Sequels to ‘Thor’ and ‘Captain America’ show up and make big splash at Comic-Con

SAN DIEGO – At this point, Saturday has become the big day for fan-gasms in Hall H, the day the studios all compete to see who can make the biggest noise, and for the last several years, Marvel has walked away victorious.

This year, their panel started with moderator Chris Hardwick taking the stage for the second time that day, still dressed as Booker DeWitt, and he immediately brought out Kevin Feige, all-around head poobah of Marvel Studios.

Kevin walked out, sat down, and as he was in the middle of his introductory banter with Chris, said one word about “Thor: The Dark World,” only to be cut off mid-sentence as the entire Hall H plunged into darkness.

“Humanity,” a suspiciously familiar voice said over the Hall H speakers. “Look how far you’ve fallen. Lining up in the sweltering heat for hours. Huddled together in the darkness. I am Loki of Asgard… and I am burdened with glorious purpose.”

With a lightning-like flash at the front of the room, Tom Hiddleston emerged onstage, dressed in his full Loki costume.  “Stand back! The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for a place in this chamber.” He welcomed us to “this meager palace of Midgard, this arena they call Hall H.” When he called the assembled audience “mewling quims,” they erupted in excitement, and Hiddleston looked like he had to bite back a smile.

“You should have let me rule you when you had the chance. Here you are. Your ears yearn for untold stories, your eyes crave unseen sights. Your imaginations ache and hunger. Where are your Avengers now? Claim loyalty to me… and I will give you what you need.”

He looked out over the crowd, fans going berserk and screaming for him. “Say my name.”

The crowd roared back, “LOKI!”

“Say my name!” he said again.

“LOKI!” Even louder this time.

“SAY MY NAME!” he bellowed, and the response was deafening.

One last time. “SAY MY NAME!”

And with one last thunderous “LOKI!” he turned to walk offstage, satisfied.

“It seems I have an army. Feast your eyes.” The footage from “Thor: The Dark World” began on the overhead screens, and Hiddleston disappeared backstage again.

I’ll say this: Alan Taylor has delivered something that appears to be vastly more cinematic than what Kenneth Branagh did. I like the original “Thor,” but there’s so much room for improvement, and at the start of this footage, we find the Warriors Three caught up in a battle in some distant realm. We see Sif and the others, and it’s obvious this is a fairly even fight. Suddenly, amidst a blast of energy, Thor appears and Mjolnir flies out, taking down several foes before returning to his hand.

Sif seems frustrated to see him. “We have this under control.”

“Oh?” replies Thor. “Is that why everything’s on fire?” Right away, Hemsworth seems more relaxed and at home in the role. The crowd starts to fall silent, and then move out of the way as an enormous stone giant comes walking up to look down at Thor, speaking to him in some alien tongue.

“I accept your surrender,” Thor says. As the thing bellows at him again, Thor unleashes Mjolnir, throwing it up with such force that it explodes the giant’s head into a million tiny rocks.

The rest of what they showed was dense with images. Obviously something takes up residence in New York, some giant land-mass, and Thor ends up bringing Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) back to Asgard with him for her own safety. I laughed when we see Darcy (Kat Dennings) standing in the smoking rune where Jane and Thor vanished, looking up at the sky with a quiet “Holy shit.”

The entire thing looked big and beautiful, with a new emphasis on Idris Elba as Heimdall, and it’s obvious Loki plays a fairly major role here when Thor springs him so that he can help them. He’s Loki, though, so you know that’s not going to last, and the final shot in the preview had Loki standing over a bloodied Thor. Thor puts out his hand to call Mjolnir to him, and just before it gets there, Loki swings a blade and cuts Thor’s hand completely off.

Oh, yeah. That happened.

Fingers crossed that this is going to be as much fun as it looks. They’re definitely trying to top the first film in the franchise, which is an admirable goal.

The same appears to be true of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Earlier this year, when I interviewed Kevin Fiege about “Iron Man 3,” I asked him the question that many people had about the film. “Where is SHIELD when all of this is going down?”

