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The Winners and Losers of Comic-Con 2016

Ringer illustration
Ringer illustration

Comic-Con brings so many wonderful things: discussion panels, fan theories, and the chance to nerd out. Oh, and trailers. Lots of trailers. Our staff has some thoughts on who made the most of their Comic-Con trailers:

Winner: ‘Legion’

Alison Herman: At its worst, the modern superhero megalith tries to be so many things — an action flick, a comedy, a sequel to four different properties, a prequel to five more — and it winds up being nothing (besides generic and confusing). At its best, it allows for these characters to be what they’ve always been: infinitely customizable symbols, equally capable of headlining a heist caper (Ant-Man), a space opera (Guardians of the Galaxy), and now … a prestige television show.

Legion is an upcoming X-Men series from FX and Fargo creator Noah Hawley, and the trailer makes it look exactly like a superhero show filtered through the same lens as that Coens tribute, or The Americans, or even The Leftovers: carefully composed visuals (that kitchen shot!), somber tone (that score!), touches of surreality (that dance sequence!). There’s even a weighty, Justin Theroux-y role in there for Dan Stevens as a mutant who’s spent his life convinced he’s mentally ill, a performance that looks poised to erase what few traces of Matthew Crawley weren’t already vaporized by the cross-dressing episode of High Maintenance.

All told, it looks about as different from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Marvel’s only other show currently on the air, as one can possibly get while still technically being the same format — and makes the case for the “cinematic universe” (ugh) as a big, diverse tent. I can’t wait.

Loser: Spider-Man

Sam Donsky: Lost in the hype of how “funny” and “charming” and “good” (if that’s your thing …) Tom Holland has been in his debut as Spider-Man — first in Captain America: Civil War, then at Comic-Con — was the harsh reality of what his casting represents: a betrayal. A betrayal of what? Of our single most inalienable right as American moviegoers: the right to have old-ass actors playing teens.

This isn’t just about Spider-Man, of course. The tradition of Old-Ass Actors Playing Teens is proud and storied. But it’s Spider-Man that endures as the tradition in its purest form: a beautiful synthesis of backpack-holding and “How do you do, fellow kids”–ing and bangs. Andrew Garfield was 30 in 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2; Tobey Maguire was 31 by 2007’s Spider-Man 3. TOBEY MAGUIRE LITERALLY HAD BACK PROBLEMS WHILE PLAYING PETER PARKER — think, for a second, about just how fucking old and romantic that is.

People loved to scoff during those eras, and claim that Old Spider-Man “wasn’t believable.” (Which: My dude has webs shooting from his wrists. You’re worried he looks like he got held back a few years? Chill.) But what these people failed to realize is that “teen” isn’t a number — it’s an idea. And that not all ideas are best expressed by those whom they concern. Would you ask a baby how babies are made? Exactly. This is no different.

Anyway, now Marvel is going with a 20-year-old to play Spider-Man in its reboot. Marvel probably thinks it’s being smart: This — movies-as-serialization — is big business, and any MCU casting choice has to be built for the long haul. Which is fine — only it’s missing the forest for the trees. And here is the old-ass forest: Tom Holland may be a teenager. (Or a 20-year-old, whatever — he was 19 in Civil War.) But Tobey Maguire is a teen.

Winner: Magic

Mallory Rubin: Ringer staff writer Ben Lindbergh knows a No-Maj when he sees one, so when he pings me about magical matters on Slack (our very own Owl Post), I perk up in a way that would make Hermione proud.

“Can’t decide whether Pokémon Go helps or hurts Fantastic Beasts,” Ben said Sunday via DM, Slack’s Muffliato Charm. “Everyone is already living it.”

That kind of observation might make Luna proud, but no Nargle can steal this truth: Though Pokémon Go currently owns the masses’ hearts, it can never hope to boast the most beautiful title card known to man and critter alike.

YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS, BELOVED BOWTRUCKLES!

