Marvel Studios line-up includes Asian hero, female version of Thor

LOS ANGELES • Marvel Studios is no longer playing cat and mouse with fans over its future projects.

Last Saturday night, it unveiled what is coming next - a slate of interconnected movies and streaming-service shows that emphasise diversity on both sides of the camera.

The line-up includes a superhero who is disabled and a film anchored by an Asian superhero.

Until now, Mr Kevin Feige, Marvel's fanboy-in-chief, had focused almost entirely on movies.

But Walt Disney, which owns Marvel, is now counting on him to also make must-watch shows for its Disney Plus streaming service, which is scheduled to go live on Nov 12.

Mr Feige will have to do it without some of Marvel's most popular characters, including Iron Man and Hulk, who are taking a much-needed rest.

He announced the new projects during a presentation at Comic-Con International, an annual fan convention in San Diego that attracts some 140,000 people.

Scarlett Johansson will headline the Black Widow film, reprising her role as a spy and super-assassin from earlier Marvel films such as Captain America: Civil War (2016).

Fans have long pressed Marvel to give the character her own movie. The film, directed by Cate Shortland, will be released in May.

Angelina Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani, Salma Hayek and Richard Madden will star in The Eternals, a film scheduled for November next year. It will focus on mysterious immortals, one of whom is deaf.

Its director Chloe Zhao is Chinese and known for little-seen art films such as The Rider, which netted US$2.4 million (S$3.3 million) worldwide last year.

Marvel is also seeking to replicate its theatrical success with Black Panther (2018), which featured a majority black cast, by adding an Asian superhero to its cinematic universe.

Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings will star Canadian-Chinese actor Simu Liu in the title role. Rapper-actress Awkwafina will join him in the film, which is scheduled to be released in February 2021.

Shang-Chi is being directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, a Japanese-American film-maker known for 2013 indie work Short Term 12.

Marvel's coming slate also includes Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness (May 2021) and Thor: Love And Thunder (November 2021).

In a major twist, Natalie Portman will return to the Thor series as a female version of the god of thunder.

The fourth Thor instalment also finds Tessa Thompson reprising her role as Valkyrie. Thompson confirmed during a Comic-Con presentation that her character will have a lesbian narrative.

Mr Feige is also working on a new version of vampire thriller Blade, this time starring Mahershala Ali, and a new Fantastic Four movie, along with Captain Marvel 2, Black Panther 2 and Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3.

Those films are expected to start arriving in 2022.

The next batch of Marvel movies - Phase 4 in the studio's vernacular, with Spider-Man: Far From Home wrapping up the previous phase - will feature storylines that overtly extend to smaller screens, a first for Mr Feige's operation.

Until now, Marvel-branded TV shows such as Jessica Jones (2015 to 2019) and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013 to present) have been made by a lesser Marvel division.

Four of the five shows that Mr Feige is working on for the Disney Plus app, all previously announced, focus on Avengers characters.

Tom Hiddleston is reprising his villainous role in Loki (2021) and Elizabeth Olsen returns as the ethereal Scarlet Witch in Wanda-Vision (2021). Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan play the titular roles in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier (2020), while Jeremy Renner stars in Hawkeye (2021).

A fifth series, What If...? (2021), is animated. It focuses on new versions of pivotal moments from old Marvel movies.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2019, with the headline 'Marvel Studios line-up includes Asian hero, female version of Thor'. Print Edition | Subscribe