Inside Marvel’s biggest movie yet

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Robert Downey Jr. returns in ‘Endgame’ as Iron Man, the character that kickstarted the MCU in 2008. (Marvel Studios)
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Paul Rudd returns as Ant-Man/Scott Lang. (Marvel Studios)
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Chris Hemsworth as Thor in ‘Avengers: Endgame.’ (Marvel Studios)
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Scarlett Johansson returns as Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff. (Marvel Studios)
Updated 22 April 2019
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Inside Marvel’s biggest movie yet

  • As ‘Endgame’ approaches for the Avengers, Arab News talks to three of its biggest stars

DUBAI: For the stars of what could well become the biggest movie ever made — “Avengers: Endgame,” the culmination of 11 years of Marvel storytelling, which opens in GCC cinemas April 24 — there is one rule: You do not talk about “Avengers: Endgame.”

The walls of secrecy surrounding the project are impenetrable. After the last installment of the series, “Avengers: Infinity War,” ended with a shocking twist, leaving half of the Avengers — and the universe at large — dead, fans were anxious to find out what happens next. On their latest world tour to support the film, Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) and Paul Rudd (Ant-Man) have turned volleying “Endgame” questions back into a sport.

“I’ve gotten real jaded about it. Now I’m really mean about it. I’m just like, ‘Next!’” Johansson tells Arab News.

“In the beginning of this press tour, we would try to skirt around it in these cute ways.” she continues.

“We’d be apologetic about it,” says Rudd.

“We’ve gotten really rough around the edges,” says Johansson.

“We all know the story. We can’t say anything! It’s hard for us but it’s harder for you. It’s tricky. I feel like early on I decided, what should we talk about?” says Rudd.

“We can talk about other stuff, like manscaping,” says Johansson.

“I’ll never not talk about that!” adds Rudd.

Since the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) kicked off in 2008 with the release of the first “Iron Man “with Robert Downey Jr., it has evolved, turning characters from footnotes to phenomena. Johansson joined Downey in 2010’s “Iron Man 2” to play Natasha Romanoff, aka the Black Widow, a deadly assassin turned S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. “Avengers: Endgame” will mark her eighth film as the character.

“It’s unprecedented (in cinema) to get the opportunity you really only get working on a very successful TV show — to be able to play a character for a decade of time. We’ve had this luxury of going away and doing other work, and then coming back to these movies, so we’ve all kind of grown,” Johansson tells Arab News.

“I can only speak for my experience, but I feel I’ve grown very much as an actor. I don’t believe I could have played this character in its current state, and certainly as you see her in ‘Avengers: Endgame.’ This is just the right time in my life to be able to play a character that’s fully realized like this, and it very much echoes my own journey as an actor or as a person. Who could have ever imagined that this would be so explosive? It’s crazy. It’s mind-blowing.”

Chris Hemsworth, who first played Thor, a character rooted in Norse mythology, in 2011 and is also about to reach his eighth film, began, as much of the cast did, as a fan.

“The first time that the Marvel universe came into my universe back in Australia, I was sitting there, straight out of high school, watching ‘Iron Man,’ thinking, ‘Oh my god, imagine. I wish I could be a part of that world.’ And then a few years on, getting cast in it as Thor, having the opportunity to embark on it. At the time I was wondering if this film even going to make it past DVD into the cinemas? Was I going to be recast?”

Like Johansson, Hemsworth also feels his portrayal of his character has improved with each film. With 2017’s “Thor: Ragnarok,” Hemsworth believes he found his voice as the Norse god of thunder, finally able to put his own stamp on it, working with director Taika Waititi in a looser, more improvisational style. The film — a hit with both critics and audiences worldwide — revitalized the character. With “Endgame,” that tone is likely to continue, Hemsworth tells Arab News.

“There was more improvisation in this than the previous one (“Avengers: Infinity War”). The stakes were as high as they could be, but we found a great way to have another version, or more growth in the character, and found something unexpected again. That was so much fun. I’m very thankful that it happened this way, to finish strong, as opposed to the other way around,” says Hemsworth.

Paul Rudd joined the MCU with 2015’s “Ant-Man,” playing Scott Lang, a petty criminal who finds a suit that allows him to grow and shrink at will. Rudd has been the same reliable comic presence he has been since “Clueless” (1995) and “Anchorman” (2004), and if trailers can be trusted, his inclusion in “Avengers: Endgame” will add levity to the serious emotional weight the film promises.

Rudd has enjoyed digging deeper into Lang in each subsequent MCU appearance, also citing Hemsworth’s evolution as Thor as one that he admires.

