D23 Expo: Let the Adventures Begin: Live Action at the Walt Disney Studios

D23 Marvel Studios Panel

My second day at D23 started earlier than my first. I wanted to avoid any confusion in getting to the big arena presentation ComicBook.com was sending me to: Let the Adventures Begin: Live Action at the Walt Disney Studios. I also wanted coffee beforehand… and maybe a bagel.

Unfortunately, this being the biggest day of the Expo conspired against me, as the parking lot was full when I got there, cones being put up just as it was my turn to hang a right in there. I was told to loop around and park somewhere else I didn’t hear clearly. This lead to some driving around Anaheim and my considering just going home. But then I remembered how much fun I had at the Art and Imagination presentation on Friday and figured it’d be worth finding another parking structure and laying down the cash to keep my car there for the day. Even when I got back to the convention center and they were now letting people in, I decided to calm my ever-present anger and just continue on, excited for the possibilities of Marvel and STAR WARS-related movie nuggets.

There was a lot of excitement and a little chaos in the air as I made my way through the convention center, past Disney Princesses hanging out with Marvel Superheroes and Storm Troopers, hustling toward the Arena, stomach empty but excited. Once seated, cell phone bagged and sealed for the sake of secrecy (though laptops were allowed, which, I mean… never mind), I wondered what we’d see. Truth time: I’m a fan to varying degrees of all the movies Marvel has put out so far, so that was what I was really excited to see. As the lights went down, visions of Thor and Captain America danced in my head, which was... weird. I don’t want to explore my visions too much. Anyway…

The chairman of Walt Disney Studios, Alan Horn, started the show. Between him and Bob Iger the day before, I wonder if there are super casual, fun stage presence classes at Disney, because these guys are good. Not as good was Horn’s welcoming of Lucasfilm to Disney. He made a joke that he was going to say something, then the Imperial March cut him off, and he said dark forces forbade him. It was kind of funny, but a guy in a Darth Vader costume or even Mark Hamill (because, come on, he was probably THERE anyway, trying to score free swag) just trotting out on stage might’ve been enough.

Guardians Of The Galaxy D23 ExpoNone of that mattered once he introduced Marvel Entertainment President of Production Kevin Feige to the stage, though. He talked about how Marvel’s “Phase Two” started with the very fun IRON MAN 3 and will continue with the upcoming THOR: THE DARK WORLD. With that, he name-dropped the cast, current convention favorite Tom “Loki” Hiddleston getting the most cheers. Then an extended look at the movie, rather than a mere trailer, was shown. I enjoyed the first THOR, and the feel I’m getting from THE DARK WORLD is that flick mixed with GAME OF THRONES (at least a PG-13 version), which makes sense since director Alan Taylor has directed for that show.

The footage shows perhaps a bit darker, but still charming movie with some pretty badass action. That got cheers that were doubled when Feige introduced that Hiddleston guy again. He apologized for not showing up in his Loki costume like he did at the San Diego Comic Convention, but he didn’t want to scare the kids, as this is a Disney Expo, after all. Then he introduced a couple of his fellow cast members: Natalie Portman, looking very lovely, and Sir Anthony Hopkins, also looking very lovely.

They bantered for a little bit, mentioning how the first THOR was about the title character being a fish out of water here on earth, and how in this one, Portman’s character Jane Foster is the fish out of water on Asgard. Hopkins quipped she was so pretty that Odin “didn’t check her passport” when she arrived.

What followed was a scene from the movie, cut together but featuring some temporary effects, not quite finished. It revealed that Thor has a reason for bringing Jane to Asgard other than just wanting his girlfriend to meet his folks. Something is wrong with her, some sort of energy infection, which the Asgardian magic medical people are examining. Jane gets to drop some science knowledge here, and it’s all good until a very annoyed Odin arrives. Turns out Hopkins was kidding about not checking the passport, as Odin wants her gone ASAP, saying Earth has doctors for this sort of thing. It’s a swell scene, well acted and shot, that makes me very excited for the movie.

Next up was CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. With its mix of old fashioned fun and heartfelt emotion, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (unlike the other Marvle movies, Cap rocked subtitles from jump street) was maybe my favorite of the “Phase One” Marvel movies in a lot of ways, so I have high expectations for the sequel. The footage showed makes me think it might live up to them. A scene of Cap in an increasingly crowded elevator leads to a genuinely exciting bit of close quarters fight choreography, and then the extended trailer presented a somewhat darker movie than the first one, the descriptions of this being more of a 70s-style political thriller kind of action movie rather than the old-fashioned romp of the first one seeming apt.

