Mutants aren't immune to that nasty case of franchise-ification going around. Dr. Bryan Singer — three-time X-Men movie director, not an actual licensed medical professional — confirmed the news late Thursday, tweeting simply "*#Xmen, *#Apocalypse, 2016." Various sources confirm a May 27 release date, giving the film a two-year turnaround after the recently rebooted Marvel series paced itself with three years between X-Men: First Class and the forthcoming Days of Future Past. Assuming the difficulty of corralling all the past and present X-Men for a second time in a row, Apocalypse better have a strong angle for itself. Which, if it's named after the comic book villain rather than the end times, it shall.
Terrence Howard helped build the Iron Man franchise, not in the sense that he played a character whose name I remember, but in the sense that he was in the first movie. But when Iron Man 2 rolled up two years later, Howard was gone and Don Cheadle was there, evidently playing the same guy, one Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes, only with a different face. Howard dug back into this five-year-old switcheroo on Bravo's Watch What Happens Livelast night — and offered a new indictment of Robert Downey Jr. in the process — but let's refamiliarize ourselves with the history first.
November 2008, six months after Iron Man hit theaters:EW writes that Howard was the first to sign on to the film and thus received the highest salary. The report alleges that Howard exhibited "difficult behavior" on set and director Jon Favreau was "ultimately unhappy with Howard's performance, and spent a lot of time cutting and reshooting his scenes." In writing the sequel, Favreau and Justin Theroux scaled down the Rhodey role. Then "the studio went to the actor's agents with a new and drastically reduced offer — a number that's similar to what supporting cast members were paid for the first movie. The agents, according to sources, were so taken aback by this new figure — estimated at somewhere between a 50 and 80 percent pay cut — that they questioned it." Apparently nobody ever told Howard about his behavioral problems. Howard's publicist only says, "Terrence had a tremendous experience working on Iron Man." This is the first report, and the impression that will stick for a while.
The first Thor film arrived in May of 2011, almost exactly one year after the disappointing but wildly successful Iron Man 2, and almost exactly one year before the fanboy-sating, billion-five-grossing, super-team-up orgy of The Avengers. Though no sure thing, it was a big hit, exceeding any reasonable goal for a tentpole entertainment directed by Henry V and centered around a Norse god whose powers include salon-quality hair and being able to afford the nicest hammer in the Asgard Home Depot. After the movie pounded out $450 million worldwide, nobody's sniffing at our hero's impossibly bouncy tresses anymore, unless it's to ask Chris Hemsworth if he'd like to try the shampoo infused with fresh-squeezed diamond essence today. (He would; the one made from 24-carat bullion flakes is giving him a nasty case of goldruff.)
And so Friday's arrival of Thor: The Dark World comes with much higher expectations than the movie two years ago. The Marvel Universe is now made entirely of money (thanks, Joss and RDJ!), and Hemsworth, as untested a beef-slab as the suits dared jam into Viking armor the first time around, is now a battle-tenderized movie star. There is a train that must be kept running until the next Avengers film arrives in 2015, and each super-conductor must take his turn shoveling cash into its hungry furnace. But, we ask, is that your problem? It is not; when Stan Lee comes by to jiggle an upturned fedora near your pockets as you wait in line outside the multiplex, you're under no obligation to toss in any coins. Your only problem is this: Should you open your wallet this time? Well, we're here to arm you with the information you need to make an informed ticket-buying decision.
Here we are, only six episodes into ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and the rumor about Marvel readying several more TV shows all at once has come true. Disney (which owns Marvel as well as Grantland) and Netflix will pair to present no less than four 13-episode series starting in 2015. Daredevil will be the first; Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage will follow, and the four will culminate with a synergy-redefining miniseries, The Defenders. Marvel's press release says "the epic will unfold over multiple years of original programming, taking Netflix members deep into the gritty world of heroes and villains of Hell’s Kitchen, New York." Netflix's press release just says, "WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!" (Theoretically.)
Right now we're stuck between technology that can pretty much do everything and movies that haven't a clue what to do without it. Joss Whedon's Avengers demonstrated a way forward for the comic-book movie: action-television. Without anything interesting to say, these Avengers 2 teasers (or whatever we're calling them; "movie" usually feels wrong) exist to give hundreds of technicians a lab to advance the state of their art.
You'd never call Thor: The Dark World experimental, even though that's ultimately what it is. The costume department gets to play with fabrics and colors and helmets. The effects teams continue to discover subtle new ways to erase the boundaries between the laws of physics and the version Marvel's writers and illustrators use. (Marvel, like Grantland, is owned by Disney.) And the studio, of course, gets richer. But for all this experimenting, why does no one monkey with the script? Why doesn't the acting get to go off the rails? Why is Chris Hemsworth's crown prince, Thor, still a caped Chippendales dancer?
