Comic-Con 2013 Feature Film Highlights

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P1090377July means one thing in San Diego… Comic-Con!  As always, the biggest party of the year brings in tons of geek energy and star power.  Last year’s highlights included appearances by Robert Downey Jr. and Henry Cavill, among many others, helming the panels of the two most anticipated movies of 2013, “Iron Man 3” and “Man of Steel.”  Superheroes, warriors and vampires dominate again this year, with astronauts tagging along. 

As anyone who has attended Comic-Con knows, there are too many concurrent panels, too long lines, and too little time, so you’re forced to be selective  and choose which panels you could have the best chance to get into without camping out or wasting all day.  Having attended most major feature film panels for many years (for coverage from previous years, click here), I’ve noticed the lines have grown out of control over the years due to the extreme popularity.  The only solution is to expand the space of the convention center to accommodate the swelling interest and size of the crowd. P1090705

This year I did something different by attending a mix of smaller art-related panels, a number of pilot and established TV shows, and several feature films, including a press conference. 


Here are some of the highlights of several feature films: (check back later for TV pilots)

Europa Report (August 2, 2013)

P1090256In attendance: director Sebastian Cordero, composer Bear McCreary, producer Ben Browning, actress Karolina Wydra, scientists Steve Vance and Kevin Hand; moderated by astronomer Dr. Phil Plait

“Europa Report” puts more emphasis on science in ‘science fiction.’  It’s a faux documentary (“found footage” style) of a space exploration to investigate whether there are elements of life in Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, with its vast liquid water ocean.  The images are not only clear and striking, but also realistically shot (based on actual images from NASA), evoking a sense of awe, discovery and danger.  The filmmakers really go for realism, but, at the same time, understand that science has to find a balance with a story and characters that are compelling.  The space suit weighs 50 lbs. with a camera attached in the helmet, so the audience would see images directly from the astronaut’s eyes.  As far as music goes, they try to strike that balance between cold and mechanical, and orchestra-like music typical for movies, and aiming for a melody that is beautiful and evocative, and hopefully connect with the audience.  The film has been compared to “Moon” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.” 

“Ender’s Game” (November 1, 2013)

P1090334In attendance: writer/director Gavin Hood, producer Roberto Orci, stars Harrison Ford, Asa Butterfield and Hailee Steinfield

The trailer showed an impressive space war with a boy soldier (Ender) in command.  The movie is based on a novel by Orson Scott Card, a story about gifted children learning the arts of war in an advanced military school in preparation for battle with the aliens to save the human race. 

According to Hood, the movie isn’t just about good vs. evil with simple characters; it has a complex moral story.  While the trailer doesn’t show anything more than actions, the story is supposedly about leadership, compassion, empathy, tolerance, self-identity, and how you define your moral position in the world. 

Hailee mentioned that she had to train at a boot camp to prepare for the physically demanding role, including learning to march and salute.  Ford’s role in the movie is mentor-manipulator.  An iconic figure, Ford made his second appearance in Hall H (first was 2010 for “Cowboys and Aliens“) and was the highlight of the panel.  Fans were clamoring and lining up to ask him questions, including goofy questions about Han Solo and Indiana Jones. 

“Divergent” (March 21, 2014)

P1090284In attendance: author Veronica Roth, director Neil Burger, main stars Shailene Woodley and Theo James, joined by supporting stars,  Mekhi Phifer, Maggie Q, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Zoe Kravitz, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Christian Madsen, Amy Newbold and Ben Lamb

The ensemble cast came to Comic-Con fresh from finishing shooting just two days ago.  Woodley sounded endearingly nervous and commented about how huge the crowd in Hall H was.  The moderator made a good-natured joke about the accent of the good-looking James, who was the target of affection from female fans. 

Based on the best-selling young adult fiction by Veronica Roth, “Divergent,” is an intriguing story about a fragmented society in a distant future, where it’s divided into five factions; bravery, selflessness, intelligence, kindness, honesty.  Each person belongs to and must conform to the virtue of his or her faction. 

One member of the selflessness faction (Woodley) is dissatisfied with her faction and wishes to move to another faction.  Mentored by a member of the other faction (James), she has to undergo rigorous training and prove herself.  The footage shown is action-packed, involving leaping off trains and buildings, martial arts training, crowd surfing and knife-throwing.  One particular standout scene is the knife-throwing scene with Woodley’s character standing still, and having her ear nicked by the last throw.  Done right, “Divergent” could be the next “The Hunger Games.”

