Thursday, 6 November 2014

Craig's Token Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase 3 Thought Post

 Love the reactions in this shot.  Downey's smug bow, Evans' mildly
embarassed aw-shucks wave, and Boseman all 'OMG OMG IS THIS REAL??'.

So, unless you live under a rock, or simply don't care about this kind of thing, you've likely already heard what was revealed at Marvel Studio's exclusive-attendance press event last week.  The entirety of 'phase 3', the next solid block of films taking place within the universe defined by The Avengers has been charted, and so now we know every step on the path to cinema's current greatest heroes facing their ultimate - final? - battle.

Obviously, this is big news, and hundreds of other sites have been scraping over the details, running any number of rumours to try and gain hits.  Me, I'm late to the party, and I sure as hell don't have any inside sources to tantalize you with...but I slacked off and let this blog rot during October, and it's high time that changed.  At least this is something I'm enthusiastic about, so the writing should come easy.
(Note that this post will deal strictly with the announced 'phase 3' movies.  There are of course still another couple 'phase 2' flicks due out next year - although why Ant-Man isn't phase 3 I can't tell you - but I figure if I put any more films in this post it'll get crazy long.)

 Captain America: Civil War - From a purely business standpoint, the decision to double-down on Avengers residuals and make Captain America: The Winter Soldier a team-up movie in its own right, and one stuffed with SHIELD mythology, made the second Cap film vastly outgross the first at the box office, so it's not much of a surprise they're planning to pull the same trick twice...but this isn't quite the way I'd expect them to go about it.  Short version: 'Civil War' was a big comics event from recent history, wherein a terrible accident involving young superheroes made the US government move to register the identities of all practicing costumed vigilante types.  The hero community split down the middle over the issue, with Iron Man pleading co-operation while Captain America demanded the act be abolished.  Things got heated, everyone punched each other, Tony Stark became emperor of the free world for a while and Steve Rogers was killed, sort of.

I don't expect to see Captain America die in a Captain America movie, nor do I expect anyone to be fretting over losing their secret identities (the Hulk/Bruce Banner is basically the only Avenger whose identity might not be public knowledge already), but that's the title they picked, and Robert Downey Jr. will appear as Iron Man in the film, in what I've heard is a pretty sizable role.  He won't be the only guest star either, but I'll come back to that further down.  As to what might drive a wedge between Rogers and Stark, that will likely be the titular villain of Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Tony creates an android task force so that him and his pals can have a few days off from superheroing, it backfires massively, the Avengers are left with a smeared public image and are taken to task for their lack of oversight in SHIELD's continuing absence.  Tony, humbled, will doubtless agree to whatever sanctions are demanded as an apology, but Steve will continue to see the value of operating independently, having already been burned by 'just following orders' in Winter Soldier.  And hopefully, unlike the comics, the writers will be able to pull off a serious rift between the two without making one or the other come off like a jackass.

With the Russo brothers returning to direct, I'm confident Civil War is in good hands, but part of me worries about how all this focus on the greater universe might take away from some Cap-specific story beats.  Can they do the full Cap/Iron Man squabble and still have enough time to follow up on the Winter Soldier's ongoing situation?  Will we still have room for the Falcon?  Can they combine all these points smartly enough to make it feel like one solid narrative?  I certainly hope so, but even my loyalty to these films can't totally settle my unease here.

 Doctor Strange - Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige has been talking about this one to anyone who'll listen for years now; if sheer enthusiasm could equate to money, Feige alone would make this recoup twice its budget.  As for everyone else...ehhhhh?

In brief: Stephen Strange was a brilliant surgeon, albeit a callous one, who cared more for his paycheck than the wellbeing of his patients.  One night he has a terrible car accident that leaves him with unfixable nerve damage in his hands, depriving him of his career.  Desperate, he goes to Tibet in pursuit of a legendary healer called the Ancient One, little realizing that the source of the Ancient One's skill is in fact real, honest-to-Cthullu magic.  Rather than get his hands fixed, Stephen is taken under the old wizard's wing and groomed to be his replacement as Sorcerer Supreme, the one who defends Earth against paranormal and spiritual threats from realms beyond mortal ken.

