20th Century Fox's Comic-Con International in San Diego presentation offered plenty of surprises and some stunning first-look footage as the creators behind "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," "The Wolverine" and "X-Men: Days of Future Past" played to a full house in the convention's largest venue, Hall H. Hugh Jackman, starring in two of the three films under discussion, presided over much of the panel in his familiarly boisterous, charismatic fashion, displaying a true fan's enthusiasm for the material, endearing him to the audience -- as if playing the most famous and popular X-Man would not have been enough.
Before delving into the mutant mayhem, Fox brought director Matt Reeves to the stage to talk about "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," which hits theaters July 18, 2014. "As a kid, I was obsessed with 'Star Wars'... but way before that, I loved 'Planet of the Apes.'" He spoke of wanting to "be an ape," and felt that 2010's "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," directed by Rupert Wyatt, finally "made me an ape" emotionally.
Reeves said "Dawn" will be a "Caesar-centric story," bringing the character from his origins in "Rise" into a "grander scale." He then invited actors Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Andy Serkis to the stage.
Serkis said that his character Caesar "is now in a position where all apes together are strong." Caesar's personal situation is harmonious, as well, as he's started a family and presides over a peaceful society "into which, the humans arrive."
The actor said the film sees the apes learning to communicate beyond ape sounds, venturing toward human speech. And the themes of the movie, Serkis added, "are very rich and fertile ground for exploring, not just about apes, but humanity."
Russell said Reeves' sensibilities for "Dawn" are what attracted her to the film. "Michael Reeves has created a community [for the apes] where they're just trying to protect their family and grow," she said, noting this makes this installment of "Apes" a more personal movie.
Asked if having the "finish line" of the 1968 original helps or hinders Reeves' plans for the franchise, the director said he finds it useful to know what the line is building toward. "There are stories about what happened, and there are stories about why," he said. "Why" stories like "Dawn" can focus more on character and psychology, and are more about the journey.
The "Apes" portion of the panel wrapped with a teaser for the film. The clip concludes with an extreme closeup of Caesar, panning out slowly until his ape army is revealed, when Caesar gives the order to attack.
"The Wolverine" director James Mangold took the stage next to discuss Logan's Japanese adventure, which hits theaters July 26. Mangold said setting the film in Japan "allowed me to both ratchet it up a bit and down a bit," intensifying the action while also expanding the character moments. "We had enough space to make a movie just about Logan," he said, joking that the previous film, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," was "a bit crowded."
A new trailer for "The Wolverine" played twice, giving glimpses of Yokio and the Silver Samurai and showing plenty of slashing metal, both in the form swords and claws.
Mangold then introduced Hugh Jackman, who he said "encompasses the physicality of the role and heart of the role," one he has played since Bryan Singer's first "X-Men" film in 2000.
"This is honestly one of the greatest joys in this business, coming to thank you for letting me do this," Jackson said.
Jackman recalled his first experience with the "Wolverine" miniseries by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller that would inspire this film very early in his association with the character. "Thirteen years ago, I was reading this book in my trailer doing 'X-Men,' and I said, 'This is the movie we need to make.'"
The actor added that, with "The Wolverine," "we finally get to show the berserker rage."
Speaking about the challenges that face a character who doesn't die, Mangold asked, "How do you go on living when everyone you know and love will die and start to fade away?" Eventually, "you start to withdraw." When we meet him in "The Wolverine," Mangold said, "Logan's lost everybody, including the X-Men."
Jackman said that there will be a love interest for Wolverine in the latest film -- at least one. "His saving grace and his Kryptonite is women," Jackman said, adding that there are "four great women" in "The Wolverine." "Speaking as Wolverine, it's great!"
Mangold explained that Wolverine's look has been "retooled a bit" for the latest feature, for logical reasons which should please fans. "His claws in the comic books were more lethal from every direction," he said, but in the films they had been designed to cut only one way. That changes in "The Wolverine." Jackman noted, however, that the claws could be deadly to more than just Logan's enemies. The complex fight choreography with an incredibly sharp prosthesis led to some dire moments. "I punctured my thighs, my forehead, my stunt double..."
Jackman, who returned again and again to the subject of how thankful he is for the career-defining role, called Len Wein from the audience to the stage. "From this man's head, heart, and hand came my career," Jackman said of Wein, who wrote the arc of "Incredible Hulk" that introduced Wolverine.
