Bad reviews. Big box office. Are 'Quantumania' and future MCU movies even 'movies'? And does it matter anymore?

Do MCU films need to stand alone? Are they critic proof? PLUS: A live-action 'How to Train Your Dragon' movie is in the works, Barney rises again, and is 'Creed III' pitting brother vs. brother?

Bad reviews. Big box office. Are 'Quantumania' and future MCU movies even 'movies'? And does it matter anymore?
Paul Rudd and Jonathan Majors in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. / Marvel Studios

Folks, I don’t know how we did it, but it appears we did it. More than ten days after Caitlin’s positive Covid test, she’s now testing negative. On top of that, I’ve never tested positive, meaning our daughter and I made it through, Covid free.

There are obviously a million serious reasons why I didn't want to catch Covid, but there’s one dumb reason why I didn’t want Covid this week.

I have tickets to see Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania on Friday.

As I’ve seen every Marvel Cinematic Universe movie in theaters outside of the trio that were released during the peak of the pandemic (sorry, Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Eternals), I’ve been looking forward to the third Ant-Man movie and the launch of Phase Five of the MCU.

I’m still looking forward to seeing Quantumania tomorrow, but, um, the reviews don’t appear to be great. The film currently has a 53 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, ranking it ahead of only Eternals when it comes to MCU films. (I enjoyed Eternals. A lot of critics didn’t.) People seem to love Jonathan Majors as Kang, though.

I haven’t read most of the reviews, since I’ve been burned by a spoiler landmine tucked away in a review more than enough times. And while I trust the opinions of people who write about movies as a profession, it’s getting harder and harder to see the MCU entries as movies to be reviewed in a traditional way.

A movie should absolutely stand on its own. It should be its own story. It should have a beginning, a middle and an end.

But if Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios have made the decision that what they’re making aren’t actually standalone movies but instead puzzle pieces in a bigger narrative — meaning that you’ll need to have seen previous entries in the now 31-movie saga and that, yes, parts of Quantumania exist solely to set up future movies — we can protest all we want but until the box office tanks, that’s not going to change.

And it doesn’t appear that the box office is going to crater anytime soon. Box office predictions have Quantumania on track for a $95 million three-day opening weekend. The original Ant-Man opened to $57.2 million and Ant-Man and the Wasp followed with a $75.8 million opening weekend. Nothing in this trend is going to cause Feige, Marvel Studios and Disney to suddenly change how they’re making MCU movies.

Yes, we should hope that the MCU has more installments like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the first Guardians of the Galaxy and Black Panther. And yes, critics should point out when these movies fall short of those standards.

But honestly, I’m just happy to not have Covid and that I get to see a new movie on Friday.

Happy Thursday, and thanks for reading Popculturology. I love writing about pop culture, and I hope you enjoy reading this newsletter. If you do, please subscribe. It’s the easiest way to make sure you get every edition of Popculturology. Tapping the ♥️ at the bottom of each post also helps the newsletter. Now let’s get to the news.

The News
Harrison Ford in Air Force One. / Columbia Pictures

'Get off my helicarrier’: Harrison Ford is the MCU’s president and more Kevin Feige bits of news

With Quantumania on the verge of hitting theaters, Feige talked with Entertainment Weekly about Phase Five of the MCU, revealing several new bits of news.

Harrison Ford is now the president of the United States in the MCU: “It’s unbelievable that we get to meet and talk with him and that he's embracing this role. He's tireless with the amount of work that he does. This is certainly a big part for Thaddeus Ross. He's the president of the United States in the film. And with [Harrison Ford], you think about Air Force One, and you think about some of his confrontations with the president in Clear and Present Danger.”

The Fantastic Four will be an MCU ‘pillar’: “We sort of talked about mutants and that whole aspect to the Marvel world, but Fantastic Four is the foundation for everything that came after in the comics. There's certainly been versions of it [on screen], but never inhabiting the storytelling of the MCU. And that's something that is really exciting for us. People will start to hear more about that soon. We plan on that being a big pillar of the MCU going forward, just the way they've been in the comics for 50 or 60 years.”

They have an idea for the next Spider-Man movie: “All I will say is that we have the story. We have big ideas for that, and our writers are just putting pen to paper now.”

Marvel Studios is going to slow down the pace of how its Disney+ shows are released: “The pace at which we're putting out the Disney+ shows will change so they can each get a chance to shine.”

Jonathan Majors is the MCU’s highest-testing villain: “And in the early days of Quantumania [test audiences], Jonathan started to pop in a big way. He’s the highest-testing villain we’ve ever had in any of our friends and families [screenings]. That's really saying something with a movie like this. Even early on without the effects, Jonathan is his own effect.”

