Black Panther wins Marvel its first Oscars

Black Panther poster

Marvel Studios, which has had a major impact on movies since it began making its own films in 2008, won its first Oscars thanks to 2018’s Black Panther.

The superhero film won Oscars for costume design, production design and its score. Black Panther was set in the fictional African nation of Wakanda, which had technology unknown to most of the most of the world.

Wakanda and its ruler T’Challa were introduced in a 1966 issue of Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

The film version of the Black Panther character (Chadwick Boseman) was introduced in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. The Black Panther film was released in February 2018, generating worldwide box office of $1.35 billion.

The movie was also nominated for best film. It lost to Green Book.

Separately, Stan Lee, who died last year at age 95, was included in the In Memoriam segment of the Oscars show.

Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War was nominated for best visual effects but lost to First Man.

Also of note:

–Daniel Craig and Charlize Theron presented the Oscar for best supporting actor. The James Bond Theme played as they came on stage. Mahershala Ali won in the category for Green Book.

–An instrumental version of Live And Let Die was played following an early commercial break on the broadcast. The title song for the eighth James Bond film was nominated for best song but didn’t win.

–Rami Malek, who reportedly is of interest to Eon Productions to play the villain in Bond 25, won the Oscar for best actor in Bohemian Rhapsody.

Black Panther receives Oscar Best Picture Nomination

Black Panther poster

Black Panther was one of eight films to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, the Academy for Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced today.

Marvel Studios and its parent company, Walt Disney Co., had promoted the 2018 film heavily during the nomination process. Black Panther also received other nominations, including best score, costume design, song and production design. It received no acting, writing or directing nominations.

Still, it was a big moment for Marvel, whose films have had a huge impact on the box office. Black Panther was No. 1 grossing U.S. film last year at $700 million, according to Box Office Mojo.  Worldwide, it was No. 2 at $1.35 billion, behind Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War at $2.05 billion.

The Black Panther character made his debut in 1966 as part of a Fantastic Four comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The story introduced Wakanda, a technologically advanced African nation. The film drew also drew upon later stories by various writers and artists that expanded the Panther mythos. Director Ryan Coogler also said last year that the movie drew inspirations from James Bond films.

The other films nominated for Best Picture were BlacKkKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Green Book, Roma, A Star Is Born and Vice.

Also, Rachel Weisz, wife of 007 actor Daniel Craig, was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for The Favourite.

McQuarrie to direct 2 M:I films back to back, Variety says

Mission: Impossible-Fallout poster

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Christopher McQuarrie has agreed to direct two more Mission: Impossible movies for Paramount, Variety reported and film them back to back,  citing people familiar with the situation it didn’t identify.

McQuarrie wrote and directed the last two installments in the Tom Cruise series, 2015’s Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation and Mission: Impossibl-Fallout. Both were hits, with the latter addressing loose ends from previous M:I adventures.

The decision to film two films at once, with McQuarrie again writing and directing is  “to take advantage of the popularity of the series,” wrote Variety’s Justin Kroll. The first would be out in 2021, the second the following year, Variety said.

Cruise, who turns 57 in July, also is committed to the two movies, according to Variety.

In 2012, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer announced John Logan had been hired to write Bond 24 and Bond 25. The announcement occurred after the release of Skyfall, the first 007 film to generate $1 billion in global box office.

Star Daniel Craig vetoed the idea of making two Bond films back to back. Bond 24, later titled SPECTRE, came out in the fall of 2015. Bond 25 is scheduled to be released in February 2020.

Other franchises, though, have done back to back productions. Marvel Studios took that approach with Avengers: Infinity War, released in 2018, and Avengers: Endgame, scheduled for release this spring.

UPDATE Jan. 15: Both McQuarrie and Cruise confirmed the news on social media.

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Avengers 4 gets a trailer and a title

Marvel Studios’s fourth Avenger film got a teaser trailer and an announced title (Avengers: Endgame) today.

In the trailer, things look bleak for Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. He’s traveling in outer space having run out of food and water and about to use up the last of his oxygen.

Meanwhile, Captain America (Chris Evans) moves to rally the surviving Marvel characters after Thanos had wiped out half of all living beings at the end of last year’s Avengers: Infinity War.

Avengers: Endgame wraps up story threads that began with the first Marvel-produced film, 2008’s Iron Man. Avengers: Infinity War had a global box office of $2.05 billion. We’ll see next spring whether the next installment draws the same kind of business. You can view the trailer below.

Stan Lee dies at 95

Stan Lee’s cameo in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War

Stan Lee, the long-time editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics who co-created many Marvel characters and was a master showman in promoting them, has died at 95, according to The Associated Press, which cited a family attorney.

Stanley Martin Lieber was hired while still in his teens at at Timely Comics, a forerunner company of Marvel, working for publisher Martin Goodman. Goodman’s wife was Lieber’s cousin.

The young Lieber wished to save his given name for more literary works. He wrote a text feature in a Captain America comic with the pen name Stan Lee. The alter ego would stick.

Lee became editor after Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, the creators of Captain America, left the company in 1941. Aside from a stint in U.S. Army during World War II, he’d hold the job until 1972.

