There’s a reason all the studio chiefs show up at Comic-Con. They want to see how their show-and-tells play for the fans. They recognize that fanboys and girls don’t represent the entire moviegoing public, but they are the ones who tend to flock to comic-book movies on opening weekend. The spread of people in Hall H–6000 strong when it’s filled to capacity–is young, old, fit, fat, gay, straight, square, hip, geek, nerd, ethnic, white, steam punk, college grads and everything else. It’s an amazing cross-section and the 20-something girls sitting next to me on the right side of the hall (as my iPhone hijacked a ride on a power strip inside the control center), were delighted by the show. At the end of the Marvel panel after a long Saturday in Hall H, they had screamed their lungs out and the long overnight sleep on concrete was well worth it, they told me.
The marketing folks have gotten more sophisticated over the years about what plays best in the hall, what works, what revs up the crowd. And the panel moderators help to map out the strategy for each dog-and-pony show. The Nerdist’s Chris Hardwick is a performer in his own right who is good on his feet as he tugs insights out of his guests, cracks jokes and keeps things moving. The LA Times Hero Complex editor Gina McIntyre became the first woman to moderate a movie panel in Hall H–two, in fact, for Terry Gilliam’s “Zero Theorem” and the 3-D Metallica movie. And EW writer Sarah Vilkomerson was literally moderating her first-ever panel when she took the podium for the rip-roaring Women Who Kick-Ass.
So who came out ahead? Here’s my list of winners and losers of Comic-Con 2013.
1. Marvel was the winner of the Con. Clearly, the other studios are playing catch-up. Here’s why. Nobody understands better than Marvel production chief Kevin Feige how to create material that will please these fans. In Hall H you could see that he knows and understands them. He’s giving them what they want. He’s not shoving something down their throat with scads of advertising dollars, not wowing them with a great VFX trailer. He’s bringing to life beloved characters who exist inside a well-considered consistent universe. So when Tom Hiddleston turns up in full Loki regalia and exhorts “the arena that is known as Hall H” to become his army–“where are your Avengers now?”–the crowd ate it up (see video below).
Feige introduced “Thor: The Dark World,” which is in production now, so is the next “Captain America,” starring Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, and Idris Elba– in one elevator scene clip, Captain America’s place in our world became crystal clear.
James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” starring a trimmed down Chris Pratt as Starlord, plus Zoe Saldana, Lee Pace, Djimon Hounsou, and Benicio del Toro, starts filming August 1– and Glenn Close has been added to the cast.
And outside of Hall H “Avengers” director Joss Whedon hosted Marvel’s Agents of the SHIELD TV series. And introduced the new title for the “Avengers” sequel: Age of Ultron. Huh? Anyway, Marvel is in a good groove.
2. Andrew Garfield gets it too. He made a grand entrance for Sony’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” last time round and is clearly in touch with his inner geek. He understood that if he came in character as Spidey that it would play well for Hall H. Jamie Foxx, who is the new ‘Spider-Man” villain Electro, introduced in good-looking footage, seemed a tad nonplussed by Garfield’s performance, and was relieved when the boyish actor eventually emerged at his side. The movie opens May 2014. (Returning director Marc Webb talks here.)
3. Lionsgate. The so-called seventh studio is flexing its muscles with three strong entries in the next year. The biggest is the sequel to blockbuster “Hunger Games,” “Catching Fire” (November 22) starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson and Sam Claflin as Finnick. The new trailer from director Francis Lawrence, taking over from Gary Ross, looks strong as the story follows closely Suzanne Collins’ novel. (Panel coverage and video here.)
The victors of the last Hunger Games are too popular with the public to be allowed to thrive, so President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and his lieutenant (Philip Seymour Hoffman) determine that they will throw a group of former victors back into a new 75th Hunger Games. This will pit archer Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) against Peeta (Hutcherson) as well as other worthy adversaries.
Lionsgate’s Summit also presented two promising projects based on popular books, “Divergent” and “Ender’s Game.” (Report here.)
4. Twentieth Century Fox scored with their three sequels: Matt Reeves’ “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” starring Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman and Jason Clarke, and their “X-Men” movies, “The Wolverine” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” which returns Bryan Singer to the “X-Men” fold. “The ‘X-Men’ universe is as big as Marvel or DC,” asserted Singer. Fox assembled onstage the casts of the older and younger generation “X-Men.” Hugh Jackman has starred seven times as Wolverine–and trawled the exhibition floor in full costume.
The star introduced footage from the James Mangold installment which opens July 26 (Mangold talks here). Joining Jackman onstage for “Days of Future Past” were Jennifer Lawrence, Ellen Page, Anna Paquin, Halle Berry, Jack Hoult, newcomer Omar Sy (Bishop), Ian McKellan, Patrick Stewart and their younger counterparts Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy, respectively. The crowd went wild. At one of several raucous Comic-Con Hard Rock rooftop parties, “The Wolverine” producer Hutch Parker yelled in my ear, “We got away with making a drama!”
5. Game of Thrones. TV continues to grow at The Con; the cast of Season Three turned up and delighted the fans in a packed Hall H. Whenever a TV star was on a panel, whether Paquin (“X-Men: Days of Future Past”), Peter Dinklage (“Days of Future Past”) or Bryan Cranston (“Godzilla”), they got an oversize welcome. (Panel coverage and videos here.
