How Black Panther may be the future of Marvel films

Black Panther poster

UPDATE (Feb. 19): Black Panther’s U.S. box office for Friday-Sunday ended up at $201 million, Exhibitors Relations said on Twitter. 

ORIGINAL POST (Feb. 18): Black Panther, the newest Marvel Studios film, is being celebrated as a huge moment for black America. Examples include The New York Times Magazine (“a vivid re-imagination of something black Americans have cherished for centuries”) and The Guardian (“The film is already being regarded in the US as a positive force for social change”),

It may also be a sign of Marvel’s future.

Black Panther’s estimated Friday-Sunday U.S. box office is $192 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

That figure would be (unadjusted for inflation or higher ticket prices), the No. 2 U.S. opening for Marvel. Here are the other movies in Marvel’s top five (all of which eventually topped $1 billion at the worldwide box office):

Marvel’s The Avengers (2012): $207.4 million.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015): $191.3 million.

Captain America: Civil War (2016): $179.1 million.

Iron Man 3 (2013): $174.1 million.

Of the Marvel top five, Black Panther (starring Chadwick Boseman) is the only one not to include Robert Downey Jr. playing Tony Stark/Iron Man.

It was 2008’s Iron Man where Marvel began making its own films, instead of licensing the rights to others. The movie became the building block upon which Marvel built is movie universe. Four years later, with Marvel’s The Avengers, the notion of a “shared universe” became big business.

Some have wondered whether Marvel could withstand Downey’s eventual departure. The actor turns 53 in April and it’s not the kind of thing you can keep doing forever. Other major Marvel actors such as Chris Evans (Captain America) and Chris Hemsworth (Thor) have reached the end of their contracts.

What’s more, the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War and an unnamed Avengers film in 2019 is intended as a kind of finale for Marvel films up to now. So, a decade after its first movie, Marvel Studios has reached a transition point.

Black Panther already is a popular and critical (a 97 percent “fresh” score on the Rotten Tomatoes website) success.

Beyond that, Black Panther shows that Marvel is capable of extending itself beyond its first decade of making movies. Black Panther seems destined to join Marvel’s billion-dollar club (it’s at $361 million globally as of this weekend). The movie also is broadening Marvel’s appeal. We’ll see what happens.

Thor: Ragnarok — third time the charm?

Thor: Ragnarok poster

Thor: Ragnarok has begun its international run and will debut in the United States next week. So far, critics have given it their seal of approval, far more than the hero’s two previous installments.

The new movie, with Chris Hemsworth returning as the Norse God of Thunder, has a 95 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the website that collects reviews.

That’s up from the 77 percent fresh rating for 2011’s Thor and the 66 percent for 2013’s Thor: The Dark World.

Thor has a reputation for being one of the stuffier of Marvel’s original comic book heroes. He was powerful, but not tortured the way Bruce Banner/Hulk was. Thor didn’t crack wise the way Peter Parker/Spider-Man did.

A common view among reviewers is Thor: Ragnarok has more humor compared with the earlier installments. Regardless, here’s a look at some non-spoiler excerpts from reviews.

RAFER GUZMAN, NEWSDAY: Thor: Ragnarok “turns down the Shakespearean pretensions, cranks up the humor and delivers what is essentially an action-comedy with swords and capes….It’s a close cousin to ‘Guardians of the Galaxy,’ a high-energy lark that occasionally makes time for monsters, battles, bloodletting and spectacular special effects.”

PETER TRAVERS, ROLLING STONE: “Need a quick fix for the bleak dystopian epics flooding the multiplex? Take a hit off the laughing gas rising up out of Thor: Ragnarok, which may be the most fun you’ll ever have at a Marvel movie…As for Hemsworth, who showed his comedy chops in the femcentric Ghostbusters remake, the Australian actor seems liberated by the opportunity to shake off any trace of God-of-Thunder gravitas.”

Thor fights the Thing in a 1968 Fantastic Four comic drawn by Jack Kirby and inked by Joe Sinnott.

STEPHANIE ZACHAREK, TIME: “Thor: Ragnarok is boyishly eager to reveal Thor’s goofy likability to us, as if it were something we hadn’t yet cottoned to. Directed by the enormously talented New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi, it’s well intentioned but ultimately numbing, an instance of fun overkill whose ultimate goal seems to be to put us into a special-effects coma.”

