Comic-Con '14: 10 Hot Movies in San Diego
Avengers: Age of Ultron
The superheroes of Marvel's cinematic universe have collectively saved the world nine times, and as a 10th threat looms in Avengers: Age of Ultron they're feeling more than a little burned-out. As the team-up sequel (due May 1, 2015) opens, everyone wants a break—and that's exactly how they're about to be broken, explains Joss Whedon, who returns as writer-director. ''For me, the biggest thing is, when we're given the opportunity to change, or transform, or confront where we are, and be mature, do we do that? Do we move on?'' he says. ''Do we go through the pain and actually get better and become another person? Or do we just fall back on our damage and become less than the sum of our parts?''
Expect even bigger threats for our heroes to face, beginning with the mysterious Ultron himself (performed and voiced by Downey's Less Than Zero costar James Spader). The Avengers sequel begins with Stark's latest plan to fix the world: Ultron will be an all-seeing, all-knowing captain of the Iron Legion, a planetary force of robotic beat cops that resemble blue-and-white versions of the Iron Man suit but have no human core—and less soul than a Carpenters album. If it all works out, the superheroes can just sit back. Instead, Ultron announces his new plan to bring peace to the planet—by eradicating the most destructive things that walk on it: humans.
Ultron may get top billing in the title, but several other major new characters will be vying for screen time, including the twins Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth. ''They're on Team Ultron, which makes things really hard for the Avengers because all of a sudden they're dealing with powers that they're not used to,'' Whedon says. Quicksilver can move at lightning speed, and Scarlet Witch can harness magic and telekinesis. ''It's a darker, weirder, tougher world that they're living in.''
There's also a fourth member of Team Ultron: the Vision, a synthetic, superpowered human designed by Ultron to show he has the power to create life, too. (Did we mention that Ultron has major daddy issues?) The Vision will be portrayed by Paul Bettany, who has already been a part of the Marvel movie universe as J.A.R.V.I.S., the Siri-like artificial intelligence who serves as Tony Stark's laboratory sidekick. Is that casting coincidental, or can we assume that Ultron uses J.A.R.V.I.S.' consciousness for spare parts in his Vision-ary experiment? Whedon takes a deep breath. We're in spoiler territory. ''It's not coincidence,'' he says, then declines to elaborate.
If there's a common theme to all of Whedon's projects, it's that they're all about found families. ''There's a depth to [Whedon's work] that's Shakespearean,'' says Ruffalo. ''It's epic, it's sweeping. You have the groundlings humor, you have the deep, philosophical thing going on. You have the action, you have the comic relief, and then you have the drama of families and giant families.'' Whedon says the challenge is not giving each character a chance to shine, but giving them a chance to stumble. ''I'm trying to tap into a bunch of things,'' says the director. —Anthony Breznican
Dive deeper into Anthony's Age of Ultron cover story, check out our exclusive sneak-peek photos and Marvel's new concept art, get more details on Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Ultron, find out what it took to hide Scarlett Johansson's pregnancy, hear Ruffalo's case for a standalone Hulk movie, and get Downey's thoughts on Iron Man 4.
When Norman Reedus got a call from his Walking Dead exec producer Robert Kirkman near the end of filming on season 4 in 2013, he feared the worst. ''I was like, 'Okay, I'm getting the call. I'm gonna die on the show,''' says Reedus. On the contrary, Kirkman was calling to hire him for a new film he was producing about two workers (played by Reedus and Djimon Hounsou) who maintain one of the underground bunkers set up to preserve the human race after the air outside has been rendered toxic. ''We're basically just guardians of humanity,'' says Hounsou. Naturally, something in the bunker goes terribly wrong. And in the vision of first-time feature director Christian Cantamessa, the facility itself provides many of the scares. ''It's a very claustrophobic feel,'' says Reedus. ''There are moments in it that are terrifying and you feel very alone and very f---ed over on many different levels.'' —Dalton Ross
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Ending a three-film, eight-hour-plus saga isn't easy. The makers of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, the final entry in director Peter Jackson's second Middle-earth trilogy, understand that. After all, the capper to their last trilogy, the Oscar-winning The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, was notorious for its multiple fake-out finales. There won't be any of that this time.
The Hobbit team wants to ensure audiences don't accidentally start gathering their belongings with an hour left to go. ''A lot of people forget what happens in the book,'' says Philippa Boyens, co-writer of all of Jackson's J.R.R. Tolkien adaptations. ''People think, 'Oh, yeah, the dragon dies and they get the mountain, right?' But it's not the end, not by a long shot. So the hardest thing is making sure it doesn't feel like you're restarting the story.''
