1. Thor Four is forward-thinking
The inscription on Mjolnir, Marvel’s spin on the weapon of Norse legend, reads: “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.” It’s time to update that pronoun.
One can quibble about what was the biggest surprise at this year’s marketing bonanza held at the San Diego Convention Center, but Oscar-winner Natalie Portman’s return as the Asgardian hero Thor’s former love interest, Dr Jane Foster, is a top contender. (The character got an “exit, pursued by a lapsed contract” off-screen dismissal earlier in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.) Portman isn’t just back for Taika Waititi’s Thor: Love and Thunder, in theaters 5 November 2020, she will appearing as Thor. Not “a female Thor” – Thor. (The origins of this lay in Jason Aaron’s The Mighty Thor comics arc which began in 2014.)
This is not to say the upcoming film is all Portman. Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson will be back in their previous roles, hopefully with no one remembering their Men In Black: International debacle. Importantly, a comment Thompson made during the panel that her character Valkyrie will be “looking for her queen” was confirmed later by Marvel’s generalissimo, Kevin Feige, to mean that Valkyrie is the MCU’s long overdue first LGBTQ superhero.
2. Filling out Phase Four
Marvel’s late Saturday panel began as a victory lap announcing that Avengers: Endgame had officially outgrossed James Cameron’s Avatar (though why anyone other than a stockholder would care is another story) then laid the groundwork for the next wave: Phase Four.
In addition to Thor: Love and Thunder, many expected titles were confirmed. Scarlett Johansson stars opposite Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz and Stranger Things’ David Harbour in the flashback standalone Black Widow, coming 1 May 2020, and Benedict Cumberbatch will return in the very Stan Lee-sounding Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, out 7 May 2021. In between comes two lesser-known properties with great potential. First off, Chloé Zhao, director of breath-taking Cannes drama The Rider, presented her cast for Eternals, releasing 6 November 2020, including Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani and Salma Hayek. Eternals, concerning a group of space deities, was created by “King” Jack Kirby and even devoted comics readers sometimes shrug to say: “Yeah, Eternals is really weird, man.”
Additionally, 12 February 2021 was announced as the release date for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. In it, Simu Liu stars as Shang-Chi, a character created in the 1970s as a “master of Kung Fu”. The Farewell star Awkwafina has been cast in an unnamed role, but the biggest revelation was Hong Kong legend Tony Leung as the Mandarin, the Marvel villain that Ben Kingsley’s character was posing as in Iron Man 3. The real Mandarin hasn’t appeared in the MCU yet.
Feige also announced plans for streaming shows on the forthcoming Disney+ platform, but that’s gonna be junk.
3. Blade is back, and he’s brought Oscars
At the end of Marvel’s pep rally, which already had its assembled devotees clutching their albuterol, Feige found time for one more major surprise. Mahershala Ali, of Moonlight and Green Book fame, emerged from the wings, announcing his forthcoming appearance as the vampire hunter Blade. Ali apparently brought the idea of his playing Blade to the company, who quickly agreed. Of course, the actor is already in the wider Marvel Universe, playing Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes on the now cancelled Luke Cage series, but something tells me they will figure something out.
Wesley Snipes played Blade in a trilogy from the late 1990s and early 2000s, eons before the current wave of superhero mania, and no word was given if he will appear in these new films.
While he didn’t have so much as a release date or even title treatment to share, Feige, to thunderous applause, shrieks and huzzahs, uttered the names Black Panther 2, Captain Marvel 2, Guardians of the Galaxy 3 and, most importantly, considering they were previously Fox properties, Fantastic Four and Mutants, meaning the X-Men. This is never going to end.
4. Patrick Stewart has made it so
Star Trek booked 90 minutes of Hall H time to try and convince nerds to shell out for the fledgeling CBS All Access streaming service. They may have succeeded. After some talk about Star Trek Discovery’s third season and a look Lower Decks, an animated comedy from Rick and Morty producer Mike McMahan (and the first bit of animated Star Trek in 45 years) they brought out the big phasers.
Patrick Stewart was positively beaming as he presented a full trailer for the new series Star Trek: Picard. With the exception of a short montage in the 2009 Star Trek film, this represents the first continuance of the “prime” Trek timeline since the franchise ran out of dilithium crystal with the 2002 dud Star Trek Nemesis.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard is living in comfort with a dog (named Number One!) at his vineyard in France when trouble comes looking for him. He must return to Starfleet to confront his most hated of foes: the Borg. With him (and no one saw this coming) is Jeri Ryan, reprising her role as Seven of Nine. Also, sending fans into an orbit of pure bliss, Brent Spiner is back, though we will need to wait and see if he’s playing Data, B4 or some sort of android-of-Theseus combination. (Trekkies know exactly what I am talking about, just trust me.) Though they were not at the panel, it was confirmed that Jonathan Frakes (who also directed a number of episodes) will return as William T Riker and Marina Sirtis will do the same as Deanna Troi.
5. Who will watch the Watchmen?
Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ 12-issue collection Watchmen from the mid-1980s remains the go-to title to hand to someone who thinks superhero comics can’t be a worthwhile intellectual pursuit. Zack Snyder adapted it into a middling film in 2009, after other directors such as Terry Gilliam had failed. Maybe not everything should be a movie, many fans suggested. But how about an HBO series?
Created by Damon Lindelof (of Lost and The Leftovers fame) this new Watchmen is being called a remix as opposed to an adaptation or sequel. The setting is current and many of the characters are new. Still, the basic premise remains: what if, like, superheroes were real? While that may sound monumentally basic, Watchmen (the comics, at least) is a fantastic and detailed deep dive into the social and political implications of vigilantes running around in dopey costumes, some of them with magical powers. The HBO series looks to have nailed the lived-in look of some of the uniforms, like the grimy threads on Rorschach’s mask. Of note: Jeremy Irons, perfectly cast as Adrian Veidt AKA Ozymandias, star of perhaps the greatest single panel in the history of comic books.
