Review: Fantastic Four (2015)

fantastic-four-miles-teller-nerd Sifting through the rubble of Fantastic Four has proven a fascinating exercise. It is a project wrought with problems, from the very public feud between director Josh Trank and studio 20th Century Fox, to the tonal mishmash of scenes in the final product. I’m reminded of the making of Superman II, another film which saw its director’s vision overtaken and remade by new management. Which is precisely why film scholars will love dissecting this new Fantastic Four, the third cinematic attempt to bring Marvel’s First Family to the screen – to exercise their observational skills and debate the merits of two wildly opposing approaches. It’s a debate we’ll likely be having for years to come.

The film opens promisingly; two aspiring young boys with scientific know-how develop a tiny teleportation machine in their garage, but they are ridiculed at every turn by their adult superiors. Finally, as adult Reed Richards and Ben Grimm (Miles Teller and Jamie Bell, respectively), the boys are discovered by Dr. Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his daughter Sue (Kate Mara) and given a full scholarship to the Baxter Institute to pioneer a full-size version of the transporter to send humans to an alternate dimension. Without giving too much away, the new dimension leads the young heroes, including Dr. Storm’s devil-may-care son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) and the scoffing elitist Victor (Toby Kebbell) to acquiring bizarre powers that they must struggle to come to terms with.

This is all strongly inspired by the first issues of Marvel’s Ultimate Fantastic Four comic by Mark Millar, Brian Michael Bendis, and Adam Kubert. It’s also far darker and more solemn than the original Stan Lee/Jack Kirby material of the 60’s, or any previous incarnations of the Four on film. In place of the realism offered by his found-footage superhero drama Chronicle, Trank peppers his Four with some funny, genuine dialogue that feels refreshing in a subgenre known for cheesy one-liners. But where Trank really deviates from the material is after the heroes receive their powers, in what Trank describes as “Cronenbergian body horror” after the style of director David Cronenberg. Trank shows the heroes in great pain after their transformations – Johnny constantly feels the burn of the fire around him, Sue can’t stay visible, etc. It’s a pretty far cry from the source material, but a compelling angle nonetheless.

And then the movie breaks. Hard.

Then it cranks into reverse and screams backwards.

We abruptly cut to “1 Year Later.” Characters are now acting completely out of character, awkwardly reshot sequences (look for Kate Mara’s wig) are being intercut into the movie to weave scenes together, and we’re taken on an entirely different narrative thread that clashes with the tone and direction of the first act.

It is abundantly clear this is the point in the film where Fox was taking some serious issues with Trank’s work, and we can feel the corporation yanking the reigns away from Trank to get their major summer tentpole back into standard superhero territory. Our heroes decide to use their powers for good, our villain is quickly introduced, and a big, epic battle for our world and the new dimension ensues. We are left to wonder what was really so objectionable in Trank’s approach that led to the studio releasing such a hugely disjointed version instead. Fantastic Four ends up two very different halves of an incomplete whole.

Granted, Trank’s vision was probably never going to be the Fantastic Four movie fans wanted. Indeed, the film is actually at its worst when it’s forced to hearken back to its pulp tradition – one scene sees a younger Ben Grimm’s abusive brother running at him announcing, “It’s clobberin’ time!” Oof.

The problem is that both the Fantastic Four comic and Trank’s vision can’t really be reconciled. Fantastic Four is supposed to be about family, about a group of very different personalities learning to work together as a unit. But neither Fox nor Trank develop the characters enough to where, when they inevitably team up to fight the bad guy, they can all work together and interact in any meaningful way.

So what else? Miles Teller rocks Reed Richards after losing out on the Spider-Man gig. He’s a funnier, hipper Mr. Fantastic, yet retains the core idealism the character is known for. Michael B. Jordan also overcomes casting concerns and owns his role as the Human Torch. But much like the film, this cast is divided strictly down the middle – Kate Mara proves a wooden and disinterested Invisible Woman, and Jamie Bell appears distant as Grimm, like he’s just keeping his motion-capture muscles warmed as the Thing until he can play Tintin again.

