Spider-Man: Homecoming – Engaging characters make up for ho-hum action


The Marvel-Sony partnership prompted by the critical and commercial failure of 2014’s Andrew Garfield starrer The Amazing Spider-Man 2, seems to be paying off. Early indications are that Spider-Man: Homecoming is going to pull in box-office cash in the same range that Sam Raimi’s original trilogy scooped up from 2002 to 2007. Reaction from critics and audiences likewise has been positive.

What’s made the difference?

Firstly, Spider-Man is now integrated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) via his introductory appearance in Captain America: Civil War last year. Audiences are have been deeply involved with the characters in the MCU for some years now. Naturally, any new character introduced into an MCU film benefits from that halo effect. And that’s exactly what was set up in Civil War; we were introduced to a teenage Spider-Man played by Tom Holland and another new character Prince T’Challa of Wakanda (aka the Black Panther), both being set up for their respective solo films. And so here we are with Homecoming successfully picking up speed in the slipstream of Civil War and Black Panther scheduled to follow suit next February. Audiences know that whenever they go to watch an MCU film featuring any one character/ team, they will get some bonus Marvel character appearances as well; in the case of Homecoming, the guest stars are Iron Man, his security chief Happy Hogan (played by director of the first two Iron Man films, Jon Favreau), Pepper Potts and Captain America appearing in some public service videos.

Second, this time around audiences don’t have to endure an entire film repeating the well-known origin story of Spider-Man bitten by a radioactive spider. Instead, we get to see the character already set up with his powers and his suit. The fun part is seeing how his mundane teenage world contrasts with the jet-setting lifestyles of the Avengers, who he looks up to and so desperately wants to be a part of.

Third, the casting this time really works:-

EVERYBODY likes (loves!) Marisa Tomei as Aunt May.

Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes (aka the Vulture) is the best villain in the MCU (traditionally a weak area) and the 2nd best Spidey villain after Alfred Molina’s Doc Octopus from 2004’s Spider-Man 2. While not as tragic a figure as Doc Ock, Toomes’ motivation to move into a life of crime is something one can sort of empathize with.

Peter Parker’s high school gang are all interesting characters and oh-so-ethnically-diverse; his best buddy Ned is played by Jacob Batalon, who is of Filipino origin; class nerd Michelle is played by the multi-ethnic Zendaya; love interest Liz is played by African-American Laura Harrier and class smart-ass Flash who is blond and muscled in the comics is now played by Tony Revolori, who is of Guatemalan descent.

In fact, the only character I didn’t really care too much about is Peter Parker himself. Not because Tom’s a bad actor, but perhaps because the 21-year-old actor is too good at acting as a whiny 15-year-old motor-mouth who wants everything…at one point in the film, I really couldn’t handle that non-stop high pitched voice of his as he provided a running commentary during an action sequence!

Speaking of action sequences, that was the key weak link in the film for me. While I was engaged with all the characters, the action and the fights didn’t hold my attention at all. I think it’s because the outcome is so predictable. C’mon! it’s a PG-13 film. Of course, no one important is going to die or get maimed. This isn’t Game of Thrones, right? Well, to be fair to the studio, they did try that route in 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 with Mary Jane Watson; I don’t think that movie failed because of that plot point at the end, but it’s understandable that the producers didn’t want anything really nasty to happen to any characters in this all-important reboot. And so, we end up with 3 action set-pieces which are all big-scale and spectacular, but not really gripping.

What was fun about the action scenes was all the showcasing of all the tech that Tony Stark had built into Peter Parker’s suit. The suit AI (F.R.I.D.A.Y.), a female version of J.A.R.V.I.S. seemed a bit too good to be true, even more intelligent that J.A.R.V.I.S., it seemed to me!

And to round off the complaints, I still dislike the mismatched fonts of the movie title.