Ms. Marvel fans should be looking forward to The Marvels:Kamala Khan, for instance, is a great new character in the pantheon. I'm very proud of the Ms. Marvel show. I also know — and this is a spoiler — she essentially steals The Marvels.”

Blade begins filming in a few months: “Our director [Yann Demange] is down in Atlanta right now. Cameras roll in, like, the next 10 weeks or so.”

Deadpool is still R-rated: “We’ve got Hugh Jackman coming back for our first Deadpool film within the MCU. That's our first R-rated film. To have Hugh come back is incredible.”

Emma Corrin in The Crown. / Netflix

Deadpool 3 crowns its villain

Speaking of Deadpool 3, the upcoming film has found the actor to play its villain. Deadline reported on Tuesday that The Crown’s Emma Corrin has been cast to play an unknown villain. Ryan Reynolds confirmed the news on Wednesday that they had joined Deadpool 3.

I’ve seen some sites speculate over who Corrin is playing or not playing, but at this point, it’s all guesswork.

It’s fun watching this movie come together. Not only are we going to get see how Deadpool clicks into the MCU, we get to watch it happen with Hugh Jackman reprising the role of Wolverine.

Jon Favreau tries to justify showing Din and Grogu’s reunion in a different show

When the latest trailer for The Mandalorian Season 3 premiered, some people were confused. When did Din Djarin and Grogu get back together? Didn’t Season 2 end with Grogu leaving his surrogate father to train as a Jedi with Luke Skywalker? That storyline was quickly wrapped up over a few episodes of The Book of Boba Fett, but if you weren’t watching that show, you missed that note.

In an interview with Empire, The Mandalorian co-creator Jon Favreau tried to justify how the Din/Grogu storyline was brushed over.

“We couldn’t just hit a hard reset,” Favreau told Empire. “It’s going to be interesting to see how this unfolds for people who may not have seen The Book of Boba Fett. But I think The Book of Boba Fett offered time to pass. You saw what Mando was like without Baby Yoda and we saw what Grogu was like without the Mandalorian and neither of them was doing too good. So them coming back together was a really good plot point that allows us to jump back into Season 3 while maintaining the central relationship.”

Yeah … that doesn’t make any sense. You can hit a hard reset. That’s how storytelling works. It was Din’s task to reunite Grogu with his people — the Jedi — and he did just that in the Season 2 finale of The Mandalorian. And if you didn’t watch The Book of Boba Fett, you didn’t see how time passed or “what Grogu was like without the Mandalorian.”

Just say “we wanted to still make the Baby Yoda show,” Favreau.

Toothless and Hiccup in the How to Train Your Dragon franchise. / DreamWorks Animation

They’re turning How to Train Your Dragon into a live-action movie

Disney has made billions of dollars turning its vast library of animated movies into live-action movies. (They have a loose grasp of the phrase “live-action,” as I’m pretty sure those weren’t real lions in The Lion King remake.) Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Animation want a piece of those box office numbers and are planning a live-action remake of How to Train Your Dragon.

(Again, if you’re gonna advertise a live-action How to Train Your Dragon, Universal and DreamWorks, you better have real dragons.)

The various trades confirmed the news on Wednesday, reporting that Dean DeBlois, who wrote and directed all three How to Train Your Dragon movies, will make his live-action debut with this adaption. (It looks like Daniel Richtman had the news last month on his Patreon.) The movie is scheduled to hit theaters on March 14, 2025.

I love the How to Train Your Dragon films. They’re by far the best of the DreamWorks Animation library. I’m curious to see how “real” they go with the dragons, which have always been more cartoony (multiple heads, large eyes) than the dragons we’ve seen in Game of Thrones or House of the Dragon. (Hey, House of the Dragon was even inspired by How to Train Your Dragon.)

Hopefully Universal and DreamWorks Animation take a lesson from how poorly going too real went with the lions in the Lion King remake. Toothless and his fellow dragons need to be able to show emotion. Toothless always reminded me of Roxy, our beagle, in how he acted and expressed his needs to Hiccup.

Poker Face renewed for a second season

Rian Johnson and Natasha Lyonne’s murder-of-the-week series got a second-season pickup at Peacock on Wednesday. The series, which has been packed with guest stars, airs its seventh episode tonight.

Bill Watterson returns!

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 30 years since Bill Watterson retired from creating Calvin and Hobbes. I remember the giant feature my hometown newspaper ran when Dilbert was selected as Calvin and Hobbes’ replacement. (Whoops.)

With the exception of Watterson sneakily returning for a handful of Pearls Before Swine strips a few years ago, Watterson has mostly kept to himself during his retirement. Whether it’s the fights he had over taking a sabbatical or refusing to license his characters for merchandise (do you realize how much money he could’ve made on Hobbes stuffed animals?), he has his principles — and staying retired during retirement was something he stuck to.

