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Marvel turns Comic-Con’s focus from the Avengers and onto its new crop of heroes

Brie Larson surprises San Diego Comic-Con with an announcement that she’s been cast as Captain Marvel.
Brie Larson surprises San Diego Comic-Con with an announcement that she’s been cast as Captain Marvel.
(Chris Pizzello / Invision)

If Warner Bros. came into this year’s Comic-Con with the goal of resetting (and lightening the mood of) its DC superhero slate after the disappointment of “Batman v Superman,” the Marvel Studios panel Saturday showed Marvel making its own kind of change-up. 

For the first time in years, this was a Marvel rollout with no Iron Man, no Captain America, no Black Widow and no Hulk. Instead, Marvel pushed further into its third phase of big-screen comic-book world-building. 

Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige, who took to the stage for many of the introductions, put the emphasis on stoking buzz for their next wave of heroes: Black Panther, Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel and the new Spider-Man. But can this new class of heroes outshine the already beloved Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans?

If the attendee reaction in Hall H was any indication, the core audience of this genre fan club is pretty excited about the growing diversity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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Kicking things off, “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler took the stage, bringing out the film’s stars, Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther), Michael B. Jordan (Erik Killmonger), Lupita Nyong’o (Nakia) and Danai Gurira (Okoye).

The film doesn’t begin shooting until January, so there was no footage to show. But, having rocketed to prominence in a short period of time, the “Creed” director said it was emotional simply to be standing on the stage at the same convention he has attended as a fan. "It’s crazy to be looking at my people from this view,” he said.

The logo for the third “Thor” film was shown at  Comic-Con.
The logo for the third “Thor” film was shown at Comic-Con.
(Marvel / Disney )

Feige then turned to another film that’s just getting underway, “Thor: Ragnarok,” introducing the film — and the slyly comic vibe of its director, Taika Waititi (“Flight of the Conchords,” “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”) — by way of a mockumentary-style video showing what Thor was up to while the Avengers were slugging it out in “Captain America: Civil War.” Basically, he was being the roommate from hell to some poor, non-superhero shlub named Daryl. One particularly cheered moment showed Thor going to bed, then putting his iconic hammer, Mjolnir, into its own little bed as well.

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The new logo for “Thor: Ragnarok” looked like something from an ’80s metal band. However, director Waititi’s superhero attempt won’t be all laughs. Though the film just began shooting days ago, a sizzle reel of concept art and very early footage — including a climactic shot of the Hulk taking on the giant demon Surtur — made the crowd go wild. 

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Then things got strange. After a dramatic buildup of flashing lights, mystical runes and fog straight out of a laser show, Benedict Cumberbatch emerged to showcase the upcoming “Doctor Strange,” receiving the kind of hero’s welcome you’d expect from the Comic-Con crowd.

Director Scott Derrickson — who also brought out stars Tilda Swinton, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, and Benedict Wong — ran a scene from the film in which Cumberbatch’s rigorously scientific-minded Strange meets Swinton’s Ancient One and is first exposed to the mysteries of astral traveling. “What’s in that tea?” he asks her, stunned, after leaving his body for the first time. “LSD?” 

Indeed, between the clip and the newly released trailer — which features mind-bending imagery reminiscent of films like “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Inception” — “Doctor Strange” clearly promises to be Marvel’s “strangest” movie.

Coming into Comic-Con, fans’ Spidey senses had been tingling that the web-slinger might make an appearance at the Marvel panel and, sure enough, Feige brought out the new Spider-Man, Tom Holland, along with Jon Watts, director of “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” which is in production.

Cast members from “Spider-Man: Homecoming” at Comic-Con.
Cast members from “Spider-Man: Homecoming” at Comic-Con.
(Associated Press )

Watts described the film as “a straight-up high school movie,” and to prove it, ran a clip of early footage heavy on Peter Parker’s teenage travails and minor humiliations that played like a superhero version of “Freaks and Geeks” (a show that was specifically name-checked on stage) complete with Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” and a fleeting glimpse of Martin Starr. “We know what it’s like to be a playboy billionaire … a Norse god,” Watts said. “Now we’ll know what it’s like to have just gone through puberty.”

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Watts then brought out a few of the actors playing Parker’s classmates — Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier, Tony Revolori and Zendaya — a group that further illustrated Feige’s contention that the Marvel universe embraces diversity. And the actors actually looked like high school students as opposed to 30-year-old Peter Parkers with backpacks. This is a young, fresh take on the web-slinger; fingers crossed it pans out. 

And if the new cast wasn’t enough, at the end of the Spidey footage was a huge villain reveal, the classic Spider-Man villain the Vulture appeared to fight New York’s new hero

Rounding out the panel, “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” director James Gunn brought out most of the film’s cast — some, like Michael Rooker (Yondu), in full makeup and costume — and drove the crowd into rapturous applause by introducing a new cast member, fan favorite Kurt Russell. Gunn played an action-packed scene from the film that showed Baby Groot (cue the “awws”) helping to break Rocket and Yondu from an interstellar jail cell.

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Though Russell initially played coy about who his character was, a new teaser trailer soon revealed him to be the father of Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord, fittingly named Ego, and also offered a fleeting glimpse of a fearsome-looking Sylvester Stallone. While the Internet tries to figure out who Stallone might be playing, don’t forget: This isn’t the first time Russell and Stallone have shared the screen.

That’s right, Marvel is now making “Tango & Cash” reunions happen, in space. Avengers, who?  

To conclude the panel — and cement the sense of change in the air in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — Feige introduced (and thereby confirmed the casting of) its new Captain Marvel, Brie Larson.

Larson smiled and waved to the audience without saying a word. But judging from the roar of the crowd, she didn’t really have to. Larson will now star in the first female-led Marvel movie, but that’s not scheduled to hit theaters until 2019, so Warner Bros.’ “Wonder Woman” will beat Marvel to the punch of premiering the first female titular superhero movie in years.

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But if the Hall H presentation showed anything, it’s that Marvel is readying a whole new class of fresh-faced heroes, and they’re young, diverse and feature a lot more women than before. 

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