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WonderCon 2014: 20th Century Fox Presentation Part 2: The Maze Runner, Secret Service & X-Men: Days of Future Past

X-Men-Days-of-Future-Past-009So here is the second half of 20th Century Fox’s presentation at WonderCon.  Be sure to check out Part 1 HERE, but this post will cover a number of films presented by Fox in the Anaheim Convention Center’s Arena on Saturday at WonderCon.  The popular young adult book, The Maze Runner, has a feature film on the way and the cast and crew were on hand to discuss it and show off some clips.  A surprise presentation of the upcoming Matthew Vaughn/Mark Millar reteaming, Secret Service, took place as well.  Lastly, some more light was shed on one of the most hotly anticipated films of the summer, X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Once again, there were plenty of reasons to have fans excited, so read on to learn more about what people seemed to be losing their minds over (there’s probably a Professor X joke in there somewhere).

The Maze Runner

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Given that this was halfway into Fox’s entire presentation, things quickly moved forward after the tremendous preview of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in an effort to keep the momentum strong enough for The Maze Runner.  Admittedly, I have not read this book, nor do I think I would be any more impressed were I to have at this point, but I can imagine the teenage version of myself being quite excited about a concept such as this.  The plot is this:  A group of boys, with no memories of their past lives, must escape a massive maze infested with deadly creatures.  This panel began with the trailer that had been recently released.  It clearly has the making of another Hunger Games-type scenario, though I am curious if a. the film is any good and b. if a male-driven young adult novel is something that can be as big a success.  Given the recent wave of female-driven, young adult novels that have been turned into films and met with mixed results, with some exceptions, I am curious if moving things back to the standard ‘boys adventure story’ will receive any sort of backlash.  With that said, a September release date does not exactly inspire too much confidence either.  Regardless, let’s move on with what else happened at this panel.

Director Wes Ball arrived on stage, along with the writer of the novel and screenplay for the film, James Dashner.  The two of them were joined by two of the young stars of the film, Will Poulter and Dylan O’Brien.  I am more familiar with Poulter, who recently starred as one of the Millers in We’re The Millers, but I am aware that Dylan O’Brien is somewhat of a teen heartthrob, as he is one of the stars of MTV’s Teen Wolf.  O’Brien actually had to miss out on some of BiteCon (yes, that is a real thing) in order to be here for the WonderCon panel, which fits, since this is a big star vehicle for him.  With all of that said, as is the norm, everyone seemed to be genuinely excited about this movie, which features a lot of newcomers in terms of actors with lower star profiles and a director being handed his first big film.  Dashner was the most energetic, as he is clearly very pleased to have had his book turned into a big budget movie.

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Moving on, the panel was happy to share a clip, which was introduced in by noting that this was a scene that is not in the book, but allowed the filmmakers to depict the maze changing, while the characters were right in the middle of it.  Seeing the clip, one thing was for sure:  this movie would be delivering on its title, as we saw plenty of maze running going on.  It amounted to two characters talking about whatever knowledge they just learned, hearing some sort of signal of change coming, which was then followed by a lot of running.  Now I can say there was some weight to what was occurring on screen, as it certainly looked about as impressive as this kind of scene in this kind of movie can, from my perspective, but one can only hope having the context of the rest of the film will really allow more consideration over the danger of these types of scenarios, beyond hoping some guy doesn’t get squished by a moving wall.

After the clip, Dashner talked about his various inspirations for the story.  The most obvious was Lord of the Flies, but he also noted Ender’s Game, LOST, and his fear of mazes in general, which began with The Shining.  There was not a whole lot of time for questions, which seemed to minimize the time spent on people fawning over Dylan O’Brien, which was nice, but one confirmation was made.  Apparently a telepathic connection between two characters is a part of book, but it will not be featured in this film, so take that for what it is worth.  While I can’t say this is the film that is possibly going to wow me, I can say that a giant maze, featuring lost characters is the kind of thing that can have me thinking back to the film Labyrinth.  While The Maze Runner may be too slick and dirty to resemble that goofy, puppet-filled 80s magic, maybe something good can come from it.  We will see.

The Maze Runner opens in theaters on September 19, 2014.

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Secret Service

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The next presentation was a surprise preview of the upcoming film Secret Service.  This film is based on a graphic novel originally written by Mark Millar (Kick-Ass, Wanted) and illustrated by Dave Gibbons (Watchmen).  The film reteams Millar with Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class director Matthew Vaugh, who also serves as screenwriter, with his writing partner Jane Goldman.  The story is essentially set in a hyper-kinetic James Bond-style world, which features a veteran agent who belongs to a British agency that is above all of the other government agencies such as the police and MI-5.  This agent, played by Colin Firth in the film, will be taking a new protege under his wing, teaching him the ways of the Secret Service, which includes messing people up with fancy fighting moves and gadgets.  The film also stars Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Caine, among others.  Given that this presentation was a surprise and the X-Men presentation had about half the time of all the other films (for a pretty obvious reason to those keeping up with the news), one can speculate how quickly Vaughn was forced to assemble some footage to show, but while he (or anyone else) was not present, a clip of the film was shared.

