At the risk of mixing up franchises, there was a disturbance in the Force this weekend (eh, it’s all Disney, it’s fine). Fans everywhere held their breath, and then exploded in excitement and confusion and rapturous, pants-tingling glee as reports from Marvel’s panel at San Diego Comic Con poured forth. Anyone who thought the MCU might take a breather after Endgame was proven wrong, as the studio dropped a whole slew of casting announcements and provided some tantalizing details about their upcoming Phase 4 slate. But for us innocent internet bystanders who were not in the room where it happened, it was a little hard to keep track of each and every reveal. Some, frankly, created a bigger splash than others. So I’m going to do my damndest to condense it all into a handy primer, complete with my personal excitement rankings because nothing is legit until it’s been turned into a listicle on the web, amirite?
#1: Mahershala Ali as BLADE
It makes sense that the biggest reveal of the presentation would be very last one, but even in the history of SDCC stunts this announcement came as quite the surprise. Marvel is rebooting Blade, their half-vampire vampire hunter, and they’ve cast 2-time Oscar winner Mahershala Ali (at his own request!). Understandably, minds were blown — not only because Ali is a) great, and b) pitch perfect for the part, but also because Blade would seem to be a more violent, darker property than the typical family-friendly MCU fare (the original films starring Wesley Snipes were rated R). There’s no word yet on what shape the film will take or how it will tie into the rest of the MCU, but the announcement did have a rather interesting impact… on the Netflix corner of the Marvel universe. For reference, Ali already played the villainous Cottonmouth on season one of Netflix’s Luke Cage, leading some people to wonder if this officially means the Netflix shows (all of which are now cancelled) exist outside of the MCU canon. However, this isn’t the first time Marvel has double-cast, since another Luke Cage star, Alfre Woodard, appeared in Captain America: Civil War playing a completely unrelated role. So my take? This doesn’t mean anything more than what we already knew: that Marvel does not give a flying, blood-sucking f*ck about Netflix continuity and never has. It’s not a question of canon so much as it is about Marvel doing whatever it wants for the properties it does care about. We’ll know the minute the Netflix joints have truly fallen by the wayside when Marvel either reboots those shows for itself or hires new actors to play those same characters in other shows/movies (which won’t happen for contractual reasons until next year at the earliest).
In the meantime, we can spend our time speculating about what a Blade movie might look like, and what gritty, supernatural corners it could open for the MCU as a whole.
#2: Natalie Portman Rejoins Thor… As Thor!
Look, Taika Waititi returning to helm a new Thor film — called Thor: Love And Thunder, no less — alongside Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson is reason enough to be excited. I mean, did you see Thor: Ragnarok? Whatever comes next from this trio is sure to be 90+ minutes of candy-colored hilarity and pure sexual arousal anyway (and, like, plot or whatever). But then Waititi mentioned that he was inspired by the comics run of “The Mighty Thor” by Jason Aaron, a.k.a. the one where Jane Foster wields Mjolnir and becomes a female Thor… and then he brought Natalie Portman out onstage and handed her the big damn hammer and OMG WHAT?! So lemme get this straight: Waititi lured Portman back into the Marvel fold by giving her a story that has less to do with being Thor’s love interest and more to do with, you know, being Thor. If you remember, Mjolnir responds to those who are worthy of it — which is why we saw Captain America swing it in Endgame — so the question is: what transpires to make Jane worthy and/or Thor unworthy (and why didn’t Cap become Thor when he had the hammer?!). With Valkyrie ruling Asgard as King and his ex-girlfriend taking his hammer and title, what will become of the Odinson next? And with Thompson saying her King is looking for a Queen, does this mean we might finally get some real, open LGBTQ representation on-screen?
#3: We Still Don’t Know WTF The Eternals Is All About, But That Cast is BONKERS
Marvel kicked off its panel by having director Chloé Zhao unveil the cast for her upcoming film, and it’s quite a line-up: Richard Madden as Ikaris, Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo, Lauren Ridloff as Makkari, Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos, Salma Hayek as Ajak, Lia McHugh as Sprite, Don Lee as Gilgamesh… and Angelina freakin’ Jolie as Thena! Now, understandably, the cast is probably more exciting than the characters right now, and that’s OK. Even in the comics, The Eternals is a pretty obscure storyline. Created by Jack Kirby, The Eternals are a modified offshoot of humanity created by The Celestials (Star-Lord’s dad Ego is a Celestial, as is that floating head-looking space station called Knowhere). The Eternals are superpowered and immortal, and they usually protect the Earth from their evil cousins, a separate modified offshoot called The Deviants (Fun fact: Thanos is an Eternal from the planet Titan with a lil bit of Deviant mixed in). As you can tell from the character names, these particular Eternals are kinda riffing on the Greek pantheon.
On the one hand, this is pretty much a blank slate for the MCU to re-create, since even the most hardcore comics fans seem to be largely unfamiliar with the particulars of The Eternals. Like, full disclosure: my above explanation is loose at best, since I barely understand this stuff. But on the other hand, it can easily tie into many other established corners of the MCU. The idea of an alien race mucking about with human genetics? That’s basically how they introduced the Inhumans on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and could be used to explain other mutations (HINT HINT) in humanity as well. Not to mention the fact that the Celestials have a track record of mucking about with OTHER alien species we’re familiar with, such as the Skrulls (who, as we learned in the Spider-Man: Far From Home end credit sequence, are back on Earth and impersonating Nick Fury even as we speak), and the possibilities are sort of endless. Of course, we’ll have to wait until November 6, 2020 to see how this movie impacts the rest of the MCU. For now, perhaps the most notable bit of casting isn’t Robb Stark or Maleficent, but the fact that Makkari, traditionally a white dude in the comics, will be played by Ridloff, a deaf woman of color.