Watterson is about to come out of retirement, but not for Calvin and Hobbes. Simon & Schuster announced on Tuesday that Watterson and John Kascht have partnered to create The Mysteries, a “fable for grown-ups.”

In a fable for grown-ups by cartoonist Bill Watterson, a long-ago kingdom is afflicted with unexplainable calamities. Hoping to end the torment, the king dispatches his knights to discover the source of the mysterious events. Years later, a single battered knight returns.

For the book's illustrations, Watterson and caricaturist John Kascht worked together for several years in unusually close collaboration. Both artists abandoned their past ways of working, inventing images together that neither could anticipate—a mysterious process in its own right.

The Mysteries is a 72-page graphic novel that will be available on Oct. 23. It’s not Calvin and Hobbes, but I’m interested to see what Watterson has to say in 2023.

Lady Gaga and Joaquin Phoenix in Joker: Folie à Deux. / Todd Phillips

Todd Phillips reveals Lady Gaga in Joker sequel

I never got around to watching Joker. At this point, I don’t know if I ever will. I’m intrigued, though, to see how the goofily named Joker: Folie à Deux comes together. In addition to Joaquin Phoenix returning as the title character, director Todd Phillips has added Lady Gaga as Harley Quinn.

Phillips posted what appears to be our first look at Lady Gaga as Harley Quinn (or more likely Harleen Quinzel considering she doesn’t yet look like she’s taken an acid bath) on Tuesday.

Like Matt ReevesThe Batman films, the Joker movies will exist outside of the main DCU line, in what James Gunn has referred to as Elseworlds.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes wraps filming

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes really seems to have flown under our radar. While we were still getting casting news last week, director Wes Ball announced on Wednesday that filming had wrapped on the upcoming movie.

Ball’s video conveniently doesn’t reveal the actors playing the apes, but unless it’s Andy Serkis, would the average moviegoer even care who’s behind the motion-capture performance?

I hope we get some of the wild time-travel antics as this franchise moves forward that the original series was known for. If you haven’t watched anything from the original series beyond Planet of the Apes, do yourself a favor and watch those movies. Escape From the Planet of the Apes, the third film in franchise, saw apes Cornelius and Zira go back in time to Earth in 1973 where they birthed Milo/Caesar, seeding the events of the ape uprising through a time loop.

The new Barney. / Mattel

Barney rises again

Barney is back. He’s animated. And he’s had some work done.

Mattel announced on Monday that it was reviving the purple dinosaur as a CGI-series expected to be released in 2024.

“Barney’s message of love and kindness has stood the test of time,” said Josh Silverman, chief franchise officer and global head of consumer products at Mattel (via Variety). “We will tap into the nostalgia of the generations who grew up with Barney, now parents themselves, and introduce the iconic purple dinosaur to a new generation of kids and families around the world across content, products, and experiences.”

The Internet quickly expressed outrage over Barney’s new look, especially his slimmer face. Maybe the new-look Barney will get the Sonic treatment, and we’ll see his old look return by the time the new series debuts. (Also, stop pretending we care about this. The isn’t for us. It’s a kids’ show.)

What does this revival mean for Daniel Kaluuya’s Barney film? When the Nope actor chatted with The Hollywood Reporter over the summer, he confirmed that it was “still in early development and the script is being reworked.” Does the new animated series mean that project is dead?

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Trailer Watch

Creed III

I’ve had a theory about this movie for awhile. It’s a simple one, but I haven’t seen it outright confirmed yet: Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis and Majors’ Damian are half brothers.

Adonis didn’t adopt the Creed last name until partway through the first film in this series, starting off as Adonis Johnson, an illegitimate son of Apollo Creed. Setting up Damian Anderson the same way makes sense, especially when you note how these trailers have played up how Damian believes that Adonis took everything that should’ve been his. Does the “Creed” mantle fall in that category too?

Creed III opens on March 3.

Ted Lasso

Apple dropped the first trailer for the third and allegedly final season of Ted Lasso this week. In case you forgot, Nate’s betrayal of Ted and AFC Richmond came with a physical toll: The destruction of Ted’s “BELIEVE” sign.

The AFC Richmond crew rights that wrong in the trailer.

Ted Lasso returns on March 15.

The Little Mermaid

I’m lukewarm on Disney’s live-action remakes. The novelty of seeing an animated story translated into live-action has quickly worn off, especially after the emotionally devoid The Lion King remake.

Hopefully this version of The Little Mermaid breaks that trend. I’m not sure if you’ve watched the original Little Mermaid lately, but it’s problematic. The songs hold up, but the story of a teenage girl who abandons her family for the first man she falls in love with? And that man then ditches her for another woman only to immediately go back to the teenage girl?

