The Friendly Film Fan Breaks Down the Epic Marvel Studios SDCC Panel.
This past weekend at San Diego Comic Con – the largest and most popular comic con in the world by far – much was revealed. DC unveiled new looks at their two upcoming end-of-year releases, Black Adam and Shazam! Fury of the Gods (while noticeably avoiding any updated on The Flash, Joker 2, or The Batman 2), Prime Video released a new trailer for their Lord of the Rings prequel series entitled The Rings of Power, and we got a couple of teases for some 2023 releases, including a first trailer for Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves and a small teaser for the highly-anticipated Keanu Reeves action vehicle John Wick: Chapter 4. But no studio nor streamer has ever been as busy at SDCC as Marvel Studios.
After the official launch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008 with the releases of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, the MCU has dominated Hall H panels and D23 showcases almost every time they’ve happened. Shepherded by longtime Marvel producer Kevin Feige, their biggest and perhaps most memorable slate of reveals was back in 2015, just before the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron. That film’s trailer was played (it had been leaked and then released online a week or so before), and Marvel Studios unveiled their plans for Phase 3, which included the revelation of Civil War as the third Captain America film, the introduction of Black Panther and its principle star, and an eventual culmination in the dual releases of Avengers: Infinity War Part I and Infinity War Part II – the latter would go on to become Avengers: Endgame. (The Spider-Man films were not on the slate at the time of that announcement because the Sony deal had not yet been finalized.) Since that reveal, the MCU has gone through a number of shakeups, including a change of tone for characters like Thor, the passing of one of its most beloved stars in Chadwick Boseman, and of course, a global pandemic which would fundamentally re-alter the release strategy for Phase 4, the original plans for which looked very different from what they eventually became.
To that end, before we dive into where the MCU is going, it may be helpful to take a look back at where it has been post-Infinity Saga, which ended with the Phase 3 closer, Spider-Man: Far From Home. I won’t dive into each release individually, but will list them here for those who need a little refresher. All series are marked, and anything not marked as series is a feature film. (Note that the What If…? animated series is not officially part of the MCU, but is produced by Marvel Studios as part of their release slate.)
PHRASE 4 SO FAR (RELEASE ORDER)
The only real mystery left with this previous release slate is that of Moon Knight, which was initially marketed as a limited series, but seems to have been left open for at least the possibility of a season 2 if Marvel Studios wanted to go for it, given its post-credits scene in the final episode, and several Phase 6 release date not yet having been revealed. Presumably, one of those could be a placeholder for a Moon Knight season 2, but as only three Phase 6 projects were revealed at SDCC, that confirmation or lack thereof won’t be coming for a while. With Thor: Love and Thunder in theaters right now, Phase 4 of the MCU is nearly wrapped up, with only four more projects on the way, two of which act as their own stand-alone adventures.
PHASE 4 ONWARD (RELEASE ORDER)
Though no official release date has been set for the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, it is still slated for a December release this year. The I Am Groot show, which also seems largely disconnected from the wider MCU (and wasn’t on the Phase 4 recap slate, much like the What If…? show) has been dated for an August 10 release. As far as integrated MCU projects, however, there were some significant updates. Marvel’s She-Hulk: Attorney at Law series on Disney+ released a new trailer with a more detailed look at the world of superhero law, more of Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk spending time with the titular character, and a tease at Daredevil (played by Charlie Cox) making a guest appearance after his MCU debut in Spider-Man: No Way Home. In a less formal reveal, the whole of Phases 4-6 was also officially dubbed to be what Marvel Studios calls The Multiverse Saga.
The biggest update, however, was one for which every MCU fan was supremely nervous: the first trailer for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Following the tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman as the titular character, also known as King T’Challa, it has been an unsolvable mystery how the MCU was going to reckon with the course of real-world events in a film series where the character of T’Challa had not passed away, in fact having made a triumphant return to the land of the living in Avengers: Endgame. After the news was released during the Phase 4 reveal that Marvel Studios would not be recasting the part, many speculated as to who would take up the mantle (Shuri, Nakia, and Okoye are the leading theories), and whether Ryan Coogler and Marvel would be able to pull off a second Black Panther film that simultaneously needed to push the MCU forward in telling a Namor/Atlantis-infused story and write out its leading character with enough tact and grace that it wouldn’t feel awkward or forced for the characters within that world (a challenge which even Star Wars couldn’t quite conquer). Luckily, the new teaser does make it seem as if they actually pulled it off, with a somber but inspiring tone of bittersweet triumph, emotional farewells, and national strength for the kingdom of Wakanda. The film itself is slated for release on November 11 of this year and will act as the final project in Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Both the She-Hulk: Attorney at Law and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever trailers, as well as the rest of the Phase 4 release slate, can be seen below.
