This weekend was Disney’s 7th D23 expo, hailed as the ultimate Disney fan experience, the event has taken place every 2 years since 2009. As a massive geek and pop culture sweaty (thank you Jon Schnepp) you’d think I’d mark my calendar for this, but it always seems to sneak up on me. I’m guessing that’s because in past years it hasn’t wowed me much, but this year was a bit different. Traditionally, most movie studios that deal in geek culture make their biggest announcements for future properties at Comic Con in San Diego (SDCC), but over recent years Disney has been breaking with tradition and saving their biggest reveals for their own event in D23.
Going into the weekend this year I heard rumblings that the cast for the highly anticipated Fantastic Four movie from Marvel Studios was going to finally be revealed. It wasn’t, and I fell for a bogus cast image that was floating around the internet. For now, I’m glad to know it wasn’t official as I’m not a Seth Rogan fan, and he was pictured as playing Ben Grimm, aka, The Thing, one of my favorite comic book characters since I was kid. But we’ll see. However, there were several reveals that did move my sweat meter.
One of the perks to attending the expo is that you get to see what is usually the first footage of all the movies and TV shows that are announced. From Marvel, attendees got to see teaser footage and/or new details about The Marvels, Echo, Captain America 4, Loki S2, Black Panther 2, Iron Heart, Thunderbolts, Ant-Man 3, the new Daredevil series, Secret Invasion, and the Werewolf by Night special. On the Star Wars front the featured movies and shows were Mandalorian S3, Jude Law’s The Skeleton Crew, the Tales of the Jedi show, Bad Batch S2, and finally the casting of Ezra Bridger for the Ahsoka show.
I’m going to get into a couple of those, but two of my big takeaways were from the Lucas Film side of Disney, and to my surprise, at the top of my list was the new Willow trailer. Even though I grew up with 1988’s Willow, it wasn’t until recent years that it solidified it’s place in my 80’s movie lineup, and that is mostly due to my increasing respect and enjoyment of the picture’s lead, Warwick Davis. I’ve been a fan of his since 1983 when my dad took me to see my first Star Wars movie in the theater, Return of the Jedi. I don’t agree with George Lucas’ famous words of intent that he made Star Wars for children. The original trilogy, as flawless as it is, mostly deals with adult themes of screwed up family dynamics, war, and politics. But as Wicket W. Warrick, the immensely cute and brave Ewok companion of Princess Leia, Davis and his fellow murder-bears brought a softness to the galaxy that firmly cemented a place for kids at the galactic table. Since his role as Wicket, Davis has gone on to be in 9 Star Wars movies and play more than 14 different characters. Not long after his breakout in Star Wars Davis was the title character in the Leprechaun film series. He played the charming killer in 6 of the 8 films, making the series Davis’s own franchise. That’s a pot of gold most actors only wish upon a rainbow for and never find.
Which brings me back to Willow. I’ve never been a huge fan, but I’ve always liked it enough. Along with Davis it has Val Kilmer at the height of his greatness, goblins, monsters, dragons, and most of the cast from Time Bandits. Last year Disney announced that they were bringing Willow back as a D+ show, and earlier this year they dropped the first trailer. It didn’t grab me. But this weekend’s new Willow trailer from D23 showed me that someone in Hollywood finally gets Warwick Davis’s potential as a true, no nonsense leading man. My favorite character of his is Weazel from Star Wars. He first appears in the first prequel, 2009’s The Phantom Menace, as a lowlife, pod-race gambling, unkempt sleemo. We don’t see Weazel again until 2018’s Solo: A Star Wars Story, where he’s now a grizzled, bazooka toting war veteran as part of Enfys Nest’s gang of OG rebel scum. It’s an amazing turn that I’ve been saying for years needs to be given to Davis as his own vehicle to show the character’s arc. It’s the same stoicism and seasoned bravado that I see him exuding in the new Willow trailer.