To be fair, that last part is still fairly novel; magic remains a sketchily-defined part of the MCU (Loki does some tricks but, not being a hero, we don't get to see the true source of said power) and potentially offers some wildly imaginative set-pieces and vistas to behold.  And Scott Derrickson - late of Paranormal Activity and Sinister fame - is an interesting choice to direct.  Approaching Strange as a horror movie, with the title character a modern-day Van Helsing, does carry a certain appeal.  But again, I have some concerns over this one.  Doctor Strange, the character, has rarely been able to maintain his own solo comic series for any length of time, moreso than any other hero given their own film on this list or beforehand.  Ask someone who knows about this sort of thing to name the best Strange stories and you'll likely wind up with a bunch of Stan Lee/Steve Ditko collaborations from way back in the mid-to-late '60s; while he's been a useful utility player in team books and major events, Strange is too unknowable - and his powers too vague - to sensibly build stories around on a regular basis.  Even going with his origin story isn't a guarantee of quality, as the Doctor Strange animated movie from 2007 proved just how easy it is to accidentally turn that into a really dull riff on The Karate Kid where the 'kid' is a 40-something grumpy surgeon.  Who the hell knows.  I'm basically trusting that Feige knows what he's talking about here.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 - Firstly, I really hope they just keep that image as the film's logo throughout all promotion.  Just the first film's logo with a '2' scribbled on in Tipp-Ex.  For this series, that's perfect.

Secondly, I didn't do a review post for Guardians 1 mainly due to not getting a super-early screening of it.  Suffice to say I loved the film.  Maybe not to the degree I did Winter Soldier, which was damn near mechanically perfect, but Guardians had a voice and soul all its own, made me fall in love with characters I barely knew, and threw around cosmic weirdness with a charming, reckless abandon.  James Gunn is now officially one of Marvel Studios' smartest hires, and thank god they got him back for the sequel, because I've no idea who could seriously follow him.

As to what the sequel will involve...hard to say, since we've got no spoilery subtitle yet.  Maybe we'll get one closer to the actual production, although having the main title include 4 words, then adding a subtitle, would maybe look a bit too wordy for PR types.  Given the teases about it at the end of the first film, I imagine we'll get the reveal of who exactly Star-Lord's dad is, which we already know won't be the Spartax king J'Son as it is in the comics presently.  My bet remains firmly with Adam Warlock, the 'evolutionally perfect human' (read: gold-skinned weirdo) typically positioned as a spacefaring messiah and nemesis to phase 3 end boss Thanos.  Marvel are high on the Guardians now, and this gives Peter Quill a close connection to the forces gathering for the end of this whole cycle of movies - and I firmly believe the Guardians will be there alongside the Avengers to face down the Mad Titan.  Beyond that, Gunn has teased of expanding the team a little, saying there will be 'at least' one new female added.  My dream pick would be both Phyla-Vell (as Quasar) and Moondragon, who bring some new powers with them, have interesting familial connections, and would be the first overt gay couple in the MCU, representation which absolutely matters.  Mantis is also a possibility, as the way her precognitive powers manifest - i.e. she can list off a variety of potential future outcomes but can't/won't say which one will actually happen - is the kind of kooky mannerism Gunn seems to love.

And while we're talking ladies, I really hope there's enough room to...I don't wanna say 'fix', but improve Gamora.  Simply making her the straight player opposite the variously-silly other Guardians didn't exactly light up the screen, and was a far cry from the vicious, proud and boisterous Gamora found in the Annihilation-era comics that the movie drew from, and Zoe Saldana deserves better material.  It's too late to save her botched arc in the first movie (wherein rather than be a villain who has a change of heart, she already changed heart before the film starts and has nowhere to go afterward) but at least Nebula's survival means she's got some sort of goal going forwards.

