About that No. 1 spoiler for No Time to Die

No Time to Die poster

YES, there be spoilers. So if you’re spoiler sensitive, stop reading now. This is your last warning. To make what seems like an obvious point to me, spoilers are necessary for this post. I gave this post the most bland title to avoiding giving things away.

No Time to Die wraps up a five-movie arc featuring Daniel Craig as James Bond. It’s a self-contained Bond universe that (mostly) doesn’t concern the previous 20 Eon Productions movies.

Eon Productions got the idea in the middle of the arc (in between Skyfall and SPECTRE). Still, it’s now official these films are their own thing. That’s much the way that Christopher Nolan’s three Batman movies are their own thing, not related to any other Batman films.

Whether Eon wants to admit it or not, the makers of the Bond film series are following the same path set by Fox and Marvel movies featuring Marvel comic book characters

With 2015’s SPECTRE, Eon specifically adapted interconnected storytelling featured in movies made by Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios. With No Time to Die, Eon has doubled down on that concept.

2017’s Logan (made by Fox before it was absorbed by Disney), we had the final Hugh Jackman adventure as Logan/Wolverine. In 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, we had the concluding tale of Tony Stark/Iron man (Robert Downey Jr.), ending an arc of more than a decade.

The concept, of course, is The Hero’s Last Stand. The hero falls, but falls heroically. The audience weeps.

When executed well, it works.

To be clear, The Hero’s Last Stand goes back a long time. It was included in genres as diverse as Biblical epics (Samson and Deliah) and Westerns (Ride the High Country and The Shootist). But Bibical movies and Westerns aren’t popular anymore.

But comic book films are.

For example, Tony Stark makes the ultimate sacrifice to save those who matter the most to him. Sound familiar?

Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron about to make the ultimate sacrifice in Avengers: Endgame (2019)

You may respond that’s a coincidence. No, it’s not.

The tabloids ran stories in 2018 and 2019 speculating about whether Bond 25 would kill off Craig’s Bond. They also had stories asking whether Eon or Danny Boyle, No Time to Die’s original director wanted to kill Bond off.

The Sun said in August 2018 that Boyle quit because he did not want to kill off Bond. The Daily Star said in April 2019 that it was Boyle who wanted Bond “to die in the arms of returning Bond girl Lea Seydoux in the 25th spy movie Shatterhand.” (Oops.)

Regardless, we now know that somebody did. The notion of Bond dying has been in plain sight for more than three years.

To be sure, movies can have similar themes and still be good. High Noon and Rio Bravo featured western lawmen who were outnumbered by the bad guys. But the two movies had considerably different takes on the same notion.

Many Bond fans despise Marvel films. Many fans are in denial that Bond has been adapting Marvel film concepts (including Eon boss Barbara Broccoli).

Of course, it also works the way around. Both Nolan’s Batman movies and Marvel’s film output have been influenced by Bond. Example: Look at casino scenes in 2012’s Skyfall and 2018’s Black Panther, for example.

Regardless, all still comes down to execution. So how does No Time to Die’s version of The Hero’s Last Stand compare?

When I finally saw it, I’d have to say very well. The ending had been spoiled for me. Not in a, “I stumbled it while surfing the internet” way but hearing it presented to me full on. Nevertheless, watching it for the first time, it felt genuinely emotional.

You may disagree. And that’s fine. The thing is, Bond’s exit in No Time to Die is not brand-new territory.

Fantastic Four — and the Marvel age of comics — turns 60

The Fantastic Four debuted in 1961. By 1963, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had created an integrated comics universe

This week marks the 60th anniversary of the first issue of the Fantastic Four.

The modest Marvel Comics, which relied on much-larger rival DC Comics for distribution, decided it needed to get back into superheroes after years of publishing monster and science fiction stories.

The FF were created by Stan Lee (1922-2018), handling scripting and editing, and Jack Kirby (1917-1994), performing penciling and at least half (if not more) of the plotting. The FF at least partially resembled Challengers of the Unknown, a title Kirby worked on for DC.

The title generated sales to encourage more super hero attempts. In 1962, Marvel came out with the Hulk, Thor and Spider-Man. The following year saw the debuts of Iron Man, X-Men and the Avengers.

