Comic-Con 2015: Feature Film Highlights
Last year was an epic year where I attended multiple daytime film panels at Hall H and press conferences, capped with a night of television superheroes. Benedict Cumberbatch, John Malkovich, Jeff Bridges, Megan Fox, Matthew McConaughey, Dylan O’Brien, Zachary Quinto, Channing Tatum, Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson are among the many stars who were present, not to mention the 33 stars assembled on stage for the nighttime panel.
This year, with Marvel, Sony and Paramount skipping Comic-Con and no press conferences, it was looking to be a lighter year for me, but as it turns out, there’s plenty to marvel and celebrate.
Here are some of the memorable highlights: (please note that TV-pilots will be covered in a separate article later)
“Rock the Kasbah”(October 23, 2015)
In attendance: writer Mitch Glazer and star Bill Murray
Bill Murray rocked the room in character as Richie Lanz, unexpectedly walking through the aisles with rock-and-roll music playing in the background.
While this was Murray’s first-ever appearance at the convention, he mentioned about how comfortable he was as he felt the passion and excitement from the fans. He briefly talked about his experience filming in Morocco, showered praises on his co-stars (Bruce Willis, Kate Hudson), and made a point about the importance of being (completely) present onscreen and making others feel good.
Mitch Glazer mentioned that he spent a lifetime being around rock-and-roll promoters and that the movie was based on a true story, with a message of empowerment for women and the ability of culture to change.
“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2” (November 20, 2015)
In attendance: producer Nina Jacobson, director Francis Lawrence, stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth and Willow Shields
One of the most anticipated panels, stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth represented Katniss, Peeta and Gale for the last time as the last installment of the series will conclude this November. Elevating the excitement, Conan O’Brien, who’s hosting the late night talk show from San Diego for the duration of the convention, showed up to moderate the panel.
The presentation started off with the drumbeats of war. Live; with performers appeared on stage and in the middle aisle. Then the room went dark and a teaser rolled with soldiers dressed in white from head-to-toe conducting a military drill formation. Among a sea of whites, a shadowy figure comes into focus, and when the cape falls open, Katniss emerges in a striking red outfit. A blazing message accompanies, “Freedom is worth fighting for. Stand with us.” It’s followed by a sizzle reel of an all-out war; all 13 districts, inspired and led by Katniss, rising up and uniting against the Capital and its tyrannical leader, President Snow. The intense scenes are intercut with lovely celebratory moments, which include dancing.
After getting sidelined in ‘Mockingjay Part 1,’ Katniss would be back in action in this last installment, taking control and making decisions to set her own course and no longer decided by other parties.
The panel discussed how strenuous the filming of the movie was, how emotional the last day of the shooting, and how the experience of being in the series had changed their lives. There’s a lot of love and camaraderie among the cast. Lawrence made a humorous admission about holding one another “like puppies” the last night of the shooting.
I continued the “The Hunger Games” ride by attending the live taping of the Conan O’Brien show at the historic Spreckles Theater. I had attended the Jimmy Kimmel show in Hollywood and I must say this was decidedly a more relaxed experience. As far as audience responses go, no written signs held up with different kinds of expected reactions, and better yet, cameras and cell phones were allowed.
For a late night show, the stars glammed up and were ready to roll with abandon. Lawrence took up the challenge of continuously swearing with O’Brien dropping cash into a “swearing jar” for charity because “swearing is caring.” The actress also belted out a rendition of Cher’s “Believe.” There’s possibly an inadvertent moment of revelation when Hutcherson replied without hesitancy that there would be more movie(s) after ‘Mockingjay Part II,” but then tried to backtrack and cover up the response with his co-stars looking on.
Among the funniest acts during the show was a spoof of the “origin story” of Conan. One was mimicking Kal-El/Superman and the other Bruce Wayne/Batman.
“Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” (September 18, 2015)
In attendance: author James Dashner, director Wes Ball, stars Dylan O’Bryan, Ki Hong Lee, Thomas Brody-Sangster, Rosa Salazar and Giancarlo Esposito
“The Maze Runner” is one of those movies that turned out much better than expected. The footage of ‘Scorch Trial,’ which features even more terrifying creatures, more running and hanging-on-for-dear-life scenes, showed a conflicted Thomas. As the “Chosen One,” he was the motivator to get them out of the trap maze of a world, but now he feels responsible for personal losses suffered at the end of the last movie, and feels unsure if he has led the group of survivors to the right place. The panel promises that the second movie will be filled with humanity, guts and glory and that there’s a realness and grounded feeling to it.
“Fantastic Four” (August 7, 2015)
In attendance: producer Simon Kinsberg, writer-director Josh Trank, stars Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell and Toby Kebbell
The panel discussed that the movie took a different route than the previous two movies. It’s grounded, emotional, dramatic, character-driven story and more ‘science’ than science-fiction. We would get to know the characters before their life-changing transformations and how they would react thereafter. The core of the movie is about a family torn apart and pushed to the brink, how far apart they’re torn, and how they would come back together. While the past couldn’t be changed, they could change the future. The villain, led by ego, is Dr. Doom.
