“THE LION KING (2019)” Review (✫✫1/2)

The circle of (CGI) life. 

Let this be a lesson to Disney and any other media conglomerates in the future: just because something worked well the first time doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to work every time after. Sure, when Jon Favreau directed the live-action Jungle Book remake in 2016, it garnered critical acclaim, grossed over $966 million at the box office, and even won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, with many viewers claiming that it was even better than the original. With The Jungle Book’s success in mind, Disney thought they could probably give The Lion King the same treatment and get the same result two times over.

Ah, but here’s the thing: The Jungle Book is consistently considered to be solidly mid-tier in terms of the old-timey Disney animated movies. It’s enjoyable enough, but it pales in comparison to the likes of Bambi, Pinocchio, and Beauty and the Beast. The Lion King, meanwhile, embodies everything great about Disney, from its colorful characters and animation to its vibrant and lively music all the way to its serious and dramatic storyline. The Lion King is widely considered to be Walt Disney’s greatest animated movie of all time – and rightfully so.

Much of the storyline is the same between both adaptations. In both movies, Simba (Donald Glover) is the son of the “Lion King” Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and the prince of the Pride Lands, the kingdom which his father oversees. As prince, Simba is destined to one day grow up, take his father’s place, and become the king over the Pride Lands and the animals who reside there.

However, there is another pining for Mufasa’s throne. Mufasa’s younger brother, a dirty, rugged, and unruly lion named Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) was the first in line for the throne before Simba was born. Now consumed with jealousy and greed for the throne, Scar hatches a scheme to take away the throne from both Simba and Mufasa – and neither will like what he has planned for either of them.

Since this movie revisits so many of the plot beats from the first Lion King, this movie is more of a shot-for-shot re-skin to the original than a remake in its own right. As such, the visual effects are crucial in making this movie work, since so much of its appeal relies heavily on how it looks compared to its animated counterpart. So here’s the million-dollar question: how good does The Lion King look?

The short answer is pretty freaking fantastic. Like The Jungle Book, The Lion King uses photorealistic techniques to bring these CGI animals to life, behaving and moving on-screen as if you’re peering through the glass of an exotic zoo. Every time Mufasa let out a loud, ear-piercing roar, Zazu (John Oliver) spread out his petite little wings to fly, or Rafiki (John Kani) trotted along in the trees, bushes, and savannah, it felt like real animals were in front of you making these movements. The Jungle Book was revolutionary for its time by impressively digitally recreating animals and their behaviors, and The Lion King succeeds in executing many of the same techniques to give its animals a genuine, natural feel to them. If you compare the original Lion King with the remake side-by-side and ask which one looks more realistic, it isn’t even a competition: the remake wins.

But with its realistic computer graphics comes an unexpected consequence: now because the animals look so realistic, the animals can’t express as much as they could in the original. Neither could they in The Jungle Book remake, but that movie had one key element to it that The Lion King does not have: Neel Sethi. With him being one of the few human actors in The Jungle Book, he was able to play his emotions off of the animals and demonstrate genuine expressions of joy, intimidation, grief, sadness, anger, happiness, and excitement. Sure, the animals’ faces were mostly stoic and one-note, but then again they weren’t required to demonstrate expression: Neel was. He pulled off a decent enough job to where we could appreciate the rest of the technical craft behind The Jungle Book’s wild characters.

The Lion King does not have a human actor to anchor the film’s drama or emotions. What we’re left with, then, is an entire reliance on the animals and their limited facial expressions. That’s a problem because they don’t express much of anything throughout the film, despite the voice cast obviously giving it their all. It’s very awkward to watch Mufasa suddenly snap from angry to happy while playing with Simba in the Pride Lands without his facial cues to clue us in on his mood. A few accentuations to his facial animations would have helped with that. Would it be inaccurate to the real-life physiology? Yes, but at least we wouldn’t be as removed from the character personally.

I mentioned the voice actors. Some of them deliver brilliant vocal performances, such as Donald Glover and Beyonce as the elder Simba and Nala respectively. The minute Glover pops out and sings his heart out with “Hakuna Matata,” or when they harmonize during “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?”, it immediately fills you with chills and goosebumps at how beautiful they sound together. Anytime they shared dialogue or a musical number, I was immediately hooked and wanted to hear more from them (even if “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” was annoyingly sung in the DAYTIME).

Other voice performances lack the raw and visceral punch that Glover and Beyonce bring. For instance, Chiwetel Ejiofor voices Scar, and his performance was so meek and wimpy that he sounds more like Jafar from Aladdin than he does Scar. Hugh Jackman was rumored to play Scar early on while casting was still under consideration, and I can’t tell you how much better it would have been if I heard Wolverine’s snarly voice seething between Scar’s teeth. The hyenas, played by Florence Kasumba, Keegan-Michael Key, and Eric Andre are fine but lack the wacky personalities of Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, and Jim Cummings. Seth Rogan is especially cringe-worthy as Pumbaa. He’s funny enough whenever he’s just bantering with Billy Eichner’s Timon, but have him start singing “Hakuna Matata” and your ears are guaranteed to start bleeding within minutes.

