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!

“Thor: Love And Thunder” Adds A New Thor!

That title possibly counts as clickbait. No, Chris Hemsworth is not being replaced in the role of the thunder-god Thor. But he will be joined by a new Thor in his upcoming fourth film, which was officially revealed last night at Marvel’s San Diego Comic-Con presentation.

First of all, let’s just talk about the fact that the titles revealed at SDCC are some of the craziest, most over-the-top names I’ve ever heard – Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings; Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness; WandaVision. But it’s this one, Thor: Love And Thunder, that takes the cake and eats it too. It’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from director Taika Waititi, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Let him be crazy, because he does it really well, and it’s brought about some of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most memorable moments – like Jeff Goldblum strutting around in a sparkly gold bathrobe, or Cate Blanchett with antlers, or…literally everything in Thor: Ragnarok, honestly. But Waititi’s craziness also meant that, when he took over the Thor franchise, he basically had to change a lot of stuff in order to make it work for him – victims of his beautifully bizarre style included the Warriors Three, Odin, and Jane Foster.

Now, technically, Jane Foster’s sudden disappearance from the MCU wasn’t really his fault. Actress Natalie Portman had played the one-dimensional “scientist girlfriend” character in two films already, and had been reduced to a damsel in distress on multiple occasions. She was bored with the character, she had no interest in the stagnant franchise, and she wanted out. She got out. So out, in fact, that it was something of a miracle when she “appeared” in Avengers: Endgame via recycled footage from Thor: The Dark World, and was even given her own title-card in the film’s credits. It seemed almost like an apology to the character that Marvel had overlooked, ignored, and eventually had to scrap because of their creative mistakes. In Thor: Ragnarok, she didn’t even get that – just a brief line from Thor about how she had broken up with him, and that was it. It wasn’t long before the god of thunder was making eyes at Valkyrie, the alcoholic warrior goddess/mercenary.

Well, two things have happened since then: one, Valkyrie is now openly bisexual, and has no interest in Thor, despite his flirtatious advances. Actress Tessa Thompson has made that clear in the past, but she confirmed it onstage last night, with Marvel president Kevin Feige’s approval, and Feige commented afterwards that Valkyrie will indeed be in a relationship with another woman in Thor: Love And Thunder. In fact, Thompson suggested that Valkyrie will be actively searching for a Queen to rule alongside her as she leads the people of New Asgard into an uncertain future.

The other big thing? Oh yeah, Natalie Portman is returning to the MCU for Thor: Love And Thunder, and, oh right, she’s still playing Jane Foster but this is Jane Foster as female Thor, and, I almost forgot to mention, she can wield Mjolnir now, and I am honestly about to pass out.

It was shock-and-awe last night: when Natalie Portman came onstage to accept the Hammer of Thor from Taika Waititi, Marvel fans around the world were absolutely flabbergasted. Certain fans went online to cheer and applaud the brave decision; others went online to complain bitterly about feminists taking over the MCU. The reaction to this has been incredible to watch. It was easily one of the biggest highlights of the presentation: Portman is obviously excited to be back, and this time she (and we) can be assured that she’s not going to be anybody’s boring-love-interest-sidekick – nope, this time around, she’s a superhero in her own right. It remains to be seen whether or not Waititi will adapt some of the other aspects of Jane Foster’s character from the comics: specifically, the fact that she is diagnosed with cancer and eventually passes away. Waititi is capable of inserting powerful emotion into his generally funny stories, as the death of Odin in Thor: Ragnarok proves.

Finally, yes, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor will still be in the movie, though there’s not actually any confirmation of whether or not the “Thor” in the title refers to him or Lady Thor. We’ll presumably find out when the films arrives in theaters November 5th, 2021.

“Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings”!

Last night’s Marvel presentation at San Diego Comic-Con included a lot of fancy title reveals – and really long titles at that. Shang-Chi was no exception, as it was graced with the subtitle: “Legend of the Ten Rings”, a moniker packed with meaning. Let’s dive into it.