Feige then brought out Anthony Mackie, who plays The Falcon, Sebastian Shaw, who was Bucky Barnes and now is the titular Winter Soldier, and Captain America himself, Chris Evans. There was some fun chatting, and Mackie and Evans both seemed to be really enjoying themselves. They’d just recently finished shooting and were in good spirits, Evans apparently really wanting to take some time off to go to Disneyland. He also commented on Cap’s adjustments to being in our modern world, as this movie is his first extended adventure, THE AVENGERS being more of a concentrated, short time-span event kind of movie. I appreciated him saying that being a man out of time wasn’t about being confused by cell phones and the internet, but more about Cap trying to figure out how to still be the good guy in our increasingly morally gray society. That really got to me and sounds right on the money. The footage of Nick Fury talking about going on the offensive, stopping threats before they become threats, and Cap’s reservations about that line of thinking, really supported that.

Then they showed a just recently cut together scene, with animatics and temp effects. It featured Cap, Black Widow, and other members of the SHIELD team Cap’s been working with. The dialog between Black Widow and Cap illustrated that they have become friends since THE AVENGERS, with her basically trying to find him a lady to date. It was fun and easygoing amidst the action that starts with Cap jumping out of the plan without a parachute and then infiltrating a big boat, taking out the bad guys with some even more impressive fight choreography and direction from the Russo brothers (of COMMUNITY “Modern Warfare” fame) that is clear and easy to follow -- rare for most modern day blockbusters. Seriously, this footage did the trick in getting me to go from excited toc extremely excited to see this movie.

Just when I thought Marvel had did all it could to make me want to spend money I don’t really have on movie tickets, Feige started talking GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. Now, I’m not very familiar with the team portrayed in this movie, having only read the Jim Valentino version of this title from the 90s. That unfamiliarity I have is something Feige says has everyone at Marvel excited for this movie. Though they are shooting now, he showed the footage I believe was screened at Comic-con in July, and… holy crap. I’m a big Chris Pratt fan based upon his performance as Andy Dwyer on the TV show PARKS AND RECREATION, but I was very surprised to see him cast as the lead in a big Marvel movie -- a guy named “Star-Lord” no less. But the first scene of him shows exactly why he was cast, as his character, Peter Quill, is a cross between Andy Dwyer and Han Solo. Tough and cool… but also just hilarious and good-natured. Pratt also apparently got muscles for the role.

Then there were scenes of John C. Reilly as a member of the Nova Corps, and some of the funniest dialog I’ve heard in a while, and some very cool designs and stunning action. This might be the Marvel movie I’m looking forward to most now. A funny human, a sexy yet scary green lady, a different shade of green muscle dude, a sentient tree, and a raccoon named Rocket… just very cool and different and exciting. I literally cannot wait… but I have no choice, as I do not have a time machine.

A quick tease for THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, featuring the Iron Man armor being hammered into Ultron’s head, was pretty cool, and I am fairly certain that movie will be awesome. Marvel did an amazing job… but there were about two hours of presentations to go.

Alan Horn used GUARDIANS’ Rocket Raccoon being an animal to segue into their Disneynature movie BEARS, and it looks great for that kind of heartwarming nature documentary, but… I wanted to see more GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXEY.

the-muppets-againAlso looking great is the new Muppets movie, MUPPETS MOST WANTED, which was introduced by President of Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Production Sean Bailey, who took over the live action presentations. Ty Burrell was on hand, as were Miss Piggy, Kermit, and Tina Fey via pre-taped footage. It looks fun, and I’m glad Muppets movies are being made again. Also, I forgot former almost-pop star Ricky Gervais (link to his pop glory, perhaps?) could sing, so the scene they showed was a pleasant surprise.

They went on to promote an adaptation of the hit Broadway show INTO THE WOODS, as well as Kenneth Branagh’s live action take on CINERELLA, and a movie based upon the SLEEPING BEAUTY villain MALEFICENT. Angelina Jolie was on hand to chat about that, and the footage they let us see showed that she’s nailed the character. There was some iffy CG, but her performance seemed like Disney’s scariest villain come to life. I could do with less prequel/origin stories, but MALEFICENT looks worth giving a shot.

They ended the epic presentation with SAVING MR. BANKS, a movie about Walt Disney’s 20-year quest to film the MARY POPPINS books, despite her creator, P.L. Travers’ lack of interest. It looks like a pleasant movie, with a pleasant cast headed up by Tom Hanks not really doing an impression of Walt as Walt, and Emma Thompson as Poppins’ creator, P.L. Travers. The cast members brought to the stage, though, were a game Jason Schwartzman and an uncomfortable looking B.J. Novak, who play the Sherman Brothers, writers of all those wonderful MARY POPPINS songs. The movie looks pretty fun, especially if you’re a POPPINS fan, and the whole presentation ended with Schwartzman, Novak, and the real-life Richard Sherman singing the classic MARY POPPINS song “Let’s Go Fly A Kite,” complete with folks in costume running around onstage and in the crowed, flying kites.

All in all, this was a great presentation, though it could’ve used something about STAR WARS other than the fact that Disney is making new ones, and I might’ve saved Marvel for last, personally, but… minor quibbles, because, yeah, “Phase Three” of the Marvel movie universe? Based upon what I saw at this presentation, it’s going to be AWESOME.