“Madame Web” Coming To Sony’s Spider-Verse!

You would think, with Sony having successfully taken Spider-Man away from Disney and Marvel Studios, with all of the character’s huge universe of characters, villains and exciting storylines at their disposal, without having Kevin Feige running the show, without Bob Iger breathing down their backs, without any limitations whatsoever on their creative control over the entire Spider-Verse…you would think Sony would want to do something with all that.

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Well, technically, they are. But this latest Sony announcement, one of their first Spider-Man related news-stories since the Sony/Marvel breakup, is confusing at first because of just how bizarre it is. It’s being reported that Sony is developing a Spider-Man spinoff about a little-known character from the Spider-Verse, Cassandra Webb, who goes by the name “Madame Web”. To call her “little-known” is probably an understatement, in fact. An elderly blind clairvoyant, who needs to be surrounded by a giant mechanical web-shaped life-support system at all times, Webb is…well, she’s not the character that immediately comes to mind when you think of Marvel heroes who deserve their own spinoff films. Green Goblin, Black Cat, Venom, Silk, Silver Sable; those seem like the obvious choices, and already have some strong fans from the comics, and/or have appeared in previous Spider-Man films, so they’re not totally unknown to audiences.

Madame Web, on the other hand, is…not any of that. And unless Sony is taking a radically-different approach to the character, she doesn’t seem like a heroine whose story would make for a great action thriller or superhero epic. If anything, a Madame Web movie could be more introspective and thoughtful, focusing on how Webb uses other heroes to do her bidding, and the moral implications of her actions. It seems like a rather dark subject for a Spider-Man movie, too; watching an old woman forced to sit in the solitude of her webs, while wars rage outside her home, unable to do anything to help. Somehow, Webb’s story seems more like awards season fare, rather than a crowd-pleasing, family-friendly popcorn flick: additionally, the script is apparently being written by Matt Shazama and Burk Sharpless, who are currently developing another Spider-Man spinoff for Sony, about the bloodthirsty vampire Morbius. So, maybe don’t expect Spidey to run into Webb on a school field-trip.

Then again, who knows? Maybe Sony is doing what Marvel Studios did; building up the onscreen personas of little-known characters, preparing for some huge crossover event like an Avengers movie of their own. Webb, whose powers include foresight, would be an invaluable addition to the team, and could work from behind-the-scenes, like a puppet-master of sorts. That would be both slightly creepy and very cool, and seems like it would fit in with the edgier approach that Sony is taking with some of their Spider-Verse acquisitions. Then again, going too dark will lose some of the crucial teenage audiences that turn out regularly for Tom Holland’s Spider-Man movies, so Sony should be careful with their marketing decisions here. And they might also want to start trying to lure in the large part of their Spider-fandom that they lost when they took Spidey away from the MCU: there’s still a lot of resentment toward the studio, resentment which could probably be abated if Sony were to finally use characters like Green Goblin, Doc Oc, the Sinister Six, etc. I just don’t know if Madame Web’s fanbase is big enough to make this film a worthwhile investment, especially now, when Sony has to make good choices and show that they can still be responsible with the great power they now have over Spider-Man.

A final note, though: Sony will presumably soon be on the lookout for an actress to fill the role of Casandra Webb, and I’m urging them to get to Meryl Streep before Marvel scoops her up for some bit part. If there’s anybody who could pull off this difficult role (and possibly bring in some Oscar nominations for Sony), it would be Streep.

What are your feelings on a Madame Web movie, and do you think it’s the content that audiences crave from Sony, post-Marvel? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

The “Broken Women” Of “Black Widow”.

Last night, I began my coverage of Marvel’s San Diego Comic-Con panel with a brief post about what had been revealed at the Black Widow presentation; there seemed to be very little at first – it was a prequel, Florence Pugh would play Yelena Belova, and the film’s villain would be Taskmaster. And that seemed to be it. Boy, was I wrong.

Since then, there’s been a bunch of interviews with the cast of Black Widow (who are about to head back to London for more filming): a lot has been revealed, and we’re going to have to go over it all. Forget basically everything in my initial post. There’s a lot to talk about now.