Alan Taylor had three feature-film credits to his name before Asgard beckoned. Taylor, the director of Marvel Studios' Thor: The Dark World, had made Palookaville (1995), The Emperor's New Clothes (2001), and Kill the Poor (2003) — all were met with middling reviews and none earned a million dollars at the box office. But as Taylor's sequel to 2011's Thor arrives in theaters this weekend, he's already sitting on a new personal best: This past weekend, the movie grossed more than $100 million overseas. How did this happen?
Marvel took a chance on Taylor for one reason: Game of Thrones. Taylor is known to hard-core fans of the fantasy series as an established TV director, but even that body of work isn't that prolific. He directed a handful of episodes of Homicide: Life on the Street, Sex and the City, The Sopranos, the pilot for Mad Men, and that one episode of Lost where Hurley has bad dreams. But for Kevin Feige, overlord of the “Marvel Cinematic Universe,” the company's self-proclaimed delineation between studio movies like X-Men and Spider-Man and their own homegrown franchises, it came down to Game of Thrones.
Inspired by the success of the Harry Potter franchise under the eye of British TV director David Yates, Feige began homing in on a TV helmer to call his own. First choice Patty Jenkins (Monster, AMC's The Killing) departed the project for unknown reasons (although accounts of the shake-up cite creative differences that would have lengthened the development process and constricted Jenkins's vision). Feige turned to Taylor to add some Game of Thrones grit to the candy-colored world of Asgard. Now, with an alley-oop pass from Marvel, Taylor is an in-demand blockbuster director: He's in talks to helm the next Terminator movie. The director of Palookaville.
This February, Marvel Comics and writer G. Willow Wilson will introduce a new version of Ms. Marvel: In her non-costumed life, she's Kamala Khan, a (presumably mild-mannered) Pakistani American teenager from Jersey City, New Jersey. The character's launch will mark the first time either of the major comic book companies has published a book built around an American Muslim lead. Khan has as-yet-unspecified shape-shifting powers, and she'll adopt the Ms. Marvel name because it's a former alias of her favorite superhero, Carol Danvers, the statuesque blonde Avenger who now goes by Captain Marvel. Wilson told the New York Times that Danvers "represents an ideal that Kamala pines for. She's strong, beautiful and doesn't have any of the baggage of being Pakistani and 'different.'" In other words, she'll struggle with her identities — secret and otherwise — in the mighty Marvel manner, just like Peter Parker before her.
Because you can't upend the stereotypes all at once, here is how Marvel editor Sana Amanat describes Kamala's family life to the Times: “Her brother is extremely conservative." [Sigh.] "Her mom is paranoid that she’s going to touch a boy and get pregnant." [Sigh.] "Her father wants her to concentrate on her studies and become a doctor." [And … sigh.] But if you haven't already, go click on that Times story and take note of what's going on in the image accompanying it, an illustration of Kamala Khan by Runaways artist Adrian Alphona, who'll be drawing Ms. Marvel. She's got a giant fist and she's shaking it at a porcupine who appears to be wearing Hulk Hands. I bet there's an interesting reason Kamala's about to punch a porcupine, maybe even one that has nothing to do with her sternly traditional Muslim family! If this picture suggests anything, it's that this book may be more fun than well-intentioned attempts to address a representational dearth typically are.
It sure gets complicated, what with all these superheroes zipping around, but here's the basics: After Avengers, Iron Man had to save the world. On November 8, Thor will save the world. And then, finally, it'll be Captain America's turn to save the world. Again.
Did Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman start out working with J.J. Abrams specifically so it would be that much more dramatic when they usurped him as the lords of Nerd-Earth? Because this is the final step. They're one project away. My awe has only increased with each episode of Fox's excellent Sleepy Hollow, with every return to their twin IMDbpages (new Star Trek! Alias and Fringe! The next two Amazing Spider-Mans! Cowboys & Aliens! OK, maybe not Cowboys & Aliens), and with each new story about a project they've sold. One of those many, many sales tales came last year, when Orci and Kurtzman signed on to produce Universal's remakes of The Mummy and Van Helsing, with the latter starring Tom Cruise. But it's not that simple, or that boring.
Turns out Orci and Kurtzman's forays into monsterabilia may actually forge a multi-movie reality where classic monsters dwell, similarly to how Marvel has fleshed out an onscreen world for its superheroes. "There's an interesting thing that could happen at Universal where they have this amazing library of their old monsters and these kinds of heroes, and the idea of trying to think of creating a universe," Orci tells IGN. "We just had a notion of how to make it modern and how to make it just a slightly different tone. It's not going to be just a remake."
When ABC announced the pickup of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., its first co-branded superhero series, the challenge was clear: how to bring a grounded — and less expensive! — point of view to a high-flying cinematic universe. After four weeks, it's safe to say that S.H.I.E.L.D has managed to accomplish that and only that. The show has taken a world in which Norse thunder gods and armored billionaires soar through the skies and made it as compelling as a commuter flight to Albany.
