This week’s Ketchup seasons and compliments ten of the biggest recent news stories from the world of movie development, which lately means lots and lots of superhero movies (including Aquaman, Doctor Strange, Suicide Squad, and X-Men: Apocalypse). There’s also new roles for Jennifer Lawrence and Nicolas Cage, and very bad news for DreamWorks Animation.
This Week’s Top Story
JEAN GREY, STORM, AND CYCLOPS CAST IN X-MEN: APOCALYPSE
The movie has been out several for several months now, so let’s presume this isn’t an X-Men: Days of Future Past spoiler anymore, but the film’s ending rebooted the X-Men continuity at a point in the early 1970s, setting up the last 40+ years as being potentially quite different. Or put much shorter, Bryan Singer and crew fixed the mistakes of 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand. The next film, X-Men: Apocalypse, is billed as the closer of the second trilogy, being set in the 1980s (after First Class was set in the 1960s, and DoFP in the 1970s). We’ve known for a while now that the new setting would re-introduce the characters of Cyclops, Storm, and Jean Grey (who’s unlikely to ever be called “Marvel Girl” in a Fox movie), and yesterday, Bryan Singer Tweeted out who the three new stars are. The most recognizable face and name is probably Sophie Turner, who Games of Thrones fans know as Sansa Stark (the red-haired would-be bride to Prince Joffrey). Sophie Turner has not been as active outside the show as many of her costars, so being cast as Jean Grey represents something of a big deal for her fans. The new Storm will be played by singer/actress Alexandra Shipp, who played the title character in the Lifetime biopic Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B, and has a supporting role in this summer’s N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton. As for the new Cyclops, before this, Tye Sheridan was probably best known for playing the kid in Mud whose name wasn’t Neckbone. Oscar Isaac also commented this week about his costume for the movie’s big bad (and title character), Apocalypse, explaining that physical effects will be “aided with some robotic technology.” Finally, in what shouldn’t be too surprising, considering when this movie will be set, Patrick Stewart confirmed this week that neither he nor Sir Ian McKellen will return for X-Men: Apocalypse, with the roles of Professor Xavier and Magneto having now been fully handed over to James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique), Nicholas Hoult (Beast), and Evan Peters (Quicksilver) will also return for X-Men: Apocalypse when it’s released next year on May 27, 2016.
Fresh Developments This Week
#1 JENNIFER LAWRENCE TO REUNITE WITH HUNGER GAMES DIRECTOR FOR THE DIVE
Even as Jennifer Lawrence prepares to work for the third time with director David O. Russell, and costars Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro on the “Miracle Mop” biopic Joy, this week, she signed on for another biopic that is also a reunion project. This time, it’s someone Lawrence has worked with even more times than David O. Russell, as director Francis Lawrence (no relation) has helmed the last three sequels to The Hunger Games. Jennifer Lawrence will star in the biopic The Dive, as one half of a married couple who shared a passion for freediving, in a pursuit to discover how deep they could dive on a single breath of air. The story of Francisco “Pipin” Ferraras and Audrey Mestre (Lawrence) is described as “tragic” for a reason, so if you don’t want to be spoiled any more (than that single word suggests), be wary of clicking on that link, or using a preferred method of searching for their names. Underwater enthusiast James Cameron is producing The Dive through his Lightstorm Entertainment.