By now, anyone who’s been to a few Marvel movies knows to wait back for mid-credits and post-credits stingers. Well, there are two in this movie. The first stinger sets up a potential villain for the sequel, a criminal named Mac Gargan who becomes the Scorpion in the comic books. The 2nd one is really cheeky joke, eliciting appreciative laughter from the audience in the theatre.

And so, we have a Sony back on track with the Spider-Man franchise, with more than a bit of help from their ‘friends’ at Marvel/ Disney. Fans can only hope that this success could fuel a similar partnership between Marvel and Fox to resurrect the Fantastic Four franchise (although Marvel boss Kevin Feige has assured reporters that the possibility is beyond remote).

We still have one MCU film to go this year – the ‘buddy road film’ Thor: Ragnarok releasing in November, featuring Thor and the Hulk forced into mortal combat in an alien coliseum.

Next year, there are no less than 6 Marvel films! Three are MCU films from Disney – Black Panther (Feb), Avengers: Infinity War (May) and Ant-Man & the Wasp (July). The other three are mutant films from Fox – X-Men: The New Mutants (Apr), Deadpool 2 (June) and X-Men: Dark Phoenix (Nov). Oh, the joy!

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Captain America: Civil War – The Avengers sequel that’s better than the Avengers sequel


And so, the Captain America trilogy has come to an end. It began nearly five years ago with The First Avenger, a movie characterized by its simplicity and earnestness, reflecting the spirit of the times. During World War II, when your country asked you to fight, you fought; and it was easy to tell your allies from your enemies. The 2014 sequel The Winter Soldier was set 70 years later in the present day, but drew its inspiration from the conspiracy thrillers of the 1970s, a time when spies and double agents made it difficult to distinguish between friend and foe. The sibling duo of Joe and Anthony Russo are back again in the directors’ chair for the third and seemingly final entry in the series, Civil War. This time around, they seem even more at ease in managing what has become a hugely complex storytelling effort. Not only does Civil War continue with the second movie’s theme of “you don’t know who your allies are”, it goes one step further and turns friends into enemies.

The trailers made it clear that Civil War features pretty much all the characters from The Avengers; Age of Ultron and has frequently been referred to as ‘Avengers 2.5‘; in fact, the Russos will be directing the next two films in the Avengers series, so Civil War is indeed a bridge, both story-wise and thematically, between Age of Ultron and 2018’s Infinity War Part 1.

The only complaint I had after watching the movie yesterday (and this has been echoed in multiple reviews) is the absence of a worthy villain to challenge Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. To think that over the course of the trilogy, we have gone from Hugo Weaving’s menacing Red Skull to Robert Redford’s duplicitous S.H.I.E.L.D. leader Alexander Pierce to Daniel Bruhl’s rather bland Colonel Zemo…that’s somewhat disappointing.

The two new characters – Black Panther and Spider-Man – do add some freshness to the growing ensemble of heroes. Many critics have praised Chadwick Boseman’s performance as Prince T’Challa/ Black Panther and so I was expecting something very special. I came away a bit disappointed with Boseman’s rather stiff rendering of the Wakandan prince. What did work was the wonderful chemistry between him and his father, which is a credit to South African acting veteran John Kani, who plays King T’Chaka. Spider-Man, on the other hand is an unqualified hit and Tom Holland seems a perfect embodiment of the wise-cracking teenage superhero that we all love. I was least expecting his entry into the plot at the point that it happened and there was a collective gasp of joyful surprise from the audience when we all realized whose apartment we were in.

While all the reviews have spoken glowingly about the set-piece fight sequence at the airport in Germany, I thought the opening encounter in Lagos was also very well done, with the camera work particularly effective at bringing the audience into the midst of the hand-to-hand combat in a busy market place. It’s reminiscent of the shaky cam/ quick cut style of Paul Greengrass’ Bourne movies, but far easier to watch. The Russo brothers describe themselves as ‘guerilla filmmakers’ and you understand why.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing very distinctive as far as the theme music is concerned. Henry Jackman is the composer and I loved what he had done with X-Men: First Class in 2011 (particularly Magneto’s Theme). But all we get here is a generic, bombastic score with lots of strings and horns. The best music in the extended Avengers/ Captain America film series so far is still Alan Silvestri’s theme from The Avengers.