During the 102-run Lee-Kirby run, the FF proclaimed itself to be “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!” For much of that time, at least to impressionable young readers, that wasn’t hyperbole.

By 2008, Marvel decided to make its own movies after years of licensing its characters to others. Iron Man with Robert Downey Jr. was the first attempt and it was a hit. Walt Disney Co. later bought Marvel to take over the characters.

The FF itself has had mixed results in the films. 20th Century Fox (now a Disney property itself) had licensed the FF for films in the 2000s and 2015. The Fantastic Four, once the flagship of Marvel Comics, was almost an afterthought.

But in its prime, the FF was used to introduce characters such as the Black Panther and the Inhumans. The title also became a way to do crossover stories with the Hulk, the Avengers, Nick Fury, Spider-Man and others.

Marvel, the Disney-owned studio, is at a crossroads. It is now about to bring out lesser-known characters. It now controls the fate of any future Fantastic Four movies. How that turns out remains to be seen.

Nevertheless, none of that would even be an issue without the efforts of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, whose collaboration saw the light of day 60 years ago.

Bond, Steranko bits show up in Black Widow

Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine’s debut in Strange Tales 159 in 1967

Spoilers, although so much is available on social media, the horse is out of the barn.

Marvel Studios has resumed movie releases with Black Widow that was released last weekend. A lot of James Bond fans were pleased with 007 references. Also, a character created by writer-artist Jim Steranko’s run on Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD made an encore appearance in the MCU.

By this time, it’s pretty common knowledge that Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) is seen watching Moonraker, a scene that includes a clip from the 1979 Bond film. Also, John Barry gets a credit in the end titles crawl for a composition titled Bond Fights Snake. Those who’ve seen Moonraker will instantly remember the composition involved.

Beyond that, there has been a lot of Bond fan discussion via social media about other Black Widow sequences that borrow from Bond.

Meanwhile, in a scene during the end titles, a character created by Jim Steranko during his 1960s run on Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD, made her second MCU appearance.

Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine, aka Val, first appeared in 1967. Originally, Black Widow was intended to be Val’s MCU debut. However, the movie was delayed from its original May 2020 release date because of COVID-19.

As a result, Val (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) first showed up in the Marvel streaming series The Falcon and The Winter Soldier in April. Originally, Val was a SHIELD recruit. She’s now a villainous character.

UPDATE: Fellow Bond fan Jeffrey Westhoff and I exchanged messages on Facebook. He makes the case (and I agree) there’s a Black Widow sequence inspired by On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. You’ll have to see it for yourself.

Marvel pitches support of movie theater experience

Marvel Studios, the Walt Disney Co. unit, put out a video today in support of the movie theater experience.

Marvel did so while promoting its upcoming releases, some of which have been pushed back because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s the video Marvel put out:

Marvel has its own issues. Black Widow was pushed back from May to July. The movie will be available on both the Disney + streaming service as well as theaters.

Marvel also has movies based on characters that aren’t that well-known to the general public. One example is The Eternals, a Jack Kirby title originally published in the 1970s after Kirby returned to Marvel Comics. Overall, Kirby’s Marve return wasn’t a happy one for the artist-writer.

On the other hand, Eternals is directed by Chloe Zhao, who won two Oscars last month, including one as best director. The general public may soon learn a lot about The Eternals.

In any case, the Marvel video does seek to rally support of seeing films in theaters. Over the past year, there has been a repeated trope that No Time to Die will be important to “saving cinema.” After repeated delays, No Time to Die is scheduled for release in Sept. 30 in the U.K. and Oct. 8 in the U.S.

We’ll see. Studios still need traditional theater releases to generate enough revenue to make super-expensive “tentpole” movies worth it.

Broccoli decries superhero films while using their tropes

Barbara Broccoli, boss of Eon Productions

Barbara Broccoli, the boss of Eon Productions, which makes James Bond movies, says the 007 film series is better than superhero films despite using some of the same tropes.

An April 26 story by The Express had this passage:

Ms Broccoli believed moviegoers connected with Bond because he remains an “ordinary” and “regular person” unlike “superheroes”.

She claimed this was reemphasised in (Daniel) Craig’s portrayal where “he bleeds” and “he cries” like any other person. 

Almost a decade ago, Sam Mendes, the director of Skyfall, acknowledged how he adapted ideas from Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies that ran from 2005 to 2012.