Overall, The Lion King is an enjoyable, albeit inconsistent, remake. I did enjoy seeing my favorite Lion King characters up on the big screen once again, and I did like seeing the new visual style applied to some of them. But the larger film as a whole does not work as well as the animated movie did, but what else did you expect? Some movies were not made to be interchangeable with live-action. Yeah, you could technically adapt movies such as The Incredibles, Up, and Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse into live-action. But with all of the bright colors, beautiful animation, and vivid visual style, why would you ever want to?

I know three things for certain. 1) The Oscar-worthy visual effects helps this movie as much as it hurts it. 2) Donald Glover and Beyonce are hands-down the best things that could have happened to this picture. 3) Seth Rogan should never attempt to sing again in his career, ever. And for the love of God, please sing “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?” in the evening next time.

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Keanu Reeves Returns To ‘The Matrix’

Those within The Matrix just took the red pill once again, and they’re seeing how deep the rabbit hole goes the fourth time around.

Variety first broke the news that Lana Wachowski, one of the original writers and directors behind the very first Matrix movie, has been contracted to write and direct a fourth film in the sprawling sci-fi series. Not only that, but actors Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss are slated to return, reprising their roles as Neo and Trinity respectively from the visually dazzling action franchise.

This news just suddenly came out of left field and wasn’t really expected by anybody. While The Matrix is one of the most iconic and popular franchises of all time, won four Academy Awards, and grossed over one billion dollars at the box office, they haven’t released a sequel since 2003’s Matrix Revolutions, which opened to a lukewarm box office response and critical reception. Since that time, there was no interest expressed by Lana, Reeves, or Warner Bros. at the possibility of exploring a sequel, not to mention what that would even look like 15 years later.

Regardless, Matrix 4 is happening, and I have so many questions. First of all, what implored Lana to come back to this franchise? Ever since she and her sister Lilly concluded their trilogy in 2003, they’ve gone on to work on several high-profile and visually dynamic projects, not the least of which including V For Vendetta, Speed Racer, Ninja Assassin, Cloud Atlas, and Jupiter Ascending. At this point, I presumed the Wachowskis were more interested in working on original projects rather than returning to familiar territory. What suddenly urged Lana to change course and suddenly go back into The Matrix?

Speaking of which, where is Lilly in all of this? Throughout their entire filmography, Lana and Lilly went together like two peas in a pod, like peanut butter and jelly, like Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Having Lana work on this project without her sister is just unusual. It’s like the Coen Brothers working together for years on several projects including Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and No Country For Old Men, and then suddenly Joel broke away from Ethan to direct The Ballad of Buster Scruggs all by himself.

I am enthralled to see Keanu Reeves returning to this franchise. While Reeves found mainstream success in playing Neo for The Matrix, he wouldn’t hit another high-profile role for several years until he would play John Wick in his self-titled action movie in 2014. Since then he’s gone on to play in two more John Wick movies, voicing the titular cat in the 2016 Key and Peele comedy Keanu, and would even voice Duke Caboom in the more recent Toy Story 4. He’s hit a huge success spurt as of late, and I’m excited to see Keanu return to one of his more recognizable roles that he’s obviously done so well in. Plus, it’s always cool to see the internet’s favorite boyfriend pop up on the big screen.

Overall, I’m very excited about this announcement. Surprised, yes, cautious, absolutely, and I definitely want to see where these developments will lead Neo and his crew. But more than anything else, I’m eager to see what this new chapter will bring for Neo and everyone else within The Matrix.

What do you guys think? Do you take the blue pill and believe whatever you want to believe, or do you take the red pill and see how deep the rabbit hole goes? Comment below, let me know.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: Variety, The Verge

Sony Rips Spider-Man Away From The Marvel Cinematic Universe

The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Spider-Man is no more.

After two successful solo movies and three appearances in the most recent Avengers and Captain America movies, the future looked bright for the MCU’s newest wall-crawler. With his most recent sequel grossing over a billion dollars at the box office, several other planned installments on the way, and a teased future appearance from famed Spider-Man villain Kraven the Hunter, it looked like Marvel was going to keep pumping out as much Spider-Man as they could for years to come.

Unfortunately, Spider-Man’s journey with the Marvel Cinematic Universe just came to an abrupt end this past Tuesday. Deadline first reported that after Walt Disney and Sony Pictures failed to renegotiate their contract, all negotiations fell apart and Sony is effectively moving forward with the Spider-Man franchise without Disney.

This means that Spider-Man will no longer be involved with the Marvel Cinematic Universe and will operate completely separate from any future Avengers movies. In short, this essentially means Tom Holland’s Spider-Man as we know it is over.

