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?

Twitter | @builtfromhope

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:

Twitter | @ripmarvel

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!

“Shang-Chi” Updates!

With Marvel Studios already working around the clock to get Black Widow and The Eternals into production this year (with Black Widow having literally just started), as well as Disney Plus shows such as Falcon & The Winter Soldier and WandaVision, there seemed to be little doubt that upcoming movies such as Black Panther 2, Doctor Strange 2, Guardians of the Galaxy 3 and Shang-Chi would have to wait until 2020 to start shooting.

But Marvel continues to be marvelous: in a surprising move, it looks like Shang-Chi will start shooting this fall, in Australia, under the direction of Asian-American director Destin Daniel Cretton, who has previously worked with other Marvel stars such as Captain Marvel actress Brie Larson. This could even be an indication of Marvel’s confidence in the film, if they’re giving it precedence over established franchises such as Black Panther and Guardians. This puts Shang-Chi firmly in place to make the February 2021 release date that I had previously speculated would be reserved for the Black Panther sequel. It does make a lot of sense when you realize that it will land on Chinese New Year.

Shang-Chi, the story of a Chinese martial artist fighting his villainous father, will be the first Asian-led Marvel film: while we don’t yet know who will be playing the protagonist himself (expect that announcement at San Diego Comic Con), we have some clues as to who else will be in the movie. Two character breakdowns have been released, and it seems that Marvel is looking for an Asian male and an Asian female to fill the roles of a “wise, old statesman” and a “skilled warrior”, respectively. Even though these hints are vague, fans have been quick to jump to the conclusion (partly supported by Marvel President Kevin Feige himself) that that “wise, old statesman” is none other than Shang-Chi’s evil father, The Mandarin. You may or may not remember The Mandarin from the Iron Man movies, and you might remember that the real Mandarin’s identity was never discovered, leaving the character something of an enigma in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And that would have probably been how he remained, were it not for Shang-Chi’s comics backstory.

You see, the original 1970s Marvel comics in which Shang-Chi was first introduced also portrayed his father as a blatantly racist stereotype – even down to his name, Fu Manchu (and his accompanying Fu Manchu mustache). Obviously, the character was hugely important to the story, but could never be included in the movie. Which is why, suddenly, The Mandarin becomes so important – this question-mark of a character can easily become Shang-Chi’s father, filling the role of the problematic Fu Manchu, and giving us a fitting conclusion to a lingering question at the same time. It’s no surprise that this is one of the biggest fan-theories currently surrounding the Shang-Chi movie.

As for the “skilled warrior”, it’s probable that this is Fah Lo Suee (not to be confused with the Fah Lo Suee of the 1960’s Fu Manchu franchise), also known as the “Cursed Lotus” or Lin Tang, a criminal mastermind and ring-leader who finds herself at odds with her brother, Shang-Chi, time and time again. There’s a really interesting family drama at the heart of this story that can, hopefully, be explored in great depth. Even the dynamics among Odin’s family in the Thor franchise can’t rival the sort of back-stabbing, deceit and competition that goes on in Shang-Chi’s family of gangsters, smugglers and mercenaries.

What would you like to see from the Shang-Chi movie? Leave your own thoughts in the comments below, and expect more updates soon!

“Black Widow” Begins Filming!

Marvel’s highly-anticipated Black Widow solo movie was expected to begin filming next month, at Pinewood Studios in London, but apparently things have been moving quicker than anticipated, as leaked photos show that Black Widow star Scarlett Johansson has arrived in Norway.

Johansson touched down in the ├śrsta Municipality in a private plane, but cameras still managed to catch a glimpse of her (or, at least, someone who looks identical to her) being driven around the picturesque Norwegian landscape. However, it seems like the actress is here, not for sightseeing, but for filming, as other photos show signs with Black Widow‘s working title “Blue Bayou” written on them in a distinctly Cyrillic typeface. The Russian assassin Natasha Romanoff is clearly on her way to Norway.

@bestofwidows | Twitter

There’s no good reason as to why, just yet, but it’s easy to imagine that Norway, with its fjords, mountains and miles of uncharted wilderness, could be the perfect place for some impressive action sequences, or a secret KGB hideout. Norway is also, notably, where Thor builds New Asgard in Avengers: Endgame, but it seems unlikely that there’s any correlation – Black Widow is expected to be a prequel, set before the events of Romanoff’s first appearance in Iron Man 2. Other rumors, yet to be confirmed, suggest that the movie will take place in between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, following Romanoff as she flees from the law and the restrictions of the Sokovia Accords, helped by a rogue Steve Rogers. The problem with that scenario is that the film would kind of need…Steve Rogers, not to mention Falcon, and possibly Scarlet Witch and Vision. Those would be all great additions to the film’s cast, admittedly, but this is a solo film, not a team-up, and Captain America’s time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is supposedly over. It’s probably best to keep the focus on Widow herself, and have it be a prequel, where we can finally learn the truth about the Red Room program, and maybe even see some classic comics characters like Yelena Belova (expected to be portrayed by Florence Pugh, of Fighting With My Family).

That doesn’t rule out the possibility of characters like Hawkeye and Nick Fury appearing, since both had close relationships with Black Widow. And it seems likely that we’ll finally see what happened in Budapest. Rumors have been circulating like wildfire – most recently, some speculation that star David Harbour will be playing The Thing, one of the Fantastic Four, in Black Widow…despite the fact that this (a) makes no sense, and (b) wouldn’t work due to the timing of the Disney/Fox merger.

One last thing to note is that Scarlett Johansson was wearing the red braids she sported in Avengers: Endgame, not the iconic short red haircut seen in earlier films, or even her curly hairstyle from Iron Man 2. While it’s possible that this was Johansson’s own stylistic choice, it’s definitely an intriguing one, one that might bode well for the many people who want this movie to be a sequel. The behind-the-scenes video showing Johansson’s hairstyle can be found here.

With filming having now begun, expect more updates, castings, and theories to follow!