There are many ways to enjoy San Diego Comic-Con. Between hunting down prized exclusives, roaming the exhibit hall floor, trying your luck at autograph lotteries, and simply following along at home, there’s almost no wrong way to Comic-Con. The crown jewel of the convention, however, is Saturday in Hall H where comic book movies are biggest show in town and Marvel Studios is the headliner.
Expectations run high in Hall H and why shouldn’t they? It’s the hardest ticket (or wristband) to get at SDCC and the only way to acquire it, and secure a good seat, is to spend roughly 39 hours in line. By the way, that’s 39 hours from when the official line started this year, which is to say nothing of the many more hours of hovering by fans who were trying to form unofficial lines while hoping to be at the right place when the Saturday line was officially opened by security and convention organizers on Thursday night. I know all about it. This was my third year as a hoverer.
As is customary for headliners, Marvel Studios hit the stage late on Saturday. To be fair, Marvel Studios wasn’t even afforded the opportunity to start on time since a couple other panels had run late earlier in the day, but the effect was the same. The anticipation grew, resulting in the annual chant of “WE WANT MARVEL!”
Before long, the 75-minute presentation started with a video of Paul Rudd and Michael Peña, stars of Ant-Man and the Wasp, hilariously breaking down the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What seemed like a lot of trouble to break the fourth wall and tell 6,500 fans what they already knew very quickly turned into an introduction of (and to) the newest member of the MCU, the legendary Michelle Pfeiffer.
Pfeiffer, whom comic book movie fans will always revere for her turn as Catwoman in Batman Returns, will play Janet van Dyne. That makes Pfeiffer the original Wasp and the mother of Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and wife of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). It is also one of the biggest casting coups ever for a studio that has had more than their fair share. Janet was lost to the Quantum Realm in a flashback sequence from 2015’s Ant-Man and it has been widely speculated that getting her back to our reality will be one of the primary missions in the film.
Ant-Man and the Wasp doesn’t start production until next month, so there wasn’t any footage to show aside from a quick shot of Ant/Giant-Man (Rudd) peeking out from between a couple buildings. There was a lot of gorgeous concept art, however, showing new costumes for Lilly (the new Wasp) and even Hank Pym, who could be getting back into the action in the upcoming sequel. There was also a bit of casting news confirming some previously reported additions like Hannah John-Kamen (Ghost), Walton Goggins (Sonny Burch) and Randall Park (Agent Jimmy Woo) while adding a name that hadn’t previously been associated with the production, Laurence Fishburne, as Dr. Bill Foster. True Believers know that Dr. Bill Foster is Goliath in Marvel Comics, though we don’t know if he’ll get any superhero time in the MCU.
Captain Marvel was next. The film will begin production in California next year, but Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige was able to make up for a lack of production footage with stunning concept art by Marvel Studios Visual Development Supervisor Andy Park. Fans saw the design of Brie Larson’s costume while learning that Carol Danvers’ first solo adventure in the MCU will be set in the early 1990s. It will also feature a two-eyed Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and the MCU debut of the Skrulls, the shape-shifting alien antagonists that have plagued the heroes in Marvel Comics for decades.
Setting Captain Marvel in the 1990s solves the problem of telling an origin story right in the middle of Avengers: Infinity War and Untitled Avengers. It also tells us, in all probability, that Carol Danvers is going to be off on a mission deep into space or have some other equally acceptable reason for not lending The Avengers a hand during Earth’s most eventful years in this universe. The addition of the Skrulls could also mean that not everyone we know in the MCU is or has been who they seem(ed).
The first footage shown in the Marvel Studios presentation belonged to Thor: Ragnarok. After Taika Waititi started a running joke about taking the film to help “a friend in need” in star Chris Hemsworth, the director shared a few clips of the film, followed by the trailer that was released online for everyone to enjoy.
The first clip featured Thor (Hemsworth) strapped into a chair and being taken through a simulated journey through space, which explained the nature of the planet Sakaar. The planet, where Thor will eventually battle the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), is essentially the last stop on a cosmic garbage chute. One man’s trash is still another man’s treasure, though, as Thor learns he is now the property of the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum).
The first meeting between Thor and Grandmaster is every bit as funny and Goldblum-y as one can imagine. The scene also showed a rivalry between two of the Grandmaster’s top agents, Topaz (Rachel House) and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). Valkyrie is more of an independent contractor than an employee, but Grandmaster’s praise of her rubs full-timer Topaz the wrong way.
