Sony and Columbia Pictures came out guns blazing at this year's San Diego Comic Con, easily assembling the most impressive panel so far. They brought with them previews of a quartet of highly-anticipated upcoming films: GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE, 30 MINUTES OR LESS, TOTAL RECALL and THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. Understandably, some have more to show than others at this point, but all were appealing, not to mention crowd-pleasing.
First up was GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE. Accompanying the footage were stars Nicolas Cage, Johnny Whitworth and Idris Elba, as well as directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. And boy oh boy, after seeing what they brought along, there's no way this movie could be from anyone but the guys who directed CRANK.
First up was a brief behind-the-scenes look at the insane filmmaking tactics the two directors utilize on set. Since they operate the cameras on all of their films, they're right in the middle of everything. And what "everything" involves on GHOST RIDER is nothing short of madness. The two ride on rollerblades, attach themselves to wires, hop on motorcycles and every other thing you can imagine to capture what they want. At one point we see a stuntman being whipped through the air, over a railing on a treacherous-looking highway, with one of the directors directly behind him, shooting. Another example had Neveldine literally clinging to a motorcycle as it raced down a road before letting go and coasting along, both eyes on his camera. Any of these stunts could easily go wrong and bring about certain death, but the directors don't seem to be too concerned. At the panel Neveldine said he was always looking for something even more dangerous and creative to do, although it's somewhat hard to imagine what that could be. (Though one of them suggests getting into a barrel and going down a waterfall might be something...)
This little featurette was just a prelude to the 3D trailer for the film, which looks to be just as out of its ever-lovin' mind as its directors. People worried that this is going to be a rehash of the first effort can put aside those fears, as SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE might just be the weirdest, freakiest, most unsubtle superhero film ever. Let's see: At one point we see a bad guy firing an uzi directly into Ghost Rider's face. Ghost Rider allows the man to keep shooting into his gaping mouth, and after he's done, he vomits them back at him in rapid fire. Another moment has Ghost Rider literally pissing fire. We get a brief look at The Devil, played by the usually restrained Irish character actor Ciaran Hinds, but this portrayal of the Devil seems to imagine the being as a ratty, bug-eyed wacko. ("Worst f*ckin' deal I ever made!" he spits out, referencing the pact he has with Johnny Blaze.) Tons of people are flung around, Ghost Rider annihilates a guy with his chain by smashing him into the ground so violently the earth cracks... I don't think this is going to be PG-13.
The effects are very impressive, and Ghost Rider himself looks great. No complaints about the CG that I can raise.
After a very enthusiastic crowd reaction, the panel got underway. Here are the highlights:
- Nicolas Cage says the character of Johnny Blaze is a lot edgier and sardonic this time around. "He's been living the last several years having his head catch on fire, so it's effecting his mood," Cage said.
- Neveldine and Taylor said they enjoy working in 3D; they really wanted to use the format to immerse the audience in the crazy, insane world.
- A fan asked the directors why they didn't have a Hellcycle this time around. They responded that it's still a Hellcycle, because everything Ghost Rider rides "transforms into a hell version of that thing". So a normal bike becomes a Hellcycle when Ghost Rider boards it. At one point he gets on a strip miner (which is a giant carving saw that cuts mountains in half), and the same thing happens to it.
- Neveldine and Taylor want to do another Ghost Rider film.
- Johnny Whitworth plays a sociopath named Kerrigan and then gets turned into Blackout. At that point, he turns full psychopath.
Idris Elba plays "a French, wine-drinking, motorcycle-riding warrior monk."
Not much more to report on the panel, although I must note this: At one point, Neveldine made a crack about Cage's notorious hair, and Cage did not seem amused. Later, a fan made a reference to the sequence in THE WICKER MAN in which Cage, dressed in a bear suit, romps around punching women. Again, Cage was not amused...
Sony then began to prep THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, and the excitement in the room was palpable. Moderator Ralph Garman began to introduce the panel, but an overeager fanboy dressed as Spider-Man got to the audience microphone and started to geek out. Garman warned him that questions were for later, but the fanboy ignored him and started to talk about how this was the most incredible day of his life, how he's always wanted to be in Hall H dressed as Spider-Man, etc. After a moment, he ripped off his mask and revealed that he was in fact the new Peter Parker himself, Andrew Garfield.
Garfield proceeded to give a very emotional, pre-written speech about his passion for the Spidey character and his creator, Stan Lee. Appearing to be both nervous and excited (and even on the verge of tears), Garfield captivated the crowd as he convinced us all that he grew up loving the character, even going so far as to claim Spider-Man saved his life. "This is definitely the coolest moment of my life, and thank you for being here and sharing it with me," Garfield said.
