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Marvel Madness: Has Feige Found His First Family? Plus, Best Director Power Rankings

Which Oscar winner is being eyed to play Galactus, but may have a scheduling conflict?

I spy four really good actors…

Has Marvel Found Its First Family? And Who’s Being Eyed to Play Galactus?

On last week’s episode of The Hot Mic with Jeff Sneider and John Rocha, we discussed Marvel’s Fantastic Four and I held my tongue about some major news — because that’s what I do when sources ask me to sit on something. As long as it’s an agreement, I respect the words “Off the record,” and I’ve learned, in my old age, to lose scoops with a bit more dignity, as there will always be another story to break.

Today, it was finally reported that Pedro Pascal is going to play Mister Fantastic, which is one of the things I was holding. One of the reasons I was asked not to say anything is because Pascal’s schedule is… pretty packed!

He’ll soon resume shooting Ridley Scott’s Gladiator sequel overseas, and he’s also due to shoot Season 2 of HBO’s The Last of Us and Zach Cregger’s epic thriller Weapons in 2024. So, it was unclear whether Pascal’s schedule would allow for a major Marvel shoot early next year, but apparently, the two recently concluded strikes have created a window in his schedule, which is being figured out this week prior to the holiday break.

With all of these release date changes and production shifts, and surely more to come — for example, will Destin Daniel Cretton’s exit from Avengers: The Kang Dynasty have a domino effect on the MCU calendar? — the schedules of in-demand actors like Pascal have become pure anarchy.

Nonetheless, I’m told there’s already Fantastic Four concept art featuring Pascal’s handsome face.

With Vanessa Kirby widely tipped to be Sue Storm (aka the Invisible Woman), who is said to be the clear lead of the film, and Joseph Quinn and Ebon Moss-Bachrach poised to play Johnny Storm (aka the Human Torch) and Ben Grimm (aka the Thing), respectively, the feeling at Marvel was that they needed a big star for Mister Fantastic.

And now, here’s the inside story of the Mister Fantastic search.

Just prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike, Marvel conducted secret screen tests for Reed Richards, just like James Gunn was doing for Superman: Legacy — rushing to get them done in time. A group of actors flew to London, including Christopher Abbott and Jamie Dornan, and I’m told the tests did not go very well.

It quickly became apparent to Marvel that they needed a bigger name. Just before the strike took effect, they went out to Jake Gyllenhaal, but he wanted too much money (as did Adam Driver early on, if I’m not mistaken). Budget has been a real issue for this Fantastic Four movie, which is why Emma Stone isn’t playing Sue Storm. She’s too expensive and Marvel’s Kevin Feige is trying to contain talent costs.

With Kirby, Quinn, and Moss-Bachrach lined up for the other three leads, Feige foresaw another issue with Gyllenhaal besides the actor’s fee.

I’m told he feared that the cast was “way too white,” in the words of one insider. Reed Richards would be the character eyed to diversify the cast.

It didn’t hurt that Pascal, who is Chilean, is hotter than both Gyllenhaal and Driver at the moment; he’s the internet’s new boyfriend who can do no wrong. So while Pascal refused to engage during the strike, his team acknowledged they would be interested in talking once it ended.

Though there was some initial concern that Pascal’s age might be an issue going forward (he’s 48 years old), neither he nor Moss-Bachrach (46) look their age. The feeling internally was that Mister Fantastic was a tricky role to cast — not just because of the demand for multiple movies, but also because Sue is the quote-unquote lead of this first film. Feige felt Pascal was a get, and it wouldn’t shock me if the studio made some accommodations for his schedule.

It stands to reason that Pascal’s participation in the MCU — and the global marketing campaign that comes with it — would only stand to benefit these other projects, such as The Last of Us and Weapons, so perhaps they’ll make accommodations of their own.

Pedro, it seems, is worth waiting for.

What’s the most Marvel has ever lost on a coin flip?

And now for the other name to simply keep an eye on as far as Fantastic Four goes. Last week, I was told by the same source who told me about Pedro that Oscar winner Javier Bardem is being eyed to play Galactus.

One insider I spoke to said that Bardem had a scheduling conflict, which appears to be Apple’s F1 movie starring Brad Pitt, a film I’ll write more about tomorrow. The question is whether that F1 movie will truly preclude Bardem from performing what is largely a voice role a la Josh Brolin’s Thanos, though I imagine there will be some motion-capture element involved that may require whoever plays Galactus to be on set.

I know that Antonio Banderas had previously been tipped for the role of Galactus, and perhaps it will come back to him, but for now, I believe Bardem is the frontrunner, schedule permitting… which it may not! The strike just ended, and that F1 movie is expected to be a long shoot, so we’ll see… but Marvel has a history of getting its man, with a few exceptions here and there. Then again, neither Emily Blunt nor Joaquin Phoenix starred in Lyle Lyle Crocodile last year.

Of course, Bardem would, by then, be coming off of Dune: Part II and that aforementioned F1 racing movie, plus he already has a relationship with Disney after playing King Triton in the studio’s live-action remake of The Little Mermaid.