With SPECTRE (2015), Eon adopted the notion of multi-film continuity made popular by Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios unit.

With No Time to Die, director Cary Fukunaga in 2019 talked up “the joy of continuity.” He commented about how No Time to Die embraced the continuity of Daniel Craig’s first four James Bond films.

So it goes.

Jim Steranko still having an impact on spy-fi

Jim Steranko’s 1968 cover to Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD No. 4, which influenced the cover of a James Bond comic book from Dynamite Comics.

Decades after Jim Steranko made his spy-fi flash with Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD, the writer-artist still is having an impact on spy entertainment.

Dynamite Comics, as part of its continuing series of James Bond stories, opted to have one cover modeled after a Steranko Nick Fury cover from 1968 (see above; the same cover was also used on a 2000 trade paperback book collecting many of Steranko’s SHIELD stories).

However, there has been a bit of a fuss. Artist Aaron Lopresti disclosed he had been told to alter the image of a woman in underwear holding a gun but then was instructed to put more clothes on her. Nevertheless, the Amazon.com entry for the issue includes Lopresti’s original image.

The artist complained about having to make the change. See a March 31 story at the Bounding Into Comics site and an April 15 story at the MI6 James Bond site for more details.

A short while later, another Steranko SHIELD creation, Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine, showed up in the Falcon and the Winter Soldier MCU series on Disney +. As created by Steranko, she was a SHIELD recruit. Over the years, Marvel Comics turned her into a villain and that’s what showed up on the streaming series.

The contessa, more informally known as Val, was played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and is expected to show up more in Marvel movies. Louis-Dreyfus took to Twitter on April 19 to make note of her new role.

Nostalgia can be powerful. Where Jim Steranko is concerned, nostalgia can be like a boomerang, coming back at you.

Countessa Val causes an MCU fan reaction

Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine at left in this cover for Strange Tales 167 (published January 1968)

Yes, there be spoilers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

A character originally created by writer-artist Jim Steranko for Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. this week appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe via the streaming series The Falcon and The Winder Soldier.

Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine, depicted as a S.H.I.E.L.D. recruit in Strange Tales No. 159 in 1967, appeared in the latest episode of the show. Except she’s now Madame Hydra, leader of the villainous organization that’s caused trouble throughout the films produced by Marvel Studios.

On the streaming series, Val (as she was often called in the comic books) is played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus. For a time on Friday morning, “Madame Hydra” and “Julia Louis-Dreyfus” topics on Twitter.

The development spurred various outlets to do stories, including VANITY FAIR (“Marvel, reportedly, has even bigger ambitions for Louis-Dreyfus’s villainous figure”), NEWSWEEK, (“…fans are treated to a cameo that no one saw coming), and CBR.COM all did stories about it.

UPDATE (April 18): I asked Jim Steranko about this on Twitter. He hasn’t seen Louis-Dreyfus’s performance yet. Here’s his response.

Black Widow to debut on streaming and in theaters

Poster for Black Widow

Oh me, oh my. Black Widow, the Marvel Studios film that was delayed by a year by the COVID-19 pandemic, will debut on Disney Plus as well as in theaters in July, according to the Deadline entertainment news website.

Here’s an excerpt:

Just when it looked like studios were going back to a theatrical window release pattern with today’s news of Regal and Warner Bros’ deal, Disney has smashes that to bits.

Disney said Tuesday that it is opening both of its key summer events pics Cruella and Marvel’s Black Widow simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access (which is usually $30 a purchase extra for subscribers) in most Disney+ markets on Friday, May 28 and Friday, July 9, respectively.

To recap: 2020 was the first year since 2009 without a Marvel Studios film. That was because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The latest news indicates that COVID still is having an impact on movie releases. In recent weeks, here in the U.S., there had been optimism that vaccinations are putting a serious dent into COVID. This latest news is a sign things aren’t back to normal yet.

To be sure, No Time to Die currently isn’t due out until late September in many countries (including the U.K. and Brazil) with other countries (such as the U.S.) until a week later.

There’s no reason for James Bond film fans to get upset yet. But No Time to Die making it’s current release date isn’t necessarily a sure thing.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE: It turns out The King’s Man, prequel to Matthew Vaughn’s two Kingsman films, has been delayed yet again to December from August. OK. It has been delayed quite a bit already already, so what’s a few more months?