For much of Lee’s tenure, Timely/Marvel was overshadowed by DC Comics, which published the adventures of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.

Timely nearly went out of business in the 1950s. Its star characters, the Sub-Mariner, the Human Torch (an android who could catch on fire) and Cap were in publishing limbo.

Groot’s first appearance in Tales to Astonish in a story by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby

By the late 1950s, the company published a handful of science fiction and monster titles. One of the characters created during this period, Groot, a monster made of wood, would eventually be revamped in Guardians of the Galaxy. The first Groot story was a modest one-shot in Tales to Astonish in 1959.

Comeback

Eventually, Marvel (as the company became known) began a comeback in 1961 with the first issue of the Fantastic Four.

Jack Kirby, now on his own from Joe Simon, had rejoined the fold. Kirby did the bulk of plotting for the stories he drew, with Lee providing the dialogue and captions. The Fantastic Four carried over themes from previous Kirby titles such as Challengers of the Unknown for DC.

Beginning with the FF, Marvel began to build momentum. The Hulk (another Lee-Kirby product) followed in 1962. So did Thor (Lee-Kirby) and Spider-Man (Lee and Steve Ditko).

The 1960s surge also enabled Marvel to bring back characters. The Fantastic Four included a new version of the Human Torch and the original returned in a 1966 FF annual. The FF also saw the return of the Sub-Mariner, starting in issue 4. Captain America was revived in issue 4 of The Avengers in 1964.

Stan Lee and his wife Joan make a cameo in a Daredevil comic written by Gerry Conway, drawn by Gene Colan and inked by Tom Palmer. (Joan Lee died in 2017.)

Both Kirby and Ditko did much of the plotting when it came to stories. Another key collaborator was Lee’s own brother, Larry Lieber. Lee’s sibling scripted the first outings of Thor and Iron Man from sketchy Lee plots.

Yet, Lee provided a common voice for the growing collection of Marvel characters. He had a way of making readers feel they were part of a club that “got it.” Marvel was less stuffy, less formal than DC. That included the use of catchphrases such as, “Excelsior!” Many fans felt they were on a first-name basis with Stan.

Stan Lee Becomes a Star

By the mid-1960s, Marvel was on a roll. The Marvel characters, especially Spider-Man, began to draw attention from a wider audience.

Stan Lee was now Marvel’s real-life star, giving interviews and making appearances.

Stan Lee on a 1971 episode of To Tell The Truth

Some of Lee’s collaborators didn’t like it. Wally Wood, who had revamped Daredevil, including a new design for his costume, left in 1965. Ditko, who demanded and received credit for his plotting, followed in 1966. Both eventually returned but didn’t work with Lee directly.

The biggest departure was Kirby. He exited Marvel after drawing (and probably doing most of the plotting for) 102 issues of Fantastic Four as well as many issues of Thor and Captain America.

Kirby, too, would come back to Marvel for a few years in the 1970s, but mostly wrote and drew his own comics. One exception was a 1978 Silver Surfer graphic novel that reunited the Lee-Kirby team.

Eventually, Lee became an executive, handing over the editing chores at Marvel to Roy Thomas, his one-time assistant.

A New Generation

A new generation of writers and artists carried on with the comics. One of them, writer Gerry Conway (b. 1952), had taken over writing Spider-Man in the early 1970s. He penned the story where Peter Parker’s long-time girlfriend Gwen Stacy was killed off.

Gwen Stacy “was  basically Stan fulfilling Stan’s own fantasy,” Conway told author Sean Howe in the 2012 book Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. “I think Gwen was simply Stan replicating his wife.” (Joan Lee died in 2017 after almost 60 years of marriage to Stan Lee.)

The story was one of the most controversial Marvel had published up to that time. Conway’s basic plot was used in the 2014 movie The Amazing Spider-Man 2. 

Meanwhile, Lee’s duties included trying to strike deals for TV and movie adaptions of Marvel characters.

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1965

For years, that produced a mixed bag. The most successful was a Hulk TV series produced by Universal and telecast by CBS starring Bill Bixby. One episode even had a cameo by Jack Kirby as a police artist.

Eventually, Lee had his own departure from Marvel. Still, Lee had a deal where, once Marvel characters finally reached movie screens, he’d make cameo appearances in the films. That was reinforced in 2008 when Marvel began producing its own films beginning with Iron Man.

Such film cameos mimicked Stan appearances in Marvel comics stories years earlier.

Mixed Legacy

Stan Lee has a mixed legacy. Fans of Kirby, Ditko and Wood feel those collaborators did the heavy lifting at Marvel.

In 2014, the Kirby family reached a legal settlement with Walt Disney Co, which had acquired Marvel. Since then, Kirby has received more prominent credits in Marvel Studios movies released by Disney.

Toward the end of his life, and after Joan Lee’s death, there were controversies involving Stan Lee’s personal life.

