The haunting Harley Quinn anchors the official 'Suicide Squad' trailer release
Credit: Warner Bros.

The haunting Harley Quinn anchors the official 'Suicide Squad' trailer release

Say what you will, but DC's making some big choices

I believe David Ayer when he says that he's pissed about the leak of the "Suicide Squad" trailer over the weekend.

I also believe he's got nothing to worry about when it comes to the official release of that footage this afternoon, because the more I look at it, the more I like what he's doing. It feels like DC Films is off to a wildly divisive start, and this is going to be more of the same, and frankly, I'm fine with that. It gets boring when everyone loves everything. One of the things that is clear from the response to the DC Films footage shown this weekend is that it will not be for everyone, and they are making big, clear choices about how they're going to approach this world they're building.

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From Tarantino to 'Shazam,' fourteen more impressions from Comic-Con 2015
Credit: 20th Century Fox

From Tarantino to 'Shazam,' fourteen more impressions from Comic-Con 2015

There's plenty to love and some not to love about the year's biggest geek event

There were a number of things I did and said in San Diego this year that are not going to be covered as separate articles. In some cases, someone else at HitFix was in the room to write the thing up. In some cases, it's just about time. Whatever the case, though, here are some random impressions to help round out my coverage of the single biggest nerd hype event of the year.

1. Rob Kazinsky should be our new Shazam

I met Kazinsky on the set of "Pacific Rim," and while I thought he was solid in that film, his Australian accent was a nightmare. One of the things that I found most engaging at the Entertainment Weekly "New Warriors" panel was the way he offered that accent up as his greatest career regret so far. "You don't have to stop me on the street and tell me," he said. "Believe me. I know."

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'Krampus' and 'Crimson Peak' anchor creepy Legendary Comic-Con panel
Credit: Universal/Legendary

'Krampus' and 'Crimson Peak' anchor creepy Legendary Comic-Con panel

Thomas Tull backs up some filmmakers he's been betting on for a while

I remember when Legendary Pictures threw a panel in a smaller room in the San Diego Convention Center, giving away copies of "Mass Effect 2" to anyone who showed up to hear them talk about their plans for movies like "Seventh Son," "The Great Wall," and an adaptation of "Mass Effect."

They've come a long way. At that point, they were partnered with Warner Bros., and they were looking to define who they were are a company. Oh, sure, they were major financial and creative players on any number of big films already, like Nolan's first two Batman films, Snyder's "300" and "Watchmen," "The Hangover," "Inception," and my beloved "Where The Wild Things Are." But talking to Thomas Tull, talking to Jon Jashni, it was clear that what they craved were films that were theirs from start to finish, movies that they felt undisputedly reflected their sensibilities. It was strange seeing them do a separate panel that year. "Sucker Punch" was on display in Hall H as part of the Warner Bros panel, but they also had their own personal projects they were presenting. It felt like the beginning of the schism that eventually led to the company moving to Universal, where they've just had their first gigantic hit as a team in the form of "Jurassic World". It's interesting that Universal did not come to the convention this year. The panel in Hall H today was Legendary, start to finish, and was about the movies that they've been working on internally, films that are personally important to Thomas Tull in very particular ways.

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Batman, Superman, and so much more at the Warner Comic-Con panel
Credit: Warner Bros

Batman, Superman, and so much more at the Warner Comic-Con panel

We're live-blogging every minute of Saturday's big kickofff

So... Warner is running a little late.

Maybe Zack Snyder is still exhausted from driving the Batmobile around San Diego last night.

As always, Warner Bros. has added more screens, and it wraps around the audience further than every before. Aisha Tyler was brought out as a moderator of the panel, which is a nice change-up.

The first big blast of footage was for "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.", and it looks like a party. I have a huge fetish for '60s spy films, and it's pretty obvious Guy Ritchie does as well. Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill look like a really solid comic and action team, and Alicia Vikander continues her triumphant 2015 with a role that looks like it's going to be huge fun.

Cavill, Hammer, and Vikander walked out to sit with Tyler, and they jumped into talking about the tone of the film, which is blatantly funny but also a very real spy thriller. Elizabeth Debicki, who plays the bad guy in the film, is also on the panel, and probably the least known of the people up there. Talking about the style of the '60s, though, it's clear that one of the things that was fun for the cast is the glamour and the costuming and the fashions of the era. Everyone got to play big accents, and Hammer talked about how his Russian accent "made everything sound more badass."