The big thing about the film, apparently, is that it’s a drama: what with Black Widow herself being something of a small-scale superhero, it makes sense to focus on finding creative ways to make this film stand out, since, honestly, in a universe where Captain Marvel can punch spaceships out of the sky with her bare hands and Thor can harness the power of a dead star, Black Widow’s skills with a baton just aren’t gonna cut it. Scarlett Johansson has revealed that this film is much more intellectual than other Marvel movies: she gets to “talk more” than ever before, and says that there’s a lot of dialogue. It’s an introspective movie that will explore Black Widow’s mental and emotional state during a very interesting period of her life, when she was a fugitive in between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. It looks like, during this time, Black Widow is on her own and trying to figure out her purpose in life when her past suddenly catches up with her and takes her on a wild ride back to places she remembers from her youth – the Red Room and Budapest, for example. The Black Widow we see here is someone who’s a little out of her element, and more than a little scared of what’s happening all around her: but we know from Avengers: Endgame that Widow will eventually pull herself back together and find her moral compass once again, only to have to sacrifice everything she’s won to save the world. Prediction: this film will prove, once and for all, that Black Widow is the most tragic character in the entire MCU.

What she finds on her journey will surprise her: first up, we have Florence Pugh’s character, Yelena Belova. We have a few new details on this elusive Russian assassin – she’s got a complicated history with Black Widow. The footage shown to the crowds at Comic-Con depicted Belova first attempting to murder Widow by strangling her with a curtain before sitting down with her to share a drink. Pugh says that Belova is very strong, but is dealing with her own issues – I think we’ll see Belova struggling between sticking with the Red Room that she’s known for her entire life, or leaving to follow Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, into the great unknown. It’s becoming more and more likely that Belova chooses to take on the mantle of “Black Widow”, when she learns of Romanoff’s self-sacrifice. Can you imagine how shocked the remaining Avengers will be when Belova arrives and introduces herself as Black Widow?

Now, we have a tidbit of information that has me flabbergasted: there’s no Taskmaster in this movie, apparently. Turns out, the footage shown at Comic-Con did not show the hooded villain as was previously reported – no, the character seen in that footage (footage which has not been released online) was a woman, Melina, who becomes the Iron Maiden character from the comics – the footage apparently showed Melina and Black Widow fighting in the wreckage of a fiery car crash. This character will be portrayed by Rachel Weisz, who says of Melina that she is an embittered woman who has been cycled and recycled through the Red Room program five times already, but had never been able to match the skill and prowess of her antagonist, Black Widow. She also mentioned that Melina is part of some scientific project which she couldn’t describe in any detail.

It looks like these three women will be at the center of the film: just as Captain Marvel explored the power of female friendships, Black Widow will probe deep into even more complex relationships of hatred, fear and resentment, as all three are trying to survive in a dangerous world.

But the two confirmed male characters both have interesting storylines as well – David Harbour confirmed that he is playing Alexei, the Red Guardian, a superhuman character born from Cold War conflicts; basically, the Soviet Union’s answer to Captain America. Considering that the Soviet Union disbanded quite some time ago, it would be interesting if Red Guardian was a relic of bygone days, someone who isn’t quite sure what he’s meant to do in a post-Cold War world: rather like Black Widow herself. Harbour promised that his character is very complex, which sounds awesome.

O.T. Fagbenle, meanwhile, is apparently not playing the villain, as previously speculated: instead, he’s a self-described “fixer” named Mason, who helps Natasha because of his romantic feelings for her. He’s a shady guy, who operates an extensive underworld of secret contacts and is always ready to help out his highest-paying customers by giving them emergency backup. He sounds like an interesting fellow, but we don’t know very much else about him yet.

So, now that we’ve gotten all this additional information; what do you think? Are you excited for Black Widow? Do you like the thought of it being a drama? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Taika Waititi To Direct “Thor 4”!

It’s official: Marvel’s Phase 4 line-up will include a fourth chapter in the saga of Norse thunder-god Thor Odinson, continuing on from what was previously believed to be the character’s final solo outing back in 2017, in Thor: Ragnarok. This is huge news – presumably, Marvel wanted to keep it secret for just a few days longer until they could reveal it at San Diego Comic Con, but word has gotten out prematurely.

This is something that a lot of fans have been pushing for, ever since Ragnarok, which proved to be Thor’s most popular film by far, both critically and financially. New Zealand director Taika Waititi brought a fun, zany flair to the character and invigorated what had been one of Marvel’s more stagnant franchises, paving the way for Thor’s hugely expanded role in Avengers: Infinity War, and in Avengers: Endgame. Chris Hemsworth is expected to return to the role, having already admitted that he wants to continue making Thor films, and that he, Waititi, and fellow co-star Tessa Thompson, have all discussed the possibility of a fourth film. Waititi has also been attached to Thor 4, and has in turn delayed production for his live-action Akira anime adaptation for Warner Brothers (poor WB).

