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We’ve come to expect the unexpected from Marvel Studios in its Saturday night presentations at San Diego Comic-Con. We expect to be wowed, shocked, surprised by whatever hot news Kevin Feige & Co. reveal on the stage inside Hall H. This year, returning to that hallowed spot for the first time in more than 1,000 days, the studio that has come to dominate a big segment of pop culture showcased something else along with all those will-be blockbusters: Emotion.
Of course, the 90-minute presentation was full of major reveals, including a detailed breakdown of the future of the MCU. We learned that yes, the Fantastic Four is officially in play. That film will kick off Phase Six, while not one but two Avengers films, Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars, will cap the Multiverse Saga. As usual, the studio knows how to take control over the pop news cycle and dominate the conversation.
I was in Hall H, and anyone inside could feel three years of palpable, pent-up geek energy as the beginning of the panel approached. Everyone who showed up onstage could certainly feel it, too. There was excitement, of course. And plenty of laughs. The cast and producers of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law had a great time talking about creating what they say is Marvel’s first true comedy. The cast of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania was also enjoying themselves as they twisted into knots to not reveal anything too spoilery. Kang himself, Jonathan Majors, crackled with old-school Silver Age villainy when he said of his role in the upcoming film, “There will be conquering.”
But there was something else, too. And it was first evident with the actors from the franchise that proved how important humor can be to Marvel movies.
The cast of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 appeared onstage after the surprise debut of the trailer for the third and, according to director James Gunn, final step in the three-film journey he set out to make with the galaxy’s greatest morons. “This story is what I intended to do [with the Guardians] when I first talked to Marvel about it,” he said. Maybe it was the rather melancholy nature of the trailer, which showed Peter Quill desperate to regain Gamora’s love, only to have her reject him and — even worse — not even remember his actual name, but Chris Pratt appeared wistful as he thanked Gunn for bringing them along for the ride. Pom Klementieff said she was crying backstage watching the footage for the first time, and she almost teared up again on stage. Maybe it’s the feeling that perhaps this could be the end of the road for their characters in the MCU that had them getting all up in their feels.
Gunn himself took a moment to thank the fans for sticking by him and supporting him through the good and bad, a clear reference to when he was briefly fired in 2018 from Guardians Vol. 3 due to the surfacing of some old, offensive tweets. Sean Gunn said working with his brother has been the most rewarding thing he’s done in his career, and said the cast was all emotional for one simple reason: We “F—-ing care.”
As the panel neared its end, the lights dimmed and a group of African musicians put on an incredible musical performance that electrified the audience. Director Ryan Coogler then appeared, and as he paid tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman, he briefly stopped to compose himself. Coogler recalled being in Hall H five years ago when the first footage from Black Panther debuted. He mentioned how Boseman had placed his hand on his shoulder that day. “I promise you, I feel his hand on me right now,” Coogler said. “Chad’s passion and genius…and the impact he made on this industry will be felt forever."
The stars of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soon joined their director onstage. Letitia Wright said making the sequel is “about honoring ‘big bro,’”while Lupita N’Yongo talked about how special it was to return to Wakanda. “I think we all know the impact Black Panther had on the world. It's indescribable,” said newcomer Dominique Thorne, who plays Riri Williams. “To be able to be part of it returning to the screen and showcasing this new young mind, it's a blessing and it's a gift.”
Black Panther made history in 2018, setting box-office records and becoming a cultural touchstone. But Boseman’s tragic death certainly had an incalculable impact. His presence was certainly felt as the stunning footage from the sequel was debuted. There was spectacle for sure, including hints of a war between the Wakandans and the new-to-the-MCU Atlanteans, led by Namor, the Sub-Mariner. But just as many in real life continue to mourn Boseman, so too does Wakanda mourn its fallen king in the trailer, underscored by a somber version of Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry.”
This isn’t to say the mood was downbeat. Winston Duke, who plays fan favorite M’Baku, said he was “filled with gratitude to be part of something that comes from so much love.” Danai Gurira, who plays Wakanda’s military leader Okoye, expressed how seeing the Hall H crowd being moved by the African musical troupe that preceded them meant “everything” to her.
Another new addition to the cast, Tenoch Huerta, who plays Prince Namor, was emotional too. He seemed ready to bounce off the stage, he was so happy to be there. Who could blame him? He’s been cast as one of the most iconic heroes in Marvel’s illustrious history in an almost-certain blockbuster. But the Mexican actor used his moment with the mic to point out why his casting matters beyond career (and MCU) repercussions. “I come from the hood. And because of inclusion I'm here,” the actor said, before adding in Spanish, “Gracias a todos los paisanos, ustedes cruzaron el río, dejaron todo lo que amaban atrás, gracias a eso yo estoy aquí.”
Which, in English, means: “Thanks to all the countrymen, you crossed the river, left everything you loved behind, thanks to that I am here.”
It was a statement of justifiable pride by someone who recognized how big a moment he found himself in.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is entering a new era as it transitions to be a more accurate reflection of the world around us. The massive audience that hangs on its every reveal, every tease of something or someone new, has an unmatched passion for anything connected to the MCU.
Inside Hall H for the first time in three years, we saw once again that the people who make the Marvel magic share that same passion.
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