Okay, so the Ten Rings are a shadowy terrorist organization in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, something that has only ever been glimpsed from the sidelines. They are supposedly commanded by a character known as The Mandarin, who was the focal point of a very unpopular Iron Man 3 plot twist, in which The Mandarin was revealed to be a random guy named Trevor Slattery, who was basically just a front for a different organization entirely. But, thankfully, there was still a loophole: turns out, The Mandarin does exist, according to the oft-forgotten one-shot All Hail The King, in which Slattery was abducted from the prison by Ten Rings agents and forced to give his name back to the man he had stolen it from – The Mandarin himself. While we never saw the criminal mastermind onscreen, his presence has lurked in the dark sidelines of the MCU. His arch-nemesis, Tony Stark, is now obviously unable to face off against him (being, you know, dead and all), but it looks like The Mandarin won’t be getting off the hook just yet.

That’s right – the Ten Rings, who haven’t been seen since a cameo in the first Ant-Man movie, are returning to wreak havoc in Phase 4 of the MCU. And this time, it’s one of their own who will have to stop them and their nefarious plots: Shang-Chi, who, at least in comics lore, is the heroic son of The Mandarin, will be the star of the upcoming film Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings, to be released on February 12th, 2021. While there was no official confirmation that the film would be following the comics in that regard, we do have casting for both roles.

Shang-Chi himself will be portrayed by Chinese-Canadian actor Simu Liu, in one of the night’s biggest surprise announcements. It’s no wonder, though, that nobody had even a hint of this story going into the panel – Liu only screen-tested for the role last Sunday, and was cast on Tuesday. I don’t know him from anything, but his enthusiasm is unquestionable, so I think we’re in pretty good hands – whether those hands are the “Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu”, as the character was known in the comics, remains to be seen.

As for The Mandarin, he will be portrayed by an Asian actor as well: Chinese screen legend Tony Leung, in fact. Again, I am unfamiliar with most of his work, but he definitely looks imposing – I can’t wait to see how he plays the character: will he be a suave mob-boss or a sinister villain? The Mandarin has been built up so much – I really hope he doesn’t disappoint.

And, in one final bit of casting news that nobody anticipated, Asian comedian Awkwafina, star of Crazy Rich Asians and The Farewell, will be the film’s female lead, though her role is still unnamed as of yet. As a fan of Awkwafina, I’m very excited to see what she can do with this role, and whether it will be comedic or more dramatic. It would be cool to see her as a warrior or gangster: it’s even possible that she’ll be playing Shang-Chi’s villainous sister, Zheng Bao Yu.

How do you feel about this cast? Do you like the premise? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

“Eternals” Cast!

If there was one Marvel project that we knew virtually nothing about going into San Diego Comic Con, it was Eternals – Chloe Zhao’s upcoming movie about immortal alien gods trying to protect the earth from other alien gods called Deviants. This was all partially due to the fact that nobody really knew anything about the Eternals comics (not surprising, considering they haven’t been in print for quite some time), and because there were a whole bunch of rumors about the film that ended up becoming huge headlines from various media outlets, headlines which eventually turned out to be untrue (or, at least, haven’t been confirmed yet).

One such rumor, for instance, was that Marvel’s first openly gay character would be one of three male stars in the film, and would most likely be the Greek God Hercules. Well, last night, four of the male stars of Eternals came onstage – and not one of them was playing Hercules. There’s still a lot of speculation, though, because…well, there’s a lot of chaos going on. First of all, Richard Madden was confirmed to be playing one of the main Eternals, Ikaris – we kind of knew or guessed that already. But the trades have all been reporting that Ikaris was going to be most definitely straight, and in a romantic relationship with the character of Sersi, believed to be played by Angelina Jolie. Last night, though, not only was it revealed that Angelina Jolie is playing a completely different character named Thena – it was also notable that nobody was confirmed to play Sersi. As of this writing, there is no Sersi in Eternals: arguably the only character from this film that even comic-book readers might have a chance at recognizing – isn’t there. So, yeah, in her absence, it’s entirely possible that Ikaris is the film’s gay character – and there’s been lots of (still unconfirmed) speculation that Richard Madden himself is gay, so who knows?

