“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!

Mindy Kaling Discusses A “Ms. Marvel” Movie?

With Mindy Kaling’s latest film venture, Late Night, receiving stellar reviews and a lot of buzz for the actress/director, she’s obviously looking at many more successes down the line. Interestingly, one of her next projects could be for Marvel Studios.

Kaling revealed that she has spoken to executives at Marvel with the express intent of pushing for a Ms. Marvel movie, something that Marvel president Kevin Feige has already suggested is in the works. “They’re trying to figure out what to do with it,” Kaling said in an interview, “and I told them I would help in any way, because I truly love her”.

The superhero in question, Ms. Marvel or Kamala Khan, clearly has a lot of emotional significance for Kaling, and it’s not surprising: Kaling is of Indian descent, while Khan is a fiercely outspoken Pakistani American teenager, and the first Muslim lead character in Marvel comics. With Marvel taking a new approach to its characters, turning the spotlight on diverse heroes, it was only a matter of time before Khan was next in line. A Ms. Marvel movie could be a huge cultural phenomenon like Black Panther was – and like the upcoming Shang-Chi and The Eternals probably will be. The main obstacle keeping her from joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe years ago was the absence of Carol Danvers’ Captain Marvel – in comic lore, Carol is Khan’s role model, and Khan, when not acting as a hero in her own right, is generally portrayed as Carol’s sidekick and close friend – the Spider-man to Carol’s Iron Man, so to speak. But now Carol has been introduced to the MCU with huge success, paving the way for a sequel in which we’ll probably see many new characters.

newsweek.com

In fact, Carol might become mentor to not one, but two female superheroes: Kamala Khan and possibly Monica Rambeau. Rambeau was a young girl in the Captain Marvel movie, which took place in the 1990s – that means she’s probably in her thirties now, and, if we’re going by the comics, then she might already have her own set of cosmic superpowers. Thankfully, Captain Marvel actress Brie Larson is more than ready for the responsibility: a few months ago, she said that she also hopes to see Khan in the inevitable Captain Marvel sequel.

Kaling also hinted that Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed is similarly excited about the possibility of a Ms. Marvel movie: while she noted that the movie might head to the Disney Plus streaming platform, if it has Kaling attached as a director and Ahmed as one of the film’s leads, it could be some high-quality entertainment. As for who would play Kamala Khan herself, Kaling didn’t seem to have any fancasts – “I think it might have to be an unknown”, she said.

“Loki” Update!

AVENGERS: ENDGAME SPOILERS! (have you seriously not seen the movie yet? What is taking you so long?)

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been suspiciously quiet these past couple of days: no Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D episode last week, a disappointing trailer for Jessica Jones Season 3 on Netflix, and only a few stray behind-the-scenes images of Scarlett Johansson filming the Black Widow movie. As the release date for Spider-man: Far From Home draws closer and closer, we’re looking towards an uncertain future for the MCU, one populated by largely unfamiliar faces – such as the Eternals, and Shang-Chi, both set to make their film debuts in the next couple of years. Characters like Black Panther, Captain Marvel and Doctor Strange are expected to become the next “holy trinity” of Marveldom, replacing beloved heroes like Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor – well, maybe not Thor: the God of Thunder is still very much alive after the events of Avengers: Endgame, and has jetted off to S P A C E with the Guardians of the Galaxy.

It’s Thor’s brother Loki whom we’re discussing today, however. Loki’s familiar face is now just cosmic ash floating in the space between stars, ever since Thanos strangled him in Avengers: Infinity War, and then snapped his neck, and then blew up his spaceship using the Power Stone – the chances of him ever coming back to life are slim to none at this point. Unless, like many, you believe that Loki got off the spaceship just in time, and it was one of his clones that met a horrible fate at the gloved hand of giant purple Josh Brolin.

But, due to the events of Endgame, Loki doesn’t need to be alive to still be around in the MCU. When the Avengers went back in time to the 2012 Battle of New York, looking for the Space, Time and Mind Infinity Stones, they inevitably ran into 2012 Loki, who had just been defeated by the 2012 Avengers, and was being escorted into S.H.I.E.L.D custody along with the Space Stone. While Captain America was able to snatch the Mind Stone from…himself, and Bruce Banner persuaded the Ancient One to relinquish the Time Stone, the Space Stone wasn’t so easily won. In fact, it wasn’t won at all: due to the present-day Avengers interfering with the 2012 Avengers, Loki ended up grabbing the Space Stone and escaping in a flash of blue light, forcing Tony Stark and Captain America to go even further back in time, to 1970, to get the Space Stone from Tony’s father Howard Stark.

But that’s where things get tricky. At the end of Endgame, Captain America heroically volunteers to go back in time once more and replace all the Infinity Stones they stole, to the exact moment at which they were taken: thus erasing all the messy alternate timelines that had been opened due to the time traveling. The Time Stone will be easily returned to the Ancient One; the Mind Stone can be quietly snuck back into Loki’s scepter; the Space Stone can be put back into its safe in S.H.I.E.L.D HQ, circa 1970…

But Loki’s escape still happens. Captain America would have no way of returning the Space Stone to 2012, because he didn’t take it from the 2012 timeline: he and Tony took it from 1970. In this elaborate game of alternate realities and dimension-hopping, the 2012 Loki is still out there, somewhere in the universe, armed with the Space Stone. And this is a feral, unreformed Loki; one who still wants to kill his brother Thor, and is possibly still suffering from the effects of 2012 Thanos’ mind-control. In other words, this Loki is still a villain, and he has an Infinity Stone, and he needs to be stopped, or else bad things are going to happen.