#2 SIMON PEGG TO COWRITE STAR TREK 3
Fans of director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) who were disappointed when the Star Trek 3 gig went instead to Fast and Furious franchise stalwart Justin Lin received some good news this week. Frequent Wright collaborator (and the franchise’s Engineer Scotty) Simon Pegg has signed with Paramount Pictures to cowrite Star Trek 3 along with TV writer Doug Jung (Dark Blue, Banshee). That, however… is about all we know about the sequel right now. There’s been speculation since the first film that at least one sequel would offer alternate versions of adventures from the TV show, and what we got instead (though not strictly inaccurate) was basically a remake of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
#3 CHIWETEL EJIOFOR: FROM 12 YEARS A SLAVE TO DOCTOR STRANGE
When Chadwick Boseman was revealed last October to have been cast as Marvel’s Black Panther, it ended a period of speculation that included 12 Years a Slave star Chiwetel Ejiofor. If this week’s news goes through well, it’s looking like Ejiofor will still get his chance to appear in at least one Marvel film. Marvel Studios and Chiwetel Ejifor are reportedly in early discussions for the actor to take on an unspecified “lead” role in Doctor Strange, which may or may not be villainous. Five strong contenders for such a role seem to be the Ancient One (Doctor Strange’s mentor), Wong (Strange’s own assistant), and the villains Baron Mordo (likely to be the “main” villain), Dormammu, and Nightmare. Benedict Cumberbatch will play Stephen Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme, when Marvel Studios releases Doctor Strange on November 4, 2016.
#4 THE FIRST STAR WARS SPINOFF TO HAVE A FEMALE LEAD
After so much time hearing that the Star Wars “spinoffs” would be prequels for characters like Han Solo, Boba Fett, and Yoda, it had to be surprising for many fans this week that the lead character might actually be a female. Given the massive scale of the Star Wars universe and the films, it’s easy to imagine that the older characters could play supporting roles (especially since that seems to be what’s going on to some degree with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, as well). It’s also possible that the “female lead” will be joined by a “male lead.” The specific news is that Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) are both testing for the female lead in the first Star Wars spinoff, with Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything) also in the running. Promoting Strange Magic, George Lucas also generated some Star Wars news this week, clarifying that yes, he did work on the prequels, and that his work was discarded when Disney acquired Lucasfilm (which is basically what we had heard at the time of the acquisition as well).
#5 KARL URBAN: JUDGE DREDD, STAR TREK, AND… AQUAMAN?
It’s difficult to tell if this was just a slow week for “official” announcements, or if “rumor” sites (in particular Latino Review) just over-performed. With that caveat in mind, the aforementioned site offered some updates about Warner Bros’ Aquaman, which in their DC Comics pipeline is over three years away, after Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, Justice League Part 1, and The Flash. That the movie is that far off is itself a reason to be skeptical of too many details at this early stage. But, yes, it was a slow news week without such rumors, so here we are. The story suggests that Warner Bros is hoping to recruit Karl Urban to play a lead role, possibly as a villain to Jason Momoa’s title character, with no suggestion of who that might be (Black Manta and Ocean Master seem like two possibilities for someone of Urban’s “type”). The rest of Latino Review’s story involves who might direct, for which they say the top contenders are Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter) and Noam Munro (300: Rise of an Empire), both of whom have ties to Warner Bros.
Rotten Ideas of the Week
#4 THE SEARCH FOR SUICIDE SQUAD LEADER IS NOT SO PAINLESS
Last week, we learned that Tom Hardy had dropped out of playing Suicide Squad leader Rick Flag, with talk at the time being that Warner Bros was hoping Jake Gyllenhaal would take the role instead. Well, that didn’t last long, and now Warner Bros remains on the hunt for a replacement for the super villain team film they’ve scheduled for August 5, 2016, just over 18 months from now. According to rumors/reports (who can tell which are which somedays), two actors who might be top contenders are Joel Edgerton (Exodus: Gods and Kings) and Jon Bernthal (Shane from The Walking Dead). Both are fine actors, but it’s looking more and more like Warner Bros is scaling back their Ocean’s Eleven-with-super-villains all-star package, at least for this role (the importance of which may have been scaled back when The Joker and Harley Quinn were added to the story). Also in the “rumors” category this week was talk that Gary Sinise and Joe Manganiello (True Blood, Magic Mike) might be cast as General Ealing and Deathstroke the Terminator, respectively. And finally, there was yet another Suicide Squad rumor this week, which is that Ben Affleck might appear in the film as a way of setting up a solo Batman movie (more than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice already does, apparently?). Whichever of these stories pans out, the cast of Suicide Squad also includes (in various stages of negotiations and/or rumor control): Jai Courtney (Captain Boomerang), Viola Davis (Amanda Waller), Cara Delevinge (Enchantress), Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor), Jared Leto (The Joker), Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn), and Will Smith (Deadshot). Of course, if Suicide Squad ends up like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice did, we might only be halfway through the cast of characters at this point. (This story isn’t so much a “Rotten Idea” as it is less a “Fresh Development”).