THAT’S RIGHT! Though nothing short of a Wronski Feint can match the excitement that the impending July 31 release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child brings, the latest Beasts trailer gets about as close as Ron to the freshest pudding. There are more goodies in this two-plus-minute peek than in your neighborhood Honeydukes. The Magical Congress of the United States of America! Kreacher’s ancient counterpart! Winking paintings! Floating playing cards! Self-operating irons! Duels! Apparition! Fantastic beasts and … people trying to find them!

There’s also this:

We don’t yet know much about Colin Farrell’s Percival Graves, but we do know that he has admirable hair, remarkable fashion sense, and the kind of facial expression an Auror can only possess when his wand is the envy of his fellow man.

Me too, mate. Me too.

Loser: Sherlock

Ben Lindbergh: On a weekend when we got through the gauntlet of DC sneak peeks without Zack Snyder destroying a city, Sherlock delivered the gratuitous darkness no one was missing. Next year’s arc appears poised to double down on Sherlock Holmes’s homicidal heel turn at the end of Season 3, pitting him against an unspecified “something” that will force him to battle more demons than Doctor Strange. Forget “the game is afoot”; now “it’s not a game anymore.”

If anyone on Baker Street is still doing detective work, there’s no sign of it here. The trailer’s 90 seconds are a crescendo of car collisions and shootouts, fireballs and BRONGs. Even Mrs. Hudson seems to have snapped, pushed too far past teatime. The BBC series succeeded by making the Victorian character a complex modern man, but Sherlock loses his essence when he doesn’t deduce. Nor is getting grittier a great look for a show whose rug-pulling plot twists and frequent resurrections have repeatedly taught us not to take any consequences seriously.

“It’s going to be fun,” Benedict Cumberbatch promised on Saturday, teasing his participation on the Comic-Con panel. Based on his horrified face in the trailer, we can’t say the same for Season 4.

Winner: DC

Donsky:

The above brief exchange, between Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), takes place during the — really pretty thrilling — climax of the Wonder Woman trailer. And, whether intentional or (almost certainly) not, my first thought upon seeing it was as follows: Steve Trevor = Zack Snyder; Wonder Woman = Patty Jenkins; and “do this” = “make a great DC movie.”

Which is to say that Jenkins’s Wonder Woman, having seemingly lost its goodwill after Snyder’s Dawn of Justice debacle, finally has footage — and it looks … extremely dope. From the period setting (a choice that worked well in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger), to the fish-out-of-water levity (a choice that worked well in 2011’s Thor), to ROBIN WRIGHT ON A GODDAMN HORSE, it seems as though Jenkins’s film may be working from a playbook that has evolved past the standard “take frowning steroids during a bad thunderstorm” vibe of DC’s Snyder-regime output to date.

And while we’re on the subject of Snyder: His own film actually looks pretty good, too. The Justice League trailer feels hastily edited, oddly paced, and padded with filler that probably wouldn’t make the cut if the movie wasn’t still currently filming. But the gist is there. And the gist just might work: The most exciting part of Justice League was always going to be the fact it’s a “putting the band together” movie — has there ever been a bad “putting the band together” movie? — and Snyder wisely plays up those elements here. Ben Affleck’s Batman plays [considers the idea of “Zack Snyder’s Ocean’s Eleven,” breaks out in hives] the “Clooney role,” and he’s surprisingly game: flashing some unholy combination of his ’90s charisma and his ’10s gravitas, saying shit like, “I’m building an alliance” with a straight face, and generally keeping the whole thing together. There are even a few jokes. Don’t get me wrong: They’re bad jokes. I mean, really bad jokes. I mean, no more than a half step better than someone walking into a room and yelling, “JOKES.” But still — jokes! Snyder!

We have to ask: Is DC … figuring things out?