I was surprised by the length of the clip, and in some ways, I feel like this is perfect movie for what Guy does. There's so much style inherent to the era, and he gets to stage real action scenes even as he takes the piss out of the machismo driving all of it. Just like that, though, they were done with "U.N.C.L.E." and on to the next thing.

Is this Joe Wright's first Comic-Con? The director takes the stage with Levi Miller, who is making his film debut as Peter Pan. Garrett Hedlund and Hugh Jackman also take the stage as Hook and Blackbeard. The clip they showed to bridge the introduction features the pirate ship against a bunch of WWII fighter planes in the sky over London, which is certainly not an image I would expect from the story.

Joe said, "My young son has been having nightmares, so I want to make this film as dark as I can to show them that no matter how dark a vision is, you can survive it and come through it intact" when he first pitched the film to Hedlund. Jackman went on to explain that everything in the film is as physical as possible, with sets built to the horizon if at all possible. At one point, they couldn't find Joe on the set for almost 15 minutes because of just how big the stage was and how intricate the set was. Jackman used the word "visionary" repeatedly.

The new footage is very pretty, which is no surprise based on Joe Wright directing, but I will admit that the more emphasis they place on "the prophecy" and turning Peter Pan into "the chosen one," the more uncomfortable I get. It's the same mistake they made in Tim Burton's "Alice In Wonderland," and it demonstrates a paucity of narrative imagination and a misunderstanding of the original text. I am very, very tired of "chosen one" narratives, and I don't understand why that is the only story studios seem to understand.

Having said that, I like the way the cast looks in the new trailer, and I'm excited to see Garrett Hedlund having fun on film. Jackman's going very big as Blackbeard, and Rooney Mara appears to actually be able to smile. Go figure.

They also screened the introduction of Blackbeard, which is about as big as I've ever seen Jackman go in anything. The scene is all about the way all the abducted children are brought to Neverland to serve as pirates for Blackbeard, and he lays out the rules for them. Seeing the way Jackman dug into the role makes it look like fun. Garrett Hedlund's Hook is also in the scene, silently watching what's happening, and the big tension of the film is watching how he goes from sympathetic friend to Peter to his greatest enemy by the end of the film.

Joe Wright talked about how odd Barrie's book is and how that's still his main source of inspiration for this film. He likes how the characters are drawn without any definitive sense of good or bad. Peter is a bit of a creep in the book, which is one of the things I've always loved about Barrie's writing.

Again... very quick. Just like that, "Pan" is done, and we're on to the next thing.

And that "next thing" is the DC Films presentation. First of all, "Green Lantern Corps" appears to be the title of the Green Lantern film they're going to make. Second of all, "Suicide Squad" looks bonkers. As it should.

David Ayer walked out, fresh from the Toronto set, to introduce his cast. "It's all about canon. It's all about the source material. You guys know what you freakin' want. And you're going to get it with this shit. This good versus evil shit is played out. It's time for bad versus evil."

The trailer is pretty damn persuasive. Creepy and weird all the way through, with plenty of perversion of superhero iconography, the trailer ends with a quick shot of Leto's Joker that makes a case for him doing his own thing with the character. "I'm not going to kill you," he tells someone as he brings out a pair of shock treatment paddles. "I'm just going to hurt you real bad."

They brought out the entire line-up of characters, minus Joker, so we saw Kitana, Slipknot, Enchantress, Diablo, Killer Croc, Captain Boomerang, Col. Rick Flagg, Amanda Waller, Harley Quinn, and Deadshot lined up together. Will Smith promised us that the film's going to be insane, and then they were gone. Based on what we saw, I fully anticipate that I am going to get a life-size Harley Quinn tatttoo on my back when the film comes out. Is that wrong?

Zack Snyder came out to introduce his cast for the next segment. Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams, Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, and Jeremy Irons all came out to take their seats, and then Zack introduced a piece of footage that was put together for this panel.

And, I'm sorry... I've heard the bitching and the grumbling and the whining for the last two years, and I am tired of it. There has never been any superhero cinema that looks like what Snyder is doing. He's creating massive, amazing mythic imagery, and if you're not onboard, that's too bad for you. This film absolutely picks up from the end of "Man Of Steel," and we got a glimpse of what begins that conflict here when we see that Bruce Wayne was in Metropolis for that fight at the end of "Man Of Steel." He watched Wayne Tower fall, and he was right there in the rubble at the end of it. As Batman begins to push back against what he sees as a threat, Clark Kent goes after Batman in print, and little by little, the stage is set for a massive battle.

