"This is the end of the path I started us on." -- Tony Stark
Those ominous words are spoken by Robert Downey Jr. in the earthshaking footage from Avengers: Age of Ultron that was world premiered tonight in Hall H at Comic-Con in front of 7,000 screaming, delirious fans.
The footage, unveiled near the end of the hourlong Marvel Studios presentation, starts lightly enough with the Avengers (including Don Cheadle as Rhodey!) hanging out in Avengers Tower, with each of the male heroes taking a turn at lifting Mjolnir. None of them can do it, of course, although Cap (Chris Evans) comes damn close to wiping the self-satisfied smile off Thor's (Chris Hemsworth) face.
But all the joking and teasing ends a moment later as a loud, intense mechanical whine slices through the air and a broken, shattered Iron Man suit of armor drifts into view and begins speaking to them -- in the voice of Ultron (James Spader), who says that the "only path to peace ... is your extinction."
From there, the footage goes all-out: scenes of global destruction, hundreds of people running and screaming, and the Avengers fighting unseen assailants and each other. Among the fast succession of shots were Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) cowering on the deck of the Quinjet, Thor lifting Stark by the throat, Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) stalking through a train with red fire blazing in her hand, Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) launching her motorcycle out of the bottom of the jet and the Widow touching hands with the Hulk, all as "I've Got No Strings" plays underneath. And yes, we get a good look at Tony in the Hulkbuster suit going head to head with the Hulk in a colossal battle on a devastated city street (that got a tremendous cheer from the crowd). It all builds to an eerie shot of Ultron, red eyes blazing and mouth moving in a malevolent, robotic grin as he says, "Ain't no strings on me."
Then the title flashes across the screen and we get one last, haunting shot: Stark standing over the desolate, rocky surface of another planet, dead Avengers all around him, and Cap's shield at his feet, smashed in two.
I would say that the footage left the audience speechless, but they probably heard the roar of this crowd down in Tijuana.
Sadly, director Joss Whedon was laid up at home following knee surgery, but the rest of the Avengers (except a very pregnant Scarlett Johansson) were out in force: Downey, Jeremy Renner, Hemsworth, Evans, Ruffalo, Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Spader and Paul Bettany all came out (although we did not get to see any footage of him as the Vision).
It's just too bad that moderator Chris Hardwick spent most of their brief time asking all of them how it felt to be at Comic-Con instead of any substantial questions about the movie. Best part: Asked what he would like to see happen to Thor going forward, Hemsworth said: "Turn him into a woman ... I think this could be my Oscar."
Asked about playing Ultron, Spader responded, “I play an 8-foot robot in this movie, and I’ve always played humans until now ... shooting this film was as startling and surprising and challenging and exciting as coming to Comic-Con for the first time."
Before the Avengers portion of the panel was the Ant-Man portion, with Marvel head Kevin Feige joined by Paul Rudd (Scott Lang), Michael Douglas (Hank Pym), Evangeline Lilly (Hope Van Dyne) and Corey Stoll (Darren Cross/Yellowjacket), along with new director Peyton Reed. Reed revealed he had been coming to Comic-Con for 20 years, while the great Douglas also sought to burnish his nerd credentials by reciting Ant-Man's history (although this probably wasn't an audience that needed a refresher).
Douglas also laid out the plot as being about Pym enlisting Lang to help him with a heist in his own company, which Cross has begun taking in a direction Pym doesn't care for. Cross "does, at some point, obtain some Pym particles," noted Feige.
Although the movie has not started shooting yet, they did bring a piece of film that looked like a polished piece of preproduced effects visualization. It started with a tracking shot through an empty lab, over which Douglas intones, "Superheroes -- what a g**damn joke," before we cut to a miniaturized Lang in the suit running across a rooftop and, with Pym guiding him remotely, hitching an escape ride on the back of a flying ant after some trouble getting the suit to work properly. It was funny, adventurous and hopefully indicative of the spirit of the rest of the film, which begins shooting in two weeks in Atlanta.
For a final flourish, Josh Brolin -- who plays Thanos in Guardians of the Galaxy -- came out at the very end of the hour with a toy Infinity Gauntlet on his hand, after which Chris Pratt and James Gunn confirmed via video message from London that Guardians 2 will arrive on July 28, 2017.
But here's what we didn't get: No Doctor Strange casting news, no confirmation of any other Phase Three movies except for Guardians 2, and not even subtitles for Cap 3 or Thor 3. And even some of the Avengers footage was screened in the U.K. last week. While the screened clip blew the roof off, there's a definite sense that Marvel's usual showstopping Saturday evening Comic-Con blowout was a little bit of a letdown in terms of real surprises.