At that time, he just smiled and said, “You’ll see when ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ is done. Let’s just say they’re a little busy.” Well, based on today’s panel, it looks like “Cap” is indeed going to be very heavy on the SHIELD involvement. After all, in addition to Joe and Anthony Russo, the film’s directors, the panel also featured Joe Grillo, Emily Van Camp, Anthony Mackie, Sebastien Stan, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, and Cobie Smulder. At this point, Captain America is working for SHIELD exclusively and starting to realize that the world has changed quite a bit. As Evans pointed out, that doesn’t mean doing dumb shtick like Captain America trying to figure out how to work a microwave or having trouble with the Internet. Instead, it’s more about how hard it is to identify the true enemy today. The world is not as simple as it was in Cap’s day, and his rigid ideas about right and wrong may not apply to the situations he finds himself facing.

Johansson says that her character is pretty much an equal partner to Captain America now, and that they’ve started to bond. Evans pointed out that they’re like an odd couple, each relying on the other to help them figure out their morality when faced with certain issues.

Hardwick asked Samuel L. Jackson how it feels each time he slips back on the eyepatch to play Nick Fury, and Jackson shrugged. “Pretty badass.” He talked about how Fury sees these superheroes as tools, weapons to be utilized. He tries to be a compass for Captain America, even if almost everything Fury says is a lie. I thought that was an interesting take on the character, and it makes everything Fury has ever said seem much more suspicious.

Sebastien Stan looks very odd right now, and I’m sure part of that is because of the character. According to Feige, the film sticks very close to the Ed Brubaker arc of comics that suggested it in terms of who The Winter Soldier is, and at the start of the panel, they openly mentioned that he is Bucky Barnes. In the film, though, it is a surprise to Captain America, and that’s how they’ll structure it.

If I had to give an award for “Person Happiest To Be On A Hall H Panel” today, Anthony Mackie would be the winner, hands-down. When asked to describe The Falcon, he went off. “I’ve got wings and guns. And really, what else do you need? Wouldn’t you love to have that at the grocery store? WIngs and guns? Me and Captain America, we go out and we give the bad guys the business.” He started pointing at other cast members. “We give him the business. We give him the business. We give her a little bit of business. Basically, we go out and we hand out business for two hours. Lots of business.”

Asked why Marvel hired the Russos to make the film, Feige mentioned that they love seeing someone do something clever, even if it’s got nothing to do with superheroes. He mentioned “Community” and “Arrested Development” and said the Russos just ended up on their radar. “Would you like to see why we hired the Russos?” he asked, and when the crowd roared in response, they screened a special clip.

It starts with what may be the single tensest elevator ride in the world. Captain America gets on, and a few other guys file in after him, including Brock Lumlow, played by Frank Grillo. While they’re friendly to him and act relaxed, Captain America notices one of the guys has his hand on his gun, ready for something. At each floor, more people step in, until it’s something like eleven guys around Cap. He sighs, knowing full well what’s about to happen, and says, “Before we start this… anyone want to get off?”

And then they fight. The guys try to put these magnetic handcuffs on Cap to hold his arms against the wall, but Cap’s not having any of that. He ends up beating down every single person in the elevator except for Lumlow, who keeps hitting him with a taser. “Sorry about this, Cap,” Lumlow says. “It’s nothing personal.”

Once he’s finally had enough, Captain America overpowers Lumlow and sends him to the floor with everyone else, unconscious. “Well, it feels personal,” Cap says as he steps out.

The rest of the footage is very big and very dark. Robert Redford shows up as Alexander Pierce, a high-ranking political figure, and we definitely got to see the Falcon in flight. We saw a fair sampling of Natasha Romanoff (Johansson) in action as well. Finally, after a brutal scene of the Helicarrier being brought down in shallow water, smoking and disabled, we see a shot of Cap’s shield. Someone walks over to pick it up, and we get our first look at The Winter Soldier in full make-up. He looks creepy. I’m excited to see what they do with the character in the film and how he fits into the larger universe they’re building.

Cobie Smulders talked about coming back to help Nick Fury some more, and how the end of the “Avengers” left the world reeling from the shock. Both Emily Van Camp and Frank Grillo spoke about joining this team. She’s evidently playing Agent 13. The problem is, they’re all so contractually sworn to secrecy that no one was really sure what they could talk about.

Whatever the case, “Thor: The Dark World” will be in theaters November 8, 2013, while “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” arrives April 4, 2014.