Call it a superhero-sized weekend for the Marvel cinematic universe (MCU).
Even as studio president Kevin Feige took to the Comic-Con stage to reveal Marvel’s post-Avengers “Phase 4”, the juggernaut franchise claimed a record.
“The Infinity Saga is complete,” Feige declared at the San Diego event on the weekend – and it went out in a big way.
Marvel’s 2019 smash Avengers: Endgame – which bid farewell to Robert Downey Jr’s Ironman and Chris Evans’ Captain America – has outstripped James Cameron’s Avatar to become the highest-grossing film ever (Caveat: Avatar’s earnings haven’t been adjusted for inflation).
Some 13 weeks after its release, Endgame has made an estimated $US2.79 billion ($3.96 billion) at the box office, just shading the 2009 sci-fi fantasy.
Star Chris Hemsworth hit Instagram to thank fans for rocketing Endgame to “historic heights”.
But it was another Hemsworth post that showcased where the MCU is heading.
He shared a photo announcing Marvel’s fourth Thor movie Love and Thunder, which is slated for a November 2021 release.
The twist? Natalie Portman, who played the God of Thunder’s love interest, Jane, in the first two movies, is back – as is Tessa Thompson – but this time she’s wielding the hammer.
New Zealand director Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok) said at Comic-Con the “incredible” storyline came from the comic source material The Mighty Thor.
“It’s full of emotion of love and thunder and it introduces for the first time female Thor,” Waititi said.
“For us there’s only one person who could play that role.”
The Hollywood Reporter claimed Portman was “believed to be done with” the Marvel world after not appearing in any of their movies since 2013.
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Always one of, if not the best events of the year @comic_con unrivalled enthusiasm from the folks that make all a reality, the fans !!! So excited to announce #thorloveandthunder ⚡️⚡️🙏🤙🙏🤙👍 can’t wait to get crackin on this one, gonna be one hell of a ride @marvelstudios @taikawaititi @tessamaethompson @natalieportman
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Marvel’s Phase 4: What’s next?
Announced by Feige, Marvel’s Phase 4 was hailed as a strong diverse blueprint to build on the MCU’s phenomenal success.
Variety said the two-year plan contained “splashy surprises” and “risky creative bets”.
First up will be Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, a gritty prequel that is a month into production. Also starring Rachel Weisz, Florence Pugh and Stranger Things’ David Harbour, it will premiere in May 2020.
The audience was treated to a Black Widow preview, with Johansson showing footage of hand-to-hand combat on the Budapest set.
Australian Cate Shortland (Somersault) is directing, with Johansson revealing she “battled it out” to have the movie made and said the search for a female director showed “systemic problems” in Hollywood.
“I couldn’t have played this iteration of the character 10 years ago,” Johansson said.
“I get to play her as a fully realised woman with many facets.”
New big names
Angelina Jolie, who will have a starring role in Marvel’s upcoming Eternals (slated for November 2020), earned a standing ovation at Comic-Con when talking up what it means to “be part of this family”.
Pledged Jolie: “I’m gonna work 10 times harder. I know what we all need to do and what the task ahead is and what you all deserve.”
Co-star Salma Hayek paid tribute to “strong woman” director Chloe Zhao before adding Eternals will “allow people who never felt represented in superheroes to feel represented”.
“I am proud to have a diverse family.”
Also signing up for the Marvel ranks is rapper and actress Awkwafina, who will appear in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, to be released in February 2021.
The studio cast its first Asian lead, unknown actor Simu Liu, to star in Shang-Chi opposite Tony Leung.
“Kevin and MCU reflect all the beautiful colours that I see in this room,” director Destin Daniel Cretton said, complimenting Feige and Marvel (who chose African-American actor Anthony Mackie as the next Captain America) for pushing non-white acting.
“To be a small part of that is very special.”
Benedict Cumberbatch is returning to the titular role in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, due to hit theatres in May 2021.
The Comic-Con presentation wrapped up with the news that Green Book Oscar winner Mahershala Ali will star in Marvel’s Blade, as the vampire hunter previously played by Wesley Snipes.
But “the biggest takeaway”, said Variety, is how important Marvel will make Disney Plus, the digital streaming Netflix rival that the Walt Disney Company is launching in November.
Feige made it clear that a Disney Plus subscription will be vital for keeping up with the narratives fans will see in theatres.