In Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, we are introduced to a fearsome new villain named Namor. Played by Mexican actor Tenoche Huerta, Namor comes from an underwater community, his life has been characterized by subjugation and colonization. At one point, he explains the origins of his first name: If love means love, so he is an outcast (a mutant) hungry for affection. No love. Namor. He is loveless, a loner. He is also a lender. Because Marvel Studios doesn’t actually control the character.
The situation around Namor harks back to the pre-Marvel Studios/pre-Disney era of making movies featuring Marvel comic book characters, before the studio rationalized and controlled intellectual property. Before Marvel Studios made “Iron Man” as an independent film, the company had a habit of licensing or selling character rights to other studios: X-Men went to Fox, Spider-Man to Sony , etc. And Namor is one of those characters that is still controlled by another studio.
Not that Namor won’t be returning to the MCU, as “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” producer Nate Moore confirmed to TheWrap: “He may be back” — but Disney won’t be able to produce a standalone film about the character.
So, what is the problem?
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Well, Namor’s situation is similar to Marvel Studios’ deal with Universal for the Hulk. Neither can star in their own movie because Universal Pictures has the rights to both characters. And he can’t appear alone in marketing materials, unless he’s part of a poster series. We spoke to “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” producer Moore about the situation and he acknowledged that Namor was “borrowed” as the Hulk.
“Honestly it hits us the most, and not talking too much out of school, but how we market the film rather than how we use it in the film,” said Moore. “There really weren’t things we couldn’t do character-wise for him, which is good because clearly we took a lot of inspiration from the source material, but we also made some big changes to really anchor him in that world in a truth. which publishing has never really landed on, I would say, in a big way.
Moore went on to laud co-writer/director Ryan Coogler on the material and how that reconfiguration was unaffected by legal formalities. “I’ve read every Namor comic ever written and I love them, but the world of Atlantis is drawn a little loosely. Maybe he’s a little Roman, maybe. And so, Ryan is such a detail-oriented filmmaker that he wanted to anchor himself in something that was tangible and real like, hopefully, Wakanda feeds people. And I think there was nothing from a business standpoint to stop us from doing that anyway, which is great,” Moore said.
Namor’s first appearance was in “Marvel Comics” #1. 1 in October 1939. Also known as the Sub-Mariner, he is a submarine villain (part of the Lost City of Atlantis), who later reforms and becomes a hero. (The “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” character certainly seems, by the film’s end, on the path to redemption.) Morally nebulous, Namor swings between hero and villain depending on the needs of the plot or whatever giant Marvel crossover event is going on in that moment.
In the late 1990s, as Marvel was facing Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the company formed Marvel Studios, then run by President/CEO Stan Lee and President Avi Arad. A contemporary Variety report at the time said Marvel “has scattered most of its heroes around studios all over town” by licensing the use of its characters to various studios for a fee.
Fox was developing ‘Fantastic Four’ with a script by Chris Columbus and directed by Pete Segal (‘Tommy Boy’), planning an independent film ‘Silver Surfer’ (to be directed by Australian auteur Geoffrey Wright) and had already locked Bryan Singer for “X-Men”; Universal had ‘The Rocketeer’ director Joe Johnston to helm ‘The Incredible Hulk’ and was working on ‘Luke Cage’ with John Singleton (what could it have been?!); and the report also mentions a film “Venom” written by David Goyer at New Line Cinema, along with “Doctor Strange”. (Elsewhere, Nicolas Cage kept hoping to play “Iron Man.”)
By this time, Marvel Studios had assigned, of all people, Philip Kaufman, who directed ‘The Right Stuff’ and worked on ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, to a ‘Namor: The Sub-Mariner’ movie. In 1997, no studios had committed. But Marvel was desperate. In 1999 and six months after the bankruptcy, Sam Hamm, famous for his screenplay of Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’ (which had effectively started the current era of superhero cinema) had signed on to write the screenplay of ‘Namor’ (at this point Kaufman was still attached to direct). In 2001, The Hollywood Reporter noted that Universal Studios had obtained the rights to “The Sub-Mariner”. THR stated that “the project, which aims to become a major franchise for the studio, should be rolling out to writers shortly.”
In 2002, Entertainment Weekly reported that Universal had hired David Self to write the Namor film and that it would hit theaters in 2004. Later that year, Marvel Studios formally announced that a Namor film would be released. It would be their next project together after Ang Lee’s “Hulk” in the summer of 2003. In December 2004, Chris Columbus (here he is again!) was formally attached to produce and direct, working on the script for Self. In 2005, Columbus had already passed. The following year, Jonathan Mostow, who directed “Breakdown” and “U-571,” was hired and told Collider in 2009 that development was progressing.
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Of course, by 2009 the Marvel Studios machine was coming to life, starting with the independently produced Iron Man in 2008.
When asked about the character of Namor in 2013, Marvel Studios president (and his great 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 much confusion, with conflicting reports as to who exactly owned the character (or aspects of the character). On the eve of the Disney/Fox merger in 2018, Feige acknowledged the confusion around Namor: “I think there’s probably a way to figure him out, but he’s got it — he’s not as clean or clear as most of the other characters.” . A few months later, Feige said there was a way for the character to appear in the MCU. (Universal still held the distribution rights.)
This kind of tricky maneuvering is nothing new to Marvel Studios; Universal’s takeover of the Hulk meant that no standalone Hulk films or series could be developed at Marvel, though his stature has only grown in the years since Mark Ruffalo began playing the character in ‘The Avengers’ 2012. (The only Hulk-centric film released within the MCU continuity – 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk” starring Edward Norton – was released by Universal.)
Not that Disney hasn’t played well; the company has allowed the characters from “Unbreakable” to be used in a couple of Universal’s films: “Split” and “Glass.” And in 2005, NBCUniversal traded sportscaster Al Michaels (who wanted to jump from Disney-owned ESPN’s “Monday Night Football”) for Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a character Walt Disney had created before Mickey Mouse but which Universal controlled. .
So, yeah, you’ll see Namor make a splash again, with the partnership between Universal and Marvel Studios continuing… booming.
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