Those looking for a complete, cohesive narrative in Fantastic Four will be sorely disappointed. Those fascinated by movie “could’ve-would’ve-should’ve”s would do well to check it out. It’s half an interesting take on some beloved characters, and half cartoony, clichéd superheroics, held together with the thinnest, most visible glue the likes of which we rarely see in completed studio films. Both Trank and Fox are probably to blame to varying degrees, though Trank’s ideas are easily the superior of the two, and I at least would’ve liked to have seen Fox let Trank finish what he started. It’s a moot point; Trank single-handedly killed the film’s box office, and because of it, likely won’t be working on another studio movie for a long time.

Regardless, I found more food for thought in Fantastic Four than I did in Ant-Man, though a friend I attended the screening with wholeheartedly disagreed. “I would rather have half of something great than a whole of something mediocre,” I argued. “So you would rather have an unusable half of a $100 bill than a whole $1 bill?” he replied.

And…well, yes. I see $1 bills all the time. I get them, I give them away, they are nothing special. But let’s say I’m looking down and I find half of a $100 bill sticking up out of the sandy ground. When I bend down to pick it up out of the sand, I can see it’s really only half a $100, not a full $100 and thus not legal tender. But I had an experience. I was titillated. I got a rush of excitement thinking I’d hit the jackpot. And afterward, I got to tell an out-of-the-ordinary story to my friends. I wasn’t rewarded, but I still cherish that half-a-bill for jarring me out of my routine.

If you’re among the camp that agrees, you may just find something worth experiencing in Fantastic Four.

 

5/10

Multiverse of Possibility: San Diego Comic-Con 2014 (Day Two)

cc2Do you feel that? That is the itch of anticipation, dear readers. An itch that can only be quelled by tomorrow’s smorgasbord of panels, sure to be a true roller-coaster ride of commentary. Until then, we must settle for the kibble and bits we’ve been given during Friday’s panels.

 

Grant Morrison’s Multiversity

Bleeding Cool have posted a great recap of this panel, detailing writer Grant Morrison’s Multiversity, a 9-issue comic which took Morrison eight years to script. Every character in the DCU will make an appearance of some kind, in addition to a healthy dose of meta-ness – each subsequent issue will feature children reading the previous issue. Morrison’s got a huge ego and isn’t all he’s cracked up to be, but he is talented, and this is certainly one to look out for.

Marvel TV presents

Once again Marvel TV man Jeph Loeb was on hand to talk Marvel’s growing slate of TV adaptations. The first was Agent Carter, set to premiere in mid-season 2015, centering on Peggy Carter, the love interest from Captain America: The First Avenger. Yet despite the awesome prospect of bringing back Cap movie directors Joe Johnston and the Russo brothers to helm episodes of the series, there’s not a lot for me to be excited about here. As with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. last year, I’m wondering what exactly makes this rather minor character compelling enough to warrant her own series.

I suppose the idea makes sense from a business perspective. There is financial risk to be had in female-led comic book properties, and a low-budget TV show starring a pre-established character is, on paper, a great way for Marvel to test the waters for more female-centric projects. But wouldn’t a show based on a different, as-yet-unadapted Marvel comic prove more exciting? Or at the very least be set in a time period which allows for more connectivity with the rest of the Marvel universe? Jessica Jones, anyone? Not to mention, if Agent Carter is to pick up after First Avenger, imagine the number of feminist critiques one could level at a show very likely to feature its leading lady predominantly pining after her seemingly-dead male lover.

Then there is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., a show which I shared similar skepticism over last year for the same reason that a show lacking in comic-based Marvel characters might not be able to prove its worth. I got about three episodes in upon its premiere last fall before growing fatigued. It’s very hard for me to get invested in these low-level black suits when I know there’s infinitely more thrilling characters like Iron Man and Cap living out their lives elsewhere. I will say the addition of Mockingbird to the cast should prove interesting…some interplay with Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, perhaps?

Disappointingly, the panel did not feature any appearances or announcements from the currently-filming Netflix series Daredevil. Perhaps more disappointingly, the Marvel tool camp was out in full swing, desperately trying to make, “Hail Hydra” a thing, when I can say  wholeheartedly, unquestionably, irrevocably, and without fear of contradiction, it is, in fact, not.

