New York Comic Con 2016 Day Three Writeup. In my three years of attending New York Comic Con, the panel for The Walking Dead has been the holy grail. My first year, it was held in the Main Stage and filled up within minutes; I did not get in. My second year, it was moved to Madison Square Garden, allowing for a bigger crowd; I did not get in.
Now, my third year, I staked out Madison Square Garden all day, and finally, finally, I made it into The Walking Dead panel. I arrived at around 8:30 in the morning; they did not start letting people into the building until 11:30. The Walking Dead panel was the last one of the day, but most of the crowd had, like me, decided to stay there all day to secure a seat. Luckily, the panels leading up to it were some the heavy-hitters of the convention, with some real star power and at least one very exciting project.
The Great Wall Panel
First up was the panel for The Great Wall, a movie that caused some controversy when its trailer hit for casting a white leading man in a primarily Asian story. It probably isn’t a coincidence that moderator Dave Carter stressed the film’s “international cast,” who came out first to thunderous applause. Today was actually Damon’s birthday, and Carter led the crowd in a chorus of “Happy Birthday” to Matt Damon. It was delightful.
Also at the panel were Jing Tian (soon to be seen in Kong: Skull Island and Pacific Rim 2), Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones, Narcos), Wang Junkai (a massively popular pop star in China, making his film debut), and director Zhang Yimou. At only 30 minutes, it was a brief panel, which touched on the use of color in Yimou’s films, the gender equality depicted in the film, and more. We were shown a highlight reel of Yimou’s films as well as a new trailer for The Great Wall. The film looks to be a fun monster movie, and Yimou is a great director, so I’m optimistic about this one going forward.
Power Rangers Panel
So I’m not a big Power Rangers fan, but I was coming at this with an open mind. This panel consisted of director Dean Israelite (Project Almanac) and the five cast members playing the rangers: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G, and Ludi Lin. They talked a bit about the process of making the film, about working with Elizabeth Banks (who plays Rita Repulsa) and how they started to bond as a group. Israelite claimed the film had the characters dealing with “real problems” while also exploring a “mythological odyssey,” recalling a classic Simpsons quote: “So you want a realistic, down-to-earth show… that’s completely off-the-wall and swarming with magic robots.”
Elizabeth Banks recorded a message for the audience in which she introduced the trailer for the new film, which had been published online a few hours earlier (this was not acknowledged by anyone onstage). We were shown the trailer twice, and while fans in the room seemed to like it, I’m not sold. It looks like Chronicle meets The Breakfast Club, but not as good as either of those. It was awkwardly paced and treats an inherently goofy premise with an unwarranted amount of seriousness. It’s just a trailer, but if I were a Power Rangers fan, I’d be worried.
John Wick: Chapter 2 Panel
Luckily, our next panel was for one of my most-anticipated movies of next year, and boy, did it deliver. John Wick is one of my favorite action movies of this decade – a slick thriller that’s somehow both modern and retro at the same time, bringing Keanu Reeves back to stardom in a big way. The panel began with a giant warning on the screen which read: “The following panel will contain foul language, as well as kick-ass film footage that shows fighting, violence, and lots and lots of guns.” It was not lying.
Of course, Keanu Reeves was on hand, as well as director Chad Stahelski (co-director of the first film and stunt coordinator for The Matrix), producer Basil Iwaynk, screenwriter Derek Kolstad, and actors Common and Ian McShane. It was a blast to hear them talk about what the film has in store and how certain stunts were filmed. The sequel will show us more of The Continental (the first film’s most intriguing aspect). And, when asked about the fate about Wick’s new dog – a genuine concern, given the fate of the last one – Kolstad only said, “You guys will see what happens to the dog – it’s great.”
We were shown a behind-the-scenes reel showing off some of the stuntwork of the new film interspersed with interviews from the cast and crew, and we were then shown the first teaser trailer to the film, which blew the roof off the place. Everyone went nuts for this, the movie looks fantastic, and reveals the presence of one Laurence Fishburne in the film, meaning yes, this is a Matrix reunion. I have full confidence John Wick: Chapter Two will live up to the first film, and I hope to see this Keanu resurgence yielding kick-ass action movies for years to come.
Dreamworks’ Trollhunters Panel
Trollhunters stood at a unique advantage for its place in the schedule – it was the panel right before The Walking Dead, meaning they were guaranteed a packed house. If they could deliver a fun panel, they could win over some fans and generate good word-of-mouth. This show wasn’t on my radar before, but I have to say, I was impressed with what I saw.
For those unfamiliar, Trollhunters is a new Netflix series from Dreamworks Animation co-created and produced by Guillermo del Toro. I love del Toro, so it was really cool to see him here, and he came out to introduce the show to us and then screened the first two episodes of the series, which he co-directed (his first time directing animation). They were fun! The show looks to be a solid, family-friendly adventure series. It’s about a 15-year-old boy named Jim (voiced by the late Anton Yelchin) who is chosen by a magical amulet to be the Trollhunter, sworn to protect good trolls from evil ones. Based on the first two episodes, the show seems to have a strong sense of storytelling and character, and it has an expansive mythology that should be cool to explore over the course of its 26 episodes, all dropping on Netflix on December 23rd.
After the episodes screened, Del Toro came back out, along with co-creator Rodrigo Blass, producer Marc Guggenheim (known for shows like Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow), and cast members Kelsey Grammer, Charlie Saxton, Steven Yeun (who’d be coming out again for The Walking Dead), and Ron Perlman. They delivered a fun panel – Perlman told a story about having a handwritten letter from del Toro from 1990 begging him to be in his first film, Cronos, which was fantastic. We were informed that the original Trollhunter in the first episode is voiced by none other than Tom Hiddleston, and in later episodes will be voiced by James Purefoy. Del Toro himself plays the dentist character, and the theme was composed by Alexandre Desplat. The panel ended with Ron Perlman leaving the stage pretending to be overcome with emotion, only to return with a birthday cake for Del Toro – it’s his birthday tomorrow, and for the second time that day, the audience in Madison Square Garden sang happy birthday to a celebrity.
The Walking Dead Panel
And then it was time for the big one: The Walking Dead took the stage at New York Comic Con and the fans went nuts. Before the panel started, we were shown a lengthy recap of Season 6, and then what appeared to be every single promo for the upcoming season that have been airing on TV (there were a lot of them). I was most curious about how this panel was going to go, because The Walking Dead is coming off of a very controversial season finale. After finally introducing Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan in the episode’s final scene, it cut to credits without revealing who it was that Negan killed. It felt like a narrative cheat at the time (and it was, make no mistake about that), but it has turned into an effective marketing hook – people want to know who died, especially the people in that theater tonight.
The panel was moderated, of course, by Talking Dead host/professional nerd Chris Hardwick, and it was probably the most-populated Comic Con panel I’ve ever seen. Most of the cast and key crew members were there, including Robert Kirkman, showrunner Scott Gimple, producer Gale Anne Hurd, director/visual effects artist Greg Nicotero, and actors Steven Yeun, Lauren Cohan, Norman Reedus, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Melissa McBride, Danai Gurira, Michael Cudlitz, Lennie James, Sonequa Martin-Green, Alana Masterson, Austin Nichols, and Seth Gilliam (who was stuck in traffic and showed up mid-panel). We were shown a clip at the beginning from the upcoming AMC special about The Walking Dead and its journey from Season One to now, and it’s remarkable how different everyone looks in just a six-year span (I’ve said before that I measure the passage of time by how much taller Carl grows in between seasons).
Andrew Lincoln was surprisingly absent, though it resulted in a funny bit in which Norman Reedus, Steven Yeun, and Michael Cudlitz all read letters from him to the audience. Most of the panel consisted of Chris Hardwick going from one panelist to the next, asking them about their characters and where they’re at this season. Of most interest here was Jeffrey Dean Morgan, whose Negan has really only been seen in that one scene. Morgan says that from Negan’s point of view, he’s not the bad guy – he’s essentially the same as Rick, just on opposite sides. He’s a bit of a showman, a little bit cocky, and Rick’s group have killed a lot of his guys – his actions, when looked at through that lens, make sense. Gimple also mentioned that, though he can’t swear as much as he does in the comics, they will be “surgically capturing the f-bombs that matter.” And yes, we will find out who Negan killed in the season premiere.
It was a surprisingly emotional panel, as well – Melissa McBride was brought to tears at the rapturous reception she received from fans. Lauren Cohan also became overwhelmed when it was mentioned that the show will have aired 99 episodes by season’s end, with the 100th episode set for the eighth season premiere. Other points of interest include Lennie James, who said that those hoping Morgan would return to killing should be “careful what you wish for.” When asked what other character on the show the actors would like to play, most of them joked and said the baby, Judith. Also, Chris Hardwick does a tremendous impression of Eugene (Josh McDermitt was not at the panel – I fear this may mean he is the one that dies, but we’ll see).
I was curious if we would be shown anything from the upcoming season, considering how much they’re trying to keep things under wraps. We were indeed shown a clip from the season premiere, which appears to pick up right after Negan has killed whoever he has killed. It’s a confrontation scene with Rick that effectively showcases how much fun Morgan is to watch and how menacing he is at the same time. It does not reveal who Negan kills, though it implies several possibilities that I won’t go into (spoilers, guys). It was a great scene, and while I was ambivalent about the season’s end last year, I’m hopeful they can make something good out of it.
And that’s it! Tomorrow I’ll be winding down back at the Javits Center – there’s a few panels of interest, including a screening of NBC’s new show Timeless, and a conversation with the head writers of Saturday Night Live that I’m looking forward to.
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