As for the plot, that is still completely unknown, but there’s a lot of theories. Thor is expected to at least have a supporting role in the next Guardians of the Galaxy movie, since he joined their team at the end of Avengers: Endgame and was already thinking about renaming the group the “Asgardians of the Galaxy” – something which Guardians director James Gunn has already said won’t be happening: then again, considering that Gunn was recently fired from Disney and is still recovering from his own scandals, he really shouldn’t be calling the shots. But anyway, anything could happen in that film that could affect the plot of a Thor 4.

Another thing to consider is that a fourth film for Thor might not be set in his established homeland of Asgard (since it was destroyed), or even New Asgard, his colony on Earth (since he went off to space). And it also might not include much of the character’s usual supporting cast: aside from Thompson’s character Valkyrie, the rest of them are all kind of…dead. Odin is dead, Loki is dead, the Warriors Three are dead, Heimdall is dead, Lady Sif is just gone, Jane Foster isn’t coming back because Natalie Portman doesn’t want to come back, Hela is supposedly dead (though she’s the Goddess of Death, so I don’t know how that works). This could open the possibility of Thor starting over completely from scratch and gathering an entirely new cast, or it might mean that some of these characters will have to be resurrected. In the case of Loki, that’s not impossible: the trickster god is getting his own Disney Plus series, which suggests that his death in Infinity War was not entirely permanent. As for Hela, she was such a formidable villain, and Cate Blanchett is such an incredible onscreen presence, it seems a waste not to bring her back (especially since we never got to see her as Lady Death, something fans were hoping for before Infinity War came out). Maybe we could even get Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster to return for a brief cameo.

So what do you want to see? Are you happy that Waititi is returning to direct the film? How do you think Warner Brothers must feel about this? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

“Spider-Man: Far From Home” Review – NO SPOILERS!

This movie is such an intricate web (get it? It’s a spider joke…moving along) of plot twists, it requires me to think very hard and carefully about literally ever word I’m using – I don’t want to spoil a single thing in this movie. There are twists within twists, and there are all sorts of tricks and little shockers, plus two of the most incredible post-credits scenes ever, scenes that will be talked about for months to come. And, for this review, we can’t discuss any of them. Not a one. My lips are sealed.

But…uh, if you haven’t seen Avengers: Endgame yet, you might want to go? Because this movie is very closely linked to what happened in Endgame.

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I feel it’s within my right to tell you a little of what to expect, in terms of atmosphere and tone: the film is very much high-school melodrama meets psychological horror – and if you think those two things probably don’t flow together very well, you’d be about partially right. Far From Home does sometimes have a little difficulty with that issue, at least with its supporting cast: specifically Ned (Jacob Batalon), MJ (Zendaya), and Betty (Angourie Rice). These three characters each have pretty sizable roles in the movie, and they often come across as a little…nonchalant? Yes, they’re teenage protagonists, and as such they have all the usual angst and over-the-top cringeworthy awkwardness that we’ve come to expect from teenage protagonists in movies, but it often gets in the way of, and subsequently diminishes the threat of the possibly world-ending catastrophic events happening around them. MJ, at the very least, has a little more dramatic material (and morbid humor) to work with in her role, and she even gets to play detective for, like, five or ten seconds, but she’s mostly here because this movie is truly a teen romance story at its heart, and her romance with Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is sweet enough and cute enough that it works. It’s not the best love story, and it’s a little dumb, but it’s there and I kind of like it, for what it is. It gives Peter an emotional anchor throughout the story.

One of two such anchors, in fact: the other being his attachment to the legacy of the late Tony Stark. Tony’s huge, larger-than-life status as an icon, a hero, a great man, is constantly reiterated through the film – from a heartbreaking opening-credits sequence up until the film’s finale. We are reminded over and over just how much Tony meant to Peter, and to the world. And we can sympathize with Peter’s pain and grief at losing him, and his quest to be the next Iron Man, a superhero that people can believe in. At times it becomes unbearable, and Peter is swallowed up by a claustrophobic panic as people constantly bombard him with questions about whether he’s leading the Avengers now, or what he plans to do if aliens attack again. If you’re a fan of Peter Parker, which I assume you are if you’re planning to go see Far From Home, just prepare for a lot of emotional trauma: because let’s just say…people are going after Peter in this movie in a way we haven’t seen before, kicking him when he’s down, tearing him apart (metaphorically speaking), and he takes a serious beating from it, physically and mentally. There are multiple scenes in this film where I felt like crying on Peter’s behalf, because he is tortured here. So many times, and in so many ways.