It is obvious that Lex Luthor ends up with the body of General Zod, and that Luthor manipulates both the government, represented by Holly Hunter's Senator character, and Bruce Wayne. Snyder said that Gotham and Metropolis in this film are sister cities like Oakland and San Francisco, so the geography is a bit different from what comic fans are used to.

Jeremy Irons talked about how his Alfred is not the Alfred we know. "I followed the boss and tried to make him safe and happy and grow up a little."

Gal Gadot, who we saw in action briefly in the footage, talked about how much she was thrilled to play both strong and beautiful in the film, and then Eisenberg complained that's how he wanted to play Lex Luthor, but she took it from him.

Adams, who has never been to Comic-Con, seemed a little surprised by the energy in the room. She talked about how she wanted to play Lois Lane from when she was five years old. "I was willing and open to bring a very modern take on her and just embrace this really strong women. It's this wonderful thing women have where we have this emotional intelligence that Zack let me bring to Lois."

"I have this vision of the character that you're perfect for," Zack Snyder told Ben Affleck. "He's burned out, he's at the end of his rope, he's older." He talked about taking his kid to get a Batman costume for Halloween, and running into Christian Bale in the aisle where the Batman outfits were. He asked him for tips and Bale said, "Make sure you can piss in that suit."

Henry added that they gave him a zipper this time, which they did not on "Man Of Steel."

Alisha brought up the idea that Superman would obviously destroy Batman in a direct fistfight, and asked how they're handling that. "This Batman is almost like MechaBatman."

"It's a self-preservation concept," Snyder said. "It's not really enhancing his strength, so much as it's buying him time."

Affleck responded to an adorable kid's questions about the philosophical side of the film by saying, "Zack and Chris put together some really interesting ideas about Metropolis being successful and Gotham being a city where the downtrodden live. It's about some very smart ideas about wealth and power. It's smart, so I'm even more proud to be part of it."

He also said, "I remember a day about two weeks in where I read the scene and came in and thought I knew how it would work, and Zack did the whole thing in one shot. I thought, 'Fuck, I would never do that,' and I remember thinking we were in good hands."

Watching the footage the second time, I'm even more sold. It's gorgeous and gigantic. I am particularly struck by the moments with Lois and Ma Kent both talking to Superman about his role in this world, and how he has to make some big choices. "You don't owe this world anything," Ma Kent tells him, "and you never did."

Plus Superman rips the top off the Batmobile. So that happened.

That's wrapping things up for now. I'll be back later for the Legendary Panel. See you then.

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We live-blogged the 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Comic-Con panel!
Credit: Walt Disney/Lucasfilm

We live-blogged the 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Comic-Con panel!

Are there big surprises in store for fans today? We sure hope so

It's been a big day so far. I enjoyed the hell out of the "Game Of Thrones" panel just as a fan, and I'm assuming we'll see Gwendolyn Christie back onstage during this panel to talk about her work at Captain Phasma. The line-up's been a secret, though, so I'm as in the dark as you are.

It's ten minutes after the announced start time of 5:30 and they're not even close to starting. This is one of those frustrating moments, since I'm running from here to moderate a panel on "Kung Fury," and I've got very little room to negotiate. Even so, I'm here till the bitter end just in case there's something amazing worth sharing with you.

Eddie Ibrahim, director of Comic-Con, looks pleased as punch to finally introduce the "Star Wars" panel. "There is some special stuff we're going to be seeing tonight, and we would hope they'll feel comfortable bringing more special stuff in the years to come. Please don't record ANY of what we see on the screen." If that actually works, I will be delighted. This is important, because this is the beginning of a long-term plan by Disney and Lucasfilm.

Chris Hardwicke takes the stage, which I think makes his third time up there today. He mentions that this has been something that some of us have been waiting for now for decades, and it's true. This is one of those things that is larger than just "fandom," and it is part of the fabric of many people's lives. I know that with my own kids, it's one of the things that we share that almost feels like a special secret language. I complain sometimes about Comic-Con, but I am genuinely thrilled to be here.

Kathleen Kennedy, JJ Abrams, and Lawrence Kasdan are the first three to walk out and take their seats. "Kathleen, I want you talk a little bit about how 'Star Wars' is one of the things that helped create the age of Comic-Con, and can you talk about that relationship with fandom?"