The legality behind this is a little more than slightly complicated, so let me try and break it down for you. Back when Captain America: Civil War was still in development in 2015, the infamous Sony Pictures leak revealed that Sony was in active negotiations with Walt Disney to share licensing rights for Spider-Man so he could appear in Civil War and future MCU movies. After much back-and-forth, Sony and Disney agreed to a deal that would allow Spider-Man to appear in both his own solo movies and larger MCU features, including Civil War and the last two Avengers movies. The deal would still allow Sony to finance, distribute, and exercise creative control over their exclusive Spider-Man movies, but Disney would share a five percent cut of the film’s revenue and retain the right to use him in separate movies.

So what happened to make that deal collapse? To put it simply, Disney wasn’t satisfied with the original agreement and wanted to renegotiate its terms with Sony. Instead of Sony retaining its exclusive rights over the Spider-Man movies, Disney wanted to split financing and distribution with Sony right down the middle and negotiate a 50/50 co-financing agreement between the studios. This would presumably include Disney taking a larger cut of the Spider-Man movies’ box office earnings. Sony was not satisfied with this proposal and outright refused it, instead proposing to keep the terms of the previous agreement as they were originally introduced. Disney refused their proposal and sent negotiations through the ceiling, essentially pitting both studios into a standstill.

What does this mean for the web-head? The immediate effect is that Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is now completely divorced from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Since a deal was not reached, Tom Holland can no longer appear in any of the future Avengers movies or any other solo movie existing within the MCU. Holland technically could continue in his own solo series, but there would have to be zero mention or inference to pre-existing events or people in the MCU. Since his character is so heavily influenced by Iron Man, Captain America, and the rest of the Avengers, that would make a third Spider-Man movie featuring Holland incredibly complicated to make.

Another possibility is that Holland’s Spider-Man could now potentially appear in Sony’s spinoff superhero movies, including the Venom series and next year’s vampire movie Morbius. But again, there would have to be no inference to the MCU or the events preceding his appearance. He essentially operates completely outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe from this moment forward.

I have several emotions at this bit of news. My first reaction is shock. Then anger. Then red-hot-burning rage. And then a deep blue depression. But I try to look at this through several different lenses, and I have to remember that these franchises are as much a business model to these movie studios as they are stories in their own right. So, let’s look at it from an economic perspective.

First of all, it’s completely understandable that Disney would want to renegotiate terms for Spidey’s licensing rights. Thanks to incorporating Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel’s two Spider-Man movies have been among the most successful of the web-head’s career. Not only have Spider-Man: Homecoming and Far From Home become among the most critically acclaimed Spider-Man movies of all time, but they’ve also become their highest grossing. Homecoming became the third highest-grossing Spider-Man movie at $880 million, just a few million shy of Spider-Man 3’s $890 million. Meanwhile Far From Home became the first movie out of the franchise to break over one billion at the box office. His appearances outside of his own movies have also boosted his profile nicely, with Captain America: Civil War grossing over a billion dollars and both Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame grossing over two billion. Disney’s involvement only helped put Spider-Man on the map. No matter how you put it, Disney’s contribution was good business for Sony.

That makes Sony’s hostility to not work with Disney even less sense, especially since all their agreement has done is help boost one of their most prominent and successful franchises. Is 50 percent a little much? Possibly, and I can sympathize with resisting Disney’s monopolistic urges. Still, you couldn’t have found any way to make it work? Nothing? Nothing at all? Fox made over $52 billion for selling its media properties to Disney and made a heckuva big payload for doing so. Sony got to retain a majority of its licensing and distribution rights for Spider-Man, and you still didn’t find a benefit for trying to work with Disney? Really?

Sure, it’s possible Sony and Disney could come back to the drawing board and work out a new deal that would work to the benefit of both companies. I wouldn’t bet my chips on it, however. Not with Sony’s stickler hands trying to retain the rights of several other Spider-Man characters that it owns, including Venom, Black Cat, Silver Sable, Silk, Nightwatch, and several others. If anything, Sony would probably use the Spider-Man character to draw out appeal for its other spinoff franchises that they’re trying to launch. Would that work as well as featuring Spidey in his own original series? Probably not, but you wouldn’t have much success trying to tell Sony that.

And through this all, my biggest frustration is that Spider-Man’s story with the MCU will go on unresolved. Tom Holland won’t get to experience the full semantics of what it’s like being a friendly neighborhood superhero in the large and sprawling MCU. John Watts won’t get to explore the full scope of what Peter Parker would grow up to be like in a world without Tony Stark. All of the potential and all of the stories that could have been told with this new Spider-Man suddenly will no longer be possible, and the Avengers won’t get to experience one last adventure with the amazing web-slinger.

That’s what hurts the most about this development. Not the fact that it ended: the fact that it didn’t get the ending it deserved at all.

