Marvel is getting really, really Canadian. These stars are leading the charge
Iman Vellani, Tatiana Maslany, Simu Liu highlight recent surge of Canadians in Marvel properties
With She-Hulk and Ms. Marvel fresh in our minds, and new Deadpool and Shang-Chi titles on the horizon, there's one thing undeniably in the MCU's future: Canada.
With the conclusion of its fourth phase of movies — and plans for both the fifth and sixth in the works — the Marvel Cinematic Universe is quickly becoming more Canadian than it's ever been. Here, CBC News breaks down some of those projects, and the wealth of Canadian talent you can expect to see influencing the media juggernaut in the future.
While Marvel fans are getting to know her as the six-foot-seven-inch, fourth-wall-breaking, lean green legal machine, others up north may know Tatiana Maslany better from her work on Orphan Black. The Regina-born actress's work on the show saw her win Canadian Screen Awards and become the first Canadian actress in a Canadian drama series to win an Emmy, but she's now playing Jennifer Walters — a.k.a. She-Hulk — in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law.
The series is the MCU's latest Phase 4 production, and, after it concludes in October, will be one of its last. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever will close out the studio's current arc when it premieres in November, with The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special serving as an "epilogue," according to director James Gunn.
Maslany's turn in the MCU comes just after another Canadian actress's — Markham, Ont.'s Iman Vellani. Vellani stars as the titular Ms. Marvel in the Disney+ series, becoming the first Muslim superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
"Film and TV literally shape how we see people in this world. And so, you know, when you're only representing Muslims in a certain type of light, it gets very one-note," she said at her Toronto red-carpet debut in June.
"I'm so glad that Marvel's providing space for a character like Kamala to exist and to just take up space and tell a very specific story about a very specific girl."
While Ms. Marvel concluded its first — and potentially only — season in mid-July, Vellani is already set to return in 2023's film The Marvels. There, Vellani's character Kamala Khan will team up with Brie Larson's Captain Marvel.
Simu Liu's Shang-Chi was a first in more than one way. The Kim's Convenience alumni became the first Canadian actor to headline an MCU production (technically — more on that later) back in 2021.
Then, Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings was the first film premiering during the pandemic to make over $200 million US at the domestic box office, helping to cement the fact studios could release their movies in theatres instead of continuing to delay them.
It was also the first Marvel movie to rest on the shoulders of a new superhero since Captain Marvel in 2019. After Avengers: Endgame saw the departure of Iron Man, Captain America and Black Widow, Shang-Chi's success proved that audiences were willing to stick with the MCU brand despite an inevitable shakeup in its cast.
Marvel confirmed a sequel is in the works soon after the film's release, though there isn't a premiere date yet. As an added bonus, the Shang-Chi comic books have been drawn by Toronto's Marcus To since February of this year.
But before Liu, Vancouver's Ryan Reynolds was helping to make the world of Marvel more Canadian. Reynolds played Deadpool in a number of movies, though due to rights issues with 20th Century Fox he was never technically part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But since the Walt Disney Company completed its purchase of Fox in 2019, that's all set to change.
Back in January, Marvel head Kevin Feige confirmed the studio is working on a Deadpool 3 script with Reynolds, which will be rated R and finally introduce the "merc with a mouth" into the MCU.
Sidekicks, team members, dynamic duos
Outside of the universe's eponymously named titles, a number of Canadians will support the MCU in future titles. B.C.'s Cobie Smulders is set to reprise her role as Maria Hill, supporting Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury in Secret Invasion. That series, set to debut on Disney+ in spring 2023, looks at an invasion of Earth by aliens. In an interview with EW, Smulders said the series will "really dive into the characters more" and "explore their relationships with each other."
Pom Klementieff, though sometimes brought up as a Canadian actor, is a bit of a technicality. The actress, who plays Mantis in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, was born in Quebec City, though under a diplomatic passport. Because of that, she is a citizen of France — not Canada. She will reprise the role of Mantis in both the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special in December and Guardians of the Galaxy 3 in May 2023.
And Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania will see Alberta-born, B.C.-raised Evangeline Lilly return to her role of the Wasp in early 2023. As far as actors go, Lilly has one of the most long-running track records for Canadians — she has appeared in four mainstream Marvel productions as Hope Van Dyne already, with at least one more credit still to come.
A trailblazing series
The upcoming Marvel series Echo will do more to add Canadian talent than any other production in the past. While the Disney+ show stars Wisconsin's Alaqua Cox — playing the titular role introduced in the Hawkeye series — she has a solid cast of Canadians supporting her.
Reservation Dogs's Devery Jacobs, born in Kahnawake Mohawk First Nation in Quebec, will play one of the leads, Julie. Alongside Jacobs, Oscar nominee Graham Greene from Six Nations Reserve in Ontario, Edmonton's Cody Lightning and member of the Order of Canada Tantoo Cardinal are also set to star.
The show is scheduled to premiere in summer 2023.
The bigger names aside, there are other Canadians helping to make Marvel work — some behind the scenes.
In the animated I Am Groot series of shorts, fans are treated to stand-alone adventures with their favourite baby seedling: Groot. In one of those episodes, Groot encounters a mysterious, shapeshifting alien who both takes his form, and busts a move.
That alien is voiced by Edmonton voice-actor Trevor Devall. Devall is far from new to the world of Marvel — he's had turns in M.O.D.O.K., a Spider-Man TV series, Marvel Future Avengers as Loki, and even the Guardians of the Galaxy animated series as Rocket Raccoon — but this is his first time in the official MCU canon.
Canadian filmmaker Kari Skogland also entered the MCU for the first time recently as director of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. In an interview with CBC, Skogland said she wanted to take on that series — which showed Black actor Anthony Mackie taking up the mantle of Captain America — to "put into this racially motivated and racially charged conversation some very thoughtful notions for people to come away with and chew on."
And finally, no stranger to superhero or supernatural genres, Montreal-raised, Vancouver-educated Gregory Middleton took on the job of cinematography for the Oscar Isaac-led miniseries Moon Knight. Middleton — who worked on episodes of Game of Thrones, Watchmen and Arrow — told industry news site Below the Line he closely studied related Marvel comics to get the show's distinctive, and disjointed, look.
Behind the comics
Outside of the studio's main continuity, there are a number of Canadians behind the comics the MCU draws from. Essex County and Sweet Tooth writer Jeff Lemire was also behind a Moon Knight comics run that the series borrows from.
And looking forward, Toronto's Mariko Tamaki wrote one of the most popular — and divisive — She-Hulk books out there. That run introduced "grey" She-Hulk: a version of the character that includes callbacks to both the original iteration of the comics Hulk (who was originally grey, but later changed to green due to a printing issue) and a later, more vicious version of the character.
Tamaki's grey version of She-Hulk also saw the character change dramatically — motivated by fear and trauma instead of rage. While that storyline hasn't popped up yet, it could be a well for source material in the future.
And finally, Dinosaur Comics, Jughead and The Unbeatable Squirrel-Girl writer Ryan North was recently announced as the new writer for the Fantastic Four comic series.
The Eisner-winning writer, who famously had lighthearted character the Unbeatable Squirrel-Girl beat up some of Marvel's greatest villains, said the Fantastic Four series will be a series of "smaller, self-contained stories." Even still, North's comics could serve as story fodder for the upcoming Fantastic Four movie, which will kick off the MCU's Phase 6 and has become one of the most anticipated series in the entirety of the MCU.