By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood July 27, 2014 at 2:59PM
The Marvel strut was in full force Saturday evening in Hall H. The Disney-owned company rules the comic-book superhero genre for movies and demonstrated once again why they also rule the Con. And Marvel didn't disappoint in touting the more ambitious "Age of Ultron" (May 1, 2015) along with the more fantastical and whimsical "Ant-Man" (July 31, 2015), which will star Paul Rudd as the incredible shrinking superhero. The contrast is further proof that Marvel will keep mixing it up between dark and light to escalate the danger while using gallows humor as an essential escape valve.
Aside from the Rudd casting, the big "Avengers" news was that James Spader ("The Blacklist") will play Ultron, Paul Bettany will segue from the voice of Jarvis, the computer from "Iron Man," to the mysterious Vision, and Josh Brolin will play the cosmic baddie Thanos. Meanwhile, Marvel announced that "Guardians of the Galaxy 2" will open in 2017. Talk about bravado. The lighthearted space epic from director James Gunn opens on Friday and Marvel isn't wasting any time demonstrating support for its funkiest franchise (Gunn and star Chris Pratt appeared together in a funny video pretending to make the announcement without Marvel approval).
Marvel kicked things off with "Ant-Man," as Rudd appeared alongside director Peyton Reed ("Yes Man"), Michael Douglas (Dr. Henry Pym), Evangeline Lilly (daughter Hope Pym, aka Wasp),and Corey Stoll (the evil Yellowjacket). The movie doesn't start production until August, but producer Kevin Feige (an SDCC star in his own right) screened test footage of Ant Man getting adjusted to his wild condition and suit (a lower tech version of Iron Man), and struggling to elude pursuers by jumping onto the back of a fly. The casting of Rudd immediately establishes the comic tone and could be another stroke of brilliance a la Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) and Mark Ruffalo (Hulk). Lilly ("The Hobbit") is perfect badass casting and Stoll makes an off-beat baddie. As for Douglas, his self-effacing, scene-stealing presence merely ups the prestige factor.
Speaking of which, Joss Whedon's "The Avengers" continues to expand its impressive ensemble by leaps and bounds with some of the hottest actors around. (Whedon wss sidelined with a knee injury.) Spader merely shrugged when asked what he brings to Ultron: "I play an eight-foot robot in this movie. I've always played humans up until now." Still, he relishes the chance to play a maniacal bot and thanked the crowd for allowing him to experience the most insane event imaginable.
The footage they showed was not only darker and more apocalyptic but also more wise-cracking. As the gang sits and drinks a few beers, Thor challenges the others to pick up his hammer as some Arthurian duel, which they struggle in vain to do. Likewise, the Avengers cast (minus the pregnant Scarlett Johansson) appeared positively giddy on stage, particularly Downey, who danced, handed out roses, and proudly proclaimed: "I become a little less significant each time."
Newcomers Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlet Witch) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Quicksilver), the unmentionable mutants borrowed from "X-Men," will have plenty of mentors to look up to as "The Avengers" and Marvel overall continue to evolve as a mega-movie presence.