"It was really the fans that built the momentum around the release of 'A New Hope,' and we're back here in full circle, so we want to say thank you to all of you."

Chris asked JJ where they are in production now. "We're editing. We have a cut of the movie. We have had the time to do it right, and for Disney to give it to us is not a small thing."

Having Lawrence Kasdan onstage is a big deal. He is one of the main authors of that original trilogy, after all. "The guy that brought me in is the genius who brings us all here. George Lucas. He was an absolute genius. He called me and said, 'Will you do this for me?' So we did 'Empire' and 'Return,' and then 30 years passed. And then a call came in and they said, 'Will you come back and return to these characters?'"

JJ talked about how strange it is for him to go from being a 13-year-old kid who made a Jawa costume for Halloween to being a director showing John Williams "Star Wars" scenes that he hadn't seen yet. That's amazing as a moment. Chris asked him about building things physically and why he did it, and JJ mentioned the UNICEF video that first showed off some of the sets and the creatures, and how that helped turn some of the reactions by fandom.

They then walked Baba Joe, the creature from that video, out onto the stage to show that he is a physical thing. Neal Scanlon's team built hundreds of similar creatures for the film. Whether they're big giant bounty hunter creatures or robots or giant weird pig monsters, it's all about giving the cast a feeling of being in a real world, interacting with real things. It's delightful to watch the little behaviors by Baba Joe as he walked around, and having things like him in the background makes the world feel alive.

"Of course with 'Star Wars,' there are plenty of visual FX and there will be CG. It's unavoidable. But it's about building a world that those things fit into."

Since it's Comic-Con, of course the first audience question was from Batman. He asked about what they used to pull things from in creating the film, whether it's the comics, the books, the EU, or even other movies. JJ said that the films were the primary source, and that having Lawrence Kasdan as part of the process is pretty much all you need. After all, if he says that this is the way Han Solo sounds, then that's the way Han Solo sounds.

"Ultimately, we wanted to tell a story that would make people feel." I can't ask for more, and the next person up talked about how precious "Star Wars" is to her and to fans in general. She asked how JJ even began to approach that responsibility.

"I think I feel more pressure answering your question. I watched 'Star Wars' with my parents, too. The only answer I can say is because we love it and care about it so much, our job is not to be blinded by it. Being a fan is not enough. What's the story? When you're directing a scene on the Millennium Falcon, it doesn't make it good. If I can give you any advice, I would say to direct a scene on the Millennium Falcon, but it doesn't make it automatically good. It still has to be fun or scary or whatever. You can't be blinded by it. What does it mean? Why are we doing this? We worked as hard as we possibly could."

Kathleen talks about how the saga films are part of one main story, and the anthology films are a separate thing that will each stand on their own.

Chris asked if there was anything they could show. "We aren't ready to show you scenes from the movie or the new trailer, but we knew this was too important and we wanted to bring something unique and unexpected. We put together a piece that we hope will bring you into the process of what it was like to make this movie."

The footage is beautiful. It's all behind the scenes stuff, but there's a huge emotional kick to seeing the familiar faces and characters on the screen, and the first thing I'll point out is that Simon Pegg is in the damn movie. There is a shot of him in a costume of some sort with the head off, and I can't wait to find out what he is.

John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and Daisey Ridley then walked out to start talking about their work on the film. Boyega is out of his mind happy right now, and I get it. When I met him in Austin for the first screening of "Attack The Block," he already struck me as someone very serious about his craft, but to step into a world that made him want to make films is something that seems like a dream come true. Boyega talked about the misery of shooting in a stormtrooper outfit in Abu Dhabi in the summer. Ridley talked about working out to be able to handle whatever physical demands were thrown her way. And Oscar Isaac talked about how he tried to approach being a space pilot seriously, only to be reminded by Harrison Ford, "It's fake."

Isaac also talked about how he approached playing Dameron Poe in a way that really incorporated his own fandom. "Poe has grown up hearing about these legends and he's wanted to be one of them, so he really throws himself into situations, sometimes recklessly."

Talking about diversity, Abrams said that none of the characters were written with a particular ethnic background in mind. The casting was all about finding actors they loved, and making sure that when people see the film, it reflects the world that we live in.

Kennedy added that they plan to carry on that sort of casting idea in every one of the upcoming movies.