LINDSEY BAHR, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: “The results are pretty decent, though perhaps not the total departure that had been hyped….But it’s a fairly flawed movie on the whole with egregious tonal shifts. Some of the gags go on too long with the Hulk with too little payoff and sometimes it seems as though there’s a mandate that every 25 minutes there will be a big fight no matter what.”

ROE MCDERMOTT, HOT PRESS: “Similarly, the action sequences – though well-executed – are lacking in originality, resulting in an utterly generic offering. You’ll watch, be lightly amused for two hours, and go back to forgetting that Thor exists.”

Thor loses hammer, fights Hulk in new trailer

It has been more than three years since the last Thor solo movie and almost two years since the Thunder God was seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

With that in mind, the teaser trailer for Thor: Ragnarok is out today, marking the return of Chris Hemworth’s Thor. While technically a Thor solo movie, the Hulk (also last seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron) is around. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, naturally, is lurking.

Thor’s enchanted hammer appears to be destroyed, so you know the son of Odin is going to be tested. Later, Thor and the Hulk fight in a gladiator-style setting. Take a look if you’re so inclined. The movie is out in November.

REVIEW: The sequel that doesn’t seem like a sequel

Iron Man's Hulkbuster armor vs. the Hulk, a highlight of Avengers: Age of Ultron

Concept art of Iron Man’s Hulkbuster armor vs. the Hulk, a highlight of Avengers: Age of Ultron

Director Joss Whedon, in his farewell to Marvel movies, has come up with a rarity: a sequel that doesn’t seem like a sequel.

Avengers: Age of Ultron, while not a perfect film, achieves something unusual. It’s a sequel that’s more introspective (at least for a time) than the 2012 original Marvel’s The Avengers, that Whedon directed and co-wrote. There’s a substantial attempt at demonstrating what makes its main characters tick that’s deeper than what came before.

It’s rare these days where there’s a “written and directed by” credit, but that’s what Whedon has here. It’s even more rare in genre movies not to mention a studio (Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel) that isn’t known as a haven for “auteur” filmmakers.

Still, the movie is all that and more. Whedon successfully walks a tightrope. He successfully balances commercial concerns (the 2012 movie had worldwide ticket sales of $1.5 billion), throws more than a few bones to the hard-core Marvel Comics fan base (including Tony Stark’s “Hulkbuster” armor, a popular bit from late 1970s comic books) to giving his main actors plenty of material to work with.

Concerning the latter point, the introspection occurs relatively early in the movie, something even more surprising. The super hero group encounters a set of brother-sister twins, who’ve been experimented upon by the evil organization Hydra. Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) can mess with the minds of people.

Whedon uses that as a device to explore the personalities of his main cast (Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo and Jeremy Renner).

Tony Stark and Bruce Banner (Downey Jr. and Ruffalo) have been working on something they believe can result in good. As it turns out, they’ve crossed into Dr. Frankenstein territory (and Whedon provides a couple of references for those not familiar with that story). As a result, Ultron (James Spader) is born, a robot with artificial intelligence who decides humans should be exterminated.

Since 2008, Marvel Studios has been on an amazing run of movies that have been highly successful (and then some) at the box office. At the same time, those movies haven’t been paint-by-the-numbers. That’s especially true with Whedon’s second Avengers movie. He shakes things up (though not too much).

Whedon has indicated that after five-plus years of living with the Avengers he wants to movie on to developing projects featuring his own characters. That’s very understandable. Nevertheless, he has set a high bar for his successors.

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo will helm a two-part Avengers movie due for release in 2018 and 2019. They’ve already directed one Captain America movie and are about to begin filming another featuring a Cap/Iron Man clash.

Yet, Whedon has demonstrated what can be accomplished in a genre film. Sam Mendes, director of the 007 film Skyfall and the currently filming SPECTRE, has been using Christopher Nolan’s Batman films as a guide to making James Bond movies. It’s too bad he didn’t get a chance check out Whedon’s work on the two Avengers movies as well.

Avengers: Age of Ultron has flaws. It’s a bit long and gets exhausting at times. For all that, it’s worth a look. GRADE: A-Minus.