AQUAMAN: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is Black Manta, Nicole Kidman as Queen Atlanna!

After the fallout late last night that Ben Affleck would no longer be directing himself in THE BATMAN, Warner Bros. has offered an olive branch of sorts, one concerning possible casting assignments for James Wan‘s upcoming AQUAMAN adaptation. One casting story features a relative newcomer to the scene taking on the role of one of the Atlantean Prince’s most notorious villains. Another features an Oscar-winning actor in what may be a brief but important role.

THR reports that THE GET DOWN star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is in early talks to star as Aquaman’s antagonist, Black Manta. Apparently, Wan and studio brass have been vetting actors for the villainous role over the last couple of weeks and landed on Abdul-Mateen II just this past weekend; an offer has been extended. THR also reports that none other than Nicole Kidman, reportedly Wan’s top choice for the role, is in early talks to star as Aquaman’s mother. However, just which comic book iteration of that character will show up in the movie remains to be seen.

Jason Momoa is starring as the half-human, half-Atlantean undersea royal with Amber Heard on board as his love interest, Mera. Willem Dafoe plays the royal science advisor, Nuidis Vulko, while Patrick Wilson will reteam with director Wan to play Orm Marius, a.k.a. Ocean Master, a villain who happens to be Aquaman’s half-brother. The playing field is roughly titled in favor of the Atlantean hero at the moment what with a blood relative, a lifelong ally and political strategist, and a powerful companion on his side, but having two major villains show up in the hero’s presumed origin story is quite the bold approach.

As for Black Manta, the character was previously reported as being the primary antagonist for the film, leaving many to wonder what Ocean Master will be up to in the meantime. (Perhaps minding the throne of Atlantis while Arthur Curry is on a journey of self-discovery, like in The New 52 relaunch?)

Originally created by Bob Haney and Nick Cardy, Black Manta first appeared in “Aquaman #35″ back in 1967, however the character had no defined origin story until 1993. That version saw Black Manta’s beginnings as a Baltimore boy who was kidnapped, held aboard a ship, and abused by his captors, and then unintentionally ignored by Aquaman. This led to a hatred of the hero and the sea, which the boy intended to master; this is just one of a few origin stories applied to the character over the years.

In the New 52 version, Aquaman accidentally killed Black Manta’s father, which results in a sort of blood feud between the two, which spills over to affect their families. This iteration of the villain also saw him spend some time in Belle Reve prison, though he refused to join Amanda Waller’s Suicide Squad. A normal human, Black Manta’s abilities come courtesy of his battle-suit. I wouldn’t be surprised if the movie version took some liberties with either of these origin stories.

As for Kidman’s character, odds are she’ll play one of two versions of Queen Atlanna. Historically, Atlanna was a scientist and roboticist who was able to survive the sinking of Atlantis thanks to a serum that she designed which gave her near-immortality and the ability to breathe underwater. Much later in her life, she met the lighthouse keeper Thomas Curry and fell in love with him; the two had a child together. Thomas named him Arthur while Atlanna nicknamed him Orin, but fans would come to know him as Aquaman. However, complications of the birth brought Atlanna nearly to her death. Depending on how the plot of AQUAMAN handles this story, we could say goodbye to Kidman’s character early on, or perhaps even see her later on at the center of a major conflict.

Then there’s always the chance that the script will go with the Post-Crisis storyline that changed Atlanna’s story (and Arthur Curry’s parentage) entirely. In the revamp, Atlanna was wed to the sterile Atlantean royal, King Trevis, a.k.a. Trevis the Weak. Aquaman was conceived during an affair between Atlanna and the wizard Atlan, leading to the birth of the blonde-haired child (an ill omen), Atlanna’s imprisonment, and ultimately her death. It’ll be interesting to see which way the script for Aquaman goes, but there’s plenty of mythology to work with. We’ll surely see more once the movie revs up for the start of its production this April.