If Galactus doesn’t turn out to be Javier Bardem, so be it. All I’m saying right now is that he is Marvel’s top target — and why wouldn’t he be? From No Country for Old Men to Skyfall, he makes for a hell of a villain. And yes, you can expect to see a female Silver Surfer, as I noted on last week’s Hot Mic podcast, which you can catch live on YouTube every Thursday, and everywhere podcasts are found these days.

Stay tuned for more on the Fantastic Four front…

The Kang Dynasty appears to be over before it even really began…

More Marvel Madness

As noted above, director Destin Daniel Cretton has “decided to step away” from Avengers: The Kang Dynasty in order to focus on his other Marvel projects, including the Disney+ series Wonder Man, which resumes shooting after Thanksgiving, and Shang-Chi 2, which has been pretty quiet since it was first announced.

Deadline broke the news, reporting that Cretton is in talks to direct future Marvel movies, though it’s unclear if they’re referring to the Shang-Chi sequel or other projects that have yet to be announced.

As of now, The Kang Dynasty is slated to hit theaters on May 1, 2026, with Avengers: Secret Wars wrapping up Phase 6 of the MCU on May 7, 2027. But at this point, with Season 2 of Loki serving as a potential endpoint for Kang’s storyline, it’s fair to question whether The Kang Dynasty is even happening at all. There’s plenty of time to figure it out, of course, but the way it’s been explained to me is that Secret Wars is essentially a two-parter, so Marvel wants someone who can tackle both movies. Possibly Matt Shakman after Fantastic Four?

Essentially, the source is indicating a two-part Avengers finale, as has been announced… but one may not be called The Kang Dynasty anymore. What if… it became Secret Wars Part 1 and Secret Wars Part 2? I mean, Marvel has to get “Kang” out of the title of that Avengers movie, and this is a pretty convenient way that would only generate more excitement as opposed to more questions. I’m just saying…

And now for today’s Oscars Power Rankings, where I focus on the Best Director race. Can anything blow up Christopher Nolan’s overwhelming lead here? I see no serious challenger…

Picture this, Cillian: I’m on the stage at the Dolby, and you’re looking at me, and…

Oscars Power Rankings: The Best Director Race Is All But Over, as Christopher Nolan Wants It Bad

Best Director

  1. Christopher Nolan, Oppenheimer

  2. Greta Gerwig, Barbie (+3)

  3. Martin Scorsese, Killers of the Flower Moon (-1)

  4. Alexander Payne, The Holdovers

  5. Yorgos Lanthimos, Poor Things (-2)

  6. Bradley Cooper, Maestro (+2)

  7. Cord Jefferson, American Fiction (NEW)

  8. Ava DuVernay, Origin (-2)

  9. Celine Song, Past Lives

  10. Jonathan Glazer, The Zone of Interest (NEW)

Analysis: I may not think that Oppenheimer is a shoo-in to win Best Picture, but it’s starting to feel like the Best Director race is all but over, with Christopher Nolan’s name tucked away in a fancy envelope.

I love movies like The Holdovers, Past Lives, and American Fiction, but can I honestly say that those films were better directed than Oppenheimer? I’m afraid I cannot. With nearly a billion dollars in global box office — practically absurd for a three-hour biopic about a theoretical physicist — Nolan has delivered the kind of brainy blockbuster that has theater owners jumping for joy in the aisles and all of Hollywood reconsidering what is possible in terms of the stories it tells.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, Nolan really wants it this year, too. He wants it bad. On Monday night, he showed up to a Los Angeles event billed as “The Story of Our Time: The Making of Oppenheimer,” which was devoted to spotlighting the film’s crafts. He knows that the below-the-line voters are who you have to sway in this town if you want to win the big one.

And while an Oppenheimer re-release in theaters is surely in the cards in the run-up to the Oscars, Nolan went out of his way to describe the care that went into mixing the Oppenheimer Blu-ray, knowing full well how many voters will be watching the film at home.

Moving on down the list, Greta Gerwig did a hell of a job with Barbie, but she doesn’t deserve to beat out Christopher Nolan at this stage of her career — don’t worry, her time will come — and with all due respect to Steven Spielberg, Killers of the Flower Moon is simply not Martin Scorsese’s “masterpiece,” however noble an effort it may be from the maestro.

Speaking of which, Bradley Cooper is right on the bubble with Maestro, which is an in-and-outer, by which I mean, some parts are fantastic, and some parts simply don’t work. The same can be said for Yorgos LanthimosPoor Things, but that sex-crazed fantasia is more of an obvious visual delight, and Lanthimos is an Academy darling, whereas I think voters are more likely to reward Cooper with a Best Actor nomination — and possible win.

The truth is that both Lanthimos and Cooper could be nominated this year, but for now, I’m sticking with Alexander Payne, one of very few filmmakers who could make a movie like The Holdovers, let alone pull it off to the degree that he did. It truly feels like a film ripped from another era, and I can’t see the Academy ignoring that ‘70s throwback, which is the kind of movie that Hollywood should be making more of, box office be damned.

