SAN DIEGO – There’s no way to give everything that happens in San Diego during Comic-Con the full print attention that it deserves, and that’s because from the moment you arrive in town on Wednesday, everything’s a blur. One day at Comic-Con can pack in as many things as I normally do in a month’s worth of work in Los Angeles, and so we publish what we can publish as fast as possible, and almost always end up with some spare odds and ends that we don’t know quite what to do with. To that end, I’d like to share some impressions from the rest of the Con.
Chris Hardwick was everywhere this year, evidently, I’m pretty sure that the real purpose of Nerdist Industries is to create clones of Hardwick to handle moderating duties everywhere for everything. The geek world’s Ryan Seacrest is unstoppable now, and he plays along with the theatricality of a lot of these presentations. For example, during the Warner/Legendary panel on Saturday morning, Chris stopped at one point to take a phone call from Thomas Tull. He said he had to take it “because Thomas owns me.”
He pretended that Tull had just ordered them to reveal something that was not on the original schedule, and it turned out to be a very short proof of concept thing for a movie based on Blizzard’s enormously popular “Warcraft” franchise.
The footage showed an alien landscape where a guy is down to his last few drops of water. He has a giant strange sword and finds some armor on a corpse, leading him to pick up a huge shield. Green energy races through the clouds above as the guy faces off with a monster holding a huge war hammer. As they charge and the creature swings that war hammer down, the title comes up. Very short. Pretty cool. It was, more than anything, a chance to introduce Duncan Jones officially as the filmmaker in charge of the movie.
And am I crazy, or did Jones lift that sound effect from the opening scene of “Once Upon A Time In The West”?
“The opportunity to do Warcraft is a once in a lifetime thing. I get to create a world. Not that many filmmakers get to start from scratch and do something so big. I am well aware of how connected people are to it, and I am very aware of what the goal is.” Jones can talk the talk. We’ll see what he ends up doing with it when they release the film sometimes in 2015, provided they make their early 2014 start date.
EDGE OF TOMORROW
It seems very strange to me that Tom Cruise appearing at Comic-Con is one of the less amazing moments for the week. I don’t think there was anything particularly wrong with the presentation that was made for “Edge Of Tomorrow.” A lot of it was very funny, and Cruise was in rare form as he played around with Chris Hardwick and, to the delight of everyone, Bill Paxton, but it still didn’t push this into the must-see category for me.
I’m sure I will see it. After all, it’s Doug Liman directing, and Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise co-star in what sounds like “Starship Troopers” meets “Groundhog Day.” Christopher McQuarrie, who may well be Tom Cruise’s favorite working screenwriter, was the guy who came in to pin down all the fine points of the film once Cruise signed on.
The footage we saw looked fairly early, and I’m not sure what I think of the battle suits in action. We saw some footage where the wire work was pretty evident, and I’m assuming this is all just preliminary versions of things. The alien stuff was certainly on a giant scale, but it’s familiar by now. A film like this is ultimately going to come down to the human element, and if Cruise and Emily Blunt end up with great chemistry, it’ll carry the film. I like that Cruise starts the movie as a PR guy who was part of designing the campaign that’s getting humans to enlist in the military for this war against the aliens. He evidently starts the film as a blatant coward, and it’s only as he repeats this day over and over that he starts to figure out his place in the fight.
Hardwick is far more of a participant in these panels than most moderators, and here, he indulged his inner Cruise fan quite a bit by pointing out that they have both played the role of Stacee Jaxx in “Rock Of Ages,” leading to the two of them singing a duet on “I Want To Know What Love Is,” trading lines back and forth. Thankfully, they did not reproduce the scene from the film, and no one sang into anyone else’s butt. Cruise and Blunt both talked about how much their personalities shifted on the days where they had to wear the giant battle suits, which weighed anywhere from 80 to 130 pounds depending on what version you had on. Liman agreed, “They were much nicer out of the suits.”
Cruise has always been a guy whose choices seemed director driven, and “Edge Of Tomorrow” seems to be the same thing. “I always wanted to work with Doug Liman,” he said. “What he does with genre is very unique, and what Chris did with the script is also unique. The alien invasion film has become a trope, and people understand the language of it, so now you can get into the meat of it. To work with Emily in this character, it’s just a great… they call her Valkyrie One in the film. The soldiers call her the Full Metal Bitch. It’s a great romantic story also. Bill Paxton is in the house. He’s in the film with us.”