#4: You Don’t Need To Know Who Shang-Chi Is To Be Excited About Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Speaking of representation, Marvel unveiled its first leading Asian superhero (sorry, Colleen Wing!) with this take on the Master of Kung Fu. Shang-Chi will be played by Simu Liu in the film, which will be directed by Short Term 12’s Destin Daniel Cretton, while Awkwafina has been cast in an unknown role. However, there will be a character you’re familiar with in the film… well, sort of. Remember in Iron Man 3 when Ben Kingsley played an actor named Trevor Slatterly who was impersonating a terrorist called “The Mandarin”? Well, the MCU is finally going to reveal the real Mandarin, and he’ll be played by one of the most renowned Chinese actors of all time, Tony Leung. I’m hoping for two things here, frankly. One: that Tony Leung gets more to do in Shang-Chi than renowned Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada got to do in Avengers: Endgame (I’ll never be not-salty about Clint goddamn Ronin-ing him to death, which was a waste and also COMPLETELY UNBELIEVABLE), and two: That Shang-Chi runs into Agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) and Marvel finally opens the doors for some “Agents of Atlas”!
#5: Black Widow Is Still Definitely A Thing, Y’all
Marvel finally offered some more details on their second solo female superhero movie, the long-simmering Black Widow. In addition to Scarlett Johansson returning as Natasha, the film will star Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova (another Widow spy trained in the Red Room and a foe to Natasha from the comics), David Harbour as Alexei AKA the Red Guardian, O-T Fagbenle as Mason, and Rachel Weisz as Melina (who may or may not be Iron Maiden, another foe from the comics). The film, directed by Cate Shortland, will kick off Phase 4 on May 1, 2020 — and according to Harbour, it isn’t quite the prequel we were all anticipating. Instead of fleshing out Natasha’s origins, this film will likely fill in Natasha’s journey between Civil War and Infinity War to explore how she came to the place where she was willing to sacrifice herself in Endgame. Personally though, I’m not that interested in all that. I am, however, interested in talks that Taskmaster will be the villain.
#6: GIVE ME KATE BISHOP YOU COWARDS (oh… you are… OK then!)
Someone at Marvel must be listening to the fans, because that new Hawkeye show on Disney+? Yeah, it stars Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton… But it ALSO will feature the other, better Hawkeye, Kate Bishop — the one comics readers have been clamoring for for YEARS (and the one some of us thought we’d be getting in Endgame, cough cough). No casting or other details have been announced yet, but based purely on the title treatment Marvel revealed on stage, it certainly looks like the show will be taking inspiration from the best place possible: Matt Fraction and David Aja’s acclaimed “Hawkeye” run, which found Clint and Kate partnering up to take on thugs in Brooklyn (while hanging with a very adorable pizza-loving pooch). Here’s hoping for the best!
#7: WandaVision and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness Will Prove Marvel Might Be OK Letting TV Shows And Movies Intermingle After All
After Spider-Man: Far From Home teased the introduction of a multiverse (via Mysterio’s bullsh*t fake backstory), it seems that Marvel is going all in on it anyway — in the next Doctor Strange movie! Scott Derrickson is returning to direct the follow-up, which he claims will be the “first scary MCU film.” And this time around, star Benedict Cumberbatch will be joined by another superhero: Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch. Here’s the catch, though: the events of the film, which is slated to release on May 7, 2021, will tie into Olsen’s Disney+ series, WandaVision, which also stars Paul Bettany as the Vision and Teyonah Parris as an adult version of Monica Rambeau (first introduced as a child in Captain Marvel, and a superhero in her own right from the comics).
#8: Jeffrey Wright as The Watcher
Heading back into more obscure territory, Disney+ is planning an animated series based on the classic “What If…?” Marvel Comics, which explored alternate realities for your favorite heroes. Jeffrey Wright will narrate the series as The Watcher, an unobtrusive overseer who… I mean, he just watches. It’s pretty self-explanatory. The main takeaway is that you can expect a lot of actors from the MCU to lend their voices to the series, from main Avengers to favorites like Hayley Atwell’s Agent Carter and Michael Rooker’s Yondu…
#9: Oh Yeah, We’re Getting Some Other Disney+ Shows Too…
Tom Hiddleston is getting a Loki series in Spring 2021, which will tell us what happened to Loki after he teleported away with the Space Stone in Endgame (thus creating a branched timeline where he didn’t get killed by Thanos I guess?). But first, Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie are teaming up for The Falcon and The Winter Soldier in Fall 2020, where they will fight against Daniel Brühl’s returning villain, Baron Zemo. Not much was said about these shows, and I’m honestly less interested in them
#10) All The Stuff They Didn’t Get To…
The #MarvelStudios Phase Four slate! But Kevin says they didn't even get to Captain Marvel 2, Black Panther 2, Fantastic Four and…mutants!!! #seeeekrits #MarvelSDCC #SDCC #AgentMLovesSDCC pic.twitter.com/VU7bhvDiUH— Ryan Penagos (@AgentM) July 21, 2019
Yes, Marvel dumped A LOT of news on the fans in Hall H over the weekend. But there’s also a lot of stuff they didn’t talk about, such as any news on the sequels to Captain Marvel and Black Panther… or any updates on the many properties that are coming to them thanks to the Fox acquisition. My guess is that we won’t be getting a rebooted X-Men in Phase 4… but that doesn’t mean we won’t start getting little mutant-y easter eggs to lay the groundwork for Phase 5.
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