I’ve already covered in a previous post how the Russo Brothers have suggested that Captain America might take it upon himself to hunt down this rogue Loki and wrestle him back into his proper timeline – but seriously, how is that going to work? We’re talking about Loki, the Trickster God, here. He’s not going to go down easily, and that’s presumably why we’re getting a Loki miniseries on the Disney Plus streaming platform. While the series, titled Loki, has not yet begun filming, it would appear that actor Tom Hiddleston is outfitted, styled and ready to go. Marvel President Kevin Feige was at a meeting for Disney investors and shareholders when he unveiled a picture of Hiddleston looking dark and suave, standing on a city street in full Asgardian costume, in front of a marquee for…Steven Spielberg’s Jaws?

comicbook.com

Now…that’s completely in line with the earliest rumors we had about the show, that it would be a prequel focusing on Loki’s meddling in human history. But the events of Endgame and the hints offered by the Russo Brothers, have suggested that Loki will be using the Space Stone to evade capture and try to make his way back into our present timeline. The Space Stone, however, only gives its user the ability to travel…well, through space. Not through time. There are a few possibilities for why this image shows Loki comfortably situated in the year 1975 – one is that he also has the Time Stone, somehow; by stealing it from the Ancient One? Or from Captain America, when he comes to return it to the Ancient One? This theory seems unlikely. It’s possible that the Space Stone has the power to travel through time as well as space, but that somewhat negates the whole purpose of it being the Space Stone to begin with. Then again, maybe Loki has the power to travel back in time? He’s never had that power before, but maybe. The image could also dispel all those rumors about Loki being about 2012 Loki at all: maybe the things we saw in Endgame were just a cruel misdirect, and the Russo Brothers were lying about Cap’s involvement. Maybe this is from a flashback scene, and the majority of the series isn’t set in the past: but it seems peculiar to tease time travel if it’s not the focus of the show.

We don’t know anything for certain, yet, but we are expected to get more details about Loki and all upcoming Marvel projects at San Diego Comic Con and Disney’s D23 in August. Stay tuned for more information!

“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!

“Falcon & The Winter Soldier” Updates!

Marvel always has something going on – today had been relatively quiet, as the world calmed down after the epic Game of Thrones finale last night, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe still managed to grab some headlines this evening with the news that the upcoming Falcon & The Winter Soldier streaming show for Disney Plus will start filming in the fall, under the direction of Emmy-nominee and BAFTA-winner Kari Skogland, written by Malcom Spellman of Empire; the show will apparently premiere in August of 2020.

This news would be big enough on its own to be worth an entire post, but Marvel went one step further and even teased us with two very intriguing casting-announcements: one being Emily VanCamp, and the other Daniel Brühl, both of whom will be reprising previous roles in the MCU – those of Sharon Carter (Agent 13) and Helmut Zemo, respectively.

The VanCamp reveal might not be so startling if it weren’t for the fact that Sharon Carter’s character has been almost erased from Marvel continuity, just like…well, all her fellow Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, whose existence on the ABC network has left them too far away to share in the enormous success of the MCU proper. Carter’s unfortunate romantic relationship with her great-aunt’s former boyfriend (long story) also made her character unpopular with fans – and certain cast members. Her subsequent disappearance has not done her any favors either: I’m willing to bet most people have either forgotten her entirely or at least have forgotten what role she plays in the MCU – they’d be forgiven for that, because Sharon Carter really has nothing to do in the MCU, except flirt with Steve Rogers at her great-aunt’s funeral (yeah, that’s not creepy at all), or at other randomly inconvenient moments. Bringing her back is an interesting choice, one that could lead to potential complications – maybe this time she’ll end up with her great-aunt’s former boyfriend’s best friend Bucky Barnes, considering that he’s still single.

The Stucky shippers would riot.

Adding VanCamp – and thus, Sharon Carter – to the cast raises the possibility of Martin Freeman’s character Everett Ross also returning, since one of the only things that Carter did in Captain America: Civil War – besides flirting with Steve, of course – was standing solemnly next to Ross. Freeman already hinted that he might return to the MCU at some point after his popularity in Black Panther, so the possibility is open.

But the big reveal is the Daniel Brühl casting – Helmut Zemo was one of the most peculiar and unsettling Marvel villains to date, and his Civil War storyline was basically left open-ended, with Zemo seemingly unfazed by his imprisonment and still smirking when last we saw him: his plan to divide the Avengers, unlike those of many other villains, actually had lasting repercussions in the MCU, and in some part contributed to the crushing defeat suffered at the hands of Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War. The return of Zemo was being rumored a few weeks ago, but the confirmation is an exciting development: in the comics, Zemo heads the Masters of Evil, a team of dangerous supervillains – and, considering how many villains are still around in the MCU, not doing much of anything, there are plenty of candidates to choose from if one were to assemble a team like this: even Marvel president Kevin Feige hinted at the possibility.

So the groundwork has been laid for something truly spectacular – or at least something with potential. With shooting set to begin this fall, it looks like we won’t have to wait long before we get more details on this upcoming project.