Written by Steve Geise
Every year, the movie studios trot out sci-fi-themed films to the captive Comic-Con Hall H audiences in the hopes of building momentum for their projects. Every year, many of those films are bombs. The studios figured out years ago that they could package those bombs with their tentpole projects, presenting a Comic-Con programming block of their upcoming slates rather than letting attendees pick and choose on a one movie per panel basis. The strategy has become the panel equivalent of a cable tv channel package, with no a la carte option.
Sometimes, there are surprises in the mix, such as the even better than expected buzz for Pacific Rim last year or the electric reaction to the original 300 footage years ago. Unfortunately, for every Pacific Rim you’re likely to get a R.I.P.D. nowadays, and with a capacity Hall H and punishing entry line outside you either suck it up and suffer through the losers or find other things to do with your days.
This year, I toughed it out through the Sony panel on Friday and the Warner Brothers/Legendary and Lionsgate panels on Saturday so you wouldn’t have to, with results almost exactly as expected.
Sony brought four movies to the Con this year, with only one sure winner in the batch in the form of The Amazing Spider-Man 2. So what else did we endure to get to that apparent treat? They started us off with Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, a sequel nobody wanted but one that should nonetheless be able to pull in some cash. The presentation got off to a bizarre start with a filmed introduction featuring the film’s voice actors such as Bill Hader and Andy Samberg cosplaying as their charcters in the film, which was neither funny nor worthwhile. Then the actual film footage looked so manic and hyperactive that I wanted to offer the characters chill pills.
Next up was Robocop, yet another reimagining of a well-known property. My initial question mark about this film was how scrawny new star Joel Kinnaman would be able to shoulder the fake metallic armor, but the new black armor is decidedly sleeker. That armor is disconcerting due to its departure from the classic look, especially with a redesigned visor that looks like a Cylon red eye when deployed and also frequently flips up when not needed, exposing Kinnaman’s eyes. The ultra violence of the original appears to be missing in action, meaning this watered-down update is likely to be shooting for a PG-13 rating. I’m not impressed.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is another adaptation of a young-adult novel attempting and failing to replicate the success of the Twilight and Hunger Games franchises. Lily Collins plays the lead character who discovers she’s part of a secret non-human society, learning about her powers while on the run. With no star power behind or in front of the camera, only fans of the book need apply for this one.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 had a very, very shaky start with seemingly malfunctioning video that left the hall dark for at least a minute, followed by a foolish and lame stunt video that showed Spider-Man outside the convention making his way to the hall Spidey-style, followed by another interminable delay while we waited for the live Spider-Man to walk out on stage in costume where he proceeded to be interviewed in character, acting star-struck to be sitting next to co-star Jamie Foxx and tossing off Peter Parkerish bon mots. After exiting the stage as Spider-Man, star Andrew Garfield eventually returned as himself for the remainder of the panel. These shenanigans contributed to probably the biggest fumble ever for a huge film in Hall H, which was only saved by some thrilling footage of Foxx’s Electro character in action.
Moving on to Saturday, Warners sucked up a full 2 ½ hours of prime programming time, and while it’s their last year with departing partner Legendary it still felt about two movies overlong. Thankfully, they saved the worst for first, so at least we got most of the pain out of the way right up front. That turkey is Seventh Son, which should tell you all you need to know based on its upcoming January release date, aka the studio graveyard. While the medieval footage wasn’t all that bad, the movie’s biggest star is R.I.P.D. alumnus Jeff Bridges, here playing another unbelievable character, a stoic and deadly warrior. I just can’t sign off on The Dude as a warrior, and neither will the rest of the world.
Next up was Godzilla, yet another reimagining of the classic Toho character. Sorry Godzilla, but we already got our kaiju fix from Pacific Rim. The footage again looked good, but lacked any compelling reason to see the finished product. All I can really tell you is that this Godzilla is massive, much bigger than before but not seemingly any brighter about how to make an entertaining 21st century movie. I enjoyed the director’s previous (and sole) small scale film, Monsters, but I fear Gareth Edwards is out of his depth this time around.
300: Rise of an Empire took center stage next, and while the footage clearly retains Zach Snyder’s distinctive visual aesthetic from the original, this project was doomed from the start due to its blatantly money-grubbing existence. The new and not very dynamic director attempted to explain that his film takes place at the same time as the original, just zoomed out more to follow surrounding action, but audiences aren’t dumb (except when it comes to Adam Sandler films) and will punish this travesty accordingly.
The LEGO Movie is still a question mark at this point, it could go either way. The directors attempted to assure the audience that they are making this film mostly out of bricks, not pixels, and it will have fun cameos by WB-friendly properties such as Justice League characters and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but it’s not clear if audiences will turn out for what basically amounts to a decently budgeted stop-motion fan film.
Gravity was the biggest winner of the group thanks to the astounding exclusive footage presented by director Alfonso Cuaron. This film is the studio’s best chance for critical and commercial success.
Edge of Tomorrow has something to do with time travel and war and reliving death over and over again, but I couldn’t really tell you what because stars Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, and director Doug Liman spent most of their time complaining about how heavy and bulky the combat exoskeletons were, leaving little time to extol the film’s virtues. I’ve mentioned previously that Cruise was extremely gregarious otherwise, but all the complaining and the less-than-compelling footage led me to believe this film is in trouble.
Moving on to Lionsgate, they treated us to footage from I, Frankenstein, and sweetened the pot by mentioning that it’s from the producers of the Underworld movies and obviously shares similar design cues. Unfortunately, lead Aaron Eckhart just doesn’t convince me as action guy, even after flexing his bicep for the Hall H attendees. Bomb.
That left The Hunger Games: Catching Fire as the likely undisputed box-office champion of both of these Saturday panels, continuing the tale and bringing along most of the principal cast members including Jennifer Lawrence to hype the new trailer debuting in Hall H. Frankly, they could have brought some additional exclusive footage for us, but this was the one film of the batch that had no need to sell itself thanks to its guaranteed built-in fanbase.