It will take some doing for Warner Bros./DC to catch up with Disney/Marvel. They have a huge head-start with 10 films and more than $7.1 billion globally at the box office, even with Zack Snyder’s “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” coming in 2016 and an impressive slate of ten movies in the offing. Ezra Miller is going to play “The Flash,” Snyder returns to direct a second “Justice League” movie (2020) and Gal Gadot stars as “Wonder Woman” in 2017, with “Aquaman” and “The Flash” to follow in 2018.
So Tuesday morning at Disney’s El Capitan Theatre, packed with fanboys, journos, and various hangers-on (such as “Avengers: Age of Ultron” writer-director Joss Whedon), Marvel struck back by announcing an even more ambitious slate of eight films through 2019 (including the initial four in Phase 3’s nine-film arc), which will introduce Doctor Strange (November 4, 2016) which is rumored to star Benedict Cumberbatch; Marvel’s first leading African-American superhero, Black Panther (played by “Get On Up’s” Chadwick Boseman, which arrives November 3, 2017); and Marvel’s first leading female superhero, Captain Marvel, aka Major Carol Danvers (coming July 6, 2018).
Marvel president Kevin Feige starting things off by screening the latest trailer for “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (May 1, 2015), which was anything but fun and games, before announcing the slate. Then Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, and Boseman took the stage and fooled around, with Downey trying to woo the latest superhero over to his side. But Boseman would have none of that: He refused to pick a leader and said he’s his own man. The point of which underscores the thrust of “Captain America 3: Civil War” (May 6, 2016), which introduces Black Panther and has Tony Stark and Steve Rogers setting aside their differences to help save the Marvel universe.
We got a glimpse of their rivalry in a scene from “Age of Ultron” in which Rogers chops wood while Stark criticizes him for lacking a requisite superhero dark side. Rogers says he does indeed have a dark side but just hasn’t revealed it. “Every time someone tries to win a war before it starts, innocent people die — always!” Rogers then crushes the rest of the wood with his hands, and Stark is taken aback.
The fascinating thing about the ever expanding Marvel universe is how it manages to be epic and intimate at the same time, serious but also humorous. Afterward, Feige admitted that it’s a natural evolution. They stick with their plan, despite the competition, and respond to what the audience tells them. As Victoria Alonso, Marvel exec producer/exec VP of VFX & post-production, told me at the VES Summit, It’s about creating exciting and compelling stories that just happen to star superheroes and transcending genre conventions. These are misfits with addictions and very primal needs, which is why they resonate so strongly, particularly in the surprising mega-hit “Guardians,” which serves as a touchstone for the Marvel way.
But the key is being fresh and relevant and taking risks. For example, “Doctor Strange” introduces supernatural for the first time to the Marvel universe with quantum mechanics, string theory, and a parallel dimension. And “Inhumans” (November 2, 2018) offers a new hybrid of Earth-bound superheroes and aliens (they secretly live among us but are genetic anomalies), which opens up another aspect of the Marvel universe. Meanwhile, for “Civil War,” Feige is apparently negotiating with Sony to loan back Spider-Man. This is part of what makes Marvel unique in its breadth.
Trans-media is the latest buzzword for such quantum, overlapping storytelling, and Marvel has embraced it more than anyone.That is until rival DC and Disney sibling “Star Wars” start catching up. But Marvel obviously has no intention of relinquishing its lead.
Here’s the release schedule: