Ten things we learned at Comic-Con
San Diego Comic-Con has become a pop-culture monster, attended by more than 130,000 people. Here are 10 things Liam Burke learned at this year’s carnival of costume-clad fans, Hollywood A-listers, and transmedia titans
(L-R) actors John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, Gwendoline Christie, Domhnall Gleeson, and more than 6,000 fans enjoyed a surprise “Star Wars” Fan Concert performed by the San Diego Symphony, featuring the classic “Star Wars” music of composer John Williams. Photograph: Michael Buckner/Getty Images
Actor Bill Murray speaks onstage at the Open Road panel. Photograph: Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Gal Gadot. Photograph: Kevin Winter/Getty Images
1 Bill Murray does not think Bruce Willis is a “jackass”.
In a surprise appearance, Bill Murray opens the 2015 San Diego Comic-Con. The one-time Ghostbuster strides into the convention centre’s largest venue (the 6,500-seater Hall H) singing Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water. Murray is there to promote his Afghanistan-set comedy Rock the Kasbah, but uses the opportunity to riff on topics as diverse as filming in Morocco – “You’re part of a rhythm that’s thousands of years old” – to hearing Miley Cyrus sing: “She’s really f*cking good.” Murray also delicately deflects a question about whether his co-star Bruce Willis is a “jackass” by explaining: “He’s not a jackass, he’s a movie star.”
2 The Force has awoken
Unsurprisingly, the most anticipated panel of the 2015 Comic-Con is Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Lucasfilm gives a masterclass in fan service, bringing the entire cast to the convention including Harrison Ford in his first public appearance since his recent plane crash. The now seasoned Han Solo says of his return to the role: “I never thought that it would come back to bless me rather than haunt me.”
Although the presentation provides no new footage, director JJ Abrams walks the assembled mass to a surprise Star Wars concert on the San Diego waterfront, replete with free lightsabres and fireworks. This shrewd move gets lots of press and fan goodwill, but writer/director Kevin Smith, whose panel follows Star Wars, is left with a near-empty room.
3 Fangirls to the Rescue
While TV shows such as The Big Bang Theory and The Simpsons would have us believe only maladjusted men populate comic-book conventions, San Diego Comic-Con has a more even gender balance. Many panels point to stronger female characters. Ruth Negga notes of her character in videogame adaptation Warcraft, “Behind every man is a great woman”, while Wonder Woman-in-waiting Gal Gadot says she has “been given a huge opportunity to show such a strong, beautiful side of women”.
4 Comics No More
While the more than 130,000 attendees at Comic-Con make crossing the convention floor more difficult than a trip to Mordor, those looking for a breather can find space at the crowd-free comics section. Comic-Con began as a gathering of comic-book enthusiasts in 1970, but it has long since given up any pretence of focusing on the four-colour form. Now the only vestige of the con’s original intent are the comic sellers who fight for floor space with movie studios and videogame publishers, and the poorly-attended panels for the comic book artists who create the characters that feed these franchises.
5 The People’s Republic of Comic-Con
Rising Cork artist Will Sliney, who is working on Spider-Man 2099 for Marvel, stops by the convention on his way to Conor McGregor’s Vegas showdown. Sliney recounts how, on finishing college, he took out a loan to attend Comic-Con and show his portfolio to industry professionals, “I wasn’t ready yet . . . but it was a very, very valuable learning experience.” Sliney also recreated the convention experience this year in Cork by co-organising a convention attended by thousands.
6 Worth the wait?
Days before the convention centre opened its doors, ticket holders were lining the streets of San Diego in the hope of being among the first fans to see new footage from The Walking Dead or having the seat closest to Jennifer Lawrence. A number of stars earn brownie points by greeting the camping fans, including Doctor Who’s Peter Capaldi and Game of Thrones star Liam Cunningham, while Star Wars director JJ Abrams brings donuts.
7 King Conan of Comic-Con
A recurring trend at Comic-Con is drafting in talk-show hosts to facilitate panels in the hope the experienced interviewers can translate the often unintelligible geek speak for confused stars. Late Night host Seth Meyers brings much needed levity to a Game of Thrones panel that becomes mired in the minutiae of dragon hierarchy, while Conan O’Brien punctuates the pomposity of Hunger Games by ridiculing the questions by production company Lionsgate.
8 Everything old is new again
After the pixelated mess of the prequel films, Star Wars: The Force Awakens not only represents a journey to a galaxy far, far away, but also a return to practical special effects with director JJ Abrams inviting one of the movies’ animatronic creations, Baba Joe, to lumber on to the stage.
Similarly, Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight presentation bristles with old-school credibility, with the motor mouth filmmaker describing how he used the lenses from Ben-Hur to film his new western in “glorious 70mm”.
9 Not so Marvel-ous
For the past few years Marvel Studios has ruled the roost at Comic-Con with the united heroes whipping the convention into a fanboy furore. This year, though, Marvel’s presence was limited to its comic book and television offerings, with no panel for the upcoming Captain America: Civil War. This is a calculated move on the part of its parent company, Walt Disney, which has introduced its own convention, D23, which follows the format of Comic-Con, but focuses on the conglomerate’s properties and takes place at Disneyland.
10 And the winner is . . .?
Lucasfilm has Star Wars to flaunt, and Warner Bros brings star power in the form of Will Smith ( Suicide Squad) and Ben Affleck ( Batman v Superman). The latter loses points for ceding control of the microphone to monosyllabic director Zack Snyder, whose incoherent answers to questions about dissipate any enthusiasm in the room.
Enter 20th Century Fox, which still retains the rights to Marvel’s X-Men franchise. The studio reveals details of four new films in the seemingly inexhaustible series, including black comedy Deadpool, blockbuster sequel X-Men: Apocalypse, Channing Tatum-starrer Gambit, and Hugh Jackman’s final Wolverine film. When the star-studded casts huddle together for a selfie with Marvel maestro Stan Lee, there are few doubts which studio has won Comic-Con. Your move, Marvel.
Liam Burke is the author of new book The Comic Book Film Adaptation: Exploring Modern Hollywood’s Leading Genre. @burkeliam