Garfield then introduced the rest of the panel: Producer Matt Tolmach, MArvel honcho Avi Arad, director Marc Webb and Emma Stone, aka "Gwen Stacy". Soon after, we were shown the trailer that debuted recently, although in 3D it's more impressive (especially the POV shot of Spidey swinging around, although it's also admittedly a little disorienting).
After that, however, we were given the real treat: A series of never-before-seen sequences from the film. The movie certainly seems to be somewhat darker telling of the Spider-Man tale; a lot of human drama on the screen, with Garfield in particular impressing with what looks like an emotionally-charged performance. Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben is another highlight, and we were shown a full sequence in which he and Peter Parker have a confrontation in a high school hallway: Parker has evidently struck back at a bully and physically harmed him, which prompts a call to Uncle Ben from the school principal. Ben wants to know is Parker feels better now that he's hurt someone, and Parker is obviously ashamed of himself.
The mood lightens a bit when Gwen Stacy appears nearby. Ben recognizes her from Parker's computer (a picture of Gwen acts as Parker's wallpaper) and blurts that fact out to her intentionally. After Ben leaves the two of them, an embarrassed Peter proceeds to have an awkward conversation with Gwen, who is clearly in to him. They decide to go out sometime, and Peter is clearly thrilled... It's a very cute scene, ringing true the whole time and brimming with youthful energy.
A few other scenes we're shown:
- Peter Parker, having already been bitten by the radioactive spider, is suddenly incredibly strong: Smashing his alarm clock by accident, squeezing a tube of toothpaste so hard it nearly explodes, and ripping off the sink faucet.
- A criminal breaks into a car and attempts to hotwire it. Spider-Man is waiting in the backseat already. A moment later, Spidey is taunting the criminal outside of the car, cowering in mock fear at a switchblade. He then shoots his webs at the guy, pinning him to the wall. In a series of jump cuts, we see him continue to shoot webs at the thief, although each time in a humorously different way. (Throwing it like it's a baseball, acting like he's sneezing it out, etc.) This is a playful scene that really captures the juvenile side of the character.
- Another confrontation with bad guys takes place on a subway, where Peter Parker fights a group of tough guys. At one point a guy tries to hit Peter with a skateboard, and Peter blocks it with his arm, breaking the thing in two. He also finds himself hanging from the ceiling in the classic Spidey pose.
- Denis Leary plays Stacy's police officer father, and he's very determined to capture Spider-Man, who he declares is a vigilante and a wanted man. Leary is playing it serious all the way.
- We meet Dr. Curt Connors, played by Rhys Ifans. Of course, Connors lost one of his arms, but he explains to a group of students (Parker among them) that he's working on a way to creat himself a fresh one. Parker impresses Connors with his knowledge. Gwen Stacy is also there, apparently working for Connors.
- We see the slow transformation of Connors, who injects himself with some odd liquid at various intervals. He grows a new arm, which he peels the skin off of (like a lizard shedding) in what seems like a very cool scene. Another scene apparently takes place in a sewer and we see Connors raging to no one in particular.
- Then the big one. Two girls are in a bathroom stall, talking about a failed relationship. Suddenly they hear a rumbling coming from below the toilet. The water is sucked out of it and then there's silence. After a beat, something starts busting through the floor, which freaks the girls out. The toilet goes flying and The Lizard emerges. He's quite big, menacing, and a fully CG character. (I personally thought it was just going to be Ifans in make-up, but they've gone with a digital character.) The Lizard walks up to the girls, who are pinned against the wall, and stares them down for what felt like several uncomfortable seconds. Then his tongue flicks out in a vaguely sexual way, nearly licking one of the frightened girls. It's a strange scene; on the one hand it's somewhat cartoony, on the other hand, it's definitely filled with a certain perversity. As for the character himself, I wasn't completely sold. It's most likely nowhere near finished, but it looked pretty close. I'll reserve judgment until we see more, however.
During the panel, Garfield had this to say about their approach to the Spider-Man story: “We're approaching this like it's Shakespeare, like it's a Greek myth, these are our modern myths, these comic book characters, and I feel that we still want to watch these stories and we still want to see our favorite characters on the big screen. For me, it's just another chapter in a comic book story that means so much to so many people.”
Emma Stone said she fell in love with the story of Peter and Gwen, which is why she wanted to be a part of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. At the same time, she can't play a character without making her her own a little bit. “Hopefully it's alright that I'm playing her,” Stone said humbly, after which the crowd let her know it was okay with them by giving her a round of applause.
Rhys Ifans showed up, but he did not contribute much beyond a vaguely weird comment about monsters bringing out the humanity in people.p>All in all, the film looks very enjoyable, although I can't say there was anything that struck me as utterly amazing. (I'm certainly not yet convinced that rebooting the character so soon was the right thing to do.) The scenes with Garfield as Parker actually might be the strongest as opposed to any Spider-Man shenanigans, and the rest of the cast appears to be at the top of their games. The crowd seemed to love it, it should also be mentioned.