Why ‘Wakanda Forever’ villain Namor isn’t getting his own standalone Marvel movie

Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever introduces a terrifying new villain named Namor. Namor, played by Mexican actor Tenoche Huerta, comes from an undersea community, his life is defined by subjugation and colonization. At one point he explains the origin of his name: If love means love, then he is an outcast (a mutant) starved of affection. No love. name. He is without love, a loner. He is also a borrower. Because Marvel Studios doesn’t actually control the character.

The situation around Namor goes back to the pre-Marvel Studios/pre-Disney era of making movies of Marvel Comics characters, before the studio streamlined and controlled intellectual property. Before making “Iron Man” as its own independently produced movie, Marvel Studios had a habit of licensing or selling character rights to other studios – the X-Men went to Fox, Spider-Man went to Sony , etc. And Namor is one of those characters that is still controlled by another studio.

Not that Namor won’t be back in the MCU, as “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” producer Nate Moore confirmed to TheWrap, “He may return” — but Disney won’t be able to produce a standalone movie about the character.

So what’s the deal?

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Well, Namor’s situation is similar to Marvel Studios’ deal with Universal for Hulk. Neither of them can star in their own movie because Universal Pictures owns the rights to both characters. And he can’t just appear in marketing materials unless it’s part of a series of posters. We spoke to “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” producer Moore about the situation and he acknowledged that Namor was “borrowed” like the Hulk.

“It affects us more, frankly, and not too much talking outside of school, but in how we market the film than how we use it in the film,” Moore said. “There weren’t really things we couldn’t do from a character perspective for him, which is good because obviously we took a lot of inspiration from the source material, but we also made some big changes to really anchor him in that world . into a truth that publishing never really landed on, I’d say, in a big way.

Moore went on to praise co-writer/director Ryan Coogler’s take on the material and how that reconfiguration was unaffected by the legal formalities. “I’ve read every Namor comic ever written and I love it, but the world of Atlantis is drawn a little vaguely. It might be a little Roman maybe. And so Ryan is such a detail-oriented filmmaker that he wanted to anchor in something that felt as tangible and real as hopefully Wakanda fuels people. And I think there was nothing on a business side anyway that stopped us from doing that, which is great,” Moore said.

Namor’s first appearance was in “Marvel Comics” #1 in October 1939. Also known as the Sub-Mariner, he is an underwater villain (part of the lost city of Atlantis), who later reforms and becomes a hero. (The character in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” certainly seems to be on the road to redemption by the end of the movie.) Morally vague, Namor fluctuates between hero and villain depending on the needs of the storyline or what massive Marvel crossover event. also going on at the time.


Namor (Marvel Comics)

In the late 1990s, as Marvel was facing Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the company founded Marvel Studios, then led by Chairman/CEO Stan Lee and President Avi Arad. A contemporaneous Variety report from the time said that Marvel has “spread out most of its heroes in studios all over the city” by licensing the use of its characters to various studios for a fee.

Fox was developing “Fantastic Four” with the script by Chris Columbus and direction by Pete Segal (“Tommy Boy”), and was planning a standalone film “Silver Surfer” (directed by Australian author Geoffrey Wright) and had Bryan Singer already locked up for “X-Men”; Universal had “The Rocketeer” director Joe Johnston to direct “The Incredible Hulk” and was working on “Luke Cage” with John Singleton (what could have been?!); and the report also mentions a David Goyer penned “Venom” movie in New Line Cinema, along with “Doctor Strange”.(Elsewhere, Nicolas Cage was still hoping to play “Iron Man”.)

At that point, Marvel Studios had, of all people, paired Philip Kaufman, who had directed “The Right Stuff” and worked on “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with a movie called “Namor: The Sub-Mariner.” By 1997, no studio had committed. But Marvel was desperate. In 1999, six months after going bankrupt, Sam Hamm, famous for his script for Tim Burton’s “Batman” (which had essentially jump-started the current era of superhero cinema), had signed on to write the “Namor” script (at this point Kaufman was still attached to direct). In 2001, the Hollywood Reporter noted that Universal Studios had acquired the rights to “The Sub-Mariner.” THR said the “project, which aims to become a major franchise for the studio, is expected to go to the writers shortly.”

In 2002, Entertainment Weekly reported that Universal had hired David Self to write the Namor movie and it was set to hit theaters in 2004. Later that year, Marvel Studios formally announced that there would be a Namor movie. It would be their next project together after Ang Lee’s “Hulk” in the summer of 2003. In December 2004, Chris Columbus (there he is again!) was officially assigned to produce and direct, working from Self’s script. In 2005, Columbus had already passed. The following year, Jonathan Mostow, who directed “Breakdown” and “U-571,” was hired, and in 2009 he told Collider that development was progressing.

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Of course, the Marvel Studios machine came to life in 2009, starting with 2008’s independently produced “Iron Man.”

When asked about the character of Namor in 2013, Marvel Studios President (and his major engineer) Kevin Feige said that Universal still owned the rights and therefore he would not appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Since then there has been a lot of confusion, with conflicting reports about who exactly owned the character (or aspects of the character). On the eve of the Disney-Fox merger in 2018, Feige acknowledged confusion surrounding Namor: “I think there’s probably a way to find out, but there is – it’s not as clean or clear as most of the others. characters.” A few months later, Feige said there was a way the character would appear in the MCU. (Universal still had distribution rights.)

This kind of complicated maneuvering isn’t new to Marvel Studios; Universal’s control of the Hulk meant no standalone Hulk movie or series could be developed at Marvel, even though his stature has only grown in the years since Mark Ruffalo began portraying the character in 2012’s ‘The Avengers’ (The only Hulk-centered movie released within the MCU continuity – 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk” starring Edward Norton – was distributed by Universal.)

Not that Disney didn’t play nice; the company allowed characters from “Unbreakable” to be used in a pair of Universal films – “Split” and “Glass”. And in 2005, NBCUniversal traded sportscaster Al Michaels (who wanted to jump from ESPN-owned Disney’s “Monday Night Football”) for Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a character Walt Disney had created before Mickey Mouse, but which Universal controlled.

So yes, you’ll see Namor make another splash, as the partnership between Universal and Marvel Studios continues… swimming.

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