The Daily Beast published a March 10, 2018 story depicting Lee being victimized by various hangers on. It was titled, Picked Apart by Vultures’: The Last Days of Stan Lee. The Hollywood Reporter published an April 10, 2018 story with a similar theme. That article, titled Stan Lee Needs a Hero, also included details about allegations concerning Stan and Joan Lee being assaulted by their grown daughter, J.C.

On April 12, Lee denied hew as a victim of elder abuse in a video shared with TMZ. Lee granted an interview to The New York Times for an April 13, 2018 story. ““I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” he told the newspaper. “Nobody has more freedom.”

However, the article included some troubling details. For example, it described how a number of paintings were no longer at his home. When Joan Lee was alive “she had so many paintings, all over,” Stan Lee told The Times. “Most of them have left now. My daughter took a lot of them, and a lot of them have gone elsewhere.” It wasn’t clear what “gone elsewhere” meant.

For fans of the 1960s Marvel comics, such articles were a difficult and painful read. That also applied to long-time comics professionals. Artist Neal Adams penned an “open letter” about Stan’s situation.

The situation stabilized. In October 2018, Lee gave an interview to The Daily Beast. He denied he had been abused by his daughter, who was present for the interview.

“There really isn’t that much drama,” the comic book legend told the website. “As far as I’m concerned, we have a wonderful life. I’m pretty damn lucky. I love my daughter, I’m hoping that she loves me, and I couldn’t ask for a better life. If only my wife was still with us. I don’t know what this is all about.”

Stan Lee, ever the showman.

Excelsior

How will Stan Lee be remembered?

In 2007, Jonathan Ross reported and hosted a documentary about Steve Ditko that included a Stan Lee interview. He presented his own appraisal about Stan Lee.

“Now, it would be easy to make Stan Lee out to make the villain of the piece but I can’t bring myself to do that, not least because it would be unfair,” Ross said.

“He co-created all of these characters,” Ross added. “He wrote some of the greatest Marvel comic books of all time. And the fact he takes the credit for doing so is absolutely right. I just wish he’d share it out with the guys he worked with a little more.”

Nevertheless, Lee was the face of Marvel for decades. From modest beginnings, to a movie juggernaut, Stan Lee was a huge presence in popular culture.

“Stan is right up there with Walt Disney as one of the great creators of not just one character, but a whole galaxy of characters that have become part of our lives,” George R.R. Martin, author of Game of Thrones, told The New York Times in its April 13, 2018 story.

“Right now, I think he’s probably bigger than Disney.”

Martin had a personal connection to the Stan Lee days at Marvel. He had a letter published in Fantastic Four No. 20 in 1963.

Excelsior, Stan.

Eon’s new normal: Update

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

This isn’t your father’s James Bond film franchise.

Hire a new director? Great! Except, Cary Fukunaga has to deal with a new television project at more or less the same time.

Got your leading man back on board? Great! Except he began filming a movie just a month (or so) before the latest Bond movie originally was to start filming. Thankfully (from the actor’s standpoint, anyway) the Bond film got delayed until March.

Your latest James Bond film project moving ahead? Great! Except we have to get our latest non-007 project (The Rhythm Section) out of the way first.

When Eon Productions started operations, the idea was to make 007 films every year with other project in between. That lasted as far as 1963 (Dr. No, Call Me, Bwana, From Russia With Love).

Eon co-founder Harry Saltzman went off and did non-007 films (the Harry Palmer series, Battle of Britain) on his own. Albert R. Broccoli, the other co-founder, did one more non-007 project (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) while devoting the rest of his life to the Bond film series.

Saltzman, of course, is long gone, having sold his interest in the mid 1970s. Broccoli, before he died in 1996, yielded control to his daughter (Barbara Broccoli) and stepson (Michael G. Wilson).

Now, the main figures of the Bond series juggle 007 among their various projects. Fukunaga, hired in September to direct Bond 25, is only the latest. Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson have been doing it for years. Writer John Logan juggled various enterprises in 2013 and 2014 before delivering a first draft for SPECTRE.

One reader of the blog pointed out on Twitter that Marvel Studios directors Joe and Anthony Russo are cutting deals for future projects even while the untitled Avengers 4 is in post-production.

That’s true enough. Still, by 2019, the Russos will have directed four movies (Captain America: Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers 4) in five years for Marvel. During that same period, there will have been just one James Bond film (SPECTRE).

In the 21st century, the 007 film series is like Paul Masson wine. No wine (or film) before its time.

Marvel’s Feige praises Cubby Broccoli while accepting award

Kevin Feige, the boss of Marvel Studios, had some praise for Albert R. Broccoli, co-founder of Eon Productions, while accepting an award on named after him.

Feige received the Albert R. Broccoli Britannia Award for Worldwide Contribution to Entertainment at the 2018 British Academy Britannia Awards on Oct. 26, Feige has headed Marvel Studios the past 10 years, beginning with 2008’s Iron Man.

“The gold standard is what he and Eon Productions have done with James Bond, a character who is as popular today as he was nearly 60 years ago, when Dr. No first came out,” Feige said. “That’s incredible and we’ve got a half century more to see if we’re (Marvel Studios) anwhere near capable of filling those shoes.”

You can see the entire acceptance speech below.