6. Warner Bros. “Gravity” looks amazing from the footage from Alfonso Cuaron’s 17-minute opening shot, as astronauts George Clooney and Sandra Bullock tinker with some machinery outside of their space station and wind up hammered with debris that knocks out all satellite contact with earth, and spin into space. I cannot wait to see the rest of this movie, which at $80-million plus is expensive for what it is. I agree that it could be this year’s “Life of Pi” and wind up in the Oscar race. It’s opening Venice and playing Toronto, which tells you something. (“Visionaries” Cuaron, Webb and Wright talk here.)
While Warners made a big splash with their Superman/Batman announcement, launching a new Batman inside the David S. Goyer/Zack Snyder “Man of Steel” Superman universe, I’m not convinced they will come out ahead on their DC vs. Marvel move. (I explain why here.)
Having just wrapped production, Gareth Edwards brought some more of Legendary’s “Godzilla” footage and cast members Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, and Elizabeth Olsen to enhance the teaser he showed last year. Working closely with Toho, Edwards tried to craft a believably realistic story bringing humans into contact with these giant monsters–in one clever sequence we see an insect-like giant monster dwarfed by the scale of the real thing. Will “Godzilla” prove more commercially satisfying than “Pacific Rim?” Are people getting tired of CG giants? “My passion is to make a modern day blockbuster,” Edwards earnestly told the Hall H crowd, “that has heart and soul and is slightly artistic, as possible.”
Noam Murro’s green-screen “300: Rise of an Empire” may not rise to the level of Snyder and Frank Miller’s first film, but this Xerxes origin story looks fun. “Game of Thrones” star Lena Headey (Queen Gorgo) narrates the footage, sending off another muscled and under-dressed Greek General, Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) into battle, on water this time, against Xerxes, who slew her husband and his army in the last battle of the Spartans. Artemesia (Eva Green) is the naval commander who turns grieving Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) into a vengeful naked God in gold chains. “She’s a ruthless Joan of Arc,” said Green.
Warners also introduced ‘The Lego Movie,’ voiced by Chris Pratt and Morgan Freeman, among many others. It’s much easier to inhabit the hybrid Lego/CG universe with DC characters like Wonder Woman and Batman, apparently, than with “Justice League.” “Sherlock Holmes” producer Dan Lin is in charge of the project which is directed by the creators of “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.”
7. Tom Cruise. WB’s “Edge of Tomorrow” panel relied on the 50ish movie star, who co-stars with Emily Blunt as a fellow warrior in this futuristic war actioner. Fish-out-of-water white collar soldier Cruise is plopped beside trained soldiers wearing exo-skeletal armor –led by bad-ass Bill Paxton–as they prepare to go to war. Doug Liman directs, but clearly Cruise is running that show.
8. “Robocop” not only looks smart, but it’s actually about something, the politics and ethics of drone warfare. Sony/MGM brought in Brazilian director Jose Padilha of “Elite Squad” fame (interviewed here), who has clearly brought intelligence to this update of the 80s classic. I like the cast: Joel Kinnaman (“The Killing”) in the lead role, Abbie Cornish as his wife, Michael Keaton as a billionaire believer in robotic warfare–a rebuilt human with a human finger to pull the trigger gets him out of legal limbo–and Samuel L. Jackson as a newscaster.
9. “The World’s End.” Brit director Edgar Wright and his frequent collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are always welcome in Hall H; the panel for the end of their Working Title Cornetto trilogy played like gangbusters. This time the guys join their buddies for a reunion pub crawl in their home town–but run smack into an alien invasion when they get there.
10. “Metallica Through the Never” scored with Hall H in splendid 3-D. Director Nimrod Antal (“Armored”) showcases the heavy metal rock band’s extravagant stage with all its bells and whistles. Antal collaborated closely with Metallica, combining a concert video with a dramatic script written by the band members about a roadie (Dane DeHaan, who also stars in the next “Amazing Spider-Man”) who gets trapped in a battle outside the arena. Picturehouse is platforming the picture on IMAX theaters on September 27 before going wide.
Losers: Movies that looked like cookie-cutter imitations of something else. List below.
1. Legendary’s “The Seventh Son,” directed by Sergei Bodrov and starring a grizzled Jeff Bridges with an impenetrable accent as the last Exorcist demon witch hunter; “Game of Thrones” star Kit Harington seemed embarrassed to be in the movie, which also stars Ben Barnes and a lot of over-sized ugly flying hulking CG demons. These creatures turn up in a lot of movies these days.
2. Stuart Beattie’s “I, Frankenstein,” starring Aaron Eckhart as the Mary Shelley creature 200 years later, scars mostly healed, reimagined as a superhero. I kid you not. “Underworld” creator Kevin Grevioux, who decided to write this as a graphic novel, was also on the Lionsgate panel. The same demons and creatures show up here.
3. Cassandra Clare’s “Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” (WB, August 21) is yet another young adult fantasy series turned into a movie, directed by Harold Swartz and starring recent Snow White Lily Collins and Jamie Bower as Buffy-like demon hunters. More hideous CG creatures. Enough already.
4. “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2.” Snooze.