But while the Black Panther trailer was perhaps the biggest unveiling at SDCC this weekend as far as non-announcements go, it was not the only major revelation that Feige and Marvel Studios had to offer. There was also a closer look at Phases 5 & 6 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with some projects receiving official release dates and names, and others receiving major updates as far as release timing and progress. We’ll get to Phase 6 in a bit, but for now, let’s go over what’s been revealed about Phase 5. Those revelations included estimated dates for MCU series Echo, Loki: Season 2 (which is currently filming), Agatha: Coven of Chaos, Ironheart, and an 18-episode series order for Daredevil: Born Again, which will star Charlie Cox as the titular character and Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. Kingpin (Fisk was last seen in Marvel’s Hawkeye series). It is not known which of these shows – save for Loki – will be limited series or recurring projects. Also revealed were official release dates for films such as Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3, The Marvels (which acts as the sequel to Captain Marvel and the Ms. Marvel series simultaneously), and Blade, plus the official reveals of Captain America 4 (which is called New World Order and will star Anthony Mackie as Captain America following The Falcon and the Winter Soldier series) and a Thunderbolts movie. All release dates, estimated and exact, are listed below. (*There has also been a What If…? season 2 announcement set for early 2023, but no season-of-year estimation or release date has yet been made public.)
PHASE 6 PREVIEW
Phase 6 is shrouded in shadow and secrecy, but not all things have been left mysterious. While many of the late 2024 and most 2025 release dates have been kept ambiguous as far as what projects will place where, it’s likely that many of the as-yet-undated projects will fill those spots. Projects such as the in-development and confirmed-to-be-R-rated Deadpool 3 from Shawn Levy will likely factor in here, as will (most likely) Marvel’s Armor Wars and supposedly R-rated Zombies series for Disney+. And of course, don’t be surprised to see some X-Men projects announced for this phase later on once Phase 5 is well underway, especially given some of the stories that are due to come later.
On the end of certainty, however, Marvel’s previously announced Fantastic Four movie has been selected for release on November 8, 2024. There are no details yet insofar as casting or a replacement for Jon Watts, who was picked to helm the project but left the job earlier this year, citing the need to take a break from superhero filmmaking after rounding out his own Spider-Man trilogy with No Way Home in late 2021. There was, however, another pair of announcements to make up for that lack of news which MCU fans the world over have been eagerly anticipating.
If you’re like me or a number of other MCU fans, Phase 4 has likely felt a little bit aimless to you; that’s not to say it doesn’t have a larger point or won’t fit in with the longform story it’s leading into, only that an end goal has been elusive across most of its run; there isn’t really a culmination project like The Avengers to wrap it all up and lead to the next phase, even as Black Panther: Wakanda Forever seeks to close the chapter. Phase 5 will culminate with the Thunderbolts movie, which seems like a logical endpoint for both phases, but fans have nonetheless wondered: will an Avengers movie ever happen again, and if so, when? Well, now we have an answer, and it’s a doozy. It seems that in 2025, we’re scheduled to get not one, but two Avengers films, separated by a matter of months and only two other as-yet-unannounced MCU projects.
The two films are entitled Avengers: The Kang Dynasty (slated for release on May 2, 2025) and the big reveal, Avengers: Secret Wars, which is dated for November 7, 2025. The former of these two titles will likely deal with the Marvel villain Kang the Conqueror - played by Jonathan Majors – who will appear in Ant-Man 3 and an approximation of which was already revealed in the season one finale of Loki on Disney+. The latter, titled after the beloved Secret Wars Marvel comics run, will supposedly feature the collapse of the multiverse as the MCU universe (616) collides with another, eventually causing the demise of both. These events have been teased in other MCU projects but were seemingly actually triggered in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness by an incursion caused by its title character (the mid-credits scene of that film addresses this). In theory, Secret Wars could provide Marvel Studios with the opportunity to reboot the whole of the MCU completely, allowing them to start from scratch in a way that feels like both like a finale for the current MCU and an organic start to a new version of it; in effect, it would be a true finale to the whole enterprise. Either way, only one thing is certain: Marcel the Shell had better make an appearance, toenail skis and all.