One of the questions someone asked was fairly mercenary, filled with words like "transmedia" and "IP," and Abrams stepped him back on that a bit. "I'm fascinated that you use the word IP so frequently. This is a story. If we thought of it as an IP, this would be very different."

The next guy up asked about working with the original cast and how that felt. Isaac said, "Harrison thought I was wearing a wig. So that was cool."

Rildey said, "Working with the legends who made this universe was everything we could have hoped for and more. They were warm and funny and made us feel part of things."

Boyega talked about taking Harrison Ford to a Nigerian restaurant in London, and everyone reacted when they walked in. One guy asked, "Are you Harrison Ford?" and Harrison answered, "I used to be."

Finally, they brought out Adam Driver, who is Kylo Ren, Domhnall Gleeson, and Gwendolyn Christie, who got one of the biggest responses of the day, and deservedly so. This may be the first time we've heard "General Hux" as Gleeson's name.

Asked about being representatives of the Dark Side, Driver said he can't really explain anything about his connection. He looked to JJ to see if there was anything he could say, and he seemed careful. "We didn't have a lot of conversations about bad or evil." He looks at his character as being "right," and how that is a very strong motivation for a character. It's all about feeling morally justified.

Gleeson on the other hand seemed almost happy to say, "I am evil."

"Is your character really flat-out evil?" Chris asked.

"He's British. So yeah."

Christie talked about playing a female Stormtrooper and the thrill of playing a female character who is not defined in any way by her flesh. She is a powerful gender warrior, and it's been a kick watching how joyous she is today.

Domhnall talked about how his character works at Starkiller Base, something that was not meant to be revealed today. That was something he was told about during the first casting meeting, and like him, Christie said she never quite believed it was real, even once they started shooting.

When someone asked a question about Darth Plagueis, Kasdan seemed confused and asked if the guy was referring to Las Vegas in some way. Many of the audience questions were uber-nerdy and really didn't reveal much. What I enjoyed was seeing how fond Boyega and Ridley are of each other and how sweet their relationship is.

And then Carrie Fisher walked out. Holy shit. She sat down and purred, "Oh, you came. What are the odds?"

She described her first day on the set as an acid flashback, and said she felt like this was never going to really come back around. "It was a little bit like before, but we all looked more melted this time." She talked about how the original cast were referred to as the "Legacy people," which led into the introduction of Mark Hamill. They threw up a picture on the screen of Mark at a 1976 science fiction convention in Kansas, which is sort of remarkable. They had a total of 25 pictures they could show, no footage, and R2-D2, and they had to try to explain to people what to expect.

Asked if they had anything to say to fans who have been around from the start, Hamill said, "It's hard to describe. When I meet you on the street, everyone has a story. I met my wife at a screening or my son is named Luke. It's almost like an out-of-body experience. I see it put together and it's not me, it's Luke. I never take it for granted." He talked about being on his honeymoon in Tahiti and finding some guy in a motorboat wearing a Darth Vader mask and being totally blown away to see how far the film had reached.

Carrie talked about how people tell her about the generational thing, sharing the films with their children. Mark talks about handing over ownership to a new generation. And then, yes... Harrison Goddamn Ford joined them. The trio is onstage. The moment we've waited for since childhood just happened.

I love that he's an old pro at Hall H by this point. I was here for the first time he took that stage, and he's so much more relaxed and at home this time. They asked him how he's doing and how his foot is, and he said he's fine now. "It should have felt ridiculous," he said about stepping onto set. "It was 30 years ago, and I sort of grew up. Yet here I was doing something I did so long ago, and I will tell you that it felt great. I wasn't so sure it would, but the company was the right company. The director was the right directory. Larry wrote us a wonderful story. And I was proud and grateful to once again be involved. The original 'Star Wars' really was the beginning of my working life. I was very grateful for the opportunity I had and for the success of that film. It was great to be back. Thank you." He sounded genuinely emotional, and I think most of us felt the same way.

One last round of audience questions kicked off. Asked what the difference in theme is this time, Harrison said, "It's not a difference. It's a development, and it's a natural progression that has taken place from the stories we told in the first three. Perhaps there's an emotional rounding of the experience that we all had in the first three films."

"I was just glad I didn't have to go to Toshi Station to pick up any power converters," Mark added.

"We were more grown up this time," Carrie said, and then they started quoting lines that must have tied them in knots on the original, laughing about those experiences like they just happened. Even better was Mark talking about the trauma of learning that Leia was his sister, leading to him and Carrie quoting "Chinatown," one of those truly strange moments that could only happen at Comic-Con.

