Marvel reveals Natalie Portman as Thor, Mahershala Ali as Blade

Avengers: Endgame may have closed a chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the blockbuster factory is not slowing down and only expanding in scope and diversity.

Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige led a marathon presentation at San Diego Comic-Con Saturday night, announcing plans for the first two years of “Phase Four,” which will include Natalie Portman taking up the hammer as Thor, making Angelina Jolie an immortal for The Eternals and rebooting Blade with Mahershala Ali.

The stars assembled in the San Diego Convention Center’s Hall H as Feige ticked through the release calendar for 2020 and 2021 movie by movie, giving official cast lists, release dates, titles and logos for everything from Black Widow, the Doctor Strange sequel, Thor 4 to Shang-Chi to The Eternals.

“I’m so excited to be here,” Jolie told the crowd.

She said she’s going to work “10 times harder” than she has on any of her other action roles because she knows what it means to “be part of the MCU” and “part of this family.”

Jolie, who is playing the character Thena, was joined by her The Eternals cast mates including Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Salma Hayek and Brian Tyree Henry, as well as director Chloe Zhao.

“I just really, really wanted to make a Marvel movie for so long,” Zhao said.

Angelina Jolie greets fans as she walks on stage at the Marvel Studios panel, promoting the upcoming film The Eternals. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/The Associated Press)

Black Widow to kick things off

It’s set for release on Nov. 6, 2020, after Black Widow kicks things off on May 1 with Scarlett Johansson, as well as Stranger Things breakout David Harbour, Rachel Weisz and Florence Pugh. Audiences got a look at some early footage from the Cate Shortland-directed film showing Johansson and Pugh in some Bourne Identity-style hand-to-hand combat.

Marvel also revealed that newcomer Simu Liu will be playing the lead role in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” directed by Destin Daniel Cretton and coming to theatres on Feb. 12, 2021. He’ll star alongside Awkwafina and Chinese actor Tony Leung, who is playing The Mandarin.

The third film of 2021, after Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which director Scott Derrickson said will be Marvel’s “first horror movie,” is perhaps the most anticipated, however: Thor 4.

Portman, who played Jane in the first two Thor films, will be remerging as the female Thor. She ran out on stage to thunderous applause and accepted the hammer from a kneeling Taika Waititi.

Canadian Simu Liu (right) will star in Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings, directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (left). (Chris Pizzello/Invision/The Associated Press)

Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, who alluded to her character identifying as LGBTQ, will also be returning for the Waititi-directed Thor: Love and Thunder, which is set for release on Nov. 2, 2021.

Feige brought out some familiar MCU stars from Tom Hiddleston and Sebastian Stan to Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner to tease some of the upcoming Disney+ “event series” including HawkeyeThe Falcon and the Winter Soldier, WandaVision, Loki and the animated series What If…?

Highly-anticipated announcements

Fans were excited to learn that the little girl in Captain Marvel, Monica Rambeau, will be joining WandaVision as a grown woman played by MCU newcomer Teyonah Parris.

The energy in Hall H was electric for what was easily the most high-profile and anticipated presentation. The audience only knew going in that Feige would be joined by some “special guests.”

Teyonah Parris will be joining the cast of WandaVision. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/The Associated Press)

Tense security guards managing the estimated 8,000 people in the room even inadvertently snapped at Endgame directors Joe and Anthony Russo, who were trying to figure out where to go in the melee.

Although the studio took a year off from Comic-Con last year, it has a long history of announcing some of its biggest plans at the fan convention.

Nine years ago, Marvel wowed Hall H when the Avengers, including Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth, appeared on stage for the first time together. It’s also where the studio introduced Brie Larson as Captain Marvel three years ago and brought the house down with the first look at Black Panther.

And even though the presentation hardly took a breather, there were still a number of upcoming films, some rumoured and some confirmed, that they couldn’t get to including Black Panther 2, Guardians of the Galaxy 3Captain Marvel 2 and even, Feige teased, Fantastic Four and Mutants.

Oscar winner Mahershala Ali, centre, will star in an upcoming reboot of Blade. ( Chris Pizzello/Invision/The Associated Press)

“But all that stuff is rumoured,” he said with a smile.

He closed out the presentation dropping the Blade reboot news and Ali’s casting, which hadn’t yet even become a rumour to speculate about. Wesley Snipes played the character in the 1998 film and two sequels.

Ali came out on stage and put on a Blade baseball cap as the crowd went wild. No other details were revealed about the project.

Avengers: Endgame on track to become highest-grossing film

Marvel’s impact on Hollywood over the past 11 years is hard to understate. This year alone, three of the top five movies are Marvel properties (Avengers: Endgame is No. 1, Captain Marvel is No. 2, and Spider-Man: Far From Home is currently No. 5 after just three weeks in theatres).

They also account for three of the top five grossing domestic release of all time, unadjusted for inflation. Star Wars: The Force Awakens holds the first place spot, but then comes Avengers: Endgame at two, Black Panther at four and Avengers: Infinity War at five.

And combined, with over $22.3 billion US in worldwide earnings, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is by far the most successful franchise of all time.

Avengers: Endgame is on track to become the highest-grossing film of all time, surpassing James Cameron’s Avatar. (Marvel Studios)

With the recent partnership with Sony on Spider-Man and the Walt Disney Co.’s acquisition of Fox, all the missing pieces (including X-Men, Deadpool and The Fantastic Four) are coming together too under the Marvel Studios banner.

Feige also said Saturday that in just a few days, not accounting for inflation, Avengers: Endgame will also surpass Avatar as the highest grossing film of all time.

He even brought his top Marvel Studios people out on stage to celebrate the moment of having completed the 23-movie Infinity Saga.

“We started here,” Feige told the room of screaming fans. “I never thought it would happen, and it never would have happened if it wasn’t for you.”

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