Marvel Studios’ Saturday night panel at San Diego Comic-Con did not skimp on the surprises and revelations. Starting first and foremost with this one:
1. Joss Whedon announced that the Avengers sequel will be subtitled Age of Ultron.
For those unfamiliar, in the comics, Ultron was a sentient robot created by Henry Pym (a.k.a. Ant-Man, a.k.a. the hero of the Marvel Studios movie that follows Avengers: Age of Ultron) who becomes obsessed with remaking himself over and over again, improving each time and laying waste to those who got in his way.
But the real eyebrow-raising element here is the specific title, “Age of Ultron.” That title is shared by a 2013 limited series in which Ultron basically decimates the entire planet. It would be impossible for Marvel to mount a straight-forward adaptation of that series — Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four’s Invisible Woman, and especially Wolverine figure prominently in the plot, and the movie rights to those characters are held tightly by other studios. But by claiming that title, writer-director Joss Whedon appears to be indicating that the stakes for Avengers 2 are expanding far beyond an alien invasion of New York City.
One other thought: Marvel has more than proven it knows how to mount feature films that satisfy the core geek faithful, while still entertaining a much wider audience who only know the characters from the movies and not the comics they’re based on. But The Avengers: Age of Ultron is an inescapably geeky title — at least, much more so than Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s just a fascinating risk for Whedon and Marvel to push the sequel to the third-highest grossing movie of all time into such seemingly dark and (relatively) rarefied territory.
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is attacking the 2010s by way of the 1970s.
While he did not appear at the panel, Robert Redford loomed large over he second Captain America movie, which star Chris Evans made clear swims in the murky, paranoid waters of our current age of surveillance and militarism. In the extended trailer for the film, Redford’s S.H.I.E.L.D. bigwig tells Evans’ Captain America, “To build a better world, sometimes you have to tear the old one down.”
The footage in general looked strong, placing Cap squarely in a story concerned with the nitty-gritty realities of today rather than the vast, fantastical storylines that have dominated Marvel films for a while now. (Even the Extremis plot of Iron Man 3 was rather over-the-top.) I especially enjoyed the contained fight sequence that opened the footage, in which a pack of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents crowd into an elevator and try to take Cap down. “Before we get started,” Cap says, when he realizes what’s about to go down, “does anyone want to get out?” Nice. (The brief shots of Anthony Mackie’s Falcon — flying off a helicarrier as a futuristic fighter attacked him — also made a strong impression.)
For comic book fans, the most welcome revelation at the panel — which featured actors Evans, Scarlett Johannssen, Samuel L. Jackson, Sebastian Stan, Cobie Smulders, Emily Van Camp, and Frank Grillo, directors Joe and Anthony Russo, and producer (and Marvel Studios chief) Kevin Feige — was when Feige confirmed that the storyline would follow the arc penned by comic book writer Ed Brubaker for Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), a.k.a. the Winter Soldier of the title.
Barnes, you may recall, seemingly fell out of a train to his death in 2011’s Captain America. Instead, he was transformed into, well, click here if you want to know more.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy looks hysterical.
With characters like “Ronan the Accuser” (played by Lee Pace) and “Drax the Destroyer” (played by WWE star David Batista, who said he cried when he got the role) it’s perhaps not a huge shock that Marvel tapped writer-director James Gunn (Slither) to make Guardians of the Galaxy into a sci-fi action comedy, with an emphasis on the comedy. Feige claimed the cast had only been shooting for less than two weeks, but the ample footage he screened of the film looked incredibly polished — especially the CG work for Rocket Raccoon and living tree creature Groot. (No word yet on who is voicing those characters, by the way.)
More to the point, it was really funny. Chris Pratt certainly got jacked to play Star-Lord a.k.a. Peter Quill — “I got the role six months ago,” he said at the panel, “and they said, ‘Great job, but you’re too fat!’” — but he was clearly also hired for his killer comedic timing. And when you hire John C. Reilly to play the man who introduces each of the Guardians — Drax, Star-Lord, Groot, Rocket, and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) — you’ve pretty well staked a claim to what kind of movie you’re making. “They call themselves the Guardians of the Galaxy,” says Reilly. To which a colleague says, “What a bunch of a-holes.”
4. Loki deserves his own movie.
You can click here to read how Tom Hiddleston’s appearance as Loki before the Thor: The Dark World footage completely overwhelmed Hall H and sent the internet into conniptions. But I’ll just note once again that a character and actor this insanely popular would do well to have his own film.