What you can expect from Marvel Studios at their 2014 Comic-Con panel

Looking at the official Marvel announcement of their inevitable 2014 Comic-Con panel, it's about as vague an announcement as possible. The “when” is Saturday, July 26, from 5:30 to 6:30 PM. The “where” is Hall H. It's just the “what” that they left very, very loose.

Marvel's pretty much taken up permanent occupation of that spot, and why not? It's the last big movie panel of each year, and being in that position means that they have a chance to throw down something big and buzzworthy and basically dominate the conversation as all the movie coverage is wrapping up. It's a brilliant strategy, and I'm sure they've got some big things planned for this year.

But what?

Based on speculation and a few careful enquiries to people who might know what's in store for us, I've got some guesses. Keep in mind… these are just speculation. I'm not sure about any of this, but I feel like some of it simply makes sense, and there are some things that I hope we see, but that may turn out to not be part of Marvel's game plan yet.

For example, I'm curious to see how they handle the “Ant-Man” thing on Saturday. I remember meeting Peyton Reed for the first time at a Comic-Con panel, where he and I were both just sitting in the audience with friends, attending as fans. It would not be remotely surprising if he wanted to show up at Comic-Con to share some of what he's got in mind for the film. But at this point, is fandom ready to give Peyton a fair shake onstage, or are they going to attack simply because he's not Edgar Wright? They may well bypass the panel completely just so they can control that conversation and not open Peyton up to an aggressively hostile crowd. Michael Douglas may have tipped their hand when he mentioned a trip to Comic-Con during a recent talk-show appearance, but I hear even so, Marvel's been wrestling with the decision.

I think the safest bet for the day is footage from “Avengers: Age Of Ultron.” They're far enough into production that they can cut some impressive material together. They came with both “Captain America” and “Guardians” after relatively shorts bursts of shooting, but had great short presentations ready. Here, they've had more time, and they've got plenty of new characters to introduce. I think we'll see Paul Bettany as The Vision, I think we'll see James Spader as Ultron, fully-rendered in at least one shot, and I'm going to bet we see at least part of a party scene that takes place at Tony's new Avengers Tower hang-out. There are few things that I think would delight that hall full of people than a scene featuring the Avengers tying one on. I don't think they'll have the full line-up of Avengers down there, but they may bring Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen to introduce Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, and I wouldn't be shocked to see some other familiar faces in the mix.

It also seems enormously likely to me that Marvel will not only confirm a release date for “Doctor Strange,” but there's a good chance that whoever is playing Stephen Strange will walk out onto that stage to be introduced formally to the world. It's worth noting that Benedict Cumberbatch is going to be in town for the “Penguins Of Madagascar” panel… but would that really be the reason he'd fly to San Diego? Maybe there's a “Sherlock” panel. Maybe he'll sit down with the cast of “The Hobbit” to help promote that. And maybe, just maybe, he's the Sorcerer Supreme.

Now that “The Winter Soldier” has had its run and “Thor: The Dark World” is fairly distant in the rear-view mirror, it would not be outside the realm of possibility that they announce titles for each of those sequels as well as firm dates. Again… just working from a hunch, I'd say there's a good chance “Ragnarok” or some variation of that could be part of the “Thor” sequel's title. There is definitely a war brewing in Asgard, and I'm sure Marvel is excited to tell that story.

The one film you can be sure they're going to push with as much energy as they can muster is “Guardians Of The Galaxy.” Sure, it's in theaters a week after the con, but that's kind of the point. They've got this captive audience that they're going to be able to make one last pitch to, and the Guardians are all in the middle of their press tour anyway. It would be one more stop, and perhaps the most important one. Tracking for the film is already strong, and I have a feeling Marvel is in a good place right now. Even so, they can't afford to ease up at all. This is a huge moment for them, and if they want this experiment to work, they have to keep the marketing machine rumbling along, all their energy focused on getting it right.

Beyond that, is there room for Marvel to surprise us? Sure. They could easily make a noise by telling us “Black Panther” is coming. They could bring Captain Marvel out and introduce her to the world and set a release date that would totally roadblock DC's “Wonder Woman” plans. Anything is possible.

We'll know for sure just a little over two weeks from today.
Comic-Con takes over San Diego from July 23-27th. Keep your eyes on HitFix for all the news the con can contain.