 

20th Century Fox

Fox brought a whopping five films to Comic-Con, barely any of which actually fit the criteria for a CC appearance (Let’s Be Cops? Really?) Standout however was Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsmen: The Secret Service, moderated appropriately enough by Mark Millar, and featuring stars Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson. The actors talked about the influence of spies in our culture, with Jackson commenting he always wanted to be one. He’ll be playing a character with a strange lisp and a baseball cap, and I can’t wait to see how that works out this October.

What I wanted most from the Fox panel was a special appearance from Ridley Scott to talk Exodus: Gods and Kings, the Prometheus sequel, The Martian, the Blade Runner sequel, that movie about football concussions, or any other number of projects he’s attached to. No such luck.

 

Arrow Q&A

The above trailer is a first look at Season 3 of what is apparently “CW’s most watched show two years in a row,” released during a panel featuring the writing team and cast. The crew teased new developments in the show to come over the next season, including Thea being taken to a far darker place, Oliver and Felicity starting to date, and Roy Harper becoming Arsenal. Which brings to light some of the criticisms I have with the show – why can’t Ollie and Felicity just be friends? Why does there always have to be some sort of sexual tension between unrelated male and female characters? The showrunners maintained that they’ll be looking “honestly,” at the characters’ feelings for each other, which they believe “have always been genuine.” Yet it’s abundantly clear comparing the two’s interactions between the first and second seasons that a relationship between them was not initially in the cards.

The panel also revealed there will be episodes flashing back to Felicity’s time at MIT, with one episode titled, “Oracle.” Pure speculation, but with last season’s “Birds of Prey” episode, coupled with the above trailer showing Felicity receiving some serious injuries…could Felicity be being groomed to stand in for Barbara Gordon as Oracle? For that matter, what of the persistent rumors that the team has cast an actor to play Nightwing and feature more Batman characters? Only time will tell…

Tune in tomorrow for a post I’ll be working overtime on. Until then, courtesy of Edgar Wright’s Twitter, here’s a quick taste of the controversy I’m hoping will erupt in full force at the Marvel Studios panel. Stay angry, folks…

BtbjOUTCUAAaaNe

Top 5 Worst Comic Book Movies of the last 5 Years

The near-death of the comic book movie at the hands of films like Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and Batman & Robin is well-documented. Since then, the subgenre has been revived in the form of Blade, X-Men, and Spider-Man, and more recently, become a serious art form thanks to The Dark Knight and Iron Man.

Since then, Hollywood has been far more successful overall at bringing its pulp brands to the silver screen. But what of the films that threatened this golden age, the films that could have easily derailed the ever-chugging train into complete oblivion? Here are my picks for the top five worst comic book adaptations of the past five years.

 

5. The Green Hornet

the-green-hornet-seth-rogenCall me crazy, but when Seth Rogen was hyping Hornet as a kind of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade-esque comedy/action venue, I bought it. I’d assumed with all the reverence they spoke of for the source material, they’d be staying true to the character’s roots above all.

Not so.

Britt Reid is Seth Rogen at his most unlikable, an obnoxious, grating douchebag. Director Michel Gondry seems to have given direction in his sleep, lending little life to the already mediocre script and staging. Even Christoph Waltz, fresh off his Oscar win for Inglourious Basterds, looked as though he’d been typecast in the villain role long beforehand. At best, the film played like an unfunny Pineapple Express with Green Hornet character names and gadgets pasted in. For fans of just about any other Hornet media, this one stung hard.

 

4. Green Lantern

The-Green-Lantern-Kilowogs-Not-Happy-17-11-10There are two movies thus far that pinpoint my lowest-ever moments in a movie theater. The first is Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, whose infamy needs no introduction and which we will speak no more of. The second is Green Lantern, a movie which I had the utmost confidence in from its inception back at the tail-end of 2008. What could go wrong, I thought, with the director of Casino Royale, a design team whose credits included Superman: the Movie and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and comic writer Geoff Johns himself consulting? Hell, I was even ready to sing the praises of Ryan Reynolds, whom I still enjoy in comedic roles despite…well, everything else he’s been in. Above all, Warner Bros.’ huge marketing push for the movie led me to believe against all odds that they had the next Star Wars waiting in the wings.