(This is probably as good a time as any to mention that ABC and Marvel are, like Grantland, owned by the Walt Disney Company. We now resume our regular programming.)
That S.H.I.E.L.D. should be struggling creatively isn't necessarily a surprise. (It also doesn't much matter. Thanks to its pedigree, the show is the highest-rated new series of 2013 and has already received a full-season order.) Comic-book stories are never easy to translate to the small screen and the difficulty only increases with an unprecedented project like S.H.I.E.L.D. It's an hour that needs to serve multiple masters, both creative and financial. The series is officially "canon" in a brave new storytelling context where that actually means something: Anything shown onscreen has to sync up with blockbuster Marvel films, even the ones yet to be made. With billions of future dollars at stake, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s creative process is almost necessarily more about the boardroom than the writers' room. This means that the late-night, cheap takeout–fueled inspiration that has led to some of scripted TV's most indelible moments won't be happening here. What's worse, an exploration of the Marvel U's most fascinating corners — like Wakanda, say, or the Savage Land — is also unlikely. Why burn something on a random Tuesday night in October when there's a chance of blowing people's minds with it on a summer weekend in 2019? Even with the familial connection to Avengers godhead (and S.H.I.E.L.D. executive producer) Joss Whedon, husband and wife showrunners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen are saddled with a great deal more responsibility than actual power.
Let's start with the starrier side of this superhero news. Evidently since Parks and Rec’s Chris Pratt won the lead in Guardians of the Galaxy, it's all systems go for comedy-bred actors to lead future Marvel properties. To be fair, Ant-Man was always bound to be weird and stylistically detached from the big-screen Marvel universe. But Paul Rudd as a superhero! In an Edgar Wright joint cowritten by Attack the Block’s Joe Cornish! Joseph Gordon-Levitt is also in the mix, which is a little easier to fathom, considering his handful of serious characters and the fact he did The Dark Knight Rises — but Don Jon being his most recent role lends the prospect some definite silliness.
With nary an Iron Man or Hulk in sight, ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. blasted and smashed the competition last night, pulling 11.9 million viewers and a very special 4.6 rating in the 18-49 demographic. Within that get-the-advertisers-all-slobbery demo, S.H.I.E.L.D. can now boast the strongest TV drama premiere in the past four years.
So it looks like Joss Whedon's new series could be around for a goodish while, or it could be dead at age 2, like V, the previous holder of this particular record. Presumably Marvel fanboys (and fangals) are more dedicated than the people who held a candle for a remake starring Morris Chestnut and Juliet from Lost. Either way, ABC took a swing at a new big-budget project (early estimates had the show's Industrial Light & Magic effects costing $1 million per episode) directed by that guy who made The Avengers, and we’re one step closer to verifying that it was indeed a good move.
ABC is rolling out a block of new shows tonight, including the much-anticipated debut of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. at 8 p.m. (ABC, Marvel, and Grantland are owned by the all-powerful Walt Disney Corporation). Is the premiere "the biggest event on television," as claimed by the network hoping some of The Avengers’ billion-dollar magic will rub off on its prime-time schedule? Here's an excerpt from Andy Greenwald's fall TV drama preview if you're on the fence:
Between 2001 and 2011, Warner Bros. released eight films with the name "Harry Potter" in the title. The franchise took over an entire decade and became the highest-grossing film series of all time, raking in $7.7 billion-with-a-B internationally. The final installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, was the highest-grossing of all, with a domestic take of $381 million; the series was forced to end because there was no more book to adapt, not because it was anywhere close to overstaying its welcome at the box office. So, naturally, it only took two years for Warner Bros. to fire up the mint again — this time in a way that could potentially run until the last dime has been milked from the last standing Harry Potter fan in a postapocalyptic desert wasteland future where everyone not safely housed within the confines of a studio-owned theme park has died from starvation and/or exposure.
If I sound cynical, it's because I've used up all my benefit of the doubt for financial strategies disguised as fan service on Disney's revitalization of the Star Wars franchise into a 21st-century pop culture product assembly line. And in many ways, the recently announced J.K. Rowling–penned Potter spin-off series sounds like WB's answer to that all-but-guaranteed windfall: With no number of films specified that Rowling has been contracted to write, we are to assume that this will just go on as long as it's profitable to all involved parties.
This summer, nearly all the comic-book movie oxygen has been sucked up by DC properties — Man of Steel went on a $650 million, box-office-leveling rampage across the globe, and the Comic-Con reveal that its sequel will be the big-screen Batman vs. Superman faceoff of moist fanboy dreams immediately touched off a frenzy of speculation about which distinguished, gray-stubbled jaw might protude from beneath the Dark Knight's cowl. (We're gonna do Josh Brolin there, right? Let Gosling have the re-reboot.) Sure, Comic-Con also told us the next Avengers will be called Age of Ultron, which, OK, that's probably a thing easier for mainstream audiences to get excited for than the one about talking trees and badass raccoons.