CinemaCon: Paramount & Marvel Preview Thor & Captain America

This year’s CinemaCon kicked off last night, and just as things began, we were given an opportunity to preview two of the summer’s most anticipated movies with Paramount Pictures’ 2 1/2 hour presentation including 20 minutes of footage from Marvel Studios’ two summer releases, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger.

 We’ve been asked not to write about the footage in too much detail, but one thing we can definitely confirm is that Jeremy Renner DOES appear in Thor, not in costume as Hawkeye, but as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent with a bow and arrow working for Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulsen. But we’ll get to that in a bit.

Marvel Studios’ president of production Kevin Feige was on-hand to introduce their portion of the presentation, talking about how well received both movies were at least year’s Comic-Con. We have to say that the 6,500 inhabitants of Hall H would probably be somewhat jealous of what he showed to the the 3,000-plus exhibitors in attendance. They actually showed the Captain America footage first but we’ll start with Thor just because it comes out sooner, in roughly five weeks in fact.

The twenty minutes of consecutive footage opened in the middle of the film on Asgard with Chris Hemsworth’s Thor getting into an argument with his father, Odin, played by Anthony Hopkins. This is an extended scene of what we’ve seen bits and pieces from in the trailer and the Comic-Con footage with Odin losing patience with his son after an incident that nearly gets them killed. (Thor is clearly a brash and brazen young man who goes into battle without thinking.) At first, it was a little hard adjusting to the way the Gods are speaking in their big dramatic voices–a bit like Shakespeare in fact, something that director Kenneth Branagh has lots of experience with. Hemsworth is especially surprising in this role because we met him earlier and he seems very down-to-earth and affable, which is not how at all how he appears as the character in Asgard. What impressed us about this scene is in how well it shows off Hopkins’ power as an actor and his ability to really command the screen, and we got goosebumps when he lifted up Thor’s hammer Mjolnir and uttered the famous words to it: "Whomever holds the hammer, if they be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor." This essentially creates the "sword-in-the-stone" aspect to the origin story and how Thor will earn back his father’s trust in order to be reunited with his hammer.

As the scene ends, Odin symbolically removes parts of Thor’s costume as he takes away his powers then sends Thor hurtling to earth where he lands right in front of a speeding jeep being driven by Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster through the desert. This awkward meeting in the desert ends with Thor being tased by Foster’s assistant Darcy, played by the very funny Kat Dennings, who gets completely freaked out by what they think is a homeless man.

Jane Foster plays a much bigger role in Thor’s origin than she did in the comics, because here, she’s a scientist studying the stars along with another scientist played by Stellan Skarsgård, so it doesn’t take long for her to realize that this man they found might not be what he seems. In all their scenes, Dennings offers some of the strongest comedic moments in her interactions with Hemsworth. The scenes with the three of them do a great job showing what a crucial part they will play in discovering who Thor is and where he’s from in order to create a more naturalistic way of showing how humans might react to a God on earth than how it was handled in the early Thor stories by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. This footage also showed that Hemsworth was really well cast as he’s able to play Thor both as a mighty pompous being as well as being a big lovable God-out-of-water unable to adjust to human ways. Both things are crucial to the character winning audiences over, especially those who may not be familiar with the character from comics.

While the four of them are getting accustomed to each other, we go back to the site in the desert where Thor’s hammer landed on earth as it’s discovered by a local in a pick-up truck sitting in the middle of a giant crater. He tries to lift it out and fails, but soon all of the locals are there trying to pull it out of the ground either alone or using other means. Eventually, Agent Coulsen shows up as teased in Iron Man 2. Later, Portman and her colleagues are sitting with Thor in a local diner where he is chowing down on pancakes–allowing even more playful bits between him and Darcy–when they learn from one of the locals about the "satellite" that was found in the desert that no one can lift, which Thor automatically realizes is Mjolnir.

Jane and the others drive with Thor to the location, which has now been taken over by S.H.I.E.L.D. who have built a makeshift glass complex around the embedded hammer surrounded by entrance walkways with plastic tarp for walls. As they arrive, Thor seems to realize it’s going to start raining and sure enough it does, so maybe he hasn’t lost all of his powers. As he sneaks into the complex and takes on a bunch of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, Coulsen looks on and orders a special agent into a crane high above the scene where it’s revealed to be Renner, and he pulls out his bow and arrow and takes aim waiting for Coulsen’s orders. The funny thing is that over a year ago, before Renner was confirmed to play Hawkeye, he hinted the character might make an appearance in Thor, but then backtracked a bit. This appearance is in the middle of a big pivotal scene so Marvel must have already chosen him back when they were shooting the movie, because it would seem tough to insert this interaction with Coulsen into the scene. (Personally, we don’t think we’ll see the character again in the movie as this was just a cameo/tease for the fans to briefly introduce the character. It’s not like he walks on screen and someone says, "Thor, meet Clint Barton aka Hawkeye," or anything.) After fighting his way through many men, Thor finally gets to the hammer in the ground and he tries to pull it out and fails, realizing that his father has indeed removed his power to wield it. The footage ended with the scientists looking at a children’s picture book on Norse mythology at a similar-looking hammer and realizing that their guest from the stars is a lot more than a strange homeless man wandering in the desert.