10 minutes into the final product quickly quashed that confidence, and since the screening, I have yet to even pick up a Green Lantern comic. One of DC’s greatest mythologies had been diluted down into a studio-bred commercial nightmare. The expensive CGI and design work is onscreen for about 15 total minutes, with the rest of the movie painfully earthbound. The script is one of the laziest, blandest, most cookie-cutter hero’s journeys in recent memory. Reynolds is thrown into poorly-written scene after poorly-written scene and expected to improvise on the level of Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man. His scenes with costar Blake Lively showcase a forced chemistry unmatched even by the likes of Thor’s Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman. Peter Sarsgaard gives the most disgracefully hammy performance as the corrupt psychic Hector Hammond. And Angela Basset is left to wander onscreen occasionally, and pointlessly, to try to muster some fan hype a la Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury.

At least Mark Strong’s Sinestro showed potential, but that’s of little concern when the movie around him sucks so very, very hard. Green Lantern was Warner looking to Marvel’s Iron Man and thinking, “hey, we can do that!” Their mistake cost them dearly, but at least now things are looking up at the company with the success of Man of Steel.

 

3. X-Men Origins: Wolverine

X-Men-Origins-Wolverine-001Casual viewers of Fox’s 2009 disgrace might be surprised to know that its director, Gavin Hood, is actually an Oscar-winner. Yes, Hood directed Tsotsi and the more recent Ender’s Game, both solid films, that illustrate the filmmaker’s talent for bringing even the trickiest page-bound stories to the silver screen. But you’d never know it from X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Blame primarily the abysmal script from D-list studio whipping boy Skip Woods, which boasted plot holes, continuity errors, and some distinctly terrible dialogue. As if the concept of Wolverine’s beginnings with William Stryker and Weapon X, already thoroughly explored in Bryan Singer’s X2,  could be any less interesting or impactful as a narrative; now it’s peppered with a mess of unrelated mutants in cameo roles, all performed with the seeming goal of redefining the descriptor of, “hammy,” perhaps in the hopes of receiving a spin-off (read: heftier paycheck) of their own.

Not to mention, Hood also had the reins yanked away from him by Fox CEO Tom Rothman during production, a common practice for Fox over the last decade, forcing Superman director Richard Donner to facilitate. It’s the makings of a big-budget disaster that ultimately went nowhere, and nearly derailed Fox’s entire X-franchise. Still, some people apparently enjoy this movie. I have no desire to meet them.

 

2. Punisher: War Zone

punisher_war_zone11Say what you will about the Thomas Jane-starring 2005 Punisher, but I could appreciate, if not altogether enjoy, its targeted ambitions – to be a throwback to 70s-era revenge flicks. Still, when Frank Castle is having dinner with Jon Stamos’ ex-wife and fighting Waldo on steroids, perhaps the point has been missed.

But, I argue, there’s “meh,” there’s bad, there’s awfully bad, and then there’s Punisher: War Zone. This is a colossal fuck-up of an action movie, effectively removing any semblance of humanity and emotion from its proceedings and replacing it with two beyond-campy antagonists who make Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze look charming in comparison.

What we’re left with is a pretty good performance, all things considered, from Ray Stevenson as Castle, who makes for a fittingly dark, brooding Punisher in unspeakable pain. Too bad it barely resonates in the tomfoolery around him, like when fucking Wayne Knight stands behind him babbling on about “the mission,” as if Castle were some sort of underappreciated crusader.

Chalk it up to Lionsgate’s crucial misunderstanding of the character. Frank Castle isn’t some unsung hero who falters and doubts his actions in the same way Batman does. He’s a violent killer whom many see as a madman, and doesn’t fit into the traditional hero’s journey mold. War Zone has no inkling of what to do with its protagonist – there is a scene where Castle, in the presence of both a little girl and a cop, blows a man’s head off in cold blood, spraying red everywhere. The cop yells, “Dammit, Castle!”, as if he’s Danny Glover scolding Riggs for disobeying their chief’s orders. The dead man is, of course, inconsequential.