Here are my top moments from the movie:-

  • Black Widow’s stylish fighting jacket – Scarlett Johansson continues to be the style icon for the Marvel movies, sporting a tan cotton jacket during the opening fight scene in Lagos. The jacket is already a hot seller on many online stores.

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  • Scott Lang shows he can go both ways – The airport fight sequence is the showpiece of the movie. It’s where the growing schism between the two factions of the Avengers becomes all-out war. A last minute reinforcement for Captain America’s side is Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man. But there’s a big surprise in store as Lang shows that there’s more than one way to use those Pym particles.
  • Goodbye Peggy Carter – This was a really poignant moment for me. I’m sure Rogers-Carter doesn’t have the same ring to it as Romeo-Juliet, but for me, their unfulfilled romance has been one of the great tragic on-screen love stories of recent times, perhaps accentuated by actress Hayley Atwell’s strong performance in the Agent Carter TV series.
  • Cap keeps the Carter family connection strong – Steve Rogers moves right on, building a nice relationship with Peggy’s niece Sharon, although I do find it very difficult to accept the vapid Emily VanCamp as a replacement for the feisty Hayley Atwell.
  • We get to see the Raft – The prison for super-criminals makes an appearance.
  • Audi product placement – Audi continues their association with Tony Stark and the Avengers. Tony Stark is seen driving the super cool R8 V10 plus Coupé. The new SQ7 features prominently in a tunnel chase sequence involving Bucky, Cap and the Black Panther (check out Audi’s tie-in ad below).
  • Aunt May is really attractive – What a brilliant casting idea to get Marisa Tomei as Aunt May. Even Tony Stark seemed interested.
  • CGI is getting better at making actors look young – A low profile company called Lola VFX has been creating younger versions of actors on-screen for a few years. They ‘de-aged’ Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan for a flashback scene in X-Men: The Last Stand. In last year’s Ant-Man, a young Michael Douglas appeared in the opening scene. In both those films, they were able to take 20 years off the faces of actors in their late 60s/ early 70s. In Civil War, there’s a scene featuring a very young Robert Downey Jr., who appears to be in his late teens or early twenties; a significantly tougher task and a sign of how much the technology has improved. This is a sign of things to come in the sub-specialization now known as ‘visual cosmetics’.
  • Closing titles – The closing title sequence uses abstract shadows to describe the character played by each actor. A nice touch to have ’13’ come up against Emily VanCamp’s name, as Sharon Carter is called Agent 13 in the comic books.

And so, Marvel has yet another bona fide hit on their hands. The Disney machine already has two big hits this year with Zootopia and The Jungle Book. Look for Civil War to zoom up the charts and potentially overtake the current 2016 box office champion Deadpool in the coming weeks.

Marvel line-up 2015-17: Part 2


In the second part of my listing of Marvel properties coming to the screen in the next 3 years, let’s look at what 2016 has in store. Compared to the 3 films in 2015, we have a very crowded slate with of 5 titles in the 9 month period from February to November 2016.

Deadpool. Releases in Feb 2016 – The wise-cracking mercenary Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool, has been a cult favourite for years, particularly because of his non-stop talkative nature and his habit of ‘breaking the fourth wall’ with the audience. Equipped with an accelerated healing factor, Deadpool started off as a villain and then over time has been cast as an anti-hero. He has appeared on-screen once already, in X-Men Origins: Wolverine back in 2009. He was played by Ryan Reynolds and somehow this mess of a movie managed to morph his character into a a completely different villain called Weapon XI, who combined the powers of a number of other mutants. In the climactic battle scene, Wolverine decapitates Deadpool. But we know that in the world of comics, no one stays dead for too long. So, after a few years of ‘will they, won’t they’ rumours, it was with great fanboy excitement that a Deadpool ‘test footage’ clip was released on the internet, followed by the announcement of the film release in early 2016. The movie will be directed by first-timer Tim Miller. Marvel movie fans, be warned, this will be an R-rated film with violence and profanity; definitely not suitable for a family outing with the kids (hence the non-summer release date).