When asked about bravery, Woodley emphasized that her character was not a superhero;  she’s a normal person put in an extraordinary position, who would rise to the occasion. James responded that it’s how you deal with what’s asked of you and in the face of fear, and that’s what would define you.  It’s about not being afraid to demonstrate what you’re afraid of and deal with things that are scary. 

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (April 4, 2014)

Cap PressIn attendance at the Marvel press conference: directors Anthony Russo and John Russo, stars Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Emily VanCamp, Frank Grillo and Cobie Smulders.

The next installment of “Captain America” would be modern and edgy.  Johansson talked about working more intimately and close on the ground than in “The Avengers.”  Evans discussed about working closely with Johansson as Black Widow. Something happens in the relationship and they would need to rely on each other.  Van Camp’s character, ‘Kate,’ has been rumored to be Cap’s love interest, but Van Camp wasn’t allowed to divulge what role she’s playing and how she’s introduced in the movie.  Stan mentioned the similarity of his character, Winter Soldier, with Cap, as a lost man in a new world, discovering his role and identity. 

Evans also discussed Cap’s conflicts in the modern world.  It’s a more challenging world than the 1940’s in the sense that it’s not as black and white anymore; it’s gray.  Back in the day, Nazi’s were the bad guys.  Now we’re dealing with a blurred line between civil liberty and security.  Cap, viewed as a boy scout and lacking in humor, can’t rely on the being fish-out-water situation anymore to be entertaining.  He’s been briefed about the world and he has a cell phone. 

“Guardians of the Galaxy” (August 1, 2014)

GOTG PressIn attendance at the Marvel press conference: director James Gunn, stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Benicio del Toro and Karen Gillan

Gunn clarified the basic premise of the movie.  It’s a family coming together, individuals who have acted selfishly throughout their lives learning things about themselves and learning to act as heroes.  The movie’s tone will be lighter and more family-friendly.  It’s revealed that villain Thanos, seen in post-credit “The Avengers” will connect this movie to the larger Marvel Universe. 

Pratt mentioned about how great Marvel movies were and it’s because of the great stories, singling out how Iron Man became so well-known to people besides comic fans.  He thought it’s the same thing with this movie, which has a cool story.  He joked about his physical training and transformation to be fit for the movie.  Zaldana was excited to do something different, sort of an anti-hero movie.  The characters – rebels, thieves, assassins – are learning their lessons, and with Gunn’s interpretation, there will be a lot of levity. 


Another lively panel I attended was Q and A with directors Marc Webb (“The Amazing Spider-Man“), Alfonso Cuaron (“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” and upcoming “Gravity”) and Edgar Wright (upcoming “Ant-Man”).

Other scoops coming out of Comic-Con include:

  • “Age of Ultron” is the title of “The Avengers 2” (2015).  The movie is said to be darker and more global in scope.  Ultron is a super-intelligent robot with goal of ruling the Earth.
  • Superman will face off against Batman in “Man of Steel 2” (2015).  There have been debates about whether this is a desperate move from DC to catch up with Marvel by having the two biggest superheroes in the world dueling out in one movie.
  • “Flash” is slated for 2016 and “Justice League” (DC’s all-star superheroes ensemble) 2017.


While it might be cool to attend a Marvel press conference, it’s certainly different from marveling in a fan-centric event.  Some members of the press may be fans themselves and humorous exchanges take place occasionally, but a press event is mostly devoid of excitement.  The interactions are lot more measured, subdued.  None of the thunderous cheers, wild surprises or overall mass hysteria.  Passionate fans, devoted and star-struck, make up most of the fun and create an electrifying experience.  There is simply no comparison. 


In addition to star-studded panels, frenzied exhibits halls, costumed characters and outer exhibits in downtown San Diego entertained fans and visitors alike.  If you’ve never attended or don’t intend to attend Comic-Con next year, walk around downtown and soak in the ambiance.  It’s perfect for people-watching, taking silly pictures, partying or just hanging out.  And that’s a wrap!

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Photos by Nathalia Aryani.

Copyright (c) 2013. Nathalia Aryani.

Nathalia Aryani is a business manager, foreign language translator, film columnist and travel/lifestyle writer.  She can be reached at  Nathalia owns a movie blog, The MovieMaven ( Twitter:

Nathalia Aryani is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic ( She has a movie blog, The MovieMaven ( Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at [email protected].

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