The Little Mermaid opens on May 26.

Jimmy Kimmel’s Oscars Trailer

Does this count as a trailer? Sure. Let’s go with it. Jimmy Kimmel returns to host the Oscars for his third time next month. ABC kicked off promotion for the show with a spoof of Top Gun: Maverick.

Including Billy Crystal was an interesting move, as this kind of movie spoof was how he used to open his hosting gigs. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Kimmel pop up in additional movies over the next few weeks.

The Oscars air on March 12.

The Links

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Odds and Ends
The cover of Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow.

Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow is fantastic

I was lucky enough to have picked up the trade paperback version of Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow before Gunn revealed that there would be a movie inspired on the book in the new DCU and caused the book to sell out.

I finally had a chance to read it this past week, and it lives up the the hype.

My familiarity with Supergirl is pretty slim, so this was basically my education on the character. Tom King, Bilquis Evely and Matheus Lopes created something beautiful with this story. I can’t wait to see how Gunn and the DCU team bring it to life as a movie.

Elon Musk ‘fixed’ Twitter so that it would show you all of his tweets

The Elon Musk era of Twitter has been one embarrassment after another, and it sounds like the former richest man in the world snapped over the weekend after his Super Bowl tweet failed to outperform one from President Joe Biden.

“When bleary-eyed engineers began to log on to their laptops, the nature of the emergency became clear: Elon Musk’s tweet about the Super Bowl got less engagement than President Joe Biden’s,” writes about a 2:36 a.m. Slack message James Musk sent to all of Twitter. "Biden’s tweet, in which he said he would be supporting his wife in rooting for the Philadelphia Eagles, generated nearly 29 million impressions. Musk, who also tweeted his support for the Eagles, generated a little more than 9.1 million impressions before deleting the tweet in apparent frustration."

Musk wanted answers. Why wasn’t he the most popular person on the site he had spent $44 billion to acquire?

“By Monday afternoon, ‘the problem’ had been ‘fixed.’ Twitter deployed code to automatically “greenlight” all of Musk’s tweets, meaning his tweets will bypass Twitter’s filters designed to show people the best content possible. The algorithm now artificially boosted Musk’s tweets by a factor of 1,000 – a constant score that ensured his tweets rank higher than anyone else’s in the feed,” Platformer reported. “Internally, this is called a ‘power user multiplier,’ although it only applies to Elon Musk, we’re told.”

He owns Twitter, so it’s his right to do this kind of thing. But it’s so, so sad.

David Harbour defends his carpeted bathroom

While surfing YouTube over the past few weeks, we came across the Architectural Digest video of David Harbour and Lily Allen’s home. I was horrified while watching to see that the couple has a carpeted bathroom — yes, a bathroom with carpeted floor — and it seems that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

Harbour was on Late Night this week, and Seth Meyers wasted no time bringing up the carpeted bathroom.

There is no excuse for a carpeted bathroom.

The Bloater in The Last of Us. / HBO Max

‘The big daddy mushroom’

After watching the most recent episode of The Last of Us, I referred to the massive Infected that climbed out of the ground as “the thicc-est Clicker ever,” not yet knowing that that type of clicker has a name and they’re called Bloaters.

EW chatted with Adam Basil, the actor who played the Bloater in “Endure and Survive.” The six-foot-six Basil has performed as Venom in Venom 2 and the Beast in the live-action Beauty and the Beast. Prosthetics designer Barrie Gower (who created Vecna’s look in Stranger Things) brought Gower on for the Bloater role.

“He seems to be a bit of a sex icon,” Basil told EW about playing the Bloater. “He’s captured a lot of people's imaginations. Someone asked me if I’d come to their wedding. I’ve had people sending me love messages. He really brought out something in people that I don't think even they knew they had. He’s the big daddy mushroom, I think there's been a [meme].”

Basil detailed the prosthetics he had to wear to portray the Bloater, listing the 40 to 80 pounds of costume it took to transform him into the massive Clicker.

“They’re so realistic. They dress me in goo and blood,” Basil told EW. “The Bloater has hair sticking up and he's got fragmented teeth. Everything about him is very believable close up. When you first walk on set, people will look around and they take a double look. Like, ‘S---! What's that?’”

Popsicle Schtick: Trump's Classified Dock, Hansel Culture

According to Seth Meyers, the last edition of “Popsicle Schtick” was in December 2020. We were different people then. It was a different world then.

That’s the end of this issue of Popculturology. Thanks for reading. If you don’t already subscribe, please hit the “Subscribe now” button. Tapping the ♥️ at the bottom of each post also helps the newsletter.