Thor: Ragnarok - I don't entirely know why it is, but it seems like the Thor movies are the most 'taken for granted' of all the MCU movies.  They don't attract the widespread negativity that Iron Man 2 did (although I have seen some fairly scathing words sent toward the first film) and are generally viewed very positively on release, they seem to fade into the background noise afterwards, and are rarely talked about outside of Tumblr's unceasing Loki fixation.

I kinda get the feeling Kevin Feige has noticed that, too, judging by his assertion that the 3rd Thor flick will be "to phase 3 what The Winter Soldier was for phase 2", and that it picks up directly after Age of Ultron.  Even though it's released like 2 years after, wibbly wobbly timey wimey and so on.  The point is, they seem to be going out of their way to make sure we all know THIS Thor movie is one you won't soon forget.

Plus it's RAGNAROK!  The end of days!  That's gotta be big!  The question is, how close will it mimic the Ragnarok tale from Walt Simonson's legendary Thor comics run, which the movies have already drawn from substantially?  Are we likely to see a live-action take on Surtur, the enormous fire demon destined to destroy all that is with the mighty godslaying Twilight Sword?  Will Beta Ray Bill show up?!  I really need to see Jaimie Alexander flirting with a horse-faced spaceman you guys.  Also hoping they finally pull the trigger on getting Amora the Enchantress into the MCU, she's much too vampishly fun a villain to be left on the drawing board.  And the Avengers EMH cartoon provided a pretty good framework for tying her into the Surtur business.

There is, of course, also the matter of Loki, who finished The Dark World in a cozy position of power, which will no doubt be a major problem for his brother.  How that can lead into something deserving of the Ragnarok title (and how it justified the now-revealed appearance by Loki and Heimdall in Age of Ultron) is completely up in the air, though I wouldn't put it past Marvel to have Loki die for real this time, possibly after experiencing some change of heart and sacrificing himelf for his brother and the safety of the realms.

Black Panther - Oh shit, now you're talking.  Short version: Black Panther - T'Challa to his mates - is the latest king of an outwardly primitive but secretly high-tech African country called Wakanda, and as such is granted the panther name and a costume in its image in order to act as both an avatar of Wakanda's gods and as the country's ultimate line of defense.  He's a genius, a world-class martial artist and a veteran diplomat all at once, and has access to the kind of esoteric gadgetry that makes Iron Man weep with envy.  So he's pretty badass.  He was also Marvel Comics' first black superhero, and now he's gonna be Marvel Studios' first black leading man.  Cool.

He's also going to be everywhere.  The Panther will appear, in full costume, in Captain America: Civil War, embodied by Chadwick Boseman, who I admittedly haven't actually seen in anything, but that's largely because he's been working in much smarter, worthier films than I tend to watch.  But from what I've heard from sources I trust, he's great.  How T'Challa fits into an argument between Stark and Rogers I don't know, but given Wakanda's tendency toward isolationist policies, it's entirely plausible an on-the-run Cap could go into hiding there to escape government/Stark prying eyes.  There's also been a lot of talk that Age of Ultron will feature at least one sequence in Wakanda, talk that's gained more notice after Andy Serkis appeared in the first trailer, rocking an Abe Lincoln beard that's very reminiscent of Ulysses Klaw, a longtime Black Panther villain.  Equally, rumours suggest that film will close with a shot of Cap fronting a very different Avengers team preparing for a future threat, so perhaps Boseman will cameo there?

As for this film...look, I'll be honest - there are huge swathes of T'Challa's published history I'm unfamiliar with, so I don't have a lot of ideas as to what influences the movie people might look to.  From what I understand, Marvel Studios are trying to move away from conventional 'origin stories' going forwards, which means this one likely won't flashback to show T'Challa watching his dad (and previous Panther) T'Chaka die before swearing revenge on the unfortunately named Man-Ape.  If Kevin Feige is to be believed, the plot will center more around Wakanda opening its borders and joining the global stage formally, which sounds ripe for a lot of political intrigue.  How that leads to a guy dressed as a panther kicking a lot of dudes in the face, though, that's the question...