Needless to say, after War Zone’s failure, Lionsgate tossed the Punisher film rights back to Marvel Studios with a collective shrug, failing to understand that some comic book characters don’t subscribe to Joseph Campbell.

1. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

gr-spirit-of-vengeance-image10Just when it seemed we’d all forgotten Mark Steven Johnson’s lackluster, if honest 2007 disappointment Ghost Rider, Sony tried once more to bring the character to the silver screen. While officially, the film would borrow elements from David S. Goyer’s canned draft for the first movie, after cult madmen Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor took the helm, the property was Crank-ified into something unrecognizable.

The result is one of the ugliest films to ever stain the superhero subgenre. If War Zone was unwatchable elephant shit, Spirit of Vengeance is the unwatchable elephant shit of its inbred, schizoid half-brother. It is a vile, incomprehensible, unpleasant, humorless, tasteless, practically meritless void of awful. We watch, baffled, as we learn that Johnny Blaze has picked up and moved to Europe (because, hey, cheaper to film there) and is tasked with rescuing a mother and son, the latter of whom is in danger of being the reborn antichrist at the hands of the devil (Ciaran Hinds). But it’s a plot that barely registers, watching Neveldine/Taylor’s obnoxious, thoughtless, in-your-face visual style. These are two men who literally risked their lives on set to get their shots, and yet none of that effort is anywhere to be found in the nauseating final product.

Spirit of Vengeance doesn’t even work on a so-bad-it’s-good level; the villains are cheesy to an unfunny level, and Nicolas Cage’s performance is as woefully, manically bad as anything in The Wicker Man. For all the pre-release buzz of the movie being darker and closer to the comics in its dual Zarathos/Blaze dynamic, nothing could offset the deafening sense that this is a movie that should never have been given the go-ahead. Which is a shame, because I happen to love J.M. DeMatteis’ run on the character and Jekyll/Hyde stories in general. There’s quite a bit of story potential involving a man desperate to escape the demons within himself. Spirit of Vengeance not only dismisses that potential, it comes dangerous close to the chasms of rock bottom quality.

Luckily, it’s a pain we will suffer no longer – Sony has since handed the Ghost Rider film rights back to Marvel where they belong…which is what the company should’ve done in the first place.

Review: The Wolverine (unpublished)

gal_03_flWolverine – he’s the best at what he does, but what he does isn’t very nice. Which may or may not have proven true for the character’s four previous film appearances over the last thirteen years – despite playing center field from 2000’s X-Men to 2006’s X-Men: the Last Stand, Wolvie was still never portrayed quite as deep a character as fans were hoping. 2009’s laughably bad corporate bile X-Men Origins: Wolverine fared even worse, taking a huge nosedive in quality and featuring a script plagued with clichés, plot holes, inconsistencies, and an ensemble of trivial mutant cameos distracting from the title character. Now, fans finally have a good reason to be excited – The Wolverine is the first real attempt to let the character shine on his own, a feat which the film is largely successful at.

The Wolverine opens with the clawed mutant Logan (Hugh Jackman) several years after the events of Last Stand, wherein he was forced to kill his great love Jean Gray (Famke Janssen) after she’d been possessed by the destructive Phoenix entity. Logan is now grizzled and bearded, a drifter roaming the forests of Canada, every night being jolted awake, claws extended, by nightmares of his loss. In his travels he is found by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a lady warrior who escorts him to her employer, the wealthy tycoon Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), whom Logan once saved during the Nagasaki bombing of World War II. Yashida offers to remove and take on Logan’s healing abilities himself, allowing Logan to live a mortal life and Yashida to go on living. But when Logan is thrown into a plot to kidnap Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), he must face his deadliest demons yet, among them the mutant Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), and discover what it truly means to carry the burden of being the Wolverine.

Based on the excellent 1982 Chris Claremont/Frank Miller comic book miniseries, The Wolverine is the first real character-driven film of the series, standing Logan firmly in the spotlight and asking the hard questions of his immortality. What is it like to be forced to kill the one you love? How can you live knowing that everyone you ever meet will die before you? Director James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma) approaches the material like a Clint Eastwood western or James Bond film – a straightforward plot and setting intended as a backdrop for its protagonist’s character. Indeed, from the opening shots of Wolverine trapped in a World War II prison hole, we see only his squinting eyes peering out into the bright of day; one could mistake Hugh Jackman here for a young Eastwood himself.