The next clip showed Thor being tossed into his holding cell while awaiting his battle against the Grandmaster’s champion (whose identity Thor does not yet know). In his cell, Thor meets Korg, a character voiced by Taika Waititi that was introduced in the Planet Hulk comic book storyline that has been a big influence on the film. Waititi used “Polynesian bouncers” as inspiration for the voice of Korg and the character quickly proves to be a perfect vehicle to bring in even more of the director’s unique brand of humor.
The last clip, which segued into the trailer, featured the beginning of the battle between Hulk and Thor in Grandmaster’s arena. As the full trailer played, the cheers in Hall H grew louder and when it ended, the fans in attendance jumped to their feet in applause. There had been plenty of great trailers played in Hall H on Saturday, but Thor: Ragnarok picked up the first standing ovation. It wouldn’t be much longer until we saw the second.
Black Panther was next and the film absolutely brought the house down. The cast was simply overjoyed to be a part of the film and director Ryan Coogler spoke of how much it meant to him to be presenting his film, or at least a piece of it, to the same Hall H crowd he used to sit in the back of as a fan. And he really is a fan, having sat in and watched the Warner Bros. Hall H presentation earlier that day.
Coogler brought footage that was just for Comic-Con and has not been officially released online. It began with a sting operation inside a casino in which T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), Okoye (Danai Gurira), and Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) were trying to take down Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) for selling Vibranium smuggled out of Wakanda. It was a good enough plan until one of Klaue’s henchmen spotted Okoye and the fight was on.
Okoye shed her wig and flung it at the goon before getting out a staff and beating more hired thugs to a pulp. Nakia was also mixing it up while Ross hid under a table and screamed. T’Challa made his move in pursuit of Klaue only to learn that, just as it is in the comics, Klaue’s prosthetic arm (the his original arm was severed in Avengers: Age of Ultron) is in fact a sonic gun. Wielding the power of sound allowed Klaue to make it out of the casino, but that doesn’t mean he escaped.
The rest of the footage jumped back and forth between the chase for Klaue and quick cuts of other sequences in the film. The pursuit for Kllaue showed how T’Challa’s “civilian” suit can quickly transform into his Black Panther costume. It also showed Okoye using that same staff from inside the casino to flip a vehicle while the Black Panther was busy riding car rooftops as we saw in the closing seconds of the film’s first teaser in June.
Notable moments from the rest of the reel include what appeared to be Shuri’s (Letitia Wright) lab where T’Challa sees his new Black Panther costume. There were big, dynamic action visuals including Black Panther dropping out of a plane and T’Challa, out of costume, battling M’Baku (Winston Duke) in the same location we saw him fighting Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). Speaking of Killmonger, he’s got his own Black Panther costume with a black and gold color scheme that is very reminiscent of many Black Panther designs in the comics.
As soon as the sizzle reel ended, fans were back on there feet with perhaps even greater enthusiasm than the first time around. The Black Panther footage was special and everyone knew it. The cast, who were seeing the footage for the first time themselves, were every bit as excited as the fans in the crowd.
Feige was ready to end on a high note. He came to SDCC to show off two films and he had done so brilliantly, but where there’s a Loki, a little bit of mischief and a lot of love for Hall H follows. Tom Hiddleston, who was there for the Thor: Ragnarok panel, returned to the stage and brought three Avengers with him: Boseman, Hemsworth, and Ruffalo. They wanted to give the crowd something more and they brought Joe Russo out to make sure that happened.
Joe Russo, who is directing Avengers: Infinity War with his brother, Anthony, knew the fans wanted to see the first footage from the film that had premiered at D23 Expo a week earlier and he was happy to oblige. The Hall H crowd was every bit as excited as the Hall D23 crowd to see the Avengers teaming up Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and the Guardians of the Galaxy to battle Thanos, who’s got enough Infinity Stones in his gauntlet to throw moons. It was another jaw-dropping trailer that had the fans on their feet.
The crowd wanted Marvel and they got all they could handle and then some from Hall H’s perennial headliner. Marvel Studios is known for delivering a shot of adrenaline to fans who would otherwise be exhausted and this year was no different, but perhaps a little more special. Marvel Studios has been on a roll for several years, but especially in Phase Three and the studio’s next three films all look extraordinary, as do the next three films after those.
Every step toward the conclusion of this 22-movie narrative with Untitled Avengers needs to be special and Marvel Studios provided all the assurance fans could hope for to believe they are about to see just that.
Fore more on the Marvel Studios presentation at SDCC, watch my reaction with Sabina Ibarra for Superhero News and see the gallery below.