Obviously, the big news was that Jolie would not be playing Sersi, the enchantress and fun-loving witch: personally, that makes me very happy, because the character of Sersi absolutely 100% needs to be played by comedian Jameela Jamil. Oh yeah, and while Jolie takes on the role of the warrior Thena, the actress previously reported for that role, Salma Hayek, will actually be playing Ajak, the leader of the Eternals. But there were many other surprises:

Makkari, the super-speedy Eternal based on the Roman god Mercury, will not be played by Pakistani comedian Kumail Nanjiani – instead, she will be portrayed by Lauren Ridloff, becoming the first deaf superhero in the MCU. The addition of Ridloff to the cast is a welcome surprise. Meanwhile, Nanjiani will be playing master swordsman Kingo, a character I’ve never even heard of before.

Millie Bobby Brown, long speculated to have a starring role in this movie – is not in this movie. The role she was supposedly eyeing, that of the teenage character Sprite or Piper, is instead going to child actress Lia McHugh. So we can finally let the Stranger Things actress take a break from reporters constantly pestering her about when she’s joining Marvel.

Brian Tyree Henry will take on the role of genius weapons-maker and inventor Phastos, in a surprise announcement. There was talk of Phastos being in the movie, but no indication that he would be a star. And, lastly, Asian star Don Lee will be the indomitable god Gilgamesh – a character so powerful that Lee even challenged Marvel’s Hulk, Mark Ruffalo, to a challenge.

Possibly the biggest shock is that this is the full cast: previous reports had stated that there would be no less than five female leads and three male leads – currently, we have four female and four male, perfectly balanced, as all things should be. But this is certainly a downsized version of the cast initially reported early this year, which included characters like Druig, Sersi, a “female archaeologist”, Hercules, Elysius, and Zuras. Whether they’ll be in the film, or simply remain to be cast, is still unknown. But one thing is for certain: despite the fact that a lot was cleared up at last night’s Eternals panel – it’s still just as confusing!

“Black Widow” Is A Prequel!

Marvel Studios has officially begun its conquest of the next few years of cinema and culture, with an absolutely outstanding array of new films and TV shows being revealed at San Diego Comic-Con – the entire world responded accordingly, pushing Avengers: Endgame past its box-office competitor Avatar to make it the highest-grossing film of all time, while also managing to dominate social media, with all of Twitter’s top ten trends being Marvel-related, from Kate Bishop to Thor: Love And Thunder. Marvel has also given me quite the headache, giving me endless topics to discuss for the next few days, or possibly weeks – and discuss we shall, starting with the first film to be released next year (but the last film to be announced by Marvel president Kevin Feige at tonight’s showstopper presentation).

Black Widow, officially confirmed for a May 1st, 2020 release date, with David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, Florence Pugh and O.T. Fagbenle set to star alongside Scarlett Johansson’s KGB assassin in what will be a semi-prequel movie set in between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, during a time in which Black Widow was a fugitive from her own government: it was not revealed whether or not Captain America, Falcon or Winter Soldier would be in the film. It appears that large parts of the movie will be set in the fabled city of Budapest, though it is still unclear whether the events depicted there are flashbacks to the battle of Budapest referenced by Black Widow and Hawkeye in The Avengers – and Jeremy Renner was not among the cast members revealed for the film, so there’s a possibility Hawkeye isn’t even in it. Footage from the upcoming film was shown to a cheering crowd (who all received Black Widow hats afterward): the brief sizzle-reel showed Black Widow fighting Florence Pugh’s character, confirmed to be Widow’s antihero nemesis and “sister-figure”, Yelena Belova – called it! – before moving on to an intense brawl with the film’s main villain, Taskmaster, seen sporting his iconic shield: still no word on who will be playing that character, but we do know that David Harbour will portray a man named Alexi – in other words, Harbour will not be playing her father, Ivan, as was previously believed by many theorists. I’m still holding onto hope that my theory about Widow’s father being the Eternal, Ivan Druig, is correct. Eternals had its fair share of surprises during their opening presentation, but we’ll talk about that in a separate post. It was also confirmed that Fagbenle’s character “has feelings for” Black Widow, which is interesting. It wasn’t said whether she reciprocated his affections, or not.

Unfortunately, I’ll have to cover the rest of the SDCC reveals tomorrow morning – Black Widow happened to be the least eventful of Marvel’s many panels, so it was easy to talk about all the basics. Stay tuned for discussion of Lady Thor, the Multiverse, Kate Bishop, Eternals casting and more!