#3 NICOLAS CAGE TO HUNT DOWN OSAMA BIN LADIN AS AN ARMY OF ONE
On some level, a person might just want to give Nicolas Cage a certain amount of respect for the movies he chooses to sign onto. The list of Hollywood “name” actors who have eaten live cockroaches for a role is extremely short, not to mention his work with other insects. Is Nicolas Cage an “actor” or the best paid performance artist ever? His latest role looks like a case of Cage of playing with his image a bit, as he will star in a satirical comedy called Army of One. Larry Charles will direct, marking only the second time he’s ever directed a narrative feature that didn’t have Sacha Baron Cohen in the lead role (after Borat…, Brüno, and The Dictator). Army of One will tell the true story of Colorado construction worker Gary Faulkner, who makes it his own personal mission to travel to Afghanistan and Pakistan… to find Osama bin Ladin (before his assassination, obviously). Like Charles’ films with Cohen, Army of One is described as “semi-scripted,” so Nicolas Cage will have plenty of latitude for improvisation and his signature emoting and, if we’re really, really lucky, a few good (NSFW) freak outs.
#2 TERROR MAY HAVE NO SHAPE, BUT THE BLOB IS STILL GETTING “RESHAPED” (AGAIN)
We may grouse about horror remakes, but admittedly, Hollywood has cyclically retread older films before, such as in the 1980s, when we got new versions of movies like The Fly, The Thing, Cat People, and The Blob. In the case of The Blob, both the original 1958 film starring Steve McQueen and the 1988 remake have Fesh Tomatometer scores, which leads directly to the question: why do we need a second remake? Since the monster in The Blob is a huge red glob of flesh-eating goo, you can probably guess what the answer is going to be. Director Simon West, whose filmography includes the remakes The Mechanic and When a Stranger Calls, remarked, “With modern CGI we can now fully realize the potential of The Blob. The world I create will be totally believable, immersive and emotionally satisfying.” Simon West’s most recent film was 2012’s The Expendables 2, which has the distinction of being West’s first Fresh Tomatometer score as director after six other films, including Con Air, The General’s Daughter, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and Stolen.
#1 BAD BOX OFFICE LEADS TO 500 LAYOFFS AT DREAMWORKS ANIMATION
As the 19th highest grossing animated film of all time, How to Train Your Dragon 2 was also the best earning animated film of 2014. A wider look at DreamWorks Animation’s last several releases tells a different story, especially against expectations, as Rise of the Guardians, Turbo, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, and Penguins of Madagascar all underperformed (ie, less than $320 million worldwide for each) (that’s four out of six, with The Croods being the other hit). In response, DreamWorks Animation has announced a 500 job cut (of their 2,400 worldwide total), mostly at Glendale and Redwood City in California. The shift will narrow down their production to two animated films a year (from a previously planned three), which will consist of one new concept and one sequel each year. China will also be joining with DreamWorks to co-produce Kung Fu Panda 3 for its 3/18/16 release. Especially hit hard (besides, you know, all of the hundreds of people who are unemployed now) on the release slate are the non-sequels, with two of the previously scheduled films (B.O.O.: Bureau of Otherworldly Operations and Mumbai Musical) and several others likely farther from being produced (like Captain Underpants, Lidsville, and Hot Stuff the Little Devil). The seven films still left on the schedule for 2015 through 2018 are: Home (3/27/15), Kung Fu Panda 3 (3/18/16), Trolls (11/4/16), Boss Baby (1/13/17), The Croods 2 (12/22/17), Larrikins (2/16/18), and How to Train Your Dragon 3 (6/29/18).
For more Weekly Ketchup columns by Greg Dean Schmitz, check out the WK archive, and you can contact GDS via Facebook.