UNDATED MCU PROJECTS (ANNOUNCED)
Which of these newly-announced/newly-dated MCU projects are you most looking forward to? What did you think of the trailers for She-Hulk and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever? Let us know in the comments section below, and thanks for reading!
- The Friendly Film Fan
The Friendly Film Fan Discusses the Latest from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
After Marvel Studios rolled out Thor: Ragnarok in November of 2017, courtesy of director Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, What We Do in the Shadows), the entire landscape surrounding the character changed, seemingly overnight. Gone was the self-serious, dour god with his grandiose Shakespearean aura and booming voice, and gone was the dramatic emphasis on world-ending stakes (at least in Thor’s own movies). Also gone was Jane Foster, Thor’s love interest in the first two of his solo films, and the driving force behind the plot of the second. With a striking tonal shift and Natalie Portman refusing to come back for the third film due to its fallout with original Dark World helmer Patty Jenkins, Ragnarok felt like a reset, a fresh-faced new start for both the character of Thor and for the way in which the MCU would handle most solo films going forward, at least if they weren’t already in production. Even with the success of the Guardians of the Galaxy films – which thrived on their absurdity and James Gunn’s comic sensibilities – no one knew if people would buy into a character whose entire mode of being was revamped just before he showed up for the grand finale of the whole Infinity Saga with everyone else. For any other character in the MCU, the switch would have come way too late. And yet, the gamble paid off. Not only was Ragnarok a bigger hit than the first two Thor films, it was a major hit on the critical scale, its highest praises being Chris Hemsworth’s comic timing and Taika Waititi’s heartfelt storytelling. It came the closest of any solo film apart from Captain America: Civil War to grossing $1 billion at the domestic box office (Black Panther would shatter that record only three months later). Naturally, Marvel Studios wanted Waititi back for another go-round, but unfortunately, Love and Thunder isn’t nearly as successful in its storytelling (and is likely to be less successful in its box office) as its predecessor was.
To be sure, there is a lot to like about Love and Thunder, from its design work to most of the performances. Chris Hemsworth is so much Thor now that seeing him outside of the MCU feels alien, as if those are his alternate personas whereas Thor is his real one, and it works here just as well as it always has, with great comic timing per usual. Christian Bale - easily the best part of the movie – is gripping as Gorr the God Butcherer, wringing a genuinely terrifying, nuanced performance out of a character whose screen time essentially amounts to threats of action but little else. And of course, as heavily advertised, there is the return of one Doctor Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) to the franchise. Portman is definitely having a lot of fun here, and you can feel it coming through the screen (though her character’s story leaves a bit to be desired, which will be discussed in the spoiler review I may or may not forget to write). Who wouldn’t love wielding Mjolnir with biceps like those and summoning lightning from the heavens? Essentially, almost everything that worked last time – good performances, cool villain, fun side characters, uniquely styled production, solid classic rock-heavy soundtrack – works again. Even some of the jokes land in unexpected ways. But that’s not enough to carry a movie that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be or what story it wants to tell. As a matter of fact, it seems like it doesn’t know whose story it wants to tell.
As Korg narrates (which happens multiple times), we’re taken through the storylines of a few different characters, and while I won’t spoil much more than that here, a lot of time is spent with each before we have to go back to do the whole thing again with whoever’s next in line. This causes the film to feel messy, unfocused, and improperly paced. If anything, Love and Thunder isn’t quite long enough to give the necessary space to everything it wants to do. The adventure this time around has almost nothing to do with helping the characters resolve any inner conflicts – as all the best stories do – and that adventure occupies most of the runtime without ever truly coming together with what the characters are going through except by proxy or when it’s unavoidable. This is where the issue arises wherein the film doesn’t seem to know what story it’s telling, or whose.