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Final BEAUTY AND THR BEAST trailer shows off more live-action Disney magic!

A new (and final) trailer for Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is now available. The upcoming live-action remake stars Emma Watson as Belle, a young woman who goes to an enchanted castle to rescue her father Maurice (Kevin Kline), who is imprisoned by a Beast (Dan Stevens). In exchange for her father’s freedom, she decides to stay in the castle where she slowly awakens the humanity the Beast had long since buried.

As you can see from the trailer, the new version looks like it will largely follow the same plot beats as the animated classic. While there will be some deviations (and also some new songs) as well as changes in the style and approach, from a narrative perspective, don’t expect any drastic changes from the original. Visually, the movie looks gorgeous and I’m 100% on board with this live-action remake, especially after Disney did such a great job with CINDERELLA and THE JUNGLE BOOK.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST also stars Luke Evans as Gaston, Josh Gad as LeFou, Ewan McGregor as Lumière, Stanley Tucci as Cadenza, Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Plumette, Audra McDonald as Garderobe, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth and Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts and it opens on March 17, 2017.

Ben Affleck steps down as THE BATMAN director; WB/DC looking for replacement!

If you thought the failure of LIVE BY NIGHT would force Ben Affleck into directing THE BATMAN, think again. Variety reports that Affleck has decided to step down as the director even though as recently as January 10th he said he was still on board and just needed time to get the script right.

“There are certain characters who hold a special place in the hearts of millions,” Affleck said in a statement. “Performing this role demands focus, passion and the very best performance I can give. It has become clear that I cannot do both jobs to the level they require. Together with the studio, I have decided to find a partner in a director who will collaborate with me on this massive film. I am still in this, and we are making it, but we are currently looking for a director. I remain extremely committed to this project, and look forward to bringing this to life for fans around the world.”

While this may be a bit of a bummer to fans, remember that if the director isn’t passionate or confident in what he’s doing, then it benefits no one. I don’t want to see Affleck try to do a BATMAN movie because he’s forced to or because he thinks it’s a good career move. I want to see him direct it because he thinks he has the best take on the character and the right story to tell. If he’s not in the right headspace to make the movie, then he shouldn’t do it. Furthermore, THR reports that Affleck and executives had been unhappy with the script for weeks.

The question now becomes, “Who directs THE BATMAN?” On the one hand, Warner Bros. has largely leaned towards people they trust, as they do with most of their projects. Zack Snyder (JUSTICE LEAGUE) and James Wan (AQUAMAN) have delivered big for the studio in the past. That being said, other superhero films haven’t been without their problems. WONDER WOMAN lost Michelle MacLaren before nabbing Patty Jenkins and THE FLASH has burned through Seth Grahame-Smith and Rick Famuyiwa.

Although I’m sure there will be plenty of speculation in the days to come, I’d put my money on either THE ACCOUNTANT helmer Gavin O’Connor or DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES’ Matt Reeves to get the gig. O’Connor has worked with Affleck and Warner Bros. before; and he’s shown he can do action films. O’Connor is currently attached to a GREEN HORNET reboot for Paramount while the more-than-qualified Reeves is busy on post-production on WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Warner Bros. choose Reeves.

HAN SOLO’s STAR WARS spinoff film starts shooting, first set pic released!

The STAR WARS movies are rolling right along. Last week, we got the official title for STAR WARS EPISODE VIII, and today filming is underway on Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s Star Wars spinoff featuring Alden Ehrenreich as young Han Solo. Ehrenreich will star alongside Donald Glover, who plays young Lando Calrissian, as well as Woody Harrelson, who plays Han’s mentor, and Emilia Clarke in an unknown role.

Miller tweeted out the above image today along with a joke that Star Wars fans know all too well: “Han shot first.”