What do you guys think? Did Sony screw up by not trying to find a way to make things work with Disney, or do you think this frees the web-head up for new possibilities? Comment below, let me know.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: Deadline, Variety

“THE LION KING (1994)” Review (✫✫✫✫)

A powerful tale of grief, resolution, and Hamlet.

As a child, there were several moments from Walt Disney’s classic movies that stick with you as you matured from a small cub into a fully grown adult all your own. In Pinocchio, that was when Pinocchio sacrificed himself to save his father Gepetto, turning himself from a puppet into a real boy. In Dumbo, it was that somber moment when Mrs. Jumbo extended her trunk out from the cage and cradled her disturbed baby Dumbo to sleep out in the gloomy circus grounds. And in Bambi, it was when Bambi witnessed his mother tragically shot and killed by a hunter in the cold, snowy forest.

Time and time again, Disney has demonstrated an impeccable ability to deliver fun and colorful adventures, but not so detached from reality to where its cute and cuddly creatures didn’t have their own problems and issues of mortality to deal with. These images stay with us because in most cases, what their child-like characters go through could have been us.

This is one among many reasons why The Lion King is such a success, and arguably Disney’s greatest animated feature to date. When I was younger, I remembered all of the kid-friendly elements that appealed to me so much through my bright-eyed, adolescent mind. I remembered the memorable kingdom animals that bantered and bickered about amusingly, the brilliantly sweeping animation that captured the vibrant and luscious landscape of the African Savannah, and the wonderful musical numbers beautifully written by Hans Zimmer and Elton John. All of these captured my mind and imagination in my young age, but after re-watching it through older eyes, I had a greater appreciation on the maturity and the themes the movie was trying to explore, a beautiful homily on life not being about where you came from, but where you’re going: a “circle of life,” so to speak.

The Lion King tells the story of Simba (Matthew Broderick), a young lion cub who is the prince of the Pride Lands. His father Mufasa (James Earl Jones) is the king of the Pride Lands and the ruler of all the animals who reside there. But he won’t be king forever. As he points out to the young Simba, there will be one day where the sun sets on his time and a new king will have to rise in his place. That king, Mufasa says, is none other than his own son Simba.

But it wasn’t always that way. Long before Simba was born, his uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons) was supposed to be next in line for the throne. Selfish, twisted, and devilishly conniving, Scar is jealous that he will one day be forced to give up the throne in place of his little twerpy lion cub nephew who hasn’t even grown out his full mane yet. As Simba grows older, he will have to struggle for the throne against his uncle Scar, and accept his destiny as the King of the Pride Lands.

We’re barely into talking about The Lion King, and already it feels like we’re referring to an epic dramatic blockbuster more than an animated kids’ movie. In a way, we are. The story was co-written by Linda Woolverton, who was most known for penning Disney’s 1991 release Beauty And The Beast prior to The Lion King. In many ways, they’re very similar stories with shared meanings and messages behind them. Both of these films deal with characters stricken with emotional grief, guilt, and anguish. Both of these films deal with masculine protagonists secluding themselves away from the rest of the world, resolved to their suffering and their need to be closed off from it. But they also deal with how those characters come to face their grief and sorrow, resolve it, and commit themselves to a better tomorrow despite their past tragedies.

How is this different from other Disney epics that follows this same plot line, such as Pinocchio, Dumbo, and Bambi? It doesn’t, I guess. But The Lion King feels more immersed in its emotions: in the highs and lows of its characters, in the joys and the sorrows, in the fun and upbeat moments where animals are singing and dancing together in the jungle, and in the slower and darker moments where characters have to come to terms to who they are and who they are going to be going forward.

It makes sense that the film feels as thematic and operatic as it does. After all, directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff have stated several times in numerous interviews how they were inspired by several epic folklore stories while making The Lion King, including Williams Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the tale of Joseph from the Holy Bible. Does it sound a little heavy-handed to describe such historic works in comparison to an animated kids movie about jungle animals and lion cubs? Definitely, but it works beautifully in context here. It kind of falls in line with Disney’s earlier work: his movies weren’t just about puppets, giant-eared baby elephants, and bright-eyed fawns. They were about growing up and learning from their experiences in the past.

The brightly-colored and vivid animation is arguably the best Disney has ever helped produce. The first moment the sun rises in the east of the Savannah at the beginning of the film, it’s so warm and bright that it makes you feel like the sun is actually rising from the screen and shining its bright ray onto you. The cast is equally impeccable, with Matthew Broderick, Jeremy Irons, James Earl Jones, Whoopi Goldberg, Jim Cummings and several others offering their voice talents in this sprawling, fun, and visually dynamic family epic.