Captain America: Civil War. Releases in May 2016 – As a lot of fans suspected after seeing the Crossbones character appear in Captain America: The Winter Soldier this year, the next chapter in his standalone saga is going to deal with the Civil War storyline. This is one of the biggest Marvel story arcs in recent years, which is likely to create far-reaching ripples in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). The Civil War ‘crossover storyline’ published during 2006-07 is spread across several titles and deals with a Superhero Registration Act passed by the government, which ends up splitting the various superheroes into two factions, for and against the Act. Iron Man and Captain America end up on opposing sides, leading to widespread conflict, violence and some superhero deaths.

Since the Disney/ Marvel movies do not have rights to all the characters involved in the comic book storyline (such as the X-Men, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four), the movie will feature a simpler storyline which focuses on the ideological conflict between Iron Man and Captain America, something which has been foreshadowed already in The Avengers. Oh and incidentally, at the end of the Civil War comic books, Captain America is apparently assassinated by Crossbones; but of course, we know that nobody stays dead in comic books, so have no fear, Chris Evans will still have one more movie left after this one to complete his 6-film contract! The other big source of excitement in this movie is the introduction of a new Marvel character, T’Challa, the prince of the African state of Wakanda, whose alter ego is Black Panther.

X-Men: Apocalypse. Releases in May 2016 – Three weeks after Disney releases Captain America: Civil War, rival studio Fox brings out the sequel to their most successful superhero movie ever in terms of global box office, this year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. After the disastrous X-Men Origins: Wolverine practically killed the X-Men franchise, Fox rebooted the series with the outstanding X-Men: First Class, set during the Bay of Pigs event of the 60’s. This 2011 Cold War thriller is perhaps my all time favourite entry in the X-Men series. Days of Future Past took place in the 70’s and the time-travel story element effectively re-wrote various bits and pieces of X-Men cinematic history. The next entry X-Men: Apocalypse is expected to take place in the 80’s and will have the oldest known mutant as its super-villain: the 5000-year-old En Sabah Nur, aka Apocalypse. The character was teased during the post-credits scene of Days of Future Past, but the version we see in that scene is of a very young Apocalypse. What we will see in X-Men: Apocalypse will be closer to the image below; not a nice guy.

Bryan Singer will be directing an X-Men movie for the 4th time, but no news yet on which mutants will appear this time around, or whether the older cast from the original series (including Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan) will make an appearance. I think we can take for granted that fan-favourite Hugh Jackman will be there as Wolverine. Since he doesn’t age, it’s very convenient for Fox to just pop him into any of these X-Men movies irrespective of which time period the film is set in!

Doctor Strange. Releases in Nov 2016 – After months of speculation, Marvel finally confirmed a date for the Doctor Strange movie, although they have yet to confirm who is playing the character. There has been a virtual revolving door of highly regarded leading men who have been considered for this role, with Benedict Cumberbatch widely tipped to sign on. While the initial set of Marvel films were set in the world of high-tech science (Iron Man’s armour, Captain America’s serum, Hulk’s gamma radiation), the next set of films have explored aliens across the universe (Thor’s world Asgard and the various planets visited by the Guardians of the Galaxy). Now with Doctor Strange, Marvel opens the doors to the supernatural. Dr. Stephen Strange is a brilliant but arrogant neurosurgeon who loses the use of his hands after an accident. Forced to seek help, he eventually is trained by a mysterious benefactor in the Himalayas and takes on the mantle of the Sorcerer Supreme, protector of the Earth against supernatural threats. Horror director Scott Derrickson has been selected to helm the film and an earlier script is being re-written by Jon Spaihts (Prometheus). This is another risky venture by Marvel, partly because the magical subject matter is likely to appeal to a different audience type vs. their previous films and partly because the director and writer have had very limited critical or box office success in the past. Of course, Marvel has scored home runs with newbie James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) and hit-and-miss indie directors Jon Favreau and Joss Whedon, so who’s to say this latest throw the dice won’t work. Marvel make their own luck and their brains trust led by Kevin Feige just seems to have a feel for what audiences will like.