“Sometimes you finish a movie and when you’re done filming it, you think ‘Oh, now I’d like to start it, because I finally have a sense of the character.’ In this one, there’s several chances,” he says. “Characters morph and grow, as we do as people. I’m different from who I was three years ago or four years ago. You get to know the character more, you get to know the world more, the other actors better, and as a result you get to go even deeper with the character.

“I look at Thor in the first movie and then in ‘Thor: Ragnarok,’ and what a crazy amazing journey that character has been on,” he continues. “These films provide the opportunity to explore many different facets of the character.”

As much as the respective performances have evolved during 11 years of the MCU, the cultural landscape and conversation around gender has also moved forward, with audiences much less likely to tolerate female characters who are token or one dimensional. Johansson’s Black Widow has evolved with the times.

“The character started as sort of a sexy secretary with a skillset on the side. We didn’t know, or certainly I didn’t know, how the audience would react to the character, my interpretation of the character, who was obviously a beloved character for a long time. I feel the next time we saw her in ‘Avengers’ (2012) she was sort of one of the boys, for better or for worse, and that made sense then,” Johansson says.

“As the fans and the audiences have pushed Marvel and all the studios and filmmakers to really throw up on the screen what represents what’s going on in the zeitgeist, and wanting to see diverse films and casts that represent their own aspirations and how they feel, the character has sort of grown in reaction to that,” she continues. “And the movies have grown in reaction to that fan encouragement.”


Anime adventure as Kingdom joins forces with Tokyo studio

Updated 19 May 2019
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Anime adventure as Kingdom joins forces with Tokyo studio

 

CANNES: Anime, or Japanese animation, has been a favorite with young Saudis for decades and now the Kingdom is about to star in a feature-length production of its own.

Manga Productions, a subsidiary of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Misk Foundation, will collaborate with Tokyo-based Toei Animation to produce a feature film, “The Journey,” which will be partially set in the Kingdom 1,500 years ago. 

Toei, the studio behind animation franchises such as “Dragon Ball Z,” “One Piece” and “Sailor Moon,” will bring top Japanese talent to the project, including character designer Tetsuro Iwamoto (“Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney”) and composer Kaoru Wada (“Inuyasha”).

Manga is keeping many plot and location details secret, but has released a teaser trailer and poster revealing the name of the film’s hero — Aws.

A poster for the upcoming film. (Supplied) 

“The film is talking about old civilizations in the Arabian peninsula — a people who are trying to protect their city from a strong enemy,” Manga CEO Bukhary Essam told Arab News. “The hero has a backstory that no one knows and which will affect the destiny of the city.”

Animation work on “The Journey” will be done in both Riyadh and Tokyo, with 12 Saudis involved in story development, character design, preproduction, storyboards and coloring.  The film will take two years to complete and will employ a production team of over 330 people.

The joint production will help develop Saudi talent so that an industry can be built in the Kingdom, Essam said.

Manga CEO Bukhary Essam. (Supplied)

“Our ultimate goal is to transfer the technology and know-how to Saudi talents so that by 2030 Manga Productions will have the capability to produce animation by itself,” he said.

“Most young Saudis loved Japanese animation when we were kids. We believe it’s time to export our characters and our heroes to Japan and the world. We don’t want to only export oil and petrochemicals, we want to export arts, animation, video gaming and manga to a global audience.”

Essam’s love of anime and Saudis’ passion for the art form helped convince Toei Animation to take on the project.

“It’s not just a movie — it’s about cultural exchange and forming a connection between countries, Shinji Shimizu, Toei’s managing director, said. “Japan is at the top level worldwide, so we can help Saudi Arabia develop its animation industry.

“We Japanese don’t know much about the Middle East or Saudi Arabia, but we know that Saudi people love to watch Japanese animation.”

Manga is employing historical advisers to ensure the film captures Saudi Arabia’s authentic past, while a Japanese team has returned to the Kingdom to scout locations for the production.
 
According to Shimizu, the Japanese team sometimes gets carried away making designs look “cool.”

“The Saudi team will say, ‘no, it should be real.’ We give honest opinions to each other. Everything is being made with the suggestions and opinions of the Saudi team,” says Shimizu. “Japanese people are not familiar with Middle East culture, but as they make animation together, they learn from the Saudi team about their culture, language and traditions.

“It’s really fun for them, too. We have differences, but I realized from making this animation together that we’re all just human — we are all the same.”

The film will be released in both Japanese and Arabic, with an English version possibly to follow.

Manga and Toei’s first joint production was “The Woodcutter’s Treasure,” a 20-minute animation based on Saudi Arabian folklore. The team is also producing a 13-episode animated TV series.