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The Future of the MCU – What We Learned from Disney’s Investor Day 2020

By | December 11th, 2020
Posted in Longform | % Comments

There were a lot of announcements at Disney’s so-called Investor Day 2020. And it’s tough to know how to feel! On the one hand, the entire event is so emblematic of the Disney corporation’s crass commercialism that it’s kind of repulsive. But on the other hand… I love Marvel. I love Star Wars. I love animated stuff, Pixar movies, sci-fi, fantasy, all this stuff! My enthusiasm for these projects is genuine. So while there’s a part of me that wishes this conference was called the “Disney Story Summit” or “Magic Meeting” or something, it’s not. They are saying the quiet part out loud. They are making these things not for us, the consumers and fans, but for the investors.

Still… Loki! Kamala Khan! The Fantastic freaking Four! You don’t write for a comic book website if you don’t love this stuff. I’ve never missed seeing a Marvel flick in the theaters, and I own all of them on DVD like some sort of caveman. My point is, if you are a person who struggles to reconcile your love for these stories and characters with your discomfort with Disney’s monopolistic practices well, I don’t have a solution for you. But I see you, and we are all navigating these waters together.

What follows is going to be an analysis of all the Marvel news from Investor Day 2020. We’re going to talk about what looks fun, what looks dumb, and maybe even engage in some wild speculation. Because that’s always been part of the fun with these films. Let’s get into it!

The Biggest News

It seems that the most exciting announcement was the confirmation that an MCU Fantastic Four movie is in the works. This feels inevitable- Disney got the movie rights to the F4 back with the purchase of Fox- but this is the first official confirmation. And that’s pretty exciting! Any Marvel comics fan knows there are tons of amazing runs of the series. The original Stan Lee and Jack Kirby run is one of the most classic comics out there. The John Byrne run from the 80s is similarly excellent. The much-celebrated Jonathan Hickman got famous writing “Fantastic Four.” Despite seeming like an old fashioned idea, there’s a lot of evidence that a creative person with a strong vision can tell fabulous stories.

Besides the existence of the movie, there was little else revealed. A logo, and a director. And it’s one who we are all familiar with- Jon Watts. He’s the director of the two Tom Holland Spider-Man movies. And look, let’s be real. Watts is entirely competent. He seems easy to get along with. And perhaps most tellingly, the studio really seems to like him. His two movies are happy to trade away ‘having a unique personality’ for ‘being a part of the greater film universe.’ Do I think the Fantastic Four movie will suck? Absolutely not! I can’t see Watts on his worst day putting out anything worse than B- work. But do I think it’s going to be a modern classic that returns the first family to their deserved spot on the top? For that, I’m not too optimistic.

Art by Jim Cheung

Release Dates

A lot of the conference was Disney confirming their planned release dates for already announced projects. Their schedule obviously was thrown into chaos by Covid, so officially locking down the dates of all their projects is pretty helpful. We can now confirm that:

  • WandaVision comes out January 15, 2021
  • Falcon and Winter Soldier is set for March 19, 2021
  • Black Widow will be released, theatrically, on May 7, 2021
  • Loki is coming out in May, 2021
  • Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is set for July 9, 2021
  • The Eternals will arrive on November 5, 2021
  • The next Spider-Man movie is coming out on December 17, 2021
  • Continued below

  • Thor: Love and Thunder hits theaters on May 6, 2022
  • Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness comes out March 25, 2022
  • Black Panther 2 is set for July 8, 2022
  • Captain Marvel 2 is scheduled for November 11, 2022

We don’t yet have a specific dates tied to the next Ant-Man flick, but we know it’s going to be called Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which is a groovy title that rules.

The most important takeaway from all of this is wow, that’s a lot. But the second most important thing to note are the plans for Black Widow. Warner Bros., somewhat controversially, decided to put all of their 2021 movies on HBO Max. There was rampant speculation that Disney might do something to respond, the most obvious idea being to offer Black Widow on Disney+. But nope, none of that is a thing. Disney is still planning on releasing all their Marvel movies in theaters. Their strategy seems to be what it always has been- buy properties that people love, and make movies that people want to see. 

Casting Announcements

A joy of the MCU has been that everyone everywhere gets to play at being an armchair casting director. For hardcore comic fans the fun is compounded, because you not only get to think about who might be able to carry a movie or show, you also can try and imagine who best captures the essence of your favorite deep cut character. Some of these actors were already attached to these projects, some are newly known to us. 