We didn’t really see much of the other Gods in this footage except Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, who is basically standing by and watching the fight between Thor and Odin without really saying anything. We get the impression that he was more involved in getting Thor banished, but it would have been nice to get some idea how evil a character Loki will end up being, especially if he does play a role in The Avengers. I guess we’ll have to wait to see the full movie for that tone. We did see one scene of Idris Elba’s Heimdall, basically we see his back as he’s standing at the gate to Asgard looking down on earth at Thor’s predicament. It will be interesting to see how the Asgard stuff plays out since we have no idea how much of that we’ll have to sit through to get to Thor being exiled, but we’re confident that Kenneth Branagh was the right man for the job regardless. We were especially enamored by the sense of humor in the scenes between Thor and the three scientists.

Another possible note of interest: In an interview we conducted with Chris Hemsworth earlier (which we will post soon), we asked the "Thunder from Down Under" (ha ha) why we haven’t heard or seen anything of Dr. Don Blake in the movie and he played it rather coy, saying:

"You may not have heard because you haven’t seen that bit yet, there may be some of that in there."

After seeing the footage, we now know that Dr. Don Blake does indeed make a cameo appearance (at least in name) but not exactly in a way one might expect, although we have a few theories that we’ll have to keep to ourselves for now because it would be a major spoiler if we’re right. We also have seen Stan Lee’s cameo, which we’ll leave as a surprise treat rather than giving it away; it is very funny though.

The footage from the Joe Johnston-directed Captain America: The First Avenger opened with a clip set in the present day, which basically answers our long-festering question of whether we’d see Captain America’s frozen body being discovered in this movie or whether they’d wait until The Avengers next year. (For those who haven’t read the comics, the Avengers were the ones who found Cap’s iceberg in the Arctic Ocean then quickly made him their leader.)

The first clip is essentially how the movie opens with two military men meeting someone out in the colds of the Arctic and being led to an enormous egg-like object protruding out from the snow; the camera pulls away to show that it’s been found in a fairly remote area with nothing around. We don’t want to say too much about this opening scene except that Captain America won’t be encased in an iceberg like he was in the comics, as they’re going for a more realistic approach to how he gets from the WWII era to today. We will say that the scene ends with the men finding Cap’s trademark shield covered in ice.

The second clip is basically the extended scene from which the trailer was taken of puny Steve Rogers–played by Chris Evans using some interesting CG techniques that may be similar to Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button–being transformed into the muscle-bound Captain America we know and love. We have to assume we’ll get a lot more time with Steve Rogers in his pre-Cap state before the transformation, but the scene introduced many of the major characters including Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter who leads Steve into the laboratory where Stanley Tucci’s Abraham Erskine and Dominic Cooper’s Howard Stark will administer the process to turn him into a super soldier. In this scene, we also meet Tommy Lee Jones’ Colonel Chester Phillips glad-handing with a visitor Senator who complains about being dragged out to a basement in Brooklyn and how they’ve tapped into the local power grid to power the experiment. (There is also a mention of the evil organization Hydra in their conversation, which makes us think they will play a large part in the movie as the bad guys, rather than just garden variety Nazis.)

This scene is very much about Stanley Tucci and his ability as an actor to sell the idea of scientist being able to transform an ordinary man into a muscle-bound superhuman, and it’s a far more involved process than just sticking him with a needle filled with Super Soldier Serum as in the comics. As Steve is strapped into the table, there are actually multiple injections and Stark mans the controls to administer them, then the table tilts upwards and closes into something that resembles an iron maiden and Stark starts the process of blasting Rogers with something called a "Vita-Ray." Again, we won’t get into specifics of the scene, but it ends with the casing opening to reveal the muscle-bound Steve Rogers. (Showing both of the lead actors shirtless seems to be the connecting thread between the two movies, possibly to attract the women who don’t read comics.) Atwell’s character is the first to approach him and ask how he feels, essentially the interaction from the trailer, followed by the military men, who come down from the viewing area to congratulate Erskine and Stark. One of them leaves something in his seat and when he gets downstairs, he pulls out a lighter and blows up the viewing area and in the confusion, grabs the last vial of super serum.

In the next clip, we get to see Rogers’ relationships with those around him following the experiment, particularly the sexual tension between Evans and Atwell, something we see when she catches him smooching with Howard Stark’s secretary – the smitten young woman wanting to reward the hunky hero for his job well-done in the field. After Carter and Rogers change barbs, he’s led into Howard Stark’s lab and we get to see some of the camaraderie between Rogers and Stark, who plays a fairly major role in the creation of Captain America. Stark walks Rogers through his lab showing him prototypes for a shield he can use in battle – we even briefly see the cool ’40s style shield Cap used to carry before it was replaced with the circular shield that was better suited for throwing. Rogers picks up a shiny metal round shield and Stark tells him that it’s a prototype made out of vibranium*, a rare metal that is impervious to anything, and when Peggy walks in, Cap asks her what she thinks and as in the trailer, she picks up a gun and shoots at him then comments, "It works." This interaction is even funnier when seen in context with the sexual tension established earlier between Evans and Atwell. (*Along with the mention of Wakanda in Iron Man 2, this certainly looks promising for Marvel doing something with Black Panther in the future, assuming of course that it wasn’t part of Fox’s Fantastic Four deal.)

Following those three clips, we got see a montage of action scenes from the movie, many of which we see briefly in the trailer, but there’s also a scene of Captain America on his motorcycle being chased by Nazis or Hydra agents, we’re not sure which.

Overall, the footage we were shown was terrific and it has gotten us even more excited for both movies. From what we saw of Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, we think both movies are looking to be on par with the first Iron Man, though they each have their own identity and a unique way to approach telling a superhero origin story.

Thor opens on May 6 and Captain America: The First Avenger on July 22.