It’s an encouraging sign that Lord and Miller know that this Han Solo isn’t the sanitized one who let Greedo get off a shot before firing back. This will probably be the Han Solo they grew up with, and perhaps even a little rougher around the edges since we’ll be meeting a younger version of the character. While we’ve seen the risks of meeting younger versions of beloved characters in the STAR WARS universe (it was not an improvement for Darth Vader or Boba Fett), Lord and Miller are better writers than George Lucas.

Details on the film are still scarce. We don’t know the plot, we don’t know Clarke’s character, and we don’t know how Lord and Miller will handle the material. In the hands of lesser directors, we could probably expect a bunch of trite callbacks with the characters referencing carbonite and other lame winks to the audience. But time and again, Lord and Miller have proven they can take ideas that seem misguided and spin them into gold. Cinematographer Bradford Young has already revealed that this spinoff will be “dirty sci-fi” and that the film will be “unexpected” and “dramatic.”

This slate that Miller posted doesn’t tell us much about the movie other than they’re shooting on digital (you can see from the 6K resolution) and that their going under the working title “Red Cup”, a play on “Solo” brand plastic cups.

The Untitled Han Solo movie is set for release on May 25, 2018 but is likely to move to December 2018 shortly.

James Cameron wrapping up pre-production on four AVATAR sequels, mo-cap begins in August!

There are reasons to not take James Cameron seriously. He’s known for having a pretty enormous ego and his films, though often breathtaking to watch, are consistently betrayed by hokey, uncomplicated writing in his screenplays. He is a visionary, without question, but no one said that someone with a distinct vision also has the tools to write in a way that gives a proverbial backbone to his wondrous images. Not everyone can be Wes Anderson, everybody.

Still, Cameron is someone whose outspoken nature and ambition within the blockbuster system have always brought me back to him and his artistry. Though the script sounded like a speech written for the EPA by freshman English majors, AVATAR was revelatory to behold on the big screen, and few movies since have had such colorful bombast to them. And then there are the myriad pleasures and technical accomplishments strewn throughout THE ABYSS, ALIENS, and the first two TERMINATOR films, four of the greatest big-studio sci-fi works of the 1980s and 90s. Right now, however, all attention is on the AVATAR sequels, and Cameron took to The Daily Beast this weekend to give an update. Here’s what he said:

So how is Avatar 2 coming along? Obviously the first one is the all-time box office champ, so the bar is set pretty high here.

The thing is, my focus isn’t on Avatar 2. My focus is on Avatar 2, 3, 4, and 5equally. That’s exactly how I’m approaching it. They’ve all been developed equally. I’ve just finished the script to Avatar 5. I’m now starting the process of active prep. I’ll be working with the actors in the capture volume in August, so I’m booked in production every day between now and then. Our volume is up and running, and everything is designed, and so we’re going full-guns right now. I feel like I’ve been let out of jail, because I’ve been in the writing cave for the last two years. I’m actually enjoying life. I don’t enjoy writing. I wouldn’t wish writing on a dog.

This is a pretty big milestone for Cameron, who has been working on these AVATAR scripts since he came down from AVATAR‘s Oscar high and probably even before. Now, we’ll just have to wait to see how the movies themselves come out over the next few years.

AVATAR, mind you, wasn’t the only thing Cameron was talking about in this interview. He addressed the rumors of him possibly directing a STAR WARS or Marvel movie, to which he said that he wouldn’t want to work in someone else’s “house,” which makes complete sense. He talked about his upcoming NatGeo doc, Atlantis Rising, which will premiere on the network soon and looks pretty engrossing from what’s been released of it. And, finally, he came to the topic of famed angry baby and President of these United States Donald Trump, whose war against the environment and human decency has made Cameron particularly furious, cynical, and bewildered. “These people are crazy,” Cameron said when speaking of Trump and Scott Pruitt, while also referring to our current society as “the biggest freakin’ idiot civilization in history” in relation to how we treat Earth. It’s hard to argue about that reasoning but…oh, who am I kidding? There’s no arguing that reasoning at this point.