Plot-wise, this one is already pretty thin, so any time devoted to non-plot-essential stuff has to focus on emphasizing whatever themes the movie has through its characters’ actions. The first Thor was about humility being the key ingredient in leadership, knowing that one cannot lead without first humbling themselves. Ragnarok was about a civilizations demise in the wake of their own genocidal past not only being justified but righteous and that any true nation is made up of the people within it rather than the ground they stand on (it really is a subtly deep movie). In fact, The Dark World is the least liked Thor film largely due to the fact that it’s not actually about much other than setting up what’s to come (that and its first half is genuinely boring). Love and Thunder – though it’s not setting up anything in particular – has the same problem.
There doesn’t seem to be a unifying theme or message here. What is this movie about? The question isn’t “what happens in the plot?” or “what beats does the movie hit before moving on to the next?” or even “what do the characters have to do to advance the story,” but what is this movie about? Having seen it a few days ago, I still don’t really have an answer. The film doesn’t really have an identity of its own, only one similar to its predecessor and nostalgic for its franchise beginnings. And as far as whose story this is, that sort of thing would typically arise from whose internal conflict the movie is attempting to resolve. Some would say Thor’s, but there’s not a lot of emphasis on his “figuring out who he really is,” as the marketing told us, since the conflict with Gorr takes up most of that space and doesn’t really explore that aspect of Thor’s character at all. Others may say Jane’s or even Gorr’s, but Jane doesn’t really have an internal struggle to speak of, and while Gorr does have both internal and external conflicts, they don’t really match up with each other very well.
As far as character, Love and Thunder also skews fairly close to the bones of what it needs for any interactions between them, and apart from Thor and perhaps Valkyrie, hardly any of them are given anything interesting to do. To justify bringing Jane Foster back into the fold so she can become “The Mighty Thor,” the film doesn’t really give more than a half-assed answer, and the rest of the time, she doesn’t really drive the plot forward at all. It’s as if she’s “along for the ride” but never actually gets to drive. Gorr, too, is also given almost nothing to do for most of the film, which testifies to Christian Bale being one hell of an actor, since his performance remains the best part of the movie. Even Korg and Valkyrie don’t really do a whole lot. As I’ve noted before, though, these are larger issues kept beneath a shiny surface, and that surface does look pretty nice on the whole.
All in all, the MCU’s latest entrant is a fun summer romp, tailor-made for a casual Sunday afternoon viewing, but doesn’t have much else going for it beneath the surface. Unfocused, oddly paced, and thinly plotted, its best moments can’t suffice for the fact that it doesn’t really seem to have much substance beneath its candy-coated exterior, or anything it wants to say. Even Doctor Strange 2 at least had Sam Raimi’s whacky filmmaking to keep it interesting, but this one doesn’t really make a lot of interesting choices in that vein, at least not choices that haven’t been proven to work before. It mostly succeeds on its own terms, and it’s hardly the most aimless thing or one of the worst efforts that Marvel Studios has produced thus far, but Thor: Love and Thunder will likely rank pretty low when paired with the whole of what the MCU has to offer.
I’m giving “Thor: Love and Thunder” a 6.5/10
- The Friendly Film Fan
Matt Reeves' take on the Caped Crusader is a Triumph of Noir Filmmaking.
Through the many iterations and adaptation of the Caped Crusader’s adventures, the Batman character has always been one of DC’s most beloved characters, both because it’s easier to make media content centered around a non-superpowered person (meaning much less VFX work is necessary) and because he belongs to inarguably the most iconic trilogy of superheroes ever to grace a comic book page, the other two being Superman and Wonder Woman. But that’s not what The Batman is concerned with – its aspirations are closer not to legends, but scandals, not to symbols or ideas, but to the pursuit or revelation of truth, whatever that means for a city as corrupt and seedy as the title character’s hometown of Gotham City. It’s a world and a character ripe for crime capers and film noirs, but for whatever reason, the closest anyone has come to making a straight-up crime drama in a Batman movie before now was in 2008’s The Dark Knight, which wasn’t so much about Gotham or the Batman character as it was about whatever was happening to them as the Joker made his arrival. The Batman is not that movie. Director Matt Reeves’ solution to taking on the Batman story is to start not quite at the middle, not quite at the beginning, and do what should have seemed obvious from the get-go: make it a detective noir story.
