Comic-Con: 'Avengers' assemble and 'Captain America' and 'Thor' give first looks
Technically, my Comic-Con is over, but I've got a fistful of articles, including this one, before I'm done with my Comic-Con experience. Which guests showed up at things and what happened in general has been well-reported by now. All I can offer at this point is my perspective and my reaction to the footage and the conversations at the various panels I attended, with a final piece that will wrap up all the random little odds and ends left worth sharing, and there will definitely be a few.
The last panel I attended in Hall H this year was the Marvel panel, one of the two most anticipated things for me this time around. I wanted to see "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World," and I wanted to see the Marvel panel. And in both cases, I think they were absolutely worth the anticipation.
The Marvel panel was moderated by Geoff Boucher of the LA Times Hero Complex blog, and it was divided into three distinct parts. First up, Marvel Studios president of production Kevin Feige brought out Joe Johnston, Chris Evans, and Hugo Weaving to represent "Captain America: The First Avenger," and they showed us two bits of footage. The first was a costume test that they managed to build into a sort of a teaser trailer, using a lot of newsreel footage to set the WWII tone properly before revealing two quick shots of Cap standing in a warehouse somewhere. And I mean quick, too. They don't linger at all. After the title comes up, there's one last quick shot of Cap hurling his shield right at the camera, and that's it. It was as big a tease as a tease can be. You can't help but wonder why, and I'm still not sure about what I saw in that quick flash of him in close-up.
The second piece of footage was much more interesting, a rough version of a scene involving The Red Skull invading a secret crypt in Norway. If we were curious about how much "Thor" and "Captain America" would be directly related, this clip answered the question for us. One of the coolest sets I saw when I visited "Thor" during shooting earlier this year was Odin's vault where he keeps all of the most dangerous items in the Universe, the things he has collected from all the remote corners of the Universe. It's part trophy-room, part evidence locker. Odin keeps them there so no one can use them to bring about Ragnarok. And, evidently, not everything he put in there has remained in there, because the scene we watched involved The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) searching this tomb for something he refers to as "The Tesseract." He finds a decoy first, and that looked an awful lot like a Cosmic Cube, for you hardcore Marvel fans. Annoyed, he smashes the decoy, then walks over to an elaborate frieze in the wall, a design that evokes various mythological moments and ideas, and pushes just the right button. A secret chamber slides out of the artwork, and he opens something that bathes him in a blue glow. At this point, Hugo Weaving is still just Hugo Weaving, and the greatest thing about his work here is how he admitted during the Q&A that he modeled his accent after Werner Herzog and Klaus Maria Brandauer. Hearing it, he's definitely favoring the Herzog. It's pretty broad, but appropriate. There's no way to watch something like this and not think of "Raiders Of The Lost Ark" or "Hellboy," and if "Captain America" is as good as either of those films, I'll be a happy man. We didn't see a hint of what to expect from Weaving's eventual transformation, and I'm really curious now about how this film works, story-wise. That's a good thing. That's exactly what this sort of footage should do. Since it was just shot about a week ago, the footage was still roughly edited, but Marvel's confidence in showing it paid off.
The second part of the panel was to introduce "Thor," and they wisely included Natalie Portman in the panel. The audible response to her entrance in the section of Hall H where I was seated made me cackle quietly. Seriously... fanboys loooooooooove her. She is the ideal girl for them. There's a generation that's grown up hopelessly head over heels for her. She was fascinating in talking about her motivation for making this movie, using careful language to make her feelings about "Star Wars" very clear once again. She kept repeating, emphatically, that she decided to do this film because she wanted the experience of working on a big FX driven summer blockbuster pop culture machine, but one directed this time by someone who was interested in both character and in really taking apart the text. She kept referring to Kenneth Branagh's particular background in stage and Shakespeare and how that informs the sort of work he does as a director and the priorities he has in the film. It was very revealing.
They also brought out Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston and Kat Dennings, as well as Agent Coulson, the unlikely lynchpin of the Marvel Universe on film right now. An employee of S.H.I.E.L.D. who basically seemed like a spy division's version of a process server in the first "Iron Man" has become Clark Gregg's steady gig now, and he seemed just as surprised by that as everyone else during his time onstage. Hemsworth is huge, Dennings seemed as plush and bemused as ever, and Hiddleston is completely unrecognizable as Loki when you see him as himself. It's an impressive transformation, and from what I saw of Hiddleston on-set and in the finished footage, I think he might turn out to be the secret weapon for Marvel's next few years of movies.
Oh, yes... the footage.
First, the issue of the 3-D conversion. I think it worked as well as a conversion is going to work, and I think I'm finally figuring out the difference between shooting and converting. When you shoot 3-D like "Drive Angry," the most amazing moments and effects in 3-D are the ones that are real, that you can't predict. When you convert 3-D, everything becomes a choice, so it's all very controlled and methodical. You can do good 3-D conversion. I think the "Green Hornet" stuff looked very good for a conversion. "Thor" offered up a few shots that made the most of it, but really... it's unnecessary.