The Sinister Six. Releases in Nov 2016 – Just one week after Doctor Strange comes out, rival studio Sony is set to release a a film about super-villains. Sony owns the rights to the Spider-Man franchise and all related characters. They had a fantastic run with the original trilogy directed by Sam Raimi (from 2002 to 2007). The reboot directed by Marc Webb and released in 2012 had a so-so reception, but everyone agreed that the two leads Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone had fantastic chemistry. In this summer’s sequel, they killed off Emma Stone, effectively ending any reason that audiences would want to watch a 3rd or 4th movie in this franchise. Although the global box office take was around USD 700 mn, it was still lower than what the original Spider-Man made 12 years earlier, not factoring in ticket price inflation. Sony has effectively put future Spider-Man sequels on hold, but seems to be going ahead with Sinister Six, a film that brings together 6 of Spidey’s biggest enemies. In the comic books, the Sinister Six have gone through a few changes in line-up over the years and the film is expected to feature a new grouping consisting of Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Mysterio, Kraven the Hunter, Rhino and Vulture. The film will be directed by Drew Goddard, who I have plenty of respect for as the writer of intelligent and entertaining scifi properties like Alias and Lost on TV as well as the movies Cloverfield and World War Z.

So, it’s a mixed bag in 2016. We have two sequels which will be surefire winners – Captain America: Civil War and X-Men: Apocalypse. There are two new properties, largely unknown outside the fan base – Deadpool and Doctor Strange – which can take Marvel into new demographics and genres respectively. And there is one film The Sinister Six which is still very much an unknown entity.

The best and worst Marvel villains


Marvel Studios started leasing its characters out to studios in the late 1990’s starting with New Line’s R-rated Blade series. We then saw Fox releasing X-Men in 2000, a franchise that is going strong to this day with the upcoming release of X-Men: Days of Future Past. Emboldened by this success, Fox also tried its hand with Daredevil and the Fantastic Four. Sony got into the act with the Spider-Man franchise in 2002, now rebooted and with 4 more movies staked out till 2018. Sony also produced two Ghost Rider films with Nicolas Cage. Meanwhile, Universal released a couple of Hulk movies in 2003/ 2008 and Lions Gate jumped in with two R-rated Punisher films in 2004/ 2008.  By 2008, Marvel was producing its own films with the first two Iron Man films plus Thor and Captain America being distributed by Paramount before Marvel was bought by Disney.

In all these years, I’ve never known Marvel to make a movie with a really lame villain, until now.

Of course, this observation excludes duds like Daredevil in which every aspect of the movie is so laughable that it hardly matters whether Colin Farrell’s Bullseye and Michael Clarke Duncan’s Kingpin are more ridiculous than the superhero or not. Ang Lee’s Hulk also came very close. The military led by potential father-in-law General Ross was Bruce Banner’s primary adversary and produced some great action set-pieces, but other than that, the big guy had to fight three mutant dogs (shouldn’t they leave that for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?) and his own dad who becomes a big err…energy thing at the end. While the Weapon XI/ Deadpool hybrid character in X-Men Origins: Wolverine was certainly a powerful foe, I thought ‘pretty boy’ Ryan Reynolds was the wrong choice to play him, not to mention the incredible conceit of bastardising Deadpool into a multi-powered character called Weapon XI just to set up a climactic fight scene with Wolverine. I had also mentioned recently that The Winter Soldier in the recent Captain America sequel looked pretty tame. Luckily, the audience had all the SHIELD/ HYDRA intrigue going on to keep them on the edge of their seats.