“Deadpool” (February 12, 2016)
In attendance: director Tim Miller, stars Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Gina Carano, Brianna Hildebrand, Ed Skrein and T.J. Miller
Having been stalled for years and almost didn’t get made, it was still a shocker that “Deadpool” was a surprise hit. Ryan Reynolds poked fun at himself for only having played a (not) proper superhero (referring to the derided “Green Lantern“). The crowd ate up what the raunchy and raucous panel dished out and grew wild after the sneak preview was shown. It’s said to be the most faithful adaptation. The panel was genuinely taken aback by the chanting from the audience, “One more time! One more time!” It’s a no-holds-barred trailer, hitting all the marks for an R-rated, antihero movie. Insanely irreverent, profane and violent, the preview showed slice-and-dice, headshots and foul-mouthed humor. It’s a lot more “Kickass” than your usual Marvel superheroes.
“X-Men: Apocalypse” (May 27, 2016)
In attendance: writer-producer Simon Kinberg, director Bryan Singer, stars Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, Olivia Munn, Lana Confor, Ben Hardy, Evan Peters, Kody Smit-McPhee, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Lucas Till and Sophie Turner
“X-Men” is where the rise of superheroes began. This mega-panel is one that die-hard fans camped out for.
Hugh Jackman took center stage for a heartfelt farewell to fans for his longtime role as Wolverine. The upcoming “Wolverine” movie would be the last time he’d ever put on the claws. The star of the seven movies of the franchise was quick to admit that Wolverine had been the greatest part of his life. He remarked how much he had aged when his audition tape in 1999 played onscreen and made a reference to “Old Man Logan.” A montage of “X-Men” scenes were thrown in for good measure.
Then the stars came out in full force, both from “X-Men: FirstClass” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and the next movie, “X-Men: Apocalypse.” James McAvoy came back after his previous appearance with Daniel Radcliff for the “Victor Frankenstein” panel.
‘First Class’ was phenomenal and DOFP successfully restarted the series, thanks to the magic of time-travel. The original characters getting the reboot include Cyclops, Jean Gray and Storm.
In the next installment, Professor X is finally sporting a dome-head and Magneto is letting go of his evil ways and trying to live a normal life, falling in love and having a family. Professor X, wearing a helmet and his eyes turning solid black, exclaims that he has never felt power like that before. 10 years after the event of DOFP, mutants are accepted and embraced, yet, Jean Gray has nightmares about a future filled with death and destruction and Mystique voicing her concern about mutants getting hunted. CIA is tracking down a mutant who’s lived for thousands of years, Apocalypse. One of Apocalypse’s powers is persuasion, as he’s able to enlist Angel, Psylocke, Storm and Magneto to join his team.
Other hits coming out of the convention include a lengthy trailer of “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and behind-the-scenes look of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” ‘Batman v. Superman’ explains a great deal about the reason behind the battle between Batman and Superman, which is linked to “Man of Steel” (the collapse of Wayne Tower and the loss of lives during Superman’s duel with General Zod). The trailer also provides glimpses of Wonder Woman during the superhero war, along with appearances from her alter ego, Diana Prince. ‘Star Wars’ was among one of the most talked-about panels, which concluded with a star-studded outdoor concert and fireworks.
Part of what Comic-Con such an experience is because of the whole package. Exclusive previews and pilots, stars and star-struck fans, comics and cosplays, games and exhibits, and a decked out downtown.
Continuing the trend from last year, virtual reality (VR) was all the rage. Legendary offered a mobile VR experience in a “to-go” cardbox, which can be used with any VR app from a smartphone.
I also tried my hand on Star Wars’ Force Trainer, a toy-machine that senses brain signals where your “power of concentration” could command hologram images.
Among the varied offsite attractions, “Heroes Reborn” and “Point Break” stood out. “Heroes Reborn” was an interactive VR where you could steer a game through body movements, with the “human scanning” feature showing a superhuman ability of shooting flames. At the end of the game, they took your picture and converted it into the show’s animated poster. You’re standing with flames shooting out of your hands and feet surrounded by fire. It’s a cool-looking poster.
“Point Break” had a giant trailer converted into a mobile cinema with 91 seating, showing a preview of the upcoming remake. The second part of the preview was in 3-D; a sequence where the characters jump off a cliff, fly with wingsuits, navigate mountainous terrains, and land safely on their feet. One impressive fact – instead of CGI or stuntmen, the extreme sport activities in the movie were performed by the world’s top athletes. You could get your picture taken skydiving or surfing with the a scene from the movie as a backdrop, which made a memorable souvenir.
It’s hard to believe that we’d have to wait for another year for Comic-Con. What an experience and looking forward to 2016!
Photos by Nathalia Aryani.
Copyright (c) 2015. Nathalia Aryani
Nathalia Aryani is a film columnist and has a movie blog, The MovieMaven(sdmoviemaven.blogspot.com). Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at email@example.com.