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.

Chadwick Boseman dies

Black Panther poster

Chadwick Boseman, who brought to life real-life figures such as Jackie Robinson to life as well as the Stan Lee-Jack Kirby character Black Panther, has died at 43, according to The Associated Press.

Boseman played Jackie Robinson in the 2013 film 42 (referring to Robinson’s uniform number), James Brown in Get on Up (2014) and Thurgood Marshall in Marshall (2017).

The actor also played the title character in Black Panther (2018). He had earlier played the part in Captain America: Civil War (2016) and did an encore in Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019).

Black Panther was the first Marvel Studios film to receive a Best Picture nomination. It was seen as a sign that comic book-based movies could reach beyond their humble origins.

When the film came out in 2018, it had a big impact. Black audience members embraced the phrase “Wakanda Forever!”

T’Challa, the Black Panther, was introduced in 1966 in an issue of the Fantastic Four. The character was the head of an African country with advanced technology. Black Panther ever since has been one of the major characters of Marvel Comics.

News of Boseman’s death was shocking to fans. The actor was diagnosed with colon cancer four years ago, AP reported.

UPDATE (Aug. 29): Here is a tweet on Chadwick Boseman’s Twitter feed announcing his death:

 

Zack Snyder’s cut of Justice League coming to HBO Max

Justice League movie logo

Waste not, want not.

Zack Snyder, the original director of 2017’s Justice League, will see the light of day on HBO Max in 2021, the new stream service announced on Twitter.

The exact format may be not be decided. The Hollywood Reporter said “the Snyder cut” may be in a four-hour single edition or six “chapters.”

The entertainment news outlet said that Warner Bros. may spend an additional $20 million on the project.

Justice League was intended to be Warners’ answer to The Avengers films from Walt Disney Co.-owned Marvel Studios.

Justice League’s worldwide box office was almost $658 million, according to Box Office Mojo. While hardly a flop, it was far less than the four Avengers films released between 2012 and 2019.

What’s more, vast portions of Justice League were refilmed with director Josh Whedon, who helmed the first two Avengers films. It’s generally thought that Whedon lightened the proceedings from a darker Snyder version.

Since Justice League’s original run, things haven’t been quite the same for Warner Bros.’s cinema universe of DC Comics characters. Ben Affleck’s Batman has been replaced. The future of Henry Cavill’s Superman is unsettled. Warner Bros. has been deemphasizing the idea of a big cinematic universe.

HBO Max is AT&T’s entry in the streaming competition involving the likes of Netflix, Disney + and others. AT&T is the parent company of Warner Bros. and HBO.

For now, Black Widow and Bond will be out in November

Poster for Black Widow

Movie studios continue to play a game of chess with release dates as the coronavirus slams the global economy.

Walt Disney Co. announced a series of release dates, according to Exhibitor Relations, which tracks movie box office.

Among the new dates is Black Widow, made by Disney’s Marvel unit, now scheduled to debut on Nov. 6 in the U.S.

Black Widow originally was slated to come out on May 1. The coronavirus, which resulted in movie theater closings in multiple countries, has forced many changes.

One of the first films to change dates was No Time to Die, the 25th James Bond film. It originally was scheduled to be out on April 2 in the U.K. and April 10 in the U.S.

The Bond film currently is scheduled to be out in Nov. 12 in the U.K. and Nov. 25 in the U.S.

If all this holds up, Marvel’s leading espionage character will have her solo film the same month as No Time to Die.

How significant is this? With the coronavirus, everything is in flux. We’ll see how it goes.

Coronavirus snaps Marvel’s release date stranglehold

Poster for Black Widow

The coronavirus and the worldwide pandemic it caused have broken Marvel Studios’ hold on the late April/early May release schedule.

Black Widow, the newest Marvel movie, has been delayed from its long-planned May 1 release date, Variety reported.

The move was inevitable. Across the globe, movie theaters are being shut down to combat the virus. The virus can spread quickly and authorities are breaking up large gatherings of people.

Early this month, No Time to Die’s release date was pushed back to November from April, with a March 31 world premiere event canceled.

Since then, a number of movies have seen their release dates delayed. The ninth installment of The Fast and the Furious series was pushed back to April 2021 from May 2020. At this point, a movie can’t be shown in a theater in many markets, including the U.S., France, China, and Italy.

Regardless, the announcement is an end of an era for Marvel.