But none of these misadventures can compare with the ultimate ‘loser villain’ that I just saw on the big screen last week in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Jamie Foxx was completely miscast as Electro, looking bloated and middle-aged (he is 46 and looks cooler in real life) and nothing like the sleek super-villain from the comics or Disney’s Ultimate Spider-Man animation series. The script writers, the director and casting director must all take the blame for this mess. Having taken so much time to set up Max Dillon’s character as an introverted and socially insecure engineer (complete with comb-over), the film-makers just could not change that personality overnight once he gained his powers. Fortunately, with the film so packed with villains, we had Dane DeHaan to save the day…equally disturbing as both Harry Osborn and the Green Goblin.

But as I said at the beginning, Marvel is better known for getting it right than getting it wrong. That brings me then to my top villains in the Marvel cinematic universe thus far, in chronological order of appearance in movies over the years:-

  1. Magneto/ Erik Lensherr – No one can match the evil mutant for his ultimate combination of brains and mutant brawn, not to mention a genuine belief that he is fighting for the future of humankind. His tragic experience in the Warsaw camp (depicted first in X-Men and in greater detail in X-Men: First Class) only add to the pathos of the character. Brilliantly played first by Sir Ian McKellan and then by Michael Fassbender, I can’t wait to see them both in the same film in a couple of weeks’ time.
  2. Green Goblin/ Norman Osborn – Willem Dafoe is one of the busiest actors in the industry, but he rarely signs up for the kind of meaty lead character roles he had in PlatoonThe Last Temptation of Christ and Mississippi Burning in the mid-80s, having switched to interesting supporting roles instead. In his Oscar-nominated turn as Max Schreck in Shadow of the Vampire (2000), he showed how well he could play ‘scary’. Two years later, he showcased this talent to a much wider audience as Norman Osborn in Spider-Man. My favourite scene – the Thanksgiving lunch at Peter’s place when he gives Aunt May a murderous look after she slaps his hand for reaching out for the food.
  3. Doctor Octopus/ Otto Octavius – As played by the incredibly talented Alfred Molina in Spider-Man 2, Doc Ock is the most tragic of Marvel’s cinematic villains. The loss of his wife during that fateful experiment and his own self-sacrifice and redemption at the end of the film certainly elevate him above the typical evil super-villain.
  4. Loki – Everyone’s favourite bad guy has now graced three Marvel films – Thor, The Avengers and Thor: The Dark World. Loki has the perfect mix of brains and brawn, with charming good looks and a sense of humour thrown in. Played by 33-year-old Londoner Tom Hiddleston, there is little doubt that he will return in future Marvel films. He even gets the best CGI scenes – who can forget the pummeling he receives from the Hulk (“Puny God!”) in The Avengers or his switch to Captain America in The Dark World!
  5. Sebastian Shaw/ Dr. Klaus Schmidt – Kevin Bacon is absolutely hateful as the cruel and slightly mad Dr. Klaus Schmidt in the Warsaw concentration camp scenes of X-Men: First Class. Later in the film, he re-emerges as the suave Sebastian Shaw. Only an actor of Kevin Bacon’s caliber could pull off the transformation believably.
  6. Green Goblin/ Harry Osborn – Like father, like son. In the just released The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Hollywood’s new ‘disturbed young man’ Dane DeHaan is truly creepy as Harry Osborn aka Green Goblin. Who wouldn’t be with a dad like Norman Osborn (played equally creepily by Chris Cooper)? I actually thought he was scarier as Harry than after the transformation to Goblin!

I am hoping that in a couple of weeks I will be adding Peter Dinklage’s Bolivar Trask to this list. Fingers crossed that X-Men: Days of Future Past will not disappoint.