In regards to this clip, Secret Service had a fun way to balance the mundane with the spectacular, as it began with a fairly bland diner/pub setting, where Colin Firth began talking with a young lad, Taron Egerton, about the life of a young crook versus the potential to be something greater.  Their conversation was interrupted by a group of thugs that wanted to beat up the kid.  Colin Firth’s character requested they let him finish his conversation and beer, before they continued to harass the lad.  The thugs refused, which led to Colin Firth taking all of them on at once.  This fight sequence was heavily stylized and continued the pattern of Vaughn taking straight-laced, serious actors (such as Nic Cage and Michael Fassbender) and placing them in hyper-real fight sequences, involving over-the-top visuals and fast-paced action.

I can see how a lack of context takes away from what could make a scene like this more compelling, but as it stands, this (unfinished) piece of the film was enough to suggest a fun, smart-ass take on James Bond could be something quite enjoyable.  True to Millar/Vaughn form, it does seem to be a film that wants to shoot for a hard R-rating.  I cannot say it is hitting the same beats as Kick-Ass, because I have not read the source material, nor did I see much satire being applied in the clip, beyond the flashes in the montage that followed the main fight scene, which added glimpses of some pretty standard tropes for a movie like this.  That said, while I do not necessarily see much interest in another film about a regular guy being turned into a super-human killing machine, if it did have more on its mind, besides action, there is some fun territory that could be explored in a satirical take on the world of super secret agents.  I am sure Comic Con will have an even larger focus on this upcoming film, once it has had more time to develop something to show audiences to really wow them with action and contextualization of said action.

Secret Service opens in theaters on October 24, 2014

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X-Men: Days of Future Past

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The final panel for Fox was all about the  X-Men and their upcoming film, Days of Future Past.  Many have been excited about this film since it was announced and with good reason, as the main source material is one of the most popular and one of the best comic stories in X-Men history.  If handled right, the film could provide a very entertaining and challenging story that deals with multiple timelines, characters, and high stakes involving the survival of mutant kind.  While Bryan Singer’s scheduled appearance was cancelled (for good reason), screenwriter and producer Simon Kinberg was on hand to talk about the film and share the latest trailer and a large clip from the film.  Obviously if there was one thing people wanted, it was the writer of X-Men: The Last Stand (everyone’s favorite, right?) talking about this next chapter in the franchise.

With that said, Kinberg was happy to acknowledge that they screwed up the Dark Phoenix storyline seen in X3 and they were bent on delivering the goods this time around.  This was followed by a number of statements that kind of irked me, given my issues with the previous X-Men films, good or bad.  One involved the claim that this was the biggest X-Men film ever in terms of characters.  I understand that the Days of Future Past story means a lot of mutants are going to be involved, but every X-Men film has suffered from having too many mutants, so I can only hope that these mere cameos do not take away from the weight of the actual story being told.  The other statement involved the lead character, which has been changed from Kitty Pride to Wolverine for the film.  Seeing that is one thing, but saying that it was due to multiple reasons is another.  Look, we know that Hugh Jackman sells the tickets, so let’s just call it a day on the ‘why’ we did this and move on, no need to talk around that fact.

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So now, as much as I have expanded upon some of the issues that could hurt the film, I should say that I am still very excited for it and that is due to a lot of what I have seen thus far, which includes a clip that was shown.  While they did show the final trailer (which I kinda hate, compared to the much better teaser and follow-up trailer), the clip shown is a great look at the darker tone of the film.  I am sure there will be plenty of fun to be had, given the time-bending taking place and the mere fact that we get to see Peter Dinklage and his Sentinels versus the X-Men, but the clip shown seems to be coming from the opening portion of the film and depicts an apocalyptic world where X-Men are fighting desperately for their lives.  Some familiar and new faces pop up and face odds too hard to overcome in their efforts to reach a particular goal.  Some deaths occur and the stage is set for the kind of film X-Men: DOFP will end up being.  There is not a whole lot more to go into, as the panel was a pretty quick one (no audience questions were allowed for this panel, hmm…).  Still, if what was shown indicates the type of film Days of Future Past has the potential of being, I can only hope it stands tall with First Class and X2 rather than lower in Last Stand territory (which I admittedly like more than most).

X-Men: Days of Future Past opens on May 23, 2014

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Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS4.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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