Trouble is, the Claremont Wolverine series was strictly a character piece with very little plot, setting Logan in Japan to contrast his animalistic fighting style with the honor-bound, swift samurai culture of his surroundings. Mangold doesn’t do enough to play up that contrast, choosing instead to follow the film’s ordinary, linear narrative to its unsurprising conclusions, and use the Japan setting as more of a place where things happen than a true test for its protagonist. Mirroring the flaws of his aforementioned inspirations, even Mangold’s side characters only seem to be granted as much personality as the plot demands, lending things an unmistakably run-of-the-mill feel. And where the film should be exploring Logan’s bestial intuition, it is instead focusing on the loss of Jean Gray, a far less interesting, far more Hollywood-friendly machination.

There’s more power, I think, to be had in this narrative. Mangold himself first read and returned his copy of the script after scribbling the phrase, “Everyone I love will die” on the back, so clearly he had a mind to play up the weight of Logan’s immortality. And yet, the film is only satisfactory at exploring that conflict, falling victim to the classic 20th Century Fox pitfall of being too action-driven, too blockbuster-y, too safe to venture deeper beneath the surface. Shame, as I’ve skimmed Usual Suspects writer Christopher McQuarrie’s draft of The Wolverine, first intended for director Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler), and it is far  more character-driven than the onscreen result, the latter featuring studio-commissioned rewrites from Mark Bomback and Scott Frank. With just enough subtlety lost along the way, it’s a bit disappointing to think that Wolverine in its original form might’ve been a defining film of the superhero subgenre.

What nonetheless gives life to Wolverine is Hugh Jackman, who lends his performance as much dedication and raw energy as he would the artsier Les Mis. It’s the Australian music man’s best turn in the adamantium claws yet; not only is he the spitting image of Frank Miller’s Wolverine, but his physique for the film is nothing short of incredible. Jackman, 44, has gotten himself into outstanding shape for his (or any) age, aiming to give the character a more “animalistic” look, and handling the film’s many elaborate stunts and demanding physicality like a pro.

It’s nice to see Fox finally getting serious with their Marvel properties; The Wolverine is one of the best films of the franchise thus far. After hitting a surprising high note in 2011’s X-Men: First Class, the studio is counting on The Wolverine to keep the momentum going for next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past (stay after Wolverine’s credits for a brief teaser) and rejuvenate their brand in the face of competition from Marvel’s own Avengers films. Even if The Wolverine isn’t as remarkable as it could’ve been, considering the lows this franchise has dipped to, it’s nice to see the claws a bit sharper this time around.

7.5/10

 

This article was intended for publish on the ERIE READER website.

Marvelous Offerings: San Diego Comic-Con 2013 (Day Three)

ccBursting at the seams with new and exciting announcements, Saturday is always the big day for Comic-Con…which makes for a lot to cover today. Videos and/or liveblogs of each panel are provided.

Warner/Legendary

With Legendary moving to Universal, I can’t imagine organizing this panel with Warner was anything short of awkward. Followed via CS.net, the panel began with Seventh Son, a film seemingly steeped in unoriginality. At least Jeff Bridges proved a fun presence, pumping up the crowd with talk of the film’s mythology.

Next came Godzilla, with director Gareth Edwards and his cast taking the stage. The movie just started shooting, and Edwards talked about how amazed he was at the freedom he’s been granted on the film. He also shared a funny story about how the crew was crossing the border to film in Canada, when they got stopped by border patrol, who immediately realized what the film was and told them, “don’t fuck it up!” Sound advice indeed.

After that came a surprise announcement from Source Code director Duncan Jones, who took the stage to show some brief test footage, described as a “mood piece,” for the upcoming live-action Warcraft, and to announce the adaptation would begin shooting early next year. A nice touch; I’ll be seeing the final film because of Jones, not the actual property.

300: Rise of an Empire was next, which I all but tuned out for. I disliked the first film and it’s unlikely I’ll get much out of its entirely unnecessary follow-up, which stands as further proof of author Frank Miller’s growing senility.

