Black Panther: Wakanda Forever introduced comic book icon Namor to the Marvel Cinematic Universe
Actor Tenoch Huerta has said he’d like to return, but rights issues mean it’s not that easy
Universal has reportedly blocked Disney from making a standalone Namor movie
It’s similar to the problems that have plagued the likes of the Hulk and Spider-Man
The Marvel Cinematic Universe sure loves a good discussion of rights, and while it has battled the Fantastic Four and X-Men from the clutches of 20th Century Fox, its latest addition is entangled in a complicated web of legalities.
At the center of this courtroom mayhem is Tenoch Huerta’s Namor – a character who made his comic book debut in 1939 – who made his film debut in Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. As we delved into the mythology of K’uk’ulkan and the people of Talokan, Huerta made a splash when Namor (dropping the Sub-Mariner) made his comic book counterpart name part.
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As one of the MCU’s oldest teases, Namor was hinted at in Iron Man 2, before Avengers: Endgame nodded to his imminent arrival by mentioning underwater earthquakes.
Lauded as one of the franchise’s best villains to date – and with Shuri (Letitia Wright) sparing Namor’s life – there are obvious questions about when he’ll return.
Why can’t Disney produce a standalone Namor?
According to Wakanda Forever producer Nate Moore, the rights to Namor as a character belong to Universal rather than Disney. Speaking to The Wrap, Moore confirmed that he “may come back,” but there are some caveats. Even in Wakanda Forever, Disney wasn’t allowed to use Namor in marketing materials unless it was for a series of character posters.
While that means Disney presumably brokered a deal to use Namor in Wakanda Forever, the studio can’t move forward with a full-blown Namor spinoff film. This likely takes a Disney+ series set in Talokan off the table, meaning Namor and his nautical pals are reduced to cameos in other projects.
Universal Studios acquired the rights to “The Sub-Mariner” from a troubled Marvel Studios around 2001, planning a film after Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003). Harry Potter’s Chris Columbus was attached to direct this story of a “troubled rebel with a short temper,” which was to become a “major franchise” for Universal. Though the project fell into development hell, it was still being talked about in 2009.
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The rights have been up in the air ever since, with MCU overlord Kevin Feige telling IGN in 2018, “He’s not as clean or clear-cut as most of the other characters.”
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness writer Michael Waldron explained to Variety how Namor was considered for his Illuminati lineup just like the comics, however, he was dropped due to “other plans.”
History is repeating itself
This isn’t the first time the MCU has been left on a barrel with character puzzles. Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk is the black sheep of the MCU, but despite being part of the franchise’s canon and Mark Ruffalo replacing Edward Norton from The Avengers onward, it’s easy to forget that Universal Studios technically owns the Emerald Giant.
Feige shared his glee at being able to use Galactus and the Silver Surfer after House of Mouse acquired Fox, but there are still some outliers that don’t quite fall under the Mickey Mouse umbrella. After Artisan Entertainment’s Man-Thing in 2005 and its closure, Lionsgate was thought to own the rights to the character. Somewhere else, James Gunn tweeted about how dark the legal disputes are means he can’t use Rom the Space Knight and the Micronauts bug in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.
The biggest one is Sony’s Spider-Man standalones. It seems like only yesterday that the two sides went to war and it looked like the wall-crawling hero was out of the MCU. Sony Pictures’ universe of Marvel characters is even more complicated, as the Venom and Morbius films have a troubled relationship with the main MCU.
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Sony’s Amy Pascal has always maintained that SPUMC is a part of the MCU, which led to a now infamous look from an awkward Feige. There have been whispers of a Spider-Man and Venom crossover, but even that seems like a logistical nightmare because Disney actually borrows Peter Parker.
What’s next for Hulk and Namor?
The difference is that Sony owns the film rights to Spider-Man while Universal only has the distribution rights to Hulk and Namor. That puts these two juggernauts in limbo…for now. An early 2022 Reddit post showed an SEC filing suggesting that Universal’s contract will expire in June 2023. Even then, there’s no guarantee it will go full steam ahead with Hulk and Namor.
Whatever happens next, we know Huerta is ready to come back. Speaking to Total Film (via The Direct), the star said, “The mythology around Namor is huge. You can be crazy with all this cultural aspect and you can create a lot of things with Namor, because they take a fantastic source of stories and mythology and religion and everything.
Away from Namor, we might finally get another Hulk movie thanks to the She-Hulk ending neatly setting up a World War Hulk release. Just as this would use more characters like Bruce Banner, Jennifer Walters, and Skaar, an ensemble could be a way around Namor’s entitlement mess.
We never thought we’d see Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine or Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man in the MCU, so look how far we’ve come in such a short time when everyone decides to share.
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The seas of Namor rights seem a little easier to navigate after Wakanda Forever, but that doesn’t get us any closer to giving Huerta the standalone his fans are rooting for. For now, let’s pin our hopes on the inevitable Black Panther 3 or various Wakanda Forever spinoffs that are reportedly in the works.
If not, who wouldn’t want to see Huerta star opposite John Krasinski and Patrick Stewart for an Illuminati movie?
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is in theaters now.