I’m telling you, Warwick Davis has chops and range. He knows reserved, classy comedy like nobody’s business (just watch any of his Ricky Gervais projects). He’s played one of the creepiest and iconic villains in B horror, and he’s been playing the hero since he was 12. Sure, Willow won’t have the charm and wit of Kilmer’s Madmartigan, but I have a feeling Davis and the rest of the cast will fill those shoes. All this magic puts the D+ Willow series as one of my most anticipated for 2023.
That said, the reunion of Harrison Ford and Ke Huy Quan 38 years after Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was something I’ve been looking forward to for 38 years! The excitement on Quan’s face is palpable, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen Harrison Ford that genuinely happy. It’s one of those few moments in entertainment history that I wish I was present for. The dynamic the two shared as Indiana Jones and Short Round in Temple of Doom is one of the most satisfying iterations of the “Lone Wolf and Cub” relationships we so often see attempted in today’s storytelling, and it’s got the added dimension of Short Round being a quite capable character.
One of my Instagram accounts is dedicated to preserving 80’s culture, and several years ago when the rumblings of this upcoming Indiana Jones movie started to hit the internet, I made a post and pitched what I would like to see for the final installment of Ford’s run as Doctor Jones. It involved the return of Quan’s character, Short Round, but I imagined the Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun in the role. He’s the perfect age, he’s got the acting chops and charisma, and he’s familiar enough with action. Add to the equation that Short Round is an in-continuity character that Indie fans know and love, and you’ve got the perfect baton pass to continue the franchise after Ford leaves. To date that’s my most liked post on that account.
As I’m writing this, I realize that I subconsciously saved the best, and possibly the most important, for last. Marvel finally released the trailer for next month’s Werewolf by Night. Anyone that knows me knows that I am a horror mega-fan. I’m the co-host and producer of Death by Podcast where we gush over vintage B Horror movies. I was raised on mom-and-pop VHS horror cover art and live for Halloween. My favorite horror sub-genre is the classic, black and white Universal Monsters flicks. The movie may prove otherwise, but before it’s too late I need to give major props to Disney for having the balls to make this movie. For most of 2022 we’ve been drowning in hit-or-miss, mostly “bubblegum” superhero and Star Wars minutiae. Nothing with a backbone, and plenty of pandering. But WWBN looks like it could be a game-changer for Disney. I realize there’s a brand to uphold, and that Hulu seems like Disney’s place for the more grown-up stuff, but this is going straight to D+, and it’s bloody! Granted, black and white, but a dude gets his arm chopped off in the trailer. I don’t need graphic violence for me to feel like the property is worthwhile, but my biggest gripe through most of the D+ content is that it’s been dumbed down. Give the story and characters what it calls for, and if it’s blood, let there be blood. If it’s bubblegum, let there be bubbles. WWBN needs to be grizzled to an extent, and it looks like Jack Russel and the gang will get their due.
Speaking of the gang, the movie looks like it’s testing the water with more than the titular character as it features cameos by Frankenstein, Elsa Bloodstone, and Man-Thing. For decades Marvel Comics have been cultivating many of these public domain horror characters including Frankenstein and Dracula and mixing in their own versions of the classics. All of which could serve as a gateway to a much-needed Horror corner of the MCU.
As a bonus honorable mention, I was really intrigued by the Secret Invasion trailer. Comic fans will know the series as one of the best entries in the Brian Michael Bendis Avengers saga from the early 2000’s. It follows the slow and methodical invasion of our superhero and civilian population by the shape-shifting alien race, the Skrulls. Last we saw them was in the Captain Marvel movie where they were oddly friends, not foes. This new D+ series looks to feature Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury uncovering the takeover plot, which is sure to be the ultimate “Who can you trust?” espionage thriller.
Adam Crohn is a Freelance Writer of all things from pop-culture to politics, a curator of 80’s nostalgia, and toy fanatic. He can usually be found hanging with his pups listening to Hall and Oates. https://adamcrohn.carrd.co/