But arguably the greatest of all of the production elements here is the music, which is co-written by both Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer and Grammy Award-winning pop star Elton John. Normally you wouldn’t expect the composer behind Rain Man, Driving Miss Daisy, and True Romance to be a match made in Heaven with “Rocket Man” himself. Yet, their collaboration together is absolutely breathtaking, with their several music numbers including “Hakuna Matata,” “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?”, and “Circle of Life” breathing vibrancy and heart into this already emotionally stirring animated epic. It is no less influential to Lion King’s success than John Williams is to Star Wars or Randy Newman is to Toy Story.

There will no doubt be much discussion over which of Disney’s several successes will go on to be revered as his best, among them including the recently released Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast. I waste no breath in saying The Lion King is hands-down my favorite. It’s an emotionally mature animated epic that will leave the adults with several beats to reflect over, all while not short-changing on the fun moments and musical numbers that will delight the kiddos. Pity, that the Academy Awards wouldn’t introduce the Oscar for Best Animated Feature until several years later when Shrek would win the first inaugural award in 2002. The Lion King would have won for sure.

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Andy Serkis To Direct ‘Venom 2’

Venom has found a new host, and it’s in none other than “Gollum” himself Andy Serkis.

After Venom became one of the biggest commercial successes last year with $856 million at the box office, Sony was no doubt very eager to start working on a sequel. With Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, and Woody Harrelson all slated to return, all the pieces seemed to line up for Venom’s next installment. There was only one problem. Since director Ruben Fleischer started working on the sequel to Zombieland: Double Tap, that meant he was unavailable to work on other projects. For the moment, Venom 2 was out a director.

Well, not anymore. The Hollywood Reporter recently broke the news that Andy Serkis, the actor most notable for his motion-capture performances in franchises including The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, would be helming the next chapter in Venom’s saga. The actor is most known for providing motion-capture for CGI characters including Gollum in Lord of the Rings, King Kong in the 2005 remake, Caesar in the Planet of the Apes prequel trilogy, Snoke in the newest Star Wars movies, and Ulysses Klaue in last year’s Black Panther.

While he’s typically known for his primate performances in playing hobbits, apes, and dark sith lords, he’s also dabbled in a few directing projects as well, with his debut being in the 2017 drama film Breathe and last year’s Netflix movie Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, where he also portrayed Baloo.

It remains to be seen whether or not he will also play a role in Venom’s sequel in addition to directing. In either case, his extensive experience with motion capture is no doubt one of his greatest assets, and a unique feature he’ll be able to lend towards Venom 2.

What do you guys think? Are you excited to see Andy Serkis bond with Venom, or do you wish the symbiote sought out another host? Whatever you think, comment below and let me know.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: The Hollywood Reporter, Polygon

Rutger Hauer Dies At Age 75

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”

Rutger Hauer has passed away, but he’ll always be remembered for the tears he left in the rain.

The 75-year-old Dutch actor, most known for his roles in movies including Wanted: Dead or Alive, The Rite, and Hobo With A Shotgun, died last week in his home in the Netherlands after suffering from what is being reported as a “short illness.” According to Hauer’s agent Steve Kenis, his funeral was held earlier today, putting the 50-year-actor to rest.

Since starting his career in a series of Dutch films that are lesser-known to the public, Hauer first got his big break in 1982’s science-fiction thriller Blade Runner, where he played the murderous yet empathetic replicant Roy Batty. He also improvised one of the most iconic death scenes in film history, where his character described the emotions and experiences he remembered and how they will be lost in time, like “tears in rain.”

From there, Hauer won a Golden Globe for his role as a Russian rebel in 1988’s Escape From Sobibor and starred in mostly smaller roles in several other movies, including Cardinal Roark in Sin City and Wayne Enterprises CEO William Earle in Batman Begins. But whatever part he played, Hauer made sure that he enjoyed doing it, stating in the 2006 documentary Blonde, Blue Eyes that he only accepted roles that he was really interested in. He was also an avid environmentalist and AIDS activist, starting an advocacy organization called the Starfish Association to spread awareness on AIDS and HIV.

Regardless of whatever he was doing, Hauer always did what he loved. May we all be as passionate and loving as he was.

R.I.P. Rutger Hauer, 1944-2019.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: Variety, Heavy.com

‘Avengers: Endgame’ Beats ‘Avatar’ For Highest-Grossing Movie of All Time

They did it. They finally did it. Avatar has officially been dethroned as the highest-grossing movie of all time by Avengers: Endgame.

Holy crow.

It’s no secret that Avatar and Avengers: Endgame have long been battling it out at the box office. Ever since Endgame dropped in theaters back in April, it was beating box office record after box office record, including being the highest opening weekend gross and being the fastest to gross one billion in a single weekend. It didn’t take long for Endgame to dethrone other $2 billion-grossing movies such as Titanic, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and even the previous installment Infinity War.

Even so, there was quite a distance between Endgame’s $2.76 billion and Avatar’s $2.789 billion box office intake. For a while, it seemed that Avatar would remain king of the box office.