The Batman picks up just a few years into Bruce Wayne’s tenure patrolling the Gotham rooftops and alleys, which begins with Robert Pattinson’s voiceover not just explaining what kind of Batman he is, but what kind of story the film is about to tell; it’s one of seediness, corruption, scandal, darkness, and reckoning. Without diving too far into spoiler territory, the opening sequence of the film – just before Pattinson gives us his voiceover – is certainly the darkest a Batman movie has ever had the balls to put right up front, but it’s the nature of what we’re seeing and why we’re seeing it here that lends credence to the idea that while Gotham’s reckoning has come and gone, Batman’s is just beginning. It’s not only a reckoning well-formed and expertly told, but one that could only happen in a noir story like this.
What makes The Batman succeed where other “dark” adaptations failed is all in the eye of the beholder – that’s not me saying it’s a subjective opinion (though it is), but that what this film gets right is on display for all to see. The further we dive into the plotting of the film, the more beautiful it begins to look beyond what we’re shown for shock value or whatever was used in the trailers. Beyond the gorgeous wide shots, the striking color palettes, the makeup work, minimal use of visual effects, we see shadows. We see Batman emerge from them even as the camera has been focused on them for quite some time with nothing in sight. The only other Batman movie to get close to this was Batman v Superman when the dark knight first appears, but that movie never does that again. The Batman, by contrast, does it three or four times over the course of the film, and each time, it works, which makes Gotham’s lower-level criminals fear his being nearby, whether he’s actually there or not, and in turn lets the audience understand why.
Why is the big question posited by The Batman as its mysteries begin to unravel over the course of its three-hour runtime (a runtime which is felt, but not resented). Though it does back out of some of its more challenging material at one or two points, the answers to that question are nonetheless riveting to discover, especially when the script attempts to challenge some more traditionally held views on how the Batman story is meant to go and how the audience has become familiar with certain versions of characters the films rarely, if ever, actually explore. Few films about superheroes can challenge whether they belong on the pedestals we built for them, but fewer still can challenge whether their particular brand of heroism does more harm than good. That’s something usually reserved for anti-heroes, the answers usually falling along the lines of “I’ll go good” or “it doesn’t matter.” In The Batman, it does, especially where Paul Dano’s chilling, calculatory Riddler is concerned. “Unmasking the truth” is Riddler’s obsession, through violence or psychological terror, but we never wonder what it is he’s doing or how – we want to know why.
As Michael Giacchino’s instantly iconic score for the film blares through the theater speakers to signal the arrival of the Batmobile with all its cacophonous sound, we’re not obsessed with the epic car chase sequence or the many hand-to-hand fights leading up to this moment, but with what might happen after, since it might give us more answers to “why?” (though the car chase and those action sequences are excellent in practice as well). We’re not here for an action film, we’re here to help solve the mystery of what’s going on with the world’s greatest detective guiding us along the way. It’s the milieu of Gotham that intrigues most; who holds the power? What do they use it for?
The most intriguing of these social elite are the Penguin (Colin Farrell), who owns a nightclub in the city that Zoë Kravitz’s seductive Selina Kyle works at when she’s not parading around the Gotham rooftops herself (though the name “Catwoman” is never actually mentioned), and John Turturro’s Carmine Falcone. Waiting in the wings with naught but a few words to share and a lot of money to move around, these are the guys who make things happen, and the why of it all is what makes them the most interesting secondary villains to watch, even as Riddler remains the most captivating core antagonist since Heath Ledger’s Joker back in 2008 by taking down people exactly those kind of characters, though his focus is centered on Gotham’s social elite.
Reviewing a film like The Batman without discussing some of its more interesting elements in a spoiler-heavy fashion is a tall task – there’s not that much to spoil that anyone who watches the film won’t expect, but in describing how it all fits together and what’s great about it, there are some heavy-spoiler plots I can’t really divulge in a meaningful way. But, in summary, it’s an excellent crime noir with a visionary look, excellent sound design, an instantly iconic score, and performances that aren’t necessarily standouts, but that more than get the job done. Does it really matter if it’s better or worse than The Dark Knight?
I’m giving “The Batman” a 9.1/10
- The Friendly Film Fan
Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time. Writer for Bitesize Breakdown.