Marvel line-up: 2013-2015


With the announcement yesterday of Fantastic Four getting the reboot treatment from Fox Studios, we have now probably got the full line-up of Marvel films for the next 3 years:-

2013

Next year, the action begins in early May with Disney’s release of Iron Man 3, this time directed by powerhouse screenwriter Shane Black, who made his name in the 1980’s and early ‘90s writing the screenplays for the Lethal Weapon series. Of course, he lost his way a bit in the mid-90s with duds like Last Action Hero and The Long Kiss Goodnight, but in 2005 he made a welcome return with the critically acclaimed crime caper Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. That film also featured welcome returns by a couple of ‘washed out’ actors, namely Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer. So, there was a sense of symmetry when it was announced that Mr. Black would be reunited with Mr. Downey Jr. in the 3rd solo adventure for the billionaire super-hero.

In July 2013, Fox extends its X-Men franchise with Hugh Jackman coming back after a 4-year gap to play the indestructible mutant Wolverine (not counting his cameo in X-Men: First Class last summer). Mr. Jackman soared to stardom 12 years ago playing Logan in the first X-Men movie, which can be considered as the launch pad for the vast and intricately linked Marvel movie universe of today. The new movie, titled The Wolverine is directed by James Mangold, who helmed the outstanding Sylvester Stallone crime drama Copland in 1997, helped Angelina Jolie and Reese Witherspoon win Oscars for Girl, Interrupted and Walk the Line respectively and directed the critically praised remake of 3:10 to Yuma in 2007. His only real misstep has been the Tom Cruise-Cameron Diaz ‘comedy’ Knight and Day and so he must be looking forward to getting back on to the critics’ love list with The Wolverine. Likewise, Jackman’s last outing in X-Men Origins: Wolverine is considered a bit of a mess, so he’ll be keen to get it right this time around. Expectations are high among fanboys because the storyline is based on the famous 1982 comic series set in Japan.

It’s rare to see a Marvel release outside of the summer blockbuster season; next November will see another Aussie hunk Chris Hemsworth reprise his role as the Norse god in Disney’s Thor: The Dark World, directed by Game of Thrones alumnus Alan Taylor. The choice of director clearly indicates that the story will stay primarily in the fantasy realm of the Nine Worlds. It will be interesting to see how this film fares commercially…no doubt Chris Hemsworth has a major fan following and the first Thor film collected nearly $200 million in the US, but Thor is the sort of character better suited to an ensemble piece like The Avengers and may have difficulty sustaining a solo career.

2014

Chris Evans gets things going early in with a spring release for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, also released by Disney. This is likely to be darker in tone that the first film, with the character of Bucky Barnes returning brainwashed as a Soviet assassin, code named Winter Soldier. Back in 1969, Marvel introduced the first ever African-American hero, The Falcon as a crime-fighting partner for Captain America and now we will get to see the superhero team-up featured on the big screen with Anthony Mackie playing the NYC-based birdman. I also see super-villain Crossbones listed in the movie credits, so one automatically thinks of the Civil War comic book storyline which features Crossbones assisting in the assassination of Captain America…I wonder if that’s how the movie is going to end. Of course, in the Marvel Universe, no one stays dead for very long and Cap will have to be back for the Avengers sequel.

A few weeks later, Andrew Garfield is back as Spider-Man with Marc Webb once again directing the sequel to this summer’s Sony Pictures reboot. This time around, it looks like we are going to have a love triangle with the introduction of Mary Jane Watson’s character to vie with Gwen Stacy for Peter Parker’s affections. The excitement peaked a few days ago with the announcement that Jamie Foxx will play super-villain Electro (as hinted in the post-credits sequence this summer) and Dane DeHaan selected to play Pete’s friend (and closet psychopath) Harry Osborn. DeHaan made quite a splash playing a super-powered psychopath in this year’s found-footage sleeper hit Chronicle and so I can see why the casting director has made this call, as Osborn eventually follows his father’s footsteps and becomes the Green Goblin.