Not anymore. Thanks to Kevin Feige re-releasing Endgame with new content (including a Stan Lee tribute, a deleted Hulk scene, and the opening scene to Spider-Man: Far From Home), Endgame was able to barely push ahead past Avatar and end its theatrical run with $2.79 billion, cementing its place as the highest-grossing movie of all time.

What’s especially ironic about this is that since Walt Disney bought out 20th Century Fox earlier this year, it also took ownership of several of its film properties, including Avatar. That means not only was Walt Disney essentially competing against itself: it also prevailed against itself.

With Avengers: Endgame now in the top spot as the highest-grossing movie of all time, Disney officially owns the five highest-grossing movies of all time and even owns eight of the 10 highest-grossing movies of all time as well. With those odds, it won’t be long until Disney owns Universal Pictures as well, whose pictures Jurassic World and Furious 7 are the only ones in the top 10 not owned by Disney.

Avengers assemble, indeed.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: Deadline, Entertainment Weekly

Marvel Announces Lineup for Phase 4

Although many Avengers experienced their Endgame this past summer, Marvel isn’t done with many of its heroes just yet.

In fact, a whole other lineup was just announced at San Diego Comic-Con this past weekend that will propel the Marvel Cinematic Universe well beyond 2021.

The first film slated for release is Scarlett Johannson’s Black Widow, which is due for release in May 2020 despite her untimely death in Avengers: Endgame. Black Widow will take place after the events of Captain America: Civil War and before Avengers: Infinity War, and will feature Natasha going up against several Russian mercenaries including the Red Guardian, Iron Maiden, and Taskmaster. It’s an exciting lineup for a highly-anticipated solo movie that fans have been looking forward to ever since Natasha’s appearance in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Hopefully Natasha will finally have her time to shine in her own solo feature when it comes out later next year.

Next up is Marvel’s The Eternals, which follows a race of aliens who travel to Earth to defend it from their evil doppelgangers, the Deviants. Not much is known about this under-the-radar superhero team who’s lack of prominence is second only to the Guardians of the Galaxy prior to its feature film debut. Nonetheless, this superhero team-up movie has some big names associated with it, including Rick Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Salma Hayek, and Angelina Jolie. The Eternals are set to be released in November next year.

Following that is Marvel’s first Asian-led film, Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings, starring “Taken” actor Simu Liu in the titular role. There was much conversation around adapting the Marvel martial-artist Shang-Chi into the Cinematic Universe for the past several years, but many people were questioning whether he would be adapted for television similar to “Daredevil” and “The Defenders” or if he would star in his own live-action feature. But with the announcement for Legend of the Ten Rings, it seems we now have our answer. The movie will also star Hong Kong actor Tony Leung Chiu-wai, most known for Infernal Affairs fame, as the MCU’s newest Mandarin, unassociated with Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce’s characters from Iron Man 3. It’s exciting to see an Asian-American superhero finally get the front row attention he deserves, plus fans will be looking forward to seeing how Marvel handles the malicious magician during his second go-around. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is due for release in February 2021.

After that is Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which will have Benedict Cumberbatch reprising the titular role and with Scott Derrickson returning to the director’s chair. Not much is known about this supernatural sequel as Marvel has kept the plot details heavily under wraps, but we know a few things for sure. For one thing, it will feature Elizabeth Olsen reprising her role as Wanda Maximoff, a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch, after losing her beloved Vision in Avengers: Infinity War. It will also integrate horror elements into its production, with Derrickson stating that it will be “the first scary MCU movie.” It’s highly probable that Doctor Strange will go head-to-head against Nightmare, a multi-dimensional being who haunts individuals through their dreams. Nightmare has long been a rumored villain for the Doctor Strange sequel, with “Doctor Who” actor Matt Smith and Wolverine himself Hugh Jackman rumored for the part. Regardless of however it plays out, expect Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in theaters May 2021.

Lastly is the sequel to Taika Waititi’s wildly successful 2016 movie Thor: Ragnarok, Thor: Love and Thunder, which features the God of Thunder himself teaming up side-by-side with the newest bearer of the Thor identity Jane Foster, once again to be portrayed by Natalie Portman. No other details have been offered on the zany new Thor sequel, but I will say this much on the record: if neither Beta Ray Bill or Enchantress is in Love and Thunder, then I’m boycotting the movie. Thor: Love and Thunder is due for release in November 2021.

That’s all on the film front except for one last bombshell detail: two-time Academy Award-winner Mahershala Ali will star as the vampire hunter Blade in his own movie, taking over from Wesley Snipes after his successful trilogy of films. No details have been announced as far as the cast and crew regarding this new Blade project, as its release date wasn’t even included in Phase Four’s lineup. Regardless, fans are sure to be excited at a new Blade coming to the big screen with a talent as big as Ali associated with it.

