On Saturday at the New York Comic-Con, Sony promised a panel dedicated to “Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance.” But in a bit of a surprise, they gave fans a first look at two other upcoming genre films on their slate. This being Comic-Con, people expected a glimpse of “The Amazing Spider-Man.” But aside from a stuffed mannequin hanging upside down on the showroom floor, promotion for the upcoming superhero tentpole was completely absent. Instead, Sony, gave us a Len Wiseman horror show.
First up, the director appeared onscreen with a video intro to “Underworld: Awakening,” the fourth film in the series he helped create. He’s only producing this time — Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein (”Shelter”) direct — but his wife, series star Kate Beckinsale, returns to the franchise after sitting out the third part. Wiseman promised a different look to the series, and he was right.
From what we can gather from the footage, the story involves an evil corporation experimenting on werewolves and vampires, pitting the monsters against humans. So it’s not really a whole lot like “Underworld” but rather fellow shitty Screen Gems franchise “Resident Evil.” Do you like clichés? Then this red-band trailer, which promised/threatened 3D for the first time in the franchise, has “Everything they’ve told you is a lie.” It also has, “This is a new war.” Don’t miss, “This day was bound to come,” and “We stand, and we fight!” And finally, our favorite, “Do you have any idea what you’re up against?”
Next, we got another different video introduction from Wiseman, with his next directorial project, the remake of “Total Recall.” The footage begins with Colin Farrell hearing about the Recall program. He walks into a waiting room to be greeted by a white-haired John Cho, who looks like he stepped out of “Tekken,” promising the Recall program would present a new virtual experience, to pretend to be an entirely new person. Maybe even… a spy! The film presents an intriguing hypothetical situation where we’re not sure if Farrell’s Quaid has actually undergone the treatment in front of our eyes, or if it’s been paused before it’s started, with his identity uncovered as an actual spy, a noted departure from the Paul Verhoeven original.
And then… Farrell does kung-fu. In a moment heavily reminiscent of the “Bourne Identity” films, normal guy Quaid begins karate-chopping the armed guards surrounding him. Except this is done in a completely phony 360 camera spin, a flashy, artificial technique designed to allow Farrell’s human movements to be replaced by the moves of a CG-character darting around the room like a robot Jet Li. Of course the effects are unfinished, but it perfectly encapsulates the problem with the blur of footage that follows, a repetitive, generic blend of running, shooting and fighting sequences with the same muted, deadening color tone that made “Live Free Or Die Hard” a chore for anyone who likes their movies with some semblance of intriguing visual storytelling.
Along with henchmen dressed like Stormtroopers, and some nondescript spaceships involved in some aerial warfare, “Total Recall” seems plotted almost exactly like a video game. Oh, this is a good time to mention there’s a fistfight between Jessica Biel and Kate Beckinsale (yes, her again). Bryan Cranston has the final line, suggesting, “You don’t have the most reliable of memories,” which is a nice nod to the audience, who may remember an age when movies weren’t influenced by dull first person shooters.
Finally, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor took the stage, presenting something like a featurette for “Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance”. While the emphasis was placed on the action sequences of the film, which relied heavily on practical effects, the footage was notable for seeing Neveldine and Taylor shooting without a second unit or stunt crew, with one moment showing Neveldine holding a camera while attached to a rig, shooting a stunt man as they both hang over the side of a bridge. Brian clarified their daredevil techniques by shrugging and saying, “But there are two of us!”
The duo then unveiled a new trailer showcasing the violence and a little bit of the edge of this new installment. The Rider is indeed gnarlier and uglier than in the last installment, as one character warns, “A guy on a motorcycle turned three of my guys into matchsticks last night.” And in a bit of lovely scenery chewing, Ciaran Hinds’ Satanic villain refers to how he created Ghost Rider by claiming it’s the “worst fuckin’ deal I’ve ever made.”
“You’re not supposed to be amused by him,” Taylor clarified, speaking of the first film. “He’s darker, scarier, nastier, he’s a demon from Hell. He’s supposed to be intense, and awesome, you really don’t want to be in the same room with him. I don’t want to piss people off, but the way they did it in the first movie, where spikes pop out of his jacket, it seemed a little ’80s metal to me. Like, is Zarathos a fashion designer? Why does he care what the jacket looks like? It just seems wrong.”
‘Spirit Of Vengeance’ is in 3D, but it‘s post-converted. However, Neveldine and Taylor took great pains to defend their post-conversion job. “We tested this a lot, and it was always gonna be a 3D movie,” clarifies Taylor. “We’ve been crazy about 3D for a long time, and we wanted to do ‘Crank 2’ in 3D. We figured out that there’s no way we can shoot the kinda movie we wanted to with 3D rigs. What we found out with post-conversion is, it’s a good as you make it. Saying post-conversion is bad is like saying the CG is bad in this movie, so CG is bad. It’s just what you do with it. In fact, some of the movies you guys really think were shot in 3D, really big movies *cough* ‘Transformers’ *cough* that look really good, awesome 3D movies, the 2D is converted. But there shouldn’t be a stigma. I’ll hold up the 3D in this movie next to any movie, it’s really state of the art, and we care a lot about it, and put a lot of energy into making it look great.”
But this emphasis on new technology doesn’t mean Neveldine and Taylor are abandoning their daredevil tendencies. Taylor laid down an ultimatum by saying, “You’ll see real broken bones in ‘Ghost Rider,’ by the way. We have a rule: if someone breaks a bone, we’re putting it into the movie. When you see ‘Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance’ there’s a guy who jumps off a truck. Pay very close attention to what happens. It’s real. Thanks, Stewart!”
“Underworld: Awakening” hits theaters on January 20, 2012, “Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance” follows on February 17, 2012 and “Total Recall” arrives on August 3, 2012.