...Yeah.  I've written a bit about Captain Marvel in the past, and if you click for the 'ms. marvel' tag you'll see even more, so it shouldn't surprise you to learn this was the announcement that made my day, and continues to make most of my other days.  Captain Marvel is a name with a lot of history behind it - not all of which actually comes from Marvel - but as Feige stated, for the purposes of the MCU, the name belongs to Carol Danvers.  So we get the first Marvel film with a black lead since Blade Trinity in 2017, then the first with a female lead since Elektra in 2018.  Not exactly fond of how long that took, but it's applause-worthy anyway.

But to get the elephant in the room out of the way: still no sign of a solo outing for Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow.  I understand Feige's logic when he says the MCU upper brass were more interested in going with a new face for their first female-lead project, but the unspoken qualifier there - that this is to some degree the only female-lead project they'll consider - bugs me.  It shouldn't be a matter of 'this OR that', when it can be 'this AND that'.  Widow's got great public awareness from 3 (soon to be 4) turns in these movies, and thanks to the poorly reviewed but financially lucrative Lucy we've got proof that audiences will turn out for an action film with ScarJo as the star.  And I refuse to believe they can't think of a stand-alone story for the character if they tried.  Hhhhh.

Anyway.  If you don't know Carol, she's a bright, strong-willed, quick-tempered and ambitious pilot, who transitions into a security post at NASA before encountering an alien machine that explodes in her face and gives her the broadly-typical superhuman makeover: she's incredibly strong and tough, can fly, and shoot energy beams from her hands (or anywhere, really, but mostly hands).  She's had her status quo and exact powers tinkered with a lot over the years, but most of that stuff tends to get undone or rendered moot.  Of course, she also spent most of her hero career as 'Ms. Marvel', but she switched out to the Captain name in 2012, and it's inspired an incredibly passionate groundswell of supporters from nearly all walks of life - the Carol Corps.  Marvel Studios, thankfully, aren't daft enough to ignore that.

For the plot, I am again all at sea thanks to the 'no origin stories' mandate.  Not so much because Carol's origin is super dramatic or necessary, but because the opening arc of her 'Captain' series, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, sent her tumbling back in time to see said origin happen again, from a different perspective.  Not sure if that actually counts.  In another bit of Feige vaguetalk, he said the character will have earthly roots but cosmic powers, and while that is certainly true of Captain Marvel in a broad sense, she's not tied to Marvel's 'cosmic' side the way other alien-affiliated characters are, so it's given me a bit of a seventh sense flash (ahahaha insider referencez).  So maybe she'll be dealing with something from the depths of space threatening Earth?  We've already met a few of the Kree, the specific species that Carol's powers stem from, and they weren't exactly nice - maybe something makes them set sights on our planet and a headstrong lady flier from Bawwwwston is all that stands between us and them?  I just really want to see my favourite superhero punching out star destroyers.  And holes in the sky.

(also she better still have a cat)

Inhumans - Possibly the worst-kept secret of the entire line-up.  On the comics side, Marvel hasn't exactly been subtle with its efforts to expand and re-establish the Inhuman brand name over the last couple of years, and seeing what they've done with it has made everyone who talks about this kind of thing online come to the same conclusion: it's really all about the X-Men.

First, background.  The Inhumans debuted in a 1965 Fantastic Four story.  They're the descendants of early, just-past-Neanderthal humans who were experimented on by the Kree (yup, them again) for war-related purposes, before the project was abandoned and the test subjects were left to roam free.  Each of these 'Inhumans' starts life indistinguishable from a normal person, but when exposed to a special gas known as terrigen mists, they rapidly change into a new, powered form, many of them (though not all) no longer resembling humans.  In time, the Inhumans formed their own culture centered around a traditional monarchy, and made a home in the city of Attilan, which they kept well away from the prying eyes of us humans out of mistrust for our worse tendencies.  Attilan has been located in Tibet, New York and the Moon at various points in its existence.