Those are really your top six contenders, with American Fiction director Cord Jefferson on the outside looking in, though I imagine he’ll be rewarded with a screenplay nod. I don’t think you can count out other female filmmakers such as Ava DuVernay (Origin) and Celine Song (Past Lives), and since many pundits think Jonathan Glazer (The Zone of Interest) could rock the international vote all the way to the Dolby, I’ll play along, though I found that movie to be underwhelming.

Madame Web Trailer: Oh, What a Tangled Web We Weave!

The Madame Web trailer has arrived online and… it does not look good! I actually dug the trailer that Sony cut for Kraven the Hunter before the studio delayed it an entire year, but this movie looks like another Morbius in the making.

Jordan Ruimy wrote that “it might be the worst trailer of the year.”

I don’t know if I’d go that far, because any trailer featuring the great Tahar Rahim can’t be all bad, but this certainly looks a little “been there, done that,” and dare I say flat, with some of the action beats and one-liners falling short along with Dakota Johnson’s narration.

I’m just hoping they didn’t waste Sydney Sweeney here!

There are a lot of rumors flying around about this movie, but we’ll see what’s what soon enough…

Look at this goober. How can you not love that face?

Bits and Bobs (A Daily News Roundup)

Meet the New Host, Same as the Old Host - To be honest, I’m totally cool with Jimmy Kimmel hosting the Oscars again next year. He does a good job year in and year out, and while sure, he’s the safe choice, and it’s a little boring to see the same host each year, I also like the feeling of familiarity that Kimmel brings. What can I say, I like tradition, and Hollywood is, if nothing else, a town that sticks with what works.

When other people have hosted the Oscars, they usually aren’t as good as Jimmy, so why complain? It’s a thankless job anyway, and I fully understand why the Academy has struggled to find the right host outside of late-night TV.

The key isn’t to try to bring in a new audience with some kind of stunt host, but to satisfy the loyal audience that still watches the Oscars each year. Kimmel tastes like comfort food to that crowd, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Can David Zaslav Please Be Quiet? - If you listen to my podcast, I’ve actually been a David Zaslav defender. The hatchet man has a job to do — reduce WBD’s debt — and he’s doing everything he can to make the studio more palatable for a sale.

Nerds freaked out when he decided to sell off the rights to the music from Casablanca, but what purpose does that music serve other than to collect dust in a vault? I understand the duty to preserve the studio’s rich history, but at what cost? So I’m not some “F-U, Zas!” guy.

I get it.

Having said that, Daddy Zas needs to drink a warm glass of “Shut the hell up.”

Today, he told the New York Times that the writers (some of whom lost their homes) were “right about almost everything” during the strike before concluding, “So what if we overpay? I’ve never regretted overpaying for great talent or a great asset.”

Ah yes, so now the writers are overpaid. Pretty rich coming from a guy who made $246 million last year.

“To say this after inflicting so much pain on an entire industry for 6 months is truly sociopathic,” wrote former Shadow and Bone writer Erin Conley.

Sociopathic, indeed!

On Hallowed Ground - Rosamund Pike and Matthew Rhys are set to star in an intriguing psychological thriller titled Hallow Road, about two parents who enter a race against time when they receive a distressing late-night call from their daughter, who has caused a tragic car accident.

Babak Anvari is directing from a script by William Gillies, and XYZ Films is financing the movie, which is being produced by Lucan Toh of Two & Two Pictures and Ian Henry of London Film & TV. Production will take place in Ireland and Prague.

I’m not sure about Pike’s current bid for an Oscar nomination for Saltburn, but she and Rhys are both wonderful actors and I can see them as a married couple, while Anvari is also a solid director, so let’s just hope that this script is worth of everyone’s talents.

What’s In a Title? - Focus announced it will release Kobi Libii’s feature directorial debut The American Society of Magical Negroes on March 22, 2024. The satirical comedy stars Justice Smith as a young man who is recruited into a secret society of magical Black people who dedicate their lives to a cause of utmost importance — making white people’s lives easier.

That actually sounds like a funny enough premise, but I don’t know about that title. I’m trying to imagine white people going to the theater and saying, “One ticket for The American Society of Magical Negroes, please.” There’s just something uncomfortable about it, but perhaps that’s the whole point. After all, satire doesn’t work if it’s not truly cutting, and willing to make people feel uncomfortable.

I’m eager to see this one myself, if only because of my lifelong appreciation for David Alan Grier, and with a title like that, it sure feels like a Sundance debut could be in the cards, especially with Libii being an alumnus of both the Sundance Screenwriters Lab and Directors Lab, where he first developed the project.

Coyote vs. Acme Update - Apparently, a bunch of filmmakers were treated to an early screening of Coyote vs. Acme in a clear attempt to gin up some interest in the film and save it from WBD’s dumpster. While the solidarity is a sight to behold, forgive me if I choose to take all of these reactions with a pretty big grain of salt. They’re all friends and colleagues of the filmmakers, so while I appreciate the spirit with which their defense was intended, I’m not sure it was necessary or particularly helpful, given their own motivations for preventing such a desecration.

I was too busy with news to pay too much attention to social media today, so Film Twitter’s Main Character of the Day will return soon. I don’t want to force it…

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