What impressed was... well... everything else. I disagree with Greg Ellwood, who included "Thor" among his biggest disappointments at the Con. I think "Thor" looks great. I think it looks like one of the coolest Marvel movies so far in terms of story and interpretation of the Marvel iconography. Asgard is gorgeous, and the footage they showed certainly showcased the rich costume design and set work that I saw when I was there. There were shots of pretty much every major character in the film including Colm Feore's Frost Giant character. There were some big action moments, and there was a surprising amount of story included. Thor is the first son, the chosen one, the heir to Odin's kingdom, but he is young and he blows it. He blows it in such a way that Odin has no choice but to humble him, and the footage we saw did a nice job of showing just what a toll it takes on Odin to do it. He casts Thor out, strips him of his powers, and drops Mjolnir to Earth as a reminder to Thor that he can't lift it until he's worthy.
Although they're not using the Donald Blake version of the story where he turns into a skinny gangly doctor with a bum leg, they are using the emotional core of that version. The point was always to take away the things that define Thor to force him to live by his own wits and to earn his way to being considered a hero. Odin turned Thor into Donald Blake for one reason: to humble him. That's definitely the arc that this movie follows, and I think it's a solid solution to the problem. It was never going to work for Marvel to cast two different actors in the film, so this way, we're still going to follow Thor's fall from grace and return to power.
The five minute reel actually starts with Thor in the custody of S.H.I.E.L.D., where Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) is questioning Thor. "It's not easy to do what you did," he says, as we see footage of Thor staging an escape and mopping the floor with Coulson's men. "You made my men, some of the most highly trained men in the world, look like a bunch of mall cops." Coulson asks Thor where he got his training, and that kicks us into the Asgard footage.
"I have sacrificed much to achieve peace. So, too, must a new generation sacrifice to maintain that peace." We see Odin on his throne, and we get a glimpse of Thor, Loki, their mother Frigga, and even the Warriors Three. "Responsibility. Duty. Honor. These are not just virtues to which we must aspire. They are essential to every soldier. And every king." Odin's not just delivering some idle monologue... he's addressing these comments to Thor, who does something truly awful in act one of the film that sets off a chain of events that eventually destroys an entire world and ignites a war. Odin is furious, since he was just about to hand off control of Asgard to Thor, and now he's had to completely reassess his son. "You are a vain, greedy, cruel boy."
"And you are an old man and a fool!"
"Yes. I was a fool... to think you were ready."
Loki tries to intervene, but Odin's had enough. He casts out Thor, stripping him of his power, and we see him land on Earth, where he's discovered by Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings). Thor talks to Jane about how our ideas of magic are simply science that other realms have mastered. There's more footage from Thor's attempt at escape from S.H.I.E.L.D. custody, and we see what Thor was trying to find... Mjolnir, his hammer, embedded in concrete. He tries to pull it free but fails utterly.
On Asgard, we see that Odin is on his deathbed, and Frigga explains to Loki that the line of succession falls to him now. Loki takes over Asgard, and we see him force the Warriors Three to bow before him. The footage got more and more intense, showing battles on both Earth and Asgard, with both realms in danger, building to a great sequence where something lands in the desert. Something big. Something metal. And a team of Coulson's men is there to face it, guns at the ready. "Is that one of Stark's?" asks one of Coulson's men.
"I don't know. They never tell me anything," Coulson replies as he grabs a bullhorn and approaches the thing. He warns it that it is using unregistered weapons technology. And that's when the Destroyer turns on them, its head opening wide to reveal what looks like a laser furnace that belches forth a giant destructive blast or two, ending the trailer with a literal bang.
There were shots of Heimdal, a hint of how the Rainbow Bridge works, and much more. The footage was dense with information, and left me feeling like Branagh has learned a lot about how to shoot action and how to stage something this big in the years since he ruined the "Frankenstein" script completely.
Taken together, those two short panels would have been more than enough for Marvel, but they went the distance by finally bringing out the full "Avengers" cast and their director, Joss Whedon. "When I was a boy, I had a dream," Whedon told the crowd, "and this is waaaaaaaaaaaay cooler than that dream." He promised that he would find a way to drop the ball and disappoint us all, a self-deprecating prediction that I'm fairly sure will not come true.
Overall, it was a huge way to close out Hall H on Saturday night, and the perfect way for Comic-Con to wrap up for me.
Now all I have to do is finish publishing all these articles I have backed up here thanks to the last five days of madness, including that "Inception" re-review, a ton of interviews, and even more Comic-Con wrap-up.
Keep checking in. I should have a crazy amount of stuff for you in the next few days.
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