The rest of the Phase Four reveal involved television updates, with a lot of it including information that was mostly known up until this point. Anthony Mackie’s Captain America and Sebastian Stan’s Bucky, for instance, is set to team up in “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” in August next year, despite the fact that it should actually be called “Captain America and the White Wolf.” It will also feature a return of Daniel Bruhl’s Zemo from Captain America: Civil War, who better have his iconic purple mask this time around. Olsen’s Scarlet Witch and Paul Bettany’s Vision are set to co-star in their own series together “WandaVision” that is set to take place between Avengers: Endgame and Doctor Strange’s sequel (tell me how that makes sense since Vision already died in Infinity War). Tom Hiddleston will once again portray the God of Mischief in his own miniseries “Loki” and will feature the character after he escaped from the Avengers in the past in Endgame, and Hawkeye’s miniseries will feature Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton passing the Hawkeye mantle to a new sharpshooter named Kate Bishop.

Perhaps most notable from the TV lineup is the report of an animated series called “What If…?”, which will show what would happen to some MCU characters if different scenarios played out. The series is based on the comic-book series of the same name and will premiere in mid 2021.

The biggest franchise missing from this blockbuster lineup is, obviously, the Avengers movies. Every MCU phase up until now has had at least one Avengers movie. Heck, Phase three had two of them: Infinity War and Endgame. But not only does Phase Four not have an Avengers movie: it also has the least amount of movies out of any other phase so far. Phases One and Two both had six movies included in their lineup, while Phase Four only has five. It’s intriguing, yet refreshing, to watch Marvel take a step back and really try to pace themselves with this new, unpredictable future they’re dealing with, especially after the breathtaking ending Avengers: Endgame gave us just a few months ago.

Also of note: several sequels scheduled for release are also not included in this lineup. Not Black Panther, which was the highest-grossing MCU movie before Infinity War came out. Not the Fantastic Four or X-Men, both properties of which Disney owns now since they bought out Fox several months ago. Not Captain Marvel, Hulk, Ant-Man, Wasp, or even the Guardians of the Galaxy are included in the lineup, the last of which has had perhaps the most tumultuous behind-the-scenes drama with its writer and director James Gunn fired, and re-hired, after several months of back-and-forth. The lack of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’s inclusion in this lineup is especially strange, given that Thor was literally high-tailing it with the Guardians at the end of Avengers: Endgame. What gives? Are they saving up for something much bigger and epic in-store, or are they just trying to tamper with fan’s appetites?

Regardless of whatever happens next for the Avengers, fans can at least sit tight knowing that the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s heroes will carry on the good fight. This franchise isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

– David Dunn

SOURCES: Marvel.com, Polygon

“SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME” (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Sony Pictures

Your friendly international Spider-Man.

How are we still getting more Spider-Man movies? More to the point, how is it that we aren’t even tired of them yet? You would think that after a second reboot, six live-action movies, an Academy Award-winning animated feature, and appearing in three different team-up movies that people would become exhausted from everyone’s favorite web-slinger by the time his third sequel came around. But if anything, Spider-Man: Far From Home shows there’s still a few tricks up his webbed sleeves, as well as a few other surprises that will keep Spidey fans guessing for what’s next for the amazing wall-crawler.

By the time Spider-Man: Far From Home swings around, the young and bright-minded Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has already been through way more than your average teenager has been. He defeated his first super villain the Vulture (Michael Keaton) and threw him behind bars. He went to space and fought a mad intergalactic titan alongside Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), a sorcerer, and a ragtag group of galaxy guardians. Then he disintegrated into thin air, only to be restored to his former self just in time to watch his friend and mentor die right before his very eyes.

At this point, Peter has been through way more in two years than I have in my entire high school career. He’s incredibly exhausted from living the superhero life, and he has just the perfect escape from it all: a summer trip to Europe just for himself and his classmates at Midtown High.

Unfortunately, superhero shenanigans follow him even all the way to Italy. After arriving in Europe, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) recruits Peter to fight against the Elementals, a powerful group of multi-dimensional entities that embody the four elements. Now with the world teetering on the brink of destruction yet again, Peter needs to team up with a new mystical superhero named Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) to defeat the Elementals and save the world once more.

One of the most special things about Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is how he manages to keep Peter Parker feeling fresh and new, despite the fact that his story has been adapted onto film a whopping 11 times now. That’s because at the heart of it all, Tom portrays Peter not as a larger-than-life superhero, but as a kid hesitantly thrusted into a position of power and responsibility. Tobey Maguire possessed a similar sense of humility in Sam Rami’s Spider-Man movies. In both franchises, both actors approach their characters not as comic-book heroes, but as people filled with their own wants, desires, doubts, and aspirations.

That personable aspect was something Holland was missing in his first solo entry Spider-Man: Homecoming, trading out serious drama and character development for snappy quips, gadgets, and gizmos. The Spider-Man in Far From Home, meanwhile, has grown up. He’s become swamped from the hero’s life, and in being caught up in all of the hysteria and politics of superhero mania, he just wants one summer off to feel like a kid again.