The new film picks up where last year's The Desolation of Smaug left off, with the giant dragon Smaug (again voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) heading off to destroy Lake-town. Along with that carnage, the film promises one of the series' most intense combat sequences, the eponymous free-for-all for the dwarven treasure of Erebor. ''It moves along at an incredible pace,'' says Boyens, ''and that battle is going to be jaw-dropping.'' —Keith Staskiewicz
Horns seems custom-built for the Comic-Con crowd: It's based on the macabre 2010 novel by Joe Hill (Stephen King's son), it's directed by horror maestro Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes), and it stars Harry Potter himself. Daniel Radcliffe plays Ig, a small-town guy who sprouts devilish horns from his forehead and becomes the prime suspect in his girlfriend's (Juno Temple) murder. Yet those horns have a power that compels people to tell Ig the truth, no matter how horrible or hilarious. Hill describes the film as a ''tragicomic horredy,'' and Radcliffe, now 25, was drawn to the elements that tweak his famed alter ego. Ig wears Gryffindor colors, for example, and communes with snakes. ''It sort of plays into people's perception of [me] and slightly subverts that,'' says the actor. ''It's a joke within a joke, another layer for people who are in the know.'' —Jeff Labrecque
In the high-concept sci-fi action comedy Pixels, aliens misinterpret satellite feeds of classic arcade videogames such as Space Invaders and Centipede as a declaration of war and launch an attack on Earth using the same eight-bit characters and strategies. So who you gonna call when Pac-Man tries to invade New York City? No, not the Ghostbusters. Instead, the U.S. president (Kevin James) recruits a group of washed-up misfits who were arcade prodigies way back in 1982. The would-be saviors of the planet include a TV mechanic (Adam Sandler), a felon (Peter Dinklage), and a conspiracy theorist (Frozen's Josh Gad).
The so-called Arcaders team up with a more up-to-date weapons expert (True Detective's Michelle Monaghan) to face a threat that is far more menacing than you might imagine. ''From a visual-effects standpoint, audiences are going to be seeing things that they've never seen before,'' promises director Chris Columbus (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone). ''We're taking classic eight-bit characters and turning them into fully realized, three-dimensional, pixelated characters that are quite threatening.'' Didn't you always wonder what Ms. Pac-Man was packing under that little red bow? —Lindsey Bahr
Mad Max: Fury Road
It's been three decades since Tina Turner declared that we don't need another hero in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, the 1985 epic in which Mel Gibson played chicken with high-speed vehicles. Now Max is back in the bleak dystopia of Mad Max: Fury Road, a reboot starring Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) in the battle-worn leather. ''Max has been through an awful lot,'' Hardy explains. Writer-director George Miller, the creative force behind the first three Mad Max films, shot most of Fury Road in sequence as his characters thunder across the Australian wasteland. They're trying to escape an evil warlord named Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played the sinister Toecutter in the first film).
The cast and crew endured a grueling 116-day shoot in the deserts of Namibia without the benefit of a detailed script (Miller relied mainly on storyboards). Plus, Charlize Theron had to shave off her blond locks to play Imperator Furiosa, who's on the run from Immortan Joe. Throughout, the stars learned to rely on Miller for guidance. ''I had the longest preproduction rehearsal with a director—talking about what it was all supposed to be—that I've ever had in my entire career,'' says Theron. ''Everything about it was so specific, but very bare.'' —Nicole Sperling
Animation technology has grown by ''leaps and bounds'' since Tim Johnson codirected the cartoon hit Antz back in 1998. And he wanted to show that change in Home, which he dubs a ''postapocalyptic alien-invasion buddy-comedy road-trip animated movie'' about a purple alien (voiced by The Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons) who teams up with a human girl (Rihanna) to save Earth. ''The sci-fi genre can be very narrow and self-imitating and can get stuck in a rut,'' says Johnson, who was already a fan of the movie's source material, Adam Rex's children's book The True Meaning of Smekday (a favorite of his young sons). ''I wanted to design an alien technology that was really unexpected,'' he says. So Home's extra terrestrials have the ability not only to completely turn off Earth's gravity but also to shoot bubbles instead of laser beams. —Jake Perlman
Kingsman: The Secret Service
Leave it to Matthew Vaughn—director of the genre-bending superhero indie Kick-Ass—to envision Colin Firth as a deadly secret agent skilled in lethal combat. Even Firth was surprised. ''Matthew told me, 'One of the reasons I'm casting you is because you're probably the last person anyone could imagine fighting off the villains,''' says the actor, who costars with Michael Caine and a nefarious Samuel L. Jackson. In the thriller, Firth's spy must groom a rebellious teen (Taron Egerton) into an intelligence operative worthy of the Queen's service. ''Anyone who's a Colin Firth fan won't be able to believe what they're seeing,'' Vaughn explains. ''At the beginning it's Mr. Darcy, but Mr. Darcy has to save the world this time.'' —Nina Terrero
In an update of the 1990s children's horror book series, Jack Black stars as R.L. Stine, whose ghoulish creatures are unexpectedly brought to life by a teenage neighbor (former Scandal First Kid Dylan Minnette). Cue up a feature's worth of kid-approved frights. ''Nothing to me is scarier than someone with a screw loose,'' says Black, who took some liberties in playing the best-selling author. ''I made him more of a curmudgeonly, dark, brooding beastmaster.'' Luckily, Black won the approval of the real Stine, who has a cameo. ''He was digging it,'' says the actor, laughing. ''Or at least he pretended like he was digging it.'' —Nina Terrero
Hitman: Agent 47
It's risky enough rebooting a movie franchise that's only seven years old. But in taking the lead role in Hitman: Agent 47, based on a videogame series about a double-gun-toting assassin, Rupert Friend had some added challenges. The Homeland star landed the job just six weeks before the shoot began last winter in Berlin and Singapore. (Paul Walker, who died in a car crash last November, had been tapped for the part, replacing Timothy Olyphant from 2007's Hitman.) Friend also shaved his head—not fun when filming during a German winter—and performed most of his own stunts. ''It was hard,'' he admits. ''It was short notice, a hard and fast prep, and a full-on shoot.'' —Nicole Sperling