So, the X-Men thing?  Well, Marvel Studios can't use the X-Men because Fox own the movie rights and are determined to keep them.  That's annoying for Marvel since not having X-Men means not having mutants in the MCU, and mutants are a fantastic handwave for expanding the superhero/villain pool.  They don't need an origin story - just say "this one's a mutant" and it immediately excuses any manner of weirdness the character has going on without needing to go into further detail.  Conveniently, though, the Inhumans aren't that dissimilar when you get right down to it - especially since, as of the Infinity event series, it's established that Inhuman descendants are scattered throughout the full population of Earth rather than just focused within one city.  And of course, Feige made it clear that the Inhumans movie is intended to be the launch-pad for multiple successor movies.

Even so, I'd expect this first one to deal with the classic royal family, beginning with Black Bolt (has a voice that can level mountains, so only communicates in sign language), Medusa (can extend and control her hair with her mind), Karnak (can see the flaws in any object, person, attack or even an idea) and Maximus (Black Bolt's brother, genius intellect, also insane), not to mention the adorable Lockjaw (a bulldog the size of a small car that can teleport over massive distances).  Exactly what they'll be doing I can't say, but I'm guessing it'll involve Maximus making a play for his brother's throne - he does that a lot - and something going incredibly wrong that results in a large-scale terrigen leak a la Infinity.  There've been a lot of new hero types born from that event, but the most successful by far has been the new Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan - and isn't it just convenient that the woman she named herself after will have been introduced to the movies by this point?

Avengers: Infinity War Parts 1 and 2 - This is it.  This is the endgame.  Two films, one year and two other films between them, involving basically everyone who's worn a costume in these films up 'til then in final battle for the fate of the universe against a purple guy with a glove full of plot devices.

...which means I really don't have a clue what happens here.  I mean, I'm going by rumours with my guesses for the films before this: here, it's guesses based on rumours that are themselves based on other rumours.  The only absolutely confirmed details here are the presence of Thanos and, assumedly, the Infinity Gauntlet, the gems of which are the succession of vague glowy MacGuffins that've been central to a lot of the MCU films to date.

But, if I do put on my speculative hat...thanks partly to contract-appearance issues, I doubt we'll see all the Avengers in both films.  The events of Captain America: Civil War will splinter the team and I expect them to stay that way, and with Cap being the most likely to take his friends and disappear underground, it'll be Iron Man left to carry the ball when Thanos takes center stage and starts seriously gunning for the infinity Iron Man at his wits' end with a depleted number of allies to call for help.  Not to mention Thor could well be out of commission due to whatever Ragnarok means for Asgard, and Hulk, I'm told, won't even be on our planet by the end of Age of Ultron.  So, I think this is the one where Iron Man falls for good.  Maybe he won't due outright, but he's not making it to Part 2.  And of course, it'll be his sacrifice that makes Cap realize he's let his personal feelings overcome his better judgement, and brings him out of hiding in time to reunite his old team and corral up some fresh help to stop the Mad Titan becoming the Mad God.

The big question is, how does having both Captain Marvel and Inhumans slot into the queue between the halves of Infinity War affect the story?  Are we simply rolling with the idea that these films aren't in true chronological order and hoping cinema-goers can keep up?  (something which might also affect Thor: Ragnarok)  Because it would admittedly be strange to have even one new superhero debut in the midst of Thanos' rise to power, never mind an entire species of them.  Or, hell, perhaps it's Thanos' own twiddlings with reality-warping powers that kinda-sorta 'create' these new characters?  That could be hilariously ironic if they wind up being the key in defeating him.  And of course, it's safe to assume the Guardians of the Galaxy will fit into this somehow, presumably after picking up the spacebound Hulk from the gladiator pits of Sakaar or somesuch.  Somehow I doubt we'll see Drax the Destroyer pull off a Kano fatality on Thanos like he did in the Annihilation comics, but, hey, I can dream.

It's a better finishing move than the Batista Bomb anyway.


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