I am not kidding when I say there is psychological horror in this movie – in fact, there are multiple instances of it, and it makes the entire second and third acts feel nightmarish. One sequence, in particular, seems to go on and on, as Peter is lured in different directions like a puppet on strings, manipulated and mocked, unable to do anything to prevent all the awful things he’s forced to witness. He is far from home in so many ways.

And home seems particularly appealing now – the dread and gloom of Endgame has mostly passed, and families have been reunited: though, as Peter’s Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) points out early in the film, there have been some humorous consequences to the Snap, when half of the universe was disintegrated, and the subsequent moment when half of the universe suddenly reappeared. The name of that moment is itself pretty humorous, so I won’t spoil it for you. Anyway, the dusted are back, as we knew from Endgame, and people are moving on with their lives, all carefree. Aunt May even has a little flirtatious relationship going on with Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) – that was teased in the trailers, it is not a spoiler. I won’t tell you what ends up happening on that front, though, because it’s funny. There’s a lot of adorable humor in Far From Home, actually – the movie is very cute. Okay, cute might not be the right word, considering all the mental trauma and horrifying imagery, but…um, cute during specific moments that I can’t spoil for you but which I assure you are definitely cute? There’s also a bit of the Disney-Channel factor, at certain points, especially in the third act: it would be difficult to explain what I mean by that without unintentionally spoiling certain moments of tension, but…uh, everybody knows what the Disney-Channel factor is, right? You’ll know it when you see it. It involves the teenage supporting cast, unsurprisingly.

Oh, by the way, there were a bunch of rumors going around that a transgender character and a Muslim character would show up in Far From Home: they do, but their appearances are incredibly brief – though Zoha Rahman did look very stylish in a variety of beautiful hijabs.

Samuel L. Jackson and Cobie Smulders have great chemistry once again, as super spies Nick Fury and Maria Hill. I can’t say too much about them, or their character arcs in this film, because…reasons…but they’re good. Very good.

While we’re treading the fine line between spoilers and nonspoilers, I will give as vague a description of Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio, as is humanly possible. He is very interesting, he’s got a lot of charisma, and he made an impact. That’s it. Gyllenhaal does a really good job, except for one scene where – nope, not saying anything. But it’s just not a great scene. No spoilers!

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And, um, yeah, so there are also these two post-credits scenes that are, like, really important: don’t miss them, because they set up the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a really cool way, and…yeah. That’s pretty much all I can say. This movie is a web, a tightly-knit web of secrets that demand to be talked about in a spoiler review – so go watch the movie! Go watch it, so you can get back here and read my spoiler review, which will be up in no time (well, give me a little time to write it)!

Movie Rating: 9/10

“Black Widow” Movie Adds Another Black Widow!

There’s a lot of news to cover on this front: I would have posted much earlier, when there was a report that Ray Winstone had joined the cast of Marvel’s Black Widow solo movie, but I suspected that a bombshell report would drop in a few days more, so I waited patiently – and I was rewarded.

Black Widow is currently filming in the city of Budapest – an iconic locale in Marvel lore, having been mentioned as the site of some huge battle/catastrophic event by Black Widow herself, and fellow spy Hawkeye, multiple times throughout the Marvel movies. While some maintain that the city is probably being used simply as a stand-in for Russian locations, it gives us at least a little glimmer of hope that we will finally see the origins of this oft-mentioned, never-explained anecdote.

Whether or not we do, we will undeniably see the origins of the Black Widow, Natasha Romanoff – the movie is rumored to be a prequel, exploring Natasha’s years working as a KGB assassin and then as a rogue agent defecting to S.H.I.E.L.D. While this might seem disappointing to fans who want to see the character in the present timeline, you can expect the film to drop all sorts of hints and clues about things that will be very important to the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Marvel president Kevin Feige made this very clear, while also being very vague, when he said, while being interviewed, that, even though he can’t say whether it’s a prequel or not, “there are ways to do prequels where you learn all sorts of things you never knew before”. He actually said quite a few interesting things: I recommend you check it out for yourself here.

Those “things we never knew before” might include all sorts of things – events, big battles, encounters with other superheroes. And that’s what leads us back to Budapest for a minute, just so we can take a look at some very interesting details that might have been inadvertently (or deliberately?) revealed in behind-the-scenes images.