First image from OCEAN’S EIGHT features the female team, film due June 8, 2018!

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Although the film is still 18 months away, Warner Bros. has released the first OCEAN’S EIGHT image online. Sandra Bullock plays Danny Ocean’s sister, and with the help of her right-hand woman (Cate Blanchett), she brings together a group of thieves to steal a necklace from the Met Ball in order to frame a villainous gallery owner (Damian Lewis). The cast also includes Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, and Awkwafina.

And the gang’s all here in this image. I’m a little surprised that they’re releasing an image so far in advance of the film’s release, but I’m grateful to have it. OCEAN’S EIGHT is one of my most-anticipated films of 2018, and it could end up being a huge hit. While GHOSTBUSTERS suffered from man-babies whining about their precious childhood being destroyed because a reboot featured women, we can be thankful that the OCEAN’S franchise doesn’t have that kind of fanbase. I assume that people who dug the OCEAN’S TRILOGY will be thrilled to see a cast that has three Oscar-winners (Bullock, Blanchett, Hathaway), an Oscar-nominee (Carter), an Emmy-winner (Paulson), and an Emmy-nominee (Kaling).

However, the film does have some pretty serious competition at the box office right now. Its set to open on June 8, 2018, the same day as the first Bumblebee-centric TRANSFORMERS spinoff (ugh). That being said, I’m pretty sure that unless they start filming tomorrow, that film isn’t making that release date.

Gary Ross (THE HUNGER GAMES) is directing OCEAN’S EIGHT with Steven Soderbergh (OCEAN’S ELEVEN) on board to produce.

Box Office: M. Night Shyamlan’s SPLIT wins again, passes $100M

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Here’s a twist that many may not have seen coming: M. Night Shyamalan is back in the good graces of moviegoers thanks to SPLIT, the writer-director’s latest thriller. The film stars James McAvoy as a man afflicted with two-dozen personalities and who, with mysterious and threatening intentions, kidnaps three girls. The twist at the end seems to be what’s driving audiences to check out SPLIT in the theater, helped out by positive word-of-mouth and critical acclaim.

SPLIT is already Shyamalan’s best domestic opening of the decade; for his other directorial efforts, it’s behind only 2002’s SIGNS, 2004’s THE VILLAGE, and 2010’s woefully inept but financially successful THE LAST AIRBENDER. In terms of lifetime domestic gross, SPLIT is still behind those three films and Shyamalan’s UNBREAKABLE and THE SIXTH SENSE, which tops the list with more than $293.5 million. But in only its second weekend, having dropped just 34%, SPLIT has already crossed $100 million globally.

Universal Pictures enjoys the top two spots this weekend with the controversial film A DOG’S PURPOSE taking the silver medal. HIDDEN FIGURES, meanwhile, finished up a spot from Friday’s frame to take the bronze over the sixth installment in the RESIDENT EVIL franchise. That fourth-place finish should be enough to push the horror video game adaptation title over the $1 billion mark once all estimates are verified; worst-case scenario for Paul W.S. Anderson and Milla Jovovich is that RESIDENT EVIL joins the billion-dollar franchise club later this week. Not a bad way to close out a feature film franchise!

Meanwhile, Stephen Gaghan‘s GOLD is off to a miserable start, racing to the bottom of the weekend’s Top 10. The Matthew McConaughey-starrer bottomed out with a debut of less than $3.5 million; for reference, 2008’s FOOL’S GOLD ended its debut weekend with nearly $21.6 million.

Here’s a look at how the Top 10 from this weekend’s box office stacked up (via Box Office Mojo):

1. Split $26.26M
2. A Dog’s Purpose $18.36M
3. Hidden Figures $14M
4. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter $13.85M
5. La La Land $12.05M
6. xXx: The Return of Xander Cage $8.25M
7. Sing $6.21M
8. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story $5.12M
9. Monster Trucks $4.1M
10. Gold $3.47M