WandaVision is going to be the next Marvel release, and now we have a name for Kathryn Hahn’s character: Agnes. This essentially confirms that she will be playing Agatha Harkness, a sorceress who has been a mentor to Scarlet Witch at sometime, and other times, a rival. This rules. Kathryn Hahn rules! She’s funny, campy, and totally intimidating. Plus, she already played the single greatest Marvel villain in a movie thus far! Don’t you remember? She was Olivia Octavius in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Whatever she does, she’s going to crush it.

Art by Ramon Villalobos

We can also now confirm that Xochitl Gomez will portray America Chavez in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. You familiar with America? She’s most famous as a member of the “Young Avengers” in the excellent Kieron Gillen & Jaime McKelvie run. Ms. America is strong and can fly but notably, she can kick holes between universes. Her role in a film called Multiverse of Madness sort of writes itself. And while I can’t say much about Gomez as an actor (I have not seen her major role in Netflix’s Babysitters Club) I do have some ideas about where else the character might pop up. More on this in a bit!

Art by Kevin Wada

Allow me if you will, to enthuse about the confirmation that Tatiana Maslany will be playing Jennifer Walters in a She-Hulk show. Oh man. Maslany is most famous for starring in what is perhaps my favorite TV show of all time, Orphan Black. On that show, she played most of the cast. She was excellent. And She-Hulk is one of my favorite Marvel heroes. She’s strong and powerful like her cousin, but she’s a lawyer, which lends itself to some madcap adventures. On top of that, She-Hulk was one of the first Marvel heroes to regularly break the fourth wall, years before Deadpool stole her gimmick. With any other actor, I’d worry about juggling all of those different tones. Not so with Maslany. She can do anything.

Art by David Messina

Also announced: an Ironheart show!? That sort of came out of nowhere, but it is welcome news! We even have a star, Dominique Thorne, who you may know from If Beale Street Could Talk. This entire project is a big question mark for me. Riri Williams is a very new character, and I have only read a few of her comics. And Dominique Thorne is a very young actor! For me, this is the biggest wildcard on the schedule, and that is exciting!

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We’ve also got villains locked down for two upcoming movies, and I could not be more thrilled. Kang the Conquerer will be menacing Ant-Man and the Wasp in Quantumania. Hell yeah! Kang is one of the biggest Marvel villains who has never been in the MCU. He’s going to be played by Jonathan Majors who was absolutely fabulous in Da 5 Bloods and Lovecraft Country. Who knows what he’s going to look like as a retro-futuristic time traveling despot?

And Christian Bale, Batman himself, is taking on the role of Gorr the God-Butcher in Love and Thunder. Gorr was a major villain in Jason Aaron’s now-classic run on Thor and… yeah! Perfect. I’m sure Bale will lose a ton of weight, disappear into the role, and have a great time doing it. I can’t wait to see Natalie Portman wallop him with a hammer.

Oh and this may have been lost in the shuffle but Cassie Lang, the daughter of Ant-Man, has been recast (again). She will now be played by Kathryn Newton and… this is actually very exciting! Turns out, I love Kathryn Newton. I first saw her in Blockers, but she went on to show she had blockbuster chops in Detective Pikachu and then she went on to show her tremendous range in Freaky. Choosing such a talented actor makes me think there are big things in store for the character, who is the superhero Stature in the comics…

There were also a couple of casting decisions notable in their absence. The first is that, though Oscar Isaac was previously attached to the upcoming Moon Knight show, there was no mention of it here. I wouldn’t read too far into that, the dude seems like he has a very busy schedule. (He’s playing Solid Snake in the Metal Gear Solid movie! He’s playing Mitchell Hundred in an “Ex Machina” movie! He’s in a hundred other things!)

There is also the confirmation that Black Panther will not be recast. There were some rumblings of that, but it’s nice to confirm it. A lot of people have a lot of different feelings on the tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman. This move is clearly intended to show the man some respect, and he deserves that in the very least. And if that decision brings comfort to people, all the better. It seems like Shuri will be the central character of the Black Panther sequel, which is cool (even if actress Letitia Wright has gotten herself into some hot water recently). Shuri starred in the comic series from time to time too. And if there is one person I trust to handle the situation with grace and wisdom, it’s director Ryan Coogler, who is one of the greatest filmmakers working today.

Cover by Brian Lee O'Malley

Young Avengers Corner

Hey, by my count we have… quite a few potential Young Avengers kicking around. Let’s see… there’s Kathryn Newton as Cassie Lang. She is an important and founding member of the team. Then we’ve got Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez. America joined the team in a later run but for fans of the character, she is very associated with the Young Avengers. Kate Bishop aka Better Hawkeye is starring in a Disney+ show, and will be played by Hailee Steinfeld. Kate has been on every iteration of the Young Avengers. This feels like the makings of a team, no?