A modest proposal about U.N.C.L.E.’s future

U.N.C.L.E. insignia from a second-season episode

The future of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., if it has one, needs to be different because of changes in the movie and television industry.

Traditional over-the-air networks (ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox) face increasing pressure and programs face tight windows to prove themselves or get canceled.

U.N.C.L.E.’s last try as a feature film in 2015 wasn’t a big hit. A sequel always was a long shot and with each passing year the odds get longer.

U.N.C.L.E.’s best chance at a revival may be as a series on streaming television. Marvel Studios is extending its universe of characters to series on Disney Plus. An initial effort, WandaVision, is getting a lot of attention, with outlets doing episode-by-episode recaps.

Corporate leaders such as those at Walt Disney Co. (Marvel’s parent company) and AT&T (parent company of Warner Bros.) are going all-in on streaming.

U.N.C.L.E. is a Warner Bros. property. So if U.N.C.L.E. went streaming it would be ticketed for AT&T’s HBO Max. In 2021, AT&T is using Warner Bros. films as a loss leader to drive traffic to HBO Max. The movies show up on the streaming service and theaters (those that are open) at the same time. The films stay on HBO Max for about a month.

Of course, where U.N.C.L.E. is concerned, things are never easy. If Warner Bros. is even interested, how do you cast about for a showrunner to oversee an HBO Max version of U.N.C.L.E.? Is there someone out there who can retain the core of U.N.C.L.E. while updating it for modern audiences?

U.N.C.L.E. had an overall optimistic center (agents of all nationalities, an American was paired with a Russian). The original series, though, in its fourth season showed that could be adapted to darker storylines.

Also, do you recast? Answer: Likely. The most recent movie was actually filmed in the fall of 2013. It’s hard to maintain momentum with actors audiences haven’t seen in the roles of Solo and Illya for years.

One of those actors, Armie Hammer, is fighting for his professional life because of controversy involving a sex scandal. Who knows if the other, Henry Cavill, is still interested. You get the impression he’s waiting around to see if he can be cast as James Bond in the future.

What’s more, if a showrunner was new to U.N.C.L.E. (a strong possibility if such a streaming show happened) that person would likely want to cast the leads. A fresh start makes sense.

The streaming route raises a lot of questions. But hoping for a sequel to the 2015-released film seems like a dead end. For U.N.C.L.E. to have a future, streaming may be the way to go.

Bond 25 questions: The miscellaneous edition

“I want to see No Time to Die right now!”

Well, we keep getting new No Time to Die promos. Does that mean we’ll really, really get to see the 25th James Bond film in November?

Naturally, the blog has questions.

So is the movie really coming out in November?

Well, the various promos would have you believe that. New posters. A new promotional video from Omega. A new promotional video from Eon Productions featuring Rami Malek’s Safin villain.

So you’re saying yes, right?

I’m saying maybe.

What? Why?

We’re a little under 60 days from the U.S. release date for No Time to Die. The U.K. premiere date is before that.

Meanwhile, it wasn’t announced until March 4 that No Time to Die’s early April release date was pushed back to November. (The world premiere had been scheduled for March 31, just 27 days later).

So, there’s still time for yet another delay to be announced.

Oh come on! You’re being a Debbie Downer! Aren’t you?

Let’s just say the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), which led to the April-to-November delay is still out there.

The coronavirus remains a big factor in the U.S. and U.K. If you look at the COVID-19 site maintained by Johns Hopkins University, the virus is still pretty widespread.

Meanwhile, other studios, including Walt Disney Co., are delaying 2020 releases into 2021. Disney’s Marvel Studios, for example, has delayed its Black Widow movie yet again, this time to May 2021

Those studios may be influenced by Warner Bros.’s Tenet, the first big theater release during the pandemic.

Anything to add?

Well, if No Time to Die sticks with its November release date, it will have less competition.

UPDATE (Sept. 25): The Wall Street Journal has a story today about how major theater chains are looking to No Time to Die to deliver customers.

At least MGM still seems committed to a November release of its latest James Bond movie, the aptly named “No Time to Die.” Any sign that the suave spy’s schedule also is slipping would be terrible news for Cineworld and its U.S. peers AMC and Cinemark.