Wednesday, 13 August 2014

A State of the Universes Report

We haven't yet reached the end of Phase Two, but clues are already becoming apparent regarding Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Bits and pieces of Avengers: Age of Ultron have been released at cons, and when this arrives next year, it will no doubt set up further elements of the expanding cinematic universe. Guardians of the Galaxy had no direct teaser for the following film; the post-credits sequence of The Winter Soldier took care of that, introducing von Strucker, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. It did, however, expand the Marvel world further, so that it truly lives up to the appellation of a cinematic "universe." Thanos waits in the background, supposedly set to be the villain of the third Avengers movie, if not an even later instalment. Other elements were seeded that may reappear, such as the Celestials, and the Kree have already been mentioned in Agents of SHIELD.

Phase Three already promises certain instalments. A third Captain America and a Guardians of the Galaxy sequel have been confirmed, as has a Doctor Strange movie. We know certain little fragments so far. James Gunn has just revealed that his take on the Guardians mythology will be something different to the comics, and that Quill's father will not be the King of Spartax, but something quite different. A whole universe is being created. A second series of Agents of SHIELD is on the way, which will hopefully build on the promise of the first. The risk is the same as what happened with that first series, which pootled along not really impressing anyone until The Winter Soldier was released, whereby it could deal with the collapse of SHIELD and the resurgance of HYDRA. There are some big mysteries for season two to explore, not least of which is the exact nature of Coulson's resurrection. It's been suggested that the blue-skinned alien from whom the life-giving element was extracted was a Kree, which would help tie the series to the wider Marvel universe. More importantly, it gives Clark Gregg some strong material to work with, and when he's given good material, he can be impressive. I still have yet to be impressed by Chloe Bennet's character, Skye, but the tease of her father at the end of series one bodes well, especially since it's now been revealed that Kyle MacLaclan is playing him in series two.

So, who are these mysterious fathers? I doubt they're in any way related, what with one being extraterrestrial and the other very much terrestrial. Quill's father may possibly be Starfox, who in the comics is the brother of Thanos, although as yet this is all guesswork. Theories as to the identity of Skye's father range from Ghost Rider to the Man-Thing, who has at least been mentioned a couple of times in the series. Personally, I feel that he may be a member of the Inhumans. There have been hints of Marvel's plans for an Inhumans movie, not least of which has been Vin Diesel's latest teasing tweet, which suggests that his voice role as Groot was indeed a placeholder to get him on contract for an Inhuman role. Without the rights to the X-Men, the Inhumans could become Marvel's answer to this cinematic franchise, providing an array of uniquely powered individuals with a complex mythology to pick from.

Also coming up is the highly anticipated Agent Carter series, which can only be a good thing for two reasons. One: more Hayley Atwell. Two: a chance to further explore the past of the Marvel universe. This can not only seed elements into the contemporary stories, but allow historical stories which have their own self-contained problems and content. There's plenty of room for WWII-era Marvel characters such as Namor the Sub-Mariner to appear. I also wonder who holds the rights to the original Human Torch, the wartime android who predates the Fantastic Four. Add to this the four heroes who are getting Netfix series, including the interesting casting of Charlie Cox as Matt "Daredevil" Murdock, and a rich universe is taking shape. First though, we have Ant-Man. I honestly can't see the point to this one anymore. Ant-Man was always an odd choice to head a movie, and the developments are not reassuring. This was Edgar Wright's own dream project, and it was the prospect of Wright-directed superhero film that gained fans', and actors', interests. With his script rewritten and a new director on board, it's seeming more and more like a dangerous decision to launch Phase Three, and a huge missed opportunity. The script choices are strange, too, and some of this at least must go back to Wright. Hank Pym is one of Marvel's more interesting and flawed characters, yet he is relegated to a supporting role here, with the action going to Paul Rudd's Scott Lang. Janet van Dyne, a great character and a core Avenger in the comics, is apparently deceased before the movie even starts, and though it's possible Evangeline Lily's character will be the Wasp in all but name, it feels like the most interesting elements of the story have been removed.

Surprisingly, while we're waiting for Marvel to make a Black Widow or Captain Marvel movie, it's Sony who look like they'l be the first to produce a film centred on a female superhero. With The Amazing Spider-Man 3 pushed back till after the Sinister Six movie, and possibly after the Venom film (apparently now titled Venom Carnage), Sony are actively pursuing other options for movie series. Spider-Man is the core hero of the rights they own, but there are several female supporting characters who could take up their own adventures. The most obvious is the Black Cat, as Felicity Jones was included in TASM2 as Felicia Hardy. This version of the character has links to Oscorp, and she could be great for a Catwoman-esque antihero movie. There are several alternatives though. One would be Mary Jane, whose introduction has been delayed and has, in the comics, some superhero history (she's Spider-Woman in the Marvel Mangaverse, for example). Other suggestions have been Silver Sable, Firestar (from Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends) and Spider-Woman (the original Jessica Drew version). Again, though, it's rights issues. Firestar was created to be a Spider-Man ally, but is first and foremost a mutant, and a onetime X-Man. Spider-Woman has only a tangential connection to Spider-Man, although there were later Spider-Woman, (and the Ultimate Comics version was Peter Parker's clone). Who holds the rights to her is anyone's guess.

As for Fox, Fantastic Four is rumbling along but news is sparse. There's more info on the X-Men franchise, with both X-Men: Apocalypse and Gambit entering pre-production. An eighties set X-Men movie is a fun prospect, and if they don't finally introduce Dazzler, I'll be very cross. Beyond that, we don't know where the franchise is going, but I suspect that numerous other characters will be included to test for audience response so that they can one day head up an X-Force or New Mutants movie. We know that come of the new actors in Days of Future Past have been signed up for long-term contracts. There's also a third Wolverine movie in the works, although there will come a point when Hugh Jackman is to old to play an ageless mutant. Many fans point to Old Man Logan as a possible last movie for him, including Jackman himself, although there are significant rights issues that would stand in the way of a direct adaptation. Hawkeye and the Hulk are major characters in the story, so a great deal of rewriting would be necessary to get round that. Then again, previous films have all been pretty loose adaptations of existing storylines, so this is unlikely to be a major problem.

Oh, and DC are doing some films too.

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