Harrison talked about how he never really thought about where his character might end up, but how the script for "The Force Awakens" moved him because of how rich and smart it was.

JJ announced that everyone in the room is going to walk to a "Star Wars" concert right now from Hall H. I will not be there, unfortunately, but this is amazing, and for fans, this is about as great as it gets.

I'm off, but this was a wonderful afternoon, and it really does feel like "Star Wars" is in the right hands.

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Colin Trevorrow rumored to be directing 'Star Wars Episode 9'
Credit: Walt Disney/Lucasfilm

Colin Trevorrow rumored to be directing 'Star Wars Episode 9'

We'll know by Friday evening if this one's true or not

As I was heading to bed, I saw Umberto Gonzalez post a piece of breaking news that will presumably be confirmed by the "Star Wars" panel later today in Hall H.

Colin Trevorrow, director of "Jurassic World," is reportedly set to direct "Star Wars: Episode 9."

Right now, Rian Johnson is gearing up on "Episode 8," and JJ Abrams is hard at work wrapping up post-production on "The Force Awakens," our re-introduction to the ongoing saga of the Skywalker family. It is a fascinating time for me as a first generation "Star Wars" fan. At this point, my kids are far more actively engaged in fandom than I am. They religiously watch "Star Wars: Rebels," they've seen every episode of "The Clone Wars" about a dozen times, and they have watched the six films so many times that they've internalized them.

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Review: 'The Gallows' is bottom-of-the-barrel genre junk without any scares
Credit: Warner Bros

Review: 'The Gallows' is bottom-of-the-barrel genre junk without any scares

And that's the nice way of saying it

Anytime you make statements about an entire style of filmmaking, you are going to be proven wrong. I could say, "I don't like found-footage horror films anymore," and in general, that may be true, but then something comes along that works and you have to retract the big broad statement.

I think the simple test is this: would the story you are telling be scary if you shot it a different way?

The "Paranormal Activity" series is an interesting example of this. I like the overall story that series has been telling, and I think there's an interesting mythology that they've built. The actual storytelling is tied directly in to the use of the "found footage," though, and I'm not sure you could make those movies a different way and still tell that story. I liked "Afflicted" a lot recently, which could easily have worked as a conventional horror film. In that case, the found footage technique managed to draw you in and make it feel like a personal record of a trip that then goes wrong.

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Ben Affleck reportedly set to co-write and direct standalone Batman film
Credit: Warner Bros

Ben Affleck reportedly set to co-write and direct standalone Batman film

Geoff Johns will co-write the film with the star

If you'd asked me to guess what news would break at this year's Comic-Con, "Ben Affleck set to direct stand-alone Batman film" would have been in the top three, right behind "Bryan Singer announces X-Men/Fantastic Four crossover movie for 2018."

Looks like at least one of those is coming true.

Deadline was first to report that Affleck is working with Geoff Johns to co-write a Batman film that will pick up where "Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice" ends. This is not a huge surprise. From the moment he signed to play the character, there has been conversation at the studio about Affleck directing a solo film. What's new here is that the script is coming together quickly, and it looks like Affleck will head directly into this film when he finishes directing his next Dennis Lehane adaptation, "Live By Night."

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Jennifer Lawrence can't say goodbye to Katniss at final 'Hunger Games' panel
Credit: Lionsgate

Jennifer Lawrence can't say goodbye to Katniss at final 'Hunger Games' panel

Comic-Con starts with a goodbye from one of the biggest franchises this year

As the Lionsgate panel begins, I find myself surrounded by drummers, including an entire marching band drum corp standing two feet from me, all of them banging away at top volume while my brain, still sore from the HitFix party the night before, tries to escape from my head.

Welcome to Comic-Con 2015.

Conan O'Brien sounded like an odd choice for moderator when he was originally announced, but of course he was charming and funny and kept things moving. When he took the stage, he snarled, "I'm Team Josh and I'll fight anyone who isn't!", and was immediately offered at least five fights in response. When he made the announcement about how no one should take any video of the clips that would be shown, he added, "Rest assured I will be shooting all of this on my iPhone, and I'll have it up on the Internet in 40 minutes."