But then we can start to get really out there. In the comics, the Young Avengers were first brought together by Iron Lad. Turns out, Iron Lad is a young version of Kang the Conquerer, trying to do some good before he grows up and turns evil. We know older evil Kang is going to be in a movie. Anyone want to join me in reading way too far into that?

Continued below

After the team broke up in the comics, they were brought back together by a younger reincarnated version of Loki (comics, everybody!). And who else is getting a spinoff show? Tom Hiddleston’s Loki! And the show is all about time travel? You see where I am going with this.

Then there are shows about young heroes who have never been on the Young Avengers. Ms. Marvel is getting her own show, and will be played by Iman Vellani (who will also have a role in Captain Marvel 2). Ironheart as we mentioned, will be played by Dominique Thorne. Riri and Kamala are both members of another young superhero team, the Champions. The MCU has always played fast and loose with comic continuity. Are we building towards a Young Avengers movie or show starring Stature, Hawkeye, America, Iron Lad, Young Loki, Ms. Marvel, and Ironheart? Tough to say. But I’m saying it, and now you’re all thinking it!

New Announcements

There were also a few new and notable shows announced! The biggest surprise was a series called Armor Wars. This is probably the most classic “Iron Man” story that the movies haven’t tackled yet. It’s essentially about a group of villains absconding with Tony Stark’s specialized armors, and him having to chase them down. Tony Stark is (spoilers!) dead in the movies now… but Don Cheadle’s War Machine is very much alive. I love Cheadle, and I always felt like he was sort of pushed to the background in the movies. A show where he fights a new armored villain every episode sounds like lots of fun, and the dude deserves it. He’s a star.

There’s also the mysterious show that has now been revealed to be some sort of  Secret Invasion show, starring Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury and Ben Mendelsohn’s Talos the Skrull. The more we hear about this project, the less we know. Under no circumstances will this be any sort of adaptation of the comic series by the same name. That involves a spaceship crashing in the arctic, only for a bunch of dead characters to emerge, and then have a confusingly written brawl in Central Park. So I’m looking at this as an entirely original story, one about a superspy and an alien conspiracy. And again, Samuel L. Jackson is a legend and if he wants to get paid to play with prop guns and rubber alien masks, I say we let him.

The Spider-Men in the Room

Not confirmed were the presence of most of the cast of Sam Raimi’s early-00s Spiderman actors in the new Tom Holland film. Due to the complex rights situation between Disney and Sony, the movie wasn’t much part of the Disney shareholder discussion. Nevertheless, the recent leaks have been on people’s minds, and have become part of the conversation. This casting news is… value neutral to me. I love those movies, even the much derided third one. And I think it’s rad that Sam Raimi will be directing Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. He’s gonna have fun making that movie, and I will have fun watching it. But… I guess… who was really asking for what essentially sounds like a live action remake of Into the Spider-Verse? It’s going to be less visually innovative, and not have Mile Morales? So far, I am thinking of this movie as blander, whiter Spider-Verse, so they’ve got to do a lot of work to bring me back in. I will absolutely see the movie, and maybe even have a good time, but this idea seems pretty… uninspired.

Best of the Rest!

That covers the biggest most exciting announcements, but there were lots of little things too! Like the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special. I am completely prepared to shout, “That was cute!” and then forget it exists. There’s also going to be a series of shorts called I Am Groot. Same thing! I’m sure it will be fun, disposable entertainment. We got a closer look at WandaVision, Falcon and Winter Soldier, Hawkeye, and Loki and they all look great! Maybe even as good as The Mandalorian! The What If cartoon is still coming out, and it looks weird. But good weird! Hopefully it will capture the magic of the comic it shares a name with.

Disney is releasing an overwhelming ton of Marvel stuff. That’s because people like it. I like it! And if you got to the bottom of this article, it’s safe to assume that you do too. The main takeaway here is that after 10 years of movies culminated in Avengers: Endgame, very little is going to change. Disney will continue to throw every Marvel property at the wall to see what sticks. Some of it may even be very good. A lot of it will probably be bland and pleasant. It’s clear that the dynamic going forward is going to be between creative people with vision and studio notes. If Marvel movies and shows can cut through the corporate agenda (as they have with movies like Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok) we may be about to see some of our new favorites! But it’s a precarious balance. Disney will find the financial success they so nakedly crave in that balance. And thus, the cycle will continue.

I hope to see you at the movies True Believers!

//TAGS | disney+ | mcu

Jaina Hill

Jaina is from New York. She currently lives in Ohio. Ask her, and she'll swear she's one of those people who loves both Star Wars and Star Trek equally. Say hi to her on twitter @Rambling_Moose!