some of the status quo of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So, a big deal. There’s a nice, humorous set up to the moment, then straight after it happens any drama arising from the scene is wiped out with a not particularly firing-on-all-cylinders quip. It’s unnecessary, and damaging to our empathy for the characters we’ve been following for six years since Kenneth Branagh’s first Thor movie. That’s quite an investment, and one that takes a hit for the sake of a throwaway gag.

I should reiterate, Waititi and Marvel have produced a top-notch film which will undoubtedly leave you with a smile on your face and the knowledge you’ve spent a good night out at the cinema. But finding that sweet spot between drama and humour takes a careful aim, and this time it feels like Thor’s hammer missed the target by a few inches.

New Thor: Ragnarok Trailer Rocks! Plus Marvel News…

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Thor: Ragnarok, the third solo outing for the Thunder God, looks like it will be taking its cue from James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy films by letting director Taika Waititi up both the humour levels and the outer space weirdness. It will also feature Thor and the Hulk going medieval on each other, of course.

 

Meanwhile, some titbits were revealed concering other forthcoming Marvel movies:

From Ant-Man & The Wasp, the big new casting news is that Michelle Pfieffer will play the first iteration of the Wasp (and Michael Douglas’s wife), Janet Van Dyne.

Laurence Fishburne will play Dr. Bill Foster (aka Goliath)

In Captain Marvel (played by Brie Larson), the villains will be infamous alien shapechangers, the Skrulls, and the film will be set in the 1990s!

Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson, of course) will appear, and with both eyes!

Thor: Ragnarok goes into battle on October 25th, Ant-Man and the Wasp fly on July 6, 2018, and Captain Marvel saves the day on March 8, 2019.

UPDATE: Marvel have just released this madly beautiful poster for Thor: Ragnarok which looks like it ate ALL the e-numbers…

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