Loser: Tom Hiddleston

Donsky: It wasn’t the Met Gala. It wasn’t the “do you like rocks, and/or the broad aesthetic of Mark Romanek’s overlooked 2010 classic Never Let Me Go, and/or kissing” photo op. It wasn’t meeting the parents at warp speed. It wasn’t the Fourth of July. It wasn’t the tank top, or the fake tattoo, or even the fact that I don’t like chairs now. No: The moment I realized that Tom Hiddleston was officially Just Taylor Swift’s Boyfriend was this past weekend at Comic-Con.

All I had to do was track my own reactions. Kong: Skull Island has a trailer? Oh, yeah, the movie that Taylor Swift’s boyfriend is in. Thor: Ragnarok unveiled a logo? Oh, yeah, the movie that Taylor Swift has been visiting the set of. There’s an updated Bond rumor? I wonder if Taylor Swift would do the theme song if her boyfriend got the part. It’s wild to see a star’s contexts shift so rapidly. And while Hiddleston The Actor feels like a loser in this newest context … who knows. Maybe I’m being naive, and he’s the biggest winner of all. Let’s wait for the wedding — or at least the receipts.

Winner: Bryan Fuller

Herman: Sometimes, it seems like Bryan Fuller is living out a version of J.J. Abrams’s career, but better. Fuller, too, specializes in genre fare and adaptations thereof, but where Abrams’s Star Trek rests the burden of a massive film franchise on his shoulders, Fuller gets a newer, sleeker ship to test drive: the Discovery, unveiled this Comic-Con as the namesake of his streaming-only series.

That’s basically all we know about Star Trek: Discovery at this point, so there’s no telling yet whether Fuller’s primed to pull another Hannibal and go surprisingly poetic. But Star Trek was merely one of Fuller’s two high-profile projects previewed for the nerd masses in San Diego this weekend — the other being American Gods, the Neil Gaiman novel about deities who walk among us turned upcoming Starz drama.

Honestly, this clip, like all others, had me the second Ian McShane showed up onscreen (“Today’s my day!”). Still, it’s gorgeous, a stylized collision of the paranormal and the deeply normal in the tradition of Gaiman’s best fiction. Despite Game of Thrones’ breakout success, there haven’t been any follow-up series that truly share its ability to imbue fantasy with the stakes and nuance of adult drama. It looks like Fuller may have been the man for the job.

Winner: Trailer Music

Micah Peters: Whoever did the music placement for these new Marvel trailers deserves a cartoonish burlap sack full of million-dollar bills.

From the moment Luke Cage (Mike Colter) pulls down his hoodie and rips a car door clean off of its hinges to those wonky, jangling keys from Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Shimmy Shimmy Ya, I sat up and declared to no one in particular: This is cheating. Same deal for The Defenders, which was announced with an allusive trailer (read: no actual footage) that shows playbills being torn away to reveal the title, collage-ransom-note style, all set to the dire, gloomy strains of Nirvana’s “Come As You Are.” As far as action-trailer clichés go, the “how can you save anyone else when you can’t even save yourselves” precept is right up there with dudes in rumpled suits staring wide-eyed at monitors in panic rooms and gasping “My God” as the world burns down around them — but it plays here.

I’m not so sure about Ser Loras Tyrell as Danny Rand, a.k.a. the Iron Fist, but Dexter executive producer Scott Buck is in the driver’s seat, and I am 1,000 percent down to watch the guy who produced Dexter tell the story of an immortal kung fu master.

Winner? Loser? ‘Sausage Party’

Jason Concepcion: Everyone knows that hot dogs resemble the male genitalia. Less remarked upon is the feminine qualities of the bun. Sausage Party aims to fix that.

This is the kind of trailer that transcends simple categories like “winner” and “loser.” On the one hand, the cast — Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader, Danny McBride, James Franco, Nick Kroll — is amazing. On the other hand, my limit for “just the tip” jokes is about an hour.

On the other, OTHER hand — Sausage Party is already getting Oscar buzz.

Loser: Reasonable, Realistic Expectations

Amanda Dobbins: Not all of these movies and shows will be good — and yet here we are, obsessing over 90 seconds of footage. Someone is going to get their feelings hurt. Oh well.