Following that was Gravity by Children of Men director Alfonso Cuaron, also joined by star Sandra Bullock onstage. Seems as though Cuaron is getting a lot more continuous shots this time around, an exciting prospect for film fans. Bullock said she was encased in a glass cube in her space suit while the camera moved around her to get the space shots, which look brilliant. The film comes out this October in 3D.

Next was The Lego Movie, directed by 21 Jump Street helmers Phil Lord and Chris Miller. Described as, “the weirdest kids movie ever,” the directors brought out some of their cast and showed some footage from the part stop-motion, part CGI film, which the pair exuded a wealth of passion about. I was pretty indifferent to the recently-released trailer, and I don’t see this being any more than a glorified toy commercial myself, and that’s from someone who was obsessed with Legos as a kid.

The last panel was Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow, starring Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, and Bill Paxton, and scripted by Christopher McQuarrie, all in attendance. Formerly titled All You Need is Kill, the film will follow Cruise’s character as a military operative stuck in some sort of time loop, reliving the same day over and over and learning new things each day. Cruise did a mini-duet with Blunt from Rock of Ages, and exchanged Aliens quotes with Paxton, after which footage from the film was screened. Also present was the original author of the comic which the film is based on.

Finally, in the panel’s most publicized event, director Zack Snyder took the stage to announce, “some shit’s going to happen here,” and brought out actor Harry Lennix to read a passage from The Dark Knight Returns, wherein Batman monologues about Superman remembering who put a stop to him. After which, this logo appeared onscreen, to insane screams from the crowd:

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Thanks to Outhousers

Despite the announcement being spoiled by several other sources just before the panel, I’m cautiously optimistic. I’ve seen how WB has mishandled the teaming of its DC characters in script form before, and I’m not quite certain they’ve learned their lesson yet. Not to mention, especially considering the recent dark, unpleasant, Batman-centric comic by Greg Pak teaming the two heroes, I can’t see the film going in the lighter, more optimistic, colorful direction that I’d hoped for the DC Universe on film. I guess, all things considered, it’s better than jumping headfirst into Justice League. The as-yet untitled Superman/Batman film will be written by Snyder and David S. Goyer, with a mind to start production next year.

Lionsgate – I, Frankenstein

Director Stuart Beattie and stars Aaron Eckhart and Yvonne Strahovski dropped in to show some footage of their new film, taking place after the original Mary Shelley novel ends and featuring a monster struggling to find himself. The sizzle reel was described by the CS liveblog team as, “Blade-like,” and I’ve also heard comparisons to the Underworld series. The panel was asked about Aaron Eckhart’s appearance in the film, which looks less like Frankenstein and more like a really ripped Aaron Eckhart:

i-frankenstein-hi-res

On his appearance, the panel joked that there’s, “only so much you can do to make Aaron look ugly,” further explaining that the scars and wounds on the monster at first heal over time into what you see above. Interesting, if a bit of a flimsy excuse to bring make the monster more appealing to the female demographic. Eckhart said it took him a year-and-a-half training 3-4 hours a day to get his body in shape for the role. Hopefully it pays off this February.

20th Century Fox

CS’ liveblog detailed Fox’s panel, which opened with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and featured director Matt Reeves and stars Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, and Andy Serkis. The team came onstage briefly to talk about how it’s eight years since the events of 2011’s Rise, and that the apes and humans are co-existing and slowly starting to war with each other. It takes 10-12 weeks to animate a single ape, according to the panel, but they were able to show a brief teaser featuring an older Caesar, with an army of apes behind him. Rise was surprisingly enjoyable and I’m looking forward to its sequel, but sadly this team’s MTV Live interview proved far more entertaining than their panel on my end.