6. Reworked Materials
Speaking of HBO reviving a franchise that had a misfire feature film adaptation in the late aughts: prepare for His Dark Materials.
The high fantasy book trilogy, which famously raised the ire of the Catholic church, begat the disappointing Nicole Kidman movie The Golden Compass. However, the breadth of a series and a decade’s worth of special effects development looks to offer the scope necessary for this alternate reality story. The setting is an out-of-time quasi-Britain with a hodgepodge of design elements mixing retro-future airships and Oxbridge-style campuses. At the story’s root is a conspiracy to kidnap children featuring Dafne Keen (X-23 in Logan) as a chosen one, James McAvoy leading some sort of fight, Lin-Manuel Miranda brawling in an old west saloon and a group of helpful spirit animals called daemons that include monkeys, snakes, eagles and an armor-plated polar bear. Excuse me, I must immediately renew the HBO subscription I let lapse after Game of Thrones.
7. The urgent desire for high velocity
They made a Top Gun sequel. On the one hand: ugh. Let the 80s die. On the other hand: Tom Cruise is, weirdly, making great movies right now, be they the Mission: Impossible series or overlooked titles like American Made. Also, now that Russia is America’s bad guy again, we need Cruise up there in the sky, fighting for Democracy, or whatever the hell he was doing in the last one. (I mostly remember beach volleyball.)
Anyway, Top Gun: Maverick, is directed by Joseph Kosinski. None of his previous films (Tron: Legacy, Oblivion, Only The Brave) have truly connected with audiences or critics, but they all have a delicious visual flare. Top Gun: Maverick reunites Kosinski with his Only The Brave star Miles Teller, who plays Bradley Bradshaw (really), the son of “Goose” from the last Top Gun. Kelly McGillis is nowhere to be found. After all, she’s actually five years older than Tom Cruise. The love interest this time is Jennifer Connelly, a mere nine years Cruise’s junior, which is something of a progressive win by mainstream Hollywood standards.
8. He said he’d be back!
The Terminator franchise went way off the rails in 2009 with Terminator Salvation and just got further mangled in 2015 with Terminator Genisys. (Remember that one? No, you probably don’t.) Hollywood is giving it one last try, however, by going back to the roots. Deadpool director Tim Miller, under what appears to be close supervision of producer James Cameron, looks to have stripped away a lot of the confusing lore to make a fast, loud action picture with Terminator: Dark Fate, the sixth in the series.
Linda Hamilton (who has been out of the series since the second one) is back with a shotgun spitting out lines like “I hunt Terminators!” and “You metal motherfucker!” So Shakespeare it ain’t, but it’s great to see her blowing stuff up while cyborgs turn to liquid chrome. Though he did not appear in the footage (or at the Hall H presentation), Edward Furlong was confirmed as returning to the role of John Connor. Furlong’s career has been a bit below-the-radar of late, primarily due to addiction issues, so it is great news to see Cameron and company helping him get back on his feet. Also in the mix, though his appearance is less of a surprise, the former governor of California, one Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger.
9. ‘“And watching over them from center Neptune!”’
Joseph and Anthony Russo held court with a panel of their own this Comic-Con. They deserved it after pulling off the Avengers: Infinity War/Endgame diptych, grossing more money than many medium-sized nations and bringing smiles to audiences around the globe. They have got a lot on their plate in varying stages of development, but one title in particular stood out, at least to the brothers’ fellow Gen X-ers: Battle of the Planets.
Battle of the Planets, also called G-Force, was a chopped-up animated series hastily brought to syndicated television in the US in the wake of the original Star Wars. While footage was primarily from the earlier Japanese series Gatchaman (also called Science Ninja Team Gatchaman), the action was toned down and goofy additions were made, like an R2D2 ripoff called called 7-Zark-7 (a trashcan-shaped robot who lived underwater with his robo-dog pal 1-Rover-1.) A group of space-faring rangers with bird fetishes fought evil in brightly colored ships and liked to spin around in pyramid formation. The later sensation Voltron was heavily influenced by all this, and if you are just the right age there’s a good chance you have been somewhat obsessed with this show that no one else seems to remember. Transmute!
What the Russos have in mind for the G-Force (a live action film? an animated series?) remains unknown. All we can say is that Anthony Russo even wore a Battle of the Planets T-shirt to Comic-Con, so he means business.
10. Whither the Snyder Cut
Warner Bros, and therefore DC Films, had no presence at Comic-Con this year. While the next Wonder Woman has already been shot, there are a lot of questions still about the rest of that cinematic universe. Making matters worse for the studio is the relentless nagging from some Internet weirdos who won’t let their QAnon-esque fantasies about a stashed director’s cut of the dreadful Justice League movie die.
The unproven claim is that its director, Zack Snyder, while grieving the death of his daughter, had his three and a half-hour opus yanked away by an uncaring studio and neutered. (In their defense, the two-hour version that was released is, in fact, awful.) Snyder has effectively encouraged his fans to push for the “Snyder Cut”, and Warner Bros themselves have created a precedent by releasing the “Donner Cut” of Superman II to home video in 2006. What the fans forget is that there are a number of shots with unfinished effects in that version; to revive the snipped Justice League footage and make it look like anything other than a green screen workshop would take a fortune that Warner Bros is very unlikely to make that investment.
Still, ads on bus shelters and even from an airplane demanded the release of the Snyder Cut at Comic-Con, proving that even with all this entertainment out there, comic book fans still have too much time on their hands.