My Friday at New York Comic-Con this year ended with 20th Century Fox’s showcase and Q&A. On tap for those in the audience were looks at “Alita: Battle Angel” and “Dark Phoenix,” the latter of which is the latest entry in the X-Men franchise.
“Dark Phoenix” took the floor first and, yes, while we obviously have already seen a take on the “Dark Phoenix” storyline with “X-Men: The Last Stand,” the events of that film have been wiped from (franchise) history due to the timey-wimey nature of the X-Men movies. So we’re getting it again with the “X-Men: Apocalypse” cast. Of course it won’t be the exact same movie (fingers crossed), but it will feature Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) going all evil.
Although the footage we were treated to was unfinished, we saw 12 or 13 minutes of the movie from relatively early in the proceedings. In fact, we got the X-Men going on a mission to save the space shuttle Endeavour and what seems to be a look at just what causes Jean’s trouble.
Interestingly, we also got to see that our heroes, the X-Men, are out in the world in their superhero-ness. That is, the President calls Professor X (James McAvoy) and asks for their help. Then, they are publicly acknowledged at the end of the mission. They are, assuredly to the happiness of some, no longer hiding in shadows. Yeah… we’ll see where that winds up at the end of the movie after Jean goes all Dark Phoenix.
Present from the film to talk about what we saw were director Simon Kinberg, producer Hutch Parker, and stars Sophie Turner & Tye Sheridan. The actors are both in their second X-Men outing here while Kinberg is directing his first film, having already written and/or produced several of the movies in the franchise.
One of the big things that was hit on during the session was just how grounded, and real, and much of a drama the film will be. Sure, there will be space bits and action and mutant abilities, but the four at the front of the auditorium definitely offered the impression that with “Dark Phoenix” we’re going to get a weighty entry into the franchise rather than something more frivolous. Only time will tell if that pans out and just how well the audience responds to it.
While “X-Men” is a familiar property, the second item on tap at the panel, “Alita: Battle Angel,” is new and different (unless, of course, you’re familiar with the source material by Yukito Kishiro). On hand to discuss the movie was director Robert Rodriguez, producer Jon Landau, and stars Rosa Salazar and Keean Johnson. The former plays Alita herself, while Johnson plays Hugo, a friend Alita meets in her new life.
Okay, time to backtrack. Alita is a cyborg whose brain was given a new body in this post-apocalyptic future by Dr. Ido (Christoph Waltz). Alita has no memory of who she was or where she comes from, but she does have a superior fighting instinct. Salazar told us that the day after she got the job she started training, and did so for nearly five months. It made her not just physically strong, she offered, but mentally as well.
Salazar spent her time on set in a performance capture suit, which she said helped her with playing a cyborg as she had these bits of tech on her when filming. It wasn’t all fake though, most of her time filming was not on a green screen.
Rather than giving us a straight, longer, portion of “Alita: Battle Angel,” we were shown several short sequences. Although these provided an idea of the story, what was truly on display were the amazing visuals. Shown in 3D, James Cameron is a producer on the film and at one time thought he might make it instead of “Avatar,” the life-like nature of the representations were incredible. That is, the movie felt more “real” than so many two dimensional movies. We, the audience, were put right there into the action, whether eating an orange or battling other cyborgs, in a way that doesn’t happen with more traditional filmmaking.
That said, we also saw one two dimensional, unfinished, sequence of Alita and other cyborgs playing a sport-like thing called “Motorball,” and it, too, was amazing. One almost cringes at the notion of seeing it unfold on a massive screen in three dimensions. I actually immediately thought of podracing when I saw the sequence (which, in my world, is a good thing… podracing is whizzer).
One of the big questions for a movie like this is always whether they are able to successfully translate the source material into a finished product that makes sense on screen. This is, after all, a world we don’t know we groups and issues and a life we haven’t experienced. Rodriguez, near the outset of his adventure with “Alita,” had to trim down Cameron’s extensive script (which came with ancillary research as well) into something more shootable.
As with “Dark Phoenix,” the final results of all this work are not yet apparent, but everything we got today with “Alita: Battle Angel” was impressive. I am definitely looking forward to seeing the finished product next year.
“Dark Phoenix” hits theaters June 7, 2019.
“Alita: Battle Angel” is due out February 14, 2019.
photo credit: 20th Century Fox