WARNING: this might be considered a spoiler to some, so if you don’t want to know any of the characters who might be in the film, you should go now! Also – Avengers: Endgame spoilers!

The image in questions shows Scarlett Johansson’s stunt double (maybe, we’ll get to that in a moment) riding a motorcycle at dangerously high speed through the streets of Budapest, sporting a long red braid – still no sign of the iconic short red bob-hairstyle that would definitively mark this as a prequel. Her hair still looks very much like how she wore it in her latest appearance in Avengers: Endgame. She’s not alone on the motorcycle: behind her, with arms wrapped around Natasha’s waist, is another woman, with a blond ponytail. She could be anyone, right?

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Well, it could be – except those two women on the motorcycle are apparently stunt dummies, not even stunt doubles. In other words, they’re basically pre-packaged mannequins: who come in packages. Which would necessarily be marked with the name associated with the mannequin inside the package. See where I’m going with this?

Yep, Twitter user @bestofwidows shared pictures of the boxes which apparently carried those dummies – one marked Natasha, the other marked…Yelena.

And the reaction from the general audience is probably similar to Thanos’ when he encounters Scarlet Witch in Endgame“I don’t even know who you are.”

Oh, but you will. Yelena Belova is one of only a handful of well-known characters from the Black Widow comics – a dangerous assassin in her own right, equal to Romanoff in strength and agility, and a student of the Red Room program. Belova has been both a villain and an antihero in her comics appearances, but her most notable run has her initially working against Romanoff, only to team up with her and bring about the defeat of the Red Room. She is virtually a clone of Romanoff in every way, and even uses the moniker “Black Widow”, except that her hair is typically blond. Black Widow actress Scarlett Johansson supposedly had her character dye her hair blond in Avengers: Infinity War as an homage to Yelena Belova – which, naturally, has now begun sparking some rumors that the Black Widow in Infinity War actually was Yelena Belova, and that in this prequel we’ll discover that there never was a Natasha Romanoff or something like that. It’s a cool premise, but highly implausible: more likely is that a young Yelena will be introduced in this upcoming movie and will then make an appearance in the present timeline soon after – similar to how Captain Marvel’s prequel origin film ended with a startling post-credits scene of her arriving at Avengers HQ after the events of Infinity War.

There’s still the slim chance that this movie isn’t, in fact, a prequel: why haven’t we seen Natasha’s classic hairstyle? Why does she seem to be dressed in civilian attire in all the behind-the-scenes photos, such as she wore throughout Avengers: Endgame, rather than her black outfit? I can’t answer those questions yet, but I can propose a theory. Two, in fact.

My first theory relies on the movie being a prequel: I suspect that Budapest is not serving, at least in this case, as a stand-in for a Russian city. I think what we see here is a young Natasha Romanoff rescuing Yelena Belova from the clutches of their KGB captors, trying to bring her into S.H.I.E.L.D custody with her: something will go wrong, and Yelena will not be saved. In this scenario, we might also see Natasha’s friend and lover, Hawkeye, and maybe a team of S.H.I.E.L.D agents attempting to assist the Russian rogues. Ming-Na Wen of the ABC series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has already expressed her wish to be in the Black Widow movie, portraying a younger version of her character, Agent Melinda May. This would be the perfect place to have her appear: and with the recent cameos of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D actors Clark Gregg and Patrick Brennan in Captain Marvel, plus James D’Arcy of the TV show Agent Carter appearing in Avengers: Endgame, it seems like Marvel has begun to embrace its outlying spinoffs for the first time since Avengers: Age of Ultron.

My other theory, while much more unlikely, has basically the same premise, but the setting is now sometime in the post-Endgame universe. Here, Natasha would be brought back to life (there are dozens of theories on how this could be achieved), and would go on a search for her father, Ivan, whose identity was finally revealed to her after years of searching in Endgame, shortly before her death. As one of the last things Natasha would remember, it would make sense for her to try and find her father and any living family members, after being resurrected – this hunt would take her to Russia, where she would run into Yelena Belova and a similarly-resurrected Red Room. It’s unlikely, but still worth mentioning.

Either way, we now know that Yelena Belova is indeed going to be in the Black Widow movie – most likely portrayed by Marvel newcomer Florence Pugh, whose likeness the blond stunt-dummy apparently carries, and who recently arrived in Budapest.

The last bit of news concerning the movie comes from a small, blurry photograph of the film’s first official logo:

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Prepare yourselves for May 2020, folks. We’re in for a ride.

 

You can also watch my video review of this news story on YouTube!