At this point, things just devolved into chaos as Hardwick wigged out and Cruise managed to get Paxton up on the stage. When Cruise started calling for Paxton to quote his most geek-friendly movies, Paxton looked slightly mortified, but he had to love the reactions to him quoting both “Aliens” and “Weird Science.”
Paxton talked a bit about the very dark sense of humor that the film has in spades. “The comedy comes from the character. But he can keep it right back to the drama as well. It’s got a perverse humor that works on so many levels. He’s the fish out of water. I get an order that says he’s a deserter who has been impersonating an officer, and we’re happy to show him how things work. His first time getting in the suit is like a Woody Allen film.”
THE BIG SURPRISE THAT WASN’T VERY SURPRISING
Warner Bros. knows how to bury the lede, it’s safe to say.
Their panel on Saturday morning ran well over two hours long, and it was at the very end of things, as the cast and crew of “Edge Of Tomorrow” was leaving the stage, that Chris Hardwick said someone had just passed him a note warning him not to leave the stage because Zack Snyder had something to share.
Earlier in the day, the Hollywood Reporter basically ruined the surprise, saying the were going to announce a Superman sequel with Batman in it, and they also mentioned “The Flash” and “Justice League” plans. Neither of those subjects were raised on Saturday, but sure enough, Snyder took the stage, and he was full of nervous energy as he nudged Chris aside. “I’m gonna take the lectern from you, because some shit’s going to happen up here.”
Anyone with working wi-fi probably already knew what was coming, but a large majority of Hall H was in the dark as Zack began to speak. “I just wanted to take a second to say thanks to everybody for supporting the movie. To work with such an awesome character and have everyone respond the way they did was awesome.”
Another wave of applause bubbled up from the audience, and Zack waited a moment before continuing. “There’s a lot of speculation about what we’re doing. So it is official that we’re going to make another Superman movie. And so you say ‘Zack, what is the movie about?’ You don’t want me to tell you what it’s about. You want to go and see the movie. But I can say that maybe there’s a single element that will be in the film that I could help you out with.”
That’s very important, by the way, because some people immediately made the jump to announcing that Snyder is doing “The Dark Knight Returns.” He is not. That is a story you tell at the end of a cycle of films, not at the start. It’s about Superman and Batman at the end of a long history of encounters with one another, and doing that immediately after introducing Cavill in “Man Of Steel” seems wildly unlikely.
At that point, you could feel the energy in Hall H, all of it focused on what Zack was saying. “How could I do that? I sort of pored through the DC universe to look for a way to tell this thing, to announce our plan. And I came across a thing that I feel like sums up what we’re writing now. This isn’t what we’re doing, but I found a thing that can help you understand the spirit of it.”
He brought out Harry Lennix, who was in “Man Of Steel,” and asked him to read the quote because he has a better voice than Zack, and they lowered the lights as Lennix stepped up to the microphone.
“I want you to remember, Clark, in all the years to come, in all your most private moments, I want you to remember my hand at your throat. I want you to remember the one man who beat you.”
And as he finished, the Superman logo appeared on the screen, with the Bat logo superimposed behind it. No title yet, but that was enough to send the crowd into a frenzy, which is pretty much all Warner Bros. could have asked.
There’s a long way to go, and this is early days for the film, but it certainly looks like Warner is confidently moving ahead with a larger superhero universe that will build off of “Man Of Steel,” which is very good news as far as I’m concerned. I think it’s safe to assume that we’re looking at a first encounter between Superman and Batman that will start to establish a larger world of superheroes at work.
THE LEGO MOVIE
Chris Miller and Phil Lord are very silly people.
I’m not going to transcribe the panel for “The Lego Movie” because there’s no real point. This looks like it’s going to be one of the most surreal movies to ever emerge from a corporate deal with a toy company. They’ve got tons of licenses that they’re playing with, but they’re not saying who yet. I think it’s safe to assume this is going to feel like a “Robot Chicken” mash-up free-for-all with a more family-friendly sense of humor and the official support of the owners of all the various trademarks. This is the perfect gig for Lord and Miller, who are proving themselves to be delightfully silly filmmakers overall.
DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
Matt Reeves was playing it as cool as he could on the stage of Hall H on Saturday morning, but there is no disguising a certain sort of nerd energy. Reeves was old enough to be a “Planet Of The Apes” super-fan when the films were first being released, and he said he had a huge fanboy moment when he saw “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.” He felt like it was the first time he ever truly felt things from the ape perspective, and he found himself absorbed by the performance work by Andy Serkis. I get it. Serkis is like some amazing sorcerer who manages to give souls to these ones and zeros, and he’s starting to pass that along to other actors, both as a co-star and as a filmmaker actually developing projects like an all mo-cap version of “Animal Farm.”
In the new film, about a decade has passed since the events of “Rise,” and there have been human leaders who have stepped in preaching war (Gary Oldman seems to represent that side of things) and those who are preaching peace (Jason Clarke, who was on the panel, seemed to be advocating for us to share the planet), but thanks to a simian flu that is sweeping the planet killing massive numbers of humans, it may just be a waiting game for Caesar (Serkis) and his increasingly large army of followers. The one shot they showed us, which is where the photo on this story came from, was enough to demonstrate that they’ve made progress in realism even in the time between “Rise” and now. I hope this one’s awesome.
WOMEN WHO KICK ASS
The final thing I want to write about is a panel that they scheduled mid-day on Saturday, right in the middle of all the other giant movie panels, because it seemed to me like the one genuinely subversive moment of the entire event, and I’m not sure it was planned that way.
Danai Gurira (Michonne from “The Walking Dead”), Tatiana Malany (star of “Orphan Black”), “Nikita” star Maggie Q, Katee Sackhoff and Michelle Rodriguez all appeared on the panel, ostensibly to discuss their work in action films with moderator Sara Vilkomerson leading the conversation. That’s not what happened, though. Within a few questions, it was obvious that the panelists weren’t interested in telling a few funny anecdotes, posing for photos, and then walking away.
Instead, for roughly an hour, the panel turned into a frank and unapologetic discussion of role models, the idea that only women who do stunts can “kick ass,” sexism in the industry, harassment on the set, and how the only way to really change this business is from the inside. Rodriguez in particular was amazing, fired up about the idea of taking control of her career by writing and producing instead of waiting for the industry to write the roles she wants to play.
I get tired of certain pop culture pundits who attack fandom and genre movies based on stereotypes, but it is important to talk about the worst side of what happens when you put fans together, whether it’s on a message board or in a convention center. I think most of the individual fans that I’ve met over the years are decent people who are open-minded and who mean well. I think as a group, fandom tends towards their worst natures, and there is homophobia, misogyny, and racism a-plenty still. The women on this panel probably represent a very particular type of fantasy to many of the young men in the room, and when they immediately started talking about the very real problems with this business and how women are treated in it, the fantasy dissipated, replaced instead with what I consider real strength. Gurira strikes me as a very passionate artist who wants very much to tell stories about what things are like for women in emerging nations and in her home of Zimbabwe. Maggie Q seems like she’s made some sort of peace with what she gets offered to play, but Maslany, like Rodriguez, seems determined to constantly push for the mainstreaming of everyone, queer or straight or male or female, eventually hoping to reach a place where everyone feels like a participant in mainstream culture.
Asked to talk about their ultimate role model if they could design someone for young women to react to, Sackhoff became very emotional talking about her mother, a schoolteacher for 35 years. Gurira talked about how Susan Dey in “LA Law” seemed like an idealized power figure to her when she was young. What was clear is that all of these women had a wealth of experience to share as soon as they started talking about their place in this business, and one of my favorite moments came when someone in the audience asked who would win in a fight between Maggie Q and Rodriguez. “We should be working together to balance out all that destructive male energy.” As with anyone these days, the way to change this business is to prove that there is a market that will support your vision. Rodriguez is smart enough to realize that no longer means you have to find an American audience who will support you, and that globalization of our entertainment media creates new opportunities for artists.
If that panel made some of the fanboys who were there to see whatever their particular favorite power fantasy is played out on the big screen uncomfortable, or if challenged the attitudes of people in that room, then that is genuinely the most important thing that could have happened in Hall H. So often, that room is used just to sell things, and certainly most of what I witnessed was marketing, pure and simple. But for that one hour, things got real in that room, and I wish Comic-Con would schedule more of that, daring its attendees to expand their world view instead of just reinforcing it.
So what do we have now… 352 days till the next Comic-Con?
Should be just enough time to recover.