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Review: Marvel's 'Ant-Man' has a giant heart and a sly sense of humor
Credit: Marvel Studios

Review: Marvel's 'Ant-Man' has a giant heart and a sly sense of humor

Charm more than carries the day in this most unusual superhero movie

I am already tired of the conversation about what would have been different if Edgar Wright had stayed onboard to direct "Ant-Man," the latest movie from Marvel Studios. As the writing credits on the film reflect, much of what Edgar did with his co-writer Joe Cornish is still intact, and they were the ones who cracked the way to bring one of the strangest members of the Avengers to the screen for the first time.

There is plenty of director Peyton Reed and co-writers Paul Rudd and Adam McKay on display here, too, though, and one of the things that makes "Ant-Man" stand out is that it's one of the most effortlessly charming films that Marvel has made so far. It was a big part of the appeal of last year's "Guardians Of The Galaxy," as well, although this film has a very different sensibility. In basic structure, the film hits some of the same beats as "Iron Man," with a disgruntled second-in-command trying to stage a hostile takeover using a modified version of the hero's weaponry. But when you look at the difference between the way the two films feel, it's clear that there is still plenty of room to make these films feel individual.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a career criminal who's just getting out of his latest stint in prison, and he's determined to go straight this time. After all, he's got some pretty strong motivation in the form of his young daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson, who seems omnipresent these days). His ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer) has moved on, and the guy she's picked as a replacement for Scott, Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), is pretty much his polar opposite, a cop. Scott's intentions may be good, but he finds himself frustrated at every turn, and it doesn't help that he's living with his former prison cellmate Luis (Michael Pena), who has some ideas for how he and Scott can put their skills to good use.

When Scott does finally give in to temptation, it brings him to the attention of Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), an eccentric but well-known scientist whose company is no longer under his control. Instead, Pym Industries is being run by Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), and they're working to perfect a military application for a miniaturization process that was based on some of Pym's early work. Fans of the comics already know that Pym played a pivotal role in the early days of the Marvel universe, and there's an opening scene that hints at that role, and it features a startlingly realistic young Michael Douglas, de-aged digitally by the same team who put Chris Evans's head on a skinny body. The work here is almost spooky, especially since we know what a young Michael Douglas looked and sounded like.

"Ant-Man" has one of the slower starts to a Marvel movie, and it takes a little while to really find its rhythms. Once Scott is in contact with Hank and his daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lily), the movie really hits its stride, and for fans of heist films in general, there's a fun attitude that the movie strikes. The characters are clearly drawn, and simply motivated, leaving plenty of room to just enjoy the undeniably weird side of the entire concept. After all, this is a superhero who shrinks to bug size and who can communicated telepathically with ants.

The film builds and builds, with a third act that is preposterous fun both because of how it is staged and because it keeps the emphasis on the personal. This may be the most intimate movie so far in the main Marvel movie universe, even though it ultimately proves to be an essential puzzle piece in many ways. We learn a lot in this film about characters we have yet to meet as well as characters we've known for a while now, and there are two separate post-movie stings. One comes mid-credits, and one is at the end, and they're both pretty great. In the first one, Evangeline Lily delivers the single most meta line in any of the Marvel movies so far, one that should have female fans cheering and that speaks to where the movies could be heading soon.

Reed's touch is most firmly felt in the way the characters relate here. There is a relaxed comic energy to the film that really works, and Paul Rudd is a perfect Scott Lang. He's nothing like the standard issue Marvel hero so far, and the movie is better for it. He has tremendous chemistry with Michael Pena and with Evangeline Lily, and both of them walk away looking great thanks to the roles they're playing. The film has a very different visual feel than the last few Marvel films, with the decision to use largely real macro-lensed photography to create the backgrounds for the miniature sequences paying off beautifully. There's also an introduction of a new dimension, the Quantum Realm, that is flat out gorgeous, and a fascinating new plaything for storytellers working at Marvel.

There's something gratifying about a film like this, where most of the third act takes place inside a child's bedroom, after seeing a movie as gigantically scaled as "Avengers: Age Of Ultron." It is a reminder that just because these movies all come from Marvel, there is no obligation to make them all feel like the exact same movie. I like the way the film thematically deals with the promises and the heartbreak that exist between fathers and children, and I love a middle-of-the-movie sequence that folds into "Ultron" in a most unusual way. "Ant-Man" has its own voice, no doubt thanks to all of the talent involved, and it stands as a surprisingly sturdy success for the studio, a delightfully weird little movie that has no business working this well.

"Ant-Man" is in theaters July 17th.

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