The actor's gratitude for his 13 years playing Wolverine may stem in part from the fact that he very nearly didn't get the role at all -- not only was Jackman not the first choice to play the ubiquitous X-Man, he was not the second or third, either. "I didn't just come in off the bench, I was sitting somewhere in the stands," Jackman said. "So I'm not going to let this go easily."
Then, Jackman invited Bryan Singer onto the stage. Director of three of the five "X-Men" films, including the 2000 original and the forthcoming "Days of Future Past," Singer introduced a clip from the upcoming movie in which Patrick Stewart's Xavier tells Logan to go into the past and "Find me, convince me of all of this" to give hope to his dream. The action-packed clip gives equal attention to the "First Class"-era team, where James McAvoy's Xavier is coping with the loss of the use of his legs. While Logan works to change the past, Xavier and Magneto fight for the future against Trask and his Sentinels, with Bishop appearing briefly -- showing uncertain alliances.
After the clip, Singer brought to the stage writer/producer Simon Kinsberg, producer Lauren Shuler Donner, and both teams of X-Men, past and present -- Jennifer Lawrence (Young Mystique), Nicholas Hoult (Beast), Anna Paquin (Rogue), Ellen Page (Kitty Pryde), Michael Fassbender (Young Magneto), Halle Berry (Storm), James McAvoy (Young Xavier), Evan Peters (Quicksilver), Ian McKellan (Magneto), Patrick Stewart (Xavier), Shawn Ashmore (Iceman), Omar Sy (Bishop), and Peter Dinklage (Trask).
Singer said that while having such a large cast is "a logistical nightmare," "I love ensemble films," citing his debut film "The Usual Suspects."
Jackman described the talent on stage as "an embarrassment of riches," adding that he was thrilled to be reunited with the team from his first movie. Stewart, comparing the group to that of his crew on "Star Trek: The Next Generation," said that working with a large, close, recurring cast "twice in a career is extraordinary."
McKellan said little on the subject of returning to Magneto, but did say he was happy to be back at Comic-Con, especially in light of recent events. "I feel safe here now you've got rid of Proposition 8," he said, referring to the law banning same-sex marriages that was recently overturned by the Supreme Court. Then, joking, "And I'm looking for a husband, so it's good to meet you, Michael." McKellan also reminded fans that he and Stewart will be appearing together on Broadway in Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" and Harold Pinter's "No Man's Land" beginning in October.
Speaking on returning to the role of Storm, Berry said, "What I've always loved about Storm is, she's the Earth mother of the group." But, she added, "What I hate about Storm is, she never gets any love!" Many fans in the audience shouted to tell her that Storm was married to Black Panther, though they decided against letting her know how that worked out. Love or no, Berry said that when she got the call, "It took me but half a second to say, 'send me that wig, give me that costume!'"
Paquin and Ashmore noted that they grew up on the set of "X-Men." "I was cast in this movie when I was 17," Paquin said, "and it's really amazing to be back."
When the floor was opened to fan questions, one audience member asked whether Deadpool might appear in an "X-Men" film. "It's possible," Singer said. "Not in this movie, but it's possible…. There's a lot of room for expanding the film canon" to include more characters from the comics.
Another fan asked which "X-Men" character the actors might like to play other than their current role. "The good thing about my character is I can do this to anybody," Lawrence said, referring to her shapeshifting abilities as Mystique.
Stewart, meanwhile, joked, "I would like to play any female character in any 'X-Men' movie, because then I might stand a chance at winning an Academy Award." Berry, Paquin and Lawrence are Oscar winners, and Page was nominated for her role in "Juno."
On the subject of a Rogue/Gambit romance, Singer simply said, "We're exploring all options."
A few of the actors laughed about the styling for the 1960s-era team. "Peter Dinklage looks like my father in this movie," Singer said. "I've got a sweet Tom Selleck mustache in this," Dinklage added. "Ladies."
Jackman was asked about the differences between playing a role like Jean Valjean in "Les Miserables" and his time as Logan. "Well, there's no singing in 'The Wolverine,'" he joked. When the audience reacted with audible (if mock) disappointment, Jackman asked, "You guys really want 'Wolverine: The Musical?'" After the cheering died down, he sang, "I'm gonna slice her! I'm gonna dice her!" to wild applause.
In another case of celebrities hiding in plain sight (see: Bryan Cranston wearing a Walter White mask), Jackman said the he walked the floor of Comic-Con "dressed up in my full Wolverine costume, not one person stopped me." Though he added that someone muttered, "Way too tall, buddy. Way too tall."