After that came director James Mangold and star Hugh Jackman to talk about next week’s The Wolverine, a panel which you can watch for yourself here. Jackman promised that fans will finally get see the character’s trademark berserker rage, and Mangold stressed the inherent anger within the character that drove filming. Jackman even saluted Wolverine co-creator Len Wein onstage, a nice touch. Can’t wait to review the movie next week; Fox is positioning the film as their Iron Man, a launching pad for their rebuilt future of Marvel adaptations in competition with Marvel Studios themselves

Further targeting the company, the panel, which can be seen here, brought out its surprise guests – the entire headlining cast of X-Men: Days of Future Past, in a move mirroring Marvel’s own Avengers cast appearance at the Con three years ago. Director Bryan Singer first screened some reportedly “goosebump-inducing” 3D footage for the film, which reveals that the film will see all the old X-Men players facing a dark, mutant-outlawed future, and sending Wolverine back in time to his 70s-era body, where he meets the new X-Men from 2011’s First Class and must gain their trust to help prevent a future war from ever happening.

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Questions about the use of Quicksilver by both Fox and Marvel naturally came up – Singer maintained that the character was always part of the story, and will be present in the 70s portion of the film. Which begs the question…as Magneto’s son, why wasn’t he mentioned in the old movies if he was around in the 70s? I recommend watching the panel for yourself, there are quite a few funny moments of the cast interacting with one another.

Personally, for all the acclaim Singer gets for revitalizing the comic book movie with the first X-Men, I’ve never really been a fan of his take on the material. As noted in this excellent opinion piece,  I think my biggest issue is how Singer defines the characters by their powers, not by their actual character. In my mind, it’s far more important we see the mutant’s personalities over their powers, playing up their similarities rather than their differences to humanity, so that we might better relate to them. Really, when all the films show about Storm is that she can summon potentially fatal storms, is the mutant registration for security’s sake portrayed in the films really a bad thing after all?

But I digress. First Class was a step in the right direction for bringing a more colorful, team/character-driven experience to the fold, and with the Sentinels finally making their live-action debut, all I can hear is the old X-Men arcade song chanting “X-MEN!” over and over again. This is one of biggest and best X-Men stories finally being adapted for the big screen, and I can’t fucking wait.

 

Marvel Studios

In another parallel to 2010’s Con, Marvel Studios brought out their latest Thor and Captain America movies to talk about for their panel, which you can watch here. The panel surprised audience members when Tom Hiddleston in-character and in-costume as Loki, riled up the crowd by asking them over and over to, “say my name!” to ear-piercing screams, and finally introduced a new trailer for Thor: the Dark World.

Afterward, the cast of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and its directors Anthony and Joe Russo came onstage to discuss the April release. Apparently Cap (Chris Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) “share the movie in a big way” (read: sex). Anthony Mackie shared his enthusiasm for playing the Falcon, while Sebastian Stan talked about being back as the Winter Soldier. Producer Kevin Feige chimed in to stress the reveal that Cap’s old sidekick Bucky is the Winter Soldier, which by this point is a secret to no one, will be played as a surprise only to Cap, if not the audience. The panel also screened some early footage, which apparently looks fantastic, showing Cap fighting Crossbones (Frank Grillo) and his men in an elevator. The Russo brothers discussed their aim for a 70s political thriller-feel, and I have high hopes their movie will be better than the first.

Marvel also brought out its “surprise,” the cast of Guardians of the Galaxy and director James Gunn, who are two weeks into filming, but still nonetheless prepared some footage for the audience, which has been getting some pretty amazing buzz. The panel talked in very little detail about each of their characters, barred from revealing too much other than, “uh, they’re guys…in space.” One of the female cast members also revealed she was wearing a wig at the panel, taking it and throwing it into the audience. Weird.

I still really, really don’t see the appeal of this movie on a mainstream level. Talking raccoons in a semi-serious space thriller goes beyond suspension of disbelief, crossing into painful obscurity, of which director James Gunn, the man who had Ellen Page rape Rainn Wilson in Super, is certainly no stranger to. I fear for Marvel, as this is probably the worst possible box office climate to experiment in, with even solid movies like After Earth and The Lone Ranger tanking hard in earnings. The panel did nothing to convince me of seeing the final product come August, but perhaps some footage might change that.

And finally, Joss Whedon came onstage to announce the official title for the Avengers sequel:

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That explains Vin Diesel’s Vision, who as fans know, was created by Ultron and later joined the superhero team. Still, Feige maintains that “there’s nothing to announce with Vin,” but come on, is anyone seriously doubting he’ll be the first newcomer to be announced when casting is officially underway?

To be concluded…