Towards the end of the summer, we have a very exciting team-up arriving on the big screen with X-Men: Days of Future Past from Fox Studios. This is big for several reasons…Bryan Singer, who directed the first two X-Men films in 2000 and 2003, returns as director. This film is the sequel to X-Men: First Class (produced by Singer), which is one of the smartest and most fun films in the Marvel universe. Next year’s sequel features a powerhouse combo of the cast from the original X-Men movies (Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan) and the actors playing their younger selves from First Class (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender). And last, but not least, the eponymous storyline is considered to be one of the most famous in X-Men comics canon, featuring time travel. I’m just hoping that audiences are not suffering from Marvel fatigue, with this being the 3rd Marvel film in as many months.

Two weeks later, Disney launches a new franchise in the form of Guardians of the Galaxy. This is a real wild card for Marvel and I myself have never read any of these comic books. It is difficult to picture how this film will fit into the Marvel cinematic universe; one of the links will be the villain Thanos, who appeared in the post-credits sequence to this summer’s The Avengers. But, other than that, the film is unlikely to connect with any of the other Marvel characters or even set on Earth. You see, the Guardians are a 5-member team which includes an anthropomorphic raccoon (named Rocket Raccoon) and a plant monster named Groot. You get the picture…this is starting look more and more like a CGI-heavy space-adventure film that will appeal primarily to kids.

2015

The marvelous fun in 2015 begins with the just-announced reboot of Fantastic Four. It would be ten years since the first Fox film hit the screens in what was a reasonably enjoyable origin story, in spite of its low budget and lack of spectacular effects. In fact, that was the film that made current Captain America actor Chris Evans famous, playing the brash smart-mouthed Human Torch. Now Fox has brought on board young director Josh Trank to helm the reboot and casting news is sure to follow in the next few months. Trank is a fantastic (pun intended!) choice since he directed the critically and commercially successful found-footage movie Chronicle earlier this year, which featured 3 college kids who gain super-powers and then struggle to deal with the physical and emotional changes.

In May, Disney will release The Avengers 2, the much anticipated follow-up to this summer’s megahit. The entire gang is back – director Joss Whedon and all the actors – and the villain will be Thanos, who comes from an evolutionary offshoot of humans called The Eternals. We are likely to see large scale action once again, similar to the attack on NYC featured in the climax of The Avengers. The trick will be to maintain the inter-character dynamics and light banter which made this year’s film such a breakout hit beyond the hard core fans.

Finally, we have yet another rare November release, with the introduction of the long-gestating Ant-Man into the Marvel cinematic universe. British director Edgar Wright rose to fame with the zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead and the cop comedy Hot Fuzz, so one wonders what the tone of Ant-Man will be. Mr. Wright has been working on this script for many years now, but it was only this year that the movie was officially announced, although casting has not yet been finalized. The script has been through several iterations and as I understand the latest version of the story will have both the original Ant-Man Dr. Henry Pym and his successor Scott Lang.

So that’s it; we can look forward to 10 films over the next 3 years. Broadly, the movies are now clustered at 3 studios –the X-Men and Fantastic Four characters are at Fox, Sony has the Spider-Man franchise and the Avengers characters are all at Disney, which owns Marvel. Plus, any new character that enters the big screen henceforth will be through Disney (Black Panther and Dr. Strange appear to be closest to making the jump). For the next 3 years, Joss Whedon is at Disney to ensure that the different Avengers universe films maintain internal consistency and continuity. All of this is overseen of course by Kevin Feige, the President of Production and Marvel Studios. Mark Millar, the award winning Scottish comic book writer has been hired by Fox to do a similar job over there with their movies…in fact, it will be interesting to see if Millar engineers any crossovers between the forthcoming X-Men and Fantastic Four films.

Overall, the Marvel universe is in a good place. Over at rival comic book owner DC Comics, they are trying to get their act together; their Batman franchise has ended, the Green Lantern movie was a disaster, but they are expecting a successful reboot of Superman next year with Man of Steel. The big question though is if they can put together a Justice League ensemble film and replicate the success of Marvel’s The Avengers. Current rumours suggest that DC and Warner Bros. are targeting a 2015 release date for just such a movie.