Marvel, now owned by Walt Disney Co., began producing its own movies starting with 2008’s Iron Man. Originally Quantum of Solace was scheduled for the May 2, 2008, date in the U.S. but was delayed. Iron Man grabbed the date and things weren’t quite the same after that.

In 2009, Marvel had no films. But since 2010 (starting with Iron Man 2), Marvel characters have dominated the last weekend of April or first weekend in May. That includes 2014 (when Sony’s Amazing Spider-Man 2 had the date).

In 2016, Warner Bros. initially challenged Marvel for the first weekend of May date with Batman v Superman. Marvel then said it’d come out with the third Captain America movie (later Captain America: Civil War) at the same time. Warners retreated and brought out Batman v Superman on Easter weekend.

In 2018 and 2019, Marvel moved up two Avengers movies (Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame) to the last weekend in April

All of this is a reminder of how real-life overcomes entertainment. As stated before, Marvel/Disney had no real choice. Regardless, it’s the end of an era.

Robert Iger steps down as CEO of Disney

Walt Disney Co. logo

Robert Iger, who expanded Walt Disney Co. by acquiring Marvel, Star Wars and 20th Century Fox, has stepped down as CEO, effective immediately, the company said in a statement.

Iger’s successor as CEO is Bob Chapnek, Disney announced. He has been head of the company’s theme parks unit.

Iger will remain as chairman until the end of 2021, according to the announcement.

Under Iger, Disney became a major force among entertainment companies. The company’s acquisition of Marvel has been a major driver of profit. Disney’s purchase of the Star Wars franchise has been bumpy, with more ups and downs.

Iger’s biggest bet was buying the bulk of 21st Century Fox (including the 20th Century Fox studio) for more than $71 billion. Properties such as Fox News, Fox Sports and Fox Business remain with Rupert Murdoch. Under Disney ownership, the film studio is now known as the 20th Century brand for Disney.

In December, Iger said he was a big James Bond fan while saying the company wasn’t looking to do another big acquisition. Whether or not that happens, it won’t take place under Iger’s watch.

Bond 25 questions: The MGM call edition

No Time to Die teaser poster

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer doesn’t comment very often about the James Bond film series. Occasionally, 007’s home studio discusses the franchise when reporting its quarterly financial results.

Well, No Time to Die came up this week when MGM talked to investors about third-quarter financial results. Naturally, the blog has a few questions.

What did MGM say about No Time to Die’s marketing?

Not that much. The studio said No Time to Die’s marketing will ramp up shortly after Jan. 1.

However, MGM didn’t say much more than that. At this point, No Time to Die doesn’t have a first trailer out. A rough cut, or preliminary version, was completed by August, according to the James Bond & Friends podcast. But a final version hasn’t been released yet.

To be sure, there’s a lot more to marketing than trailers. But it’s clear Bond fans aren’t seeing much marketing yet for No Time to Die.

How important will No Time to Die be for the company?

Very important. MGM is draining cash this year as it invests in new movie and TV projects as well as investing in its Epix premium TV channel.

An MGM executive referred to the company’s 2020’s feature film plans as a
“James Bond-led revitalized film slate.”

Is there something else we should be aware of?

I have listened to MGM investor calls for seven years now. Rarely do investor ask about Bond films specifically. The calls are intended to discuss MGM financial results generally.

However, this time out, MGM executives got two Bond questions.

One concerned whether MGM had consulted with Danjaq (the parent company of Eon Productions, which actually produces Bond films) whether 007 films could come out more often.

Also, MGM was asked about whether the studio has sought a new Bond actor now that Daniel Craig has said No Time to Die will be it for him.

Listening to a recording of the call, MGM execs were not prepared for either inquiry.

After the first question, there were three seconds of dead air. After the second, there were six seconds of silence.

Doesn’t sound like a lot? On most investor/Wall Street analyst calls, executives pipe up with all sorts of jargon and blather. They don’t stay silent for seconds.

What does that mean?

It means the Bond franchise has major questions to be resolved after No Time to Die arrives at theaters in April 2020.

It also means that MGM isn’t ready to discuss those issues now. MGM and Danjaq (the parent company of Eon) have joint custody of the Bond film franchise.

The entertainment industry is changing rapidly. On the MGM call, new streaming TV shows from Star Wars and Marvel Studios were referenced in questions.

Put another way, the lack of a No Time to Die trailer may not be that important in the long run. We’ll see.