His desire for a normal life is a relatable one, and a motive that Holland’s Peter Parker shares with Maguire’s Spider-Man. If I had to compare Spider-Man: Far From Home to its predecessor in one word, it would be “more.” It’s everything you love about Spider-Man: Homecoming, just more of it. More high-stakes superhero action and fight sequences. More dazzling visual effects and CGI. More of the personable, charming, and adorable likability of Tom Holland’s Peter Parker. More awkward high school romance, more funny and on-the-spot quips and one-liners. Whatever you’re looking for, Spider-Man: Far From Home has more of it.

If I had any qualms with Far From Home, it would be perhaps that it doesn’t go far enough with its premise. Spider-Man has had four successful film franchises now, all of them great for very different reasons. Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man focused on the human aspect and the emotional burden he carried on his skimpy shoulders. Andrew Garfield was a snappy and sarcastic teenager that perfectly captured the rebellious aspect of the character. Into The Spider-Verse was a brilliant exploration of the Spider-mythos itself and showed how anybody could become a great Spider-Man. And Holland’s Spider-Man is a great exploration into Peter’s youth and his coming-of-age story.

But the thing that the other movies have one leg up on Holland’s Peter is that they had the confidence to explore their ideas and portrayals of Spider-Man more deeply. The MCU’s Spider-Man, meanwhile, still seems too reliant on the larger cinematic universe and its implications towards this Spider-Man. Can we please just like and appreciate this Spider-Man for the hero he is and not in comparison to Tony or Cap? Spider-Man has always been a stand-up superhero because he’s the little guy standing side-by-side next to the bigger guys. Far From Home is more than content in being in the Avengers’ shadows, and meanwhile I just want Holland’s Spider-Man to step out and create his own.

Regardless of where you stand on the Spider-spectrum, Spider-Man: Far From Home is a clever, exciting, and visually-dazzling Spider-Man movie that pushes the wall-crawler in all-new, head-spinning directions that you may not have been expecting. Fans who are thinking that Spidey’s days are numbered after the epic events of Avengers: Endgame are sorely mistaken. I think everyone’s favorite web-head is just getting started.

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Taika Waititi Returns To Direct ‘Thor 4’

The God of Thunder isn’t done with the MCU just yet.

After the events of Avengers: Endgame, many comic-book fans are wondering what would become of Thor Odinson. After all, the last thing fans saw of him was that he joined up with the rest of the Guardians of the Galaxy as they set out in search of Gamora throughout the cosmos. Where will their adventures lead them? What would come next for the mighty Thor?

Whatever that may be, we now know at least one thing that it will lead to for sure: another sequel. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi will return to write and direct the fourth movie in Thor’s expanding saga. This will be the first time a Marvel superhero will get a fourth solo movie and the second time a tetralogy will be developed in the MCU outside of the Avengers movies.

I’m very mixed at hearing about this news. On one hand, I’m excited that Chris Hemsworth isn’t done as Thor just yet and am looking forward to seeing what new adventures are in store for the hammer-wielding thunder God. Waititi revitalized the character wonderfully years ago when he directed the stylish and retro fantasy flick Thor: Ragnarok. The sky is the limit for anything else he can do with the character and his story, and I’m eager to see those changes and creative decisions he may bring with them.

On the other hand, Thor’s story has already ended several times now, first in Thor: Ragnarok, then in Avengers: Endgame. Yeah, it was assumed he was going to appear in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, but I presumed that was going to be more of a cameo than a serious leading role all its own. It would have been perfectly fine to wrap up Thor’s story the way it did and give some sort of filler explanation as to why the character is no longer on-screen. Instead, he’s coming back for a whole new installment. If we really are going to get a fourth Thor movie, can this actually be the last one? What will Thor’s newest conquest be? Will Beta Ray Bill make an appearance? And for Pete’s sake, can we at least get Enchantress in there as the new villain???

There’s another unintended consequence as a result of Waititi coming back to helm Thor 4: now his attention is diverted away from the live-action Akira remake. For those of you that don’t know, Waititi was slated to direct the live-action remake to Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, which tells the story of two warring bicycle gang members after one of them gets uncontrollable telekinetic abilities. Seeing his work on the visually dazzling and emotionally enriching Thor: Ragnarok made me excited at the possibilities of what he could do with a live-action Akira at his fingertips. But since he’s coming back for Thor, that means Akira will inevitably get delayed… again. Can we seriously just throw Christopher Nolan onto the project and call it a day guys?

What do you true believers out there think? Are you excited to hear that Thor is coming back to the big screen, or do you wish that his story ended with the rest of the Avengers in Endgame? Whatever you think, comment below, let me know.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: The Hollywood Reporter, Gizmodo
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