20th Century Fox reunites the X-Men for the OTHER Marvel surprise

Yes, the big Marvel Studios panel closed out Saturday's proceedings in Hall H at Comic-Con in blockbuster fashion, but just before that, 20th Century Fox staged its own Marvel surprise that lit the place up.

First was a very brief showcase for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, for which director Matt Reeves and cast members Jason Clarke, Andy Serkis and Keri Russell basically came out and said a few words to accompany a brief but haunting teaser in which human leader Clarke ventures into the forest to speak with Caesar, who watches menacingly from above.

Next, moderator Geoff Boucher turned the panel over to The Wolverine director James Mangold and star Hugh Jackman, who told the very-happy-to-see-him audience, "One of the great joys of working in this industry is coming here and saying thank you to you guys for allowing us to keep doing this."

He and Mangold introduced an extended variation on the trailers we've been seeing all along for the movie, which comes out next Friday, and took a few quick questions from the audience, before Jackman called on legendary Marvel writer and Wolverine co-creator Len Wein to come to the stage for a handshake and a thank you (nice one there, Hugh).

Then Jackman said he wanted to bring out the director of a "small, independent film I'm making" -- and out came original X-Men director Bryan Singer.

One of the worst-kept secrets of Comic-Con was that Fox's "surprise" panel was going to be for next year's X-Men: Days of Future Past -- but even with the word out, this was an incredible moment as Singer showed a sizzle reel of scenes from the film before bringing out more than a dozen members of the cast.

How can we describe the footage? Dark, somber and utterly compelling. We see Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Professor X (Patrick Stewart) in what looks like some sort of bunker or hideaway, trying to persuade Wolverine that he must travel back in time to avert catastrophe for the mutant race (a variation from the comics, in which Kitty Pryde made the trip).

Once Logan goes back, he meets a younger and haggard Professor X (James McAvoy) and we go through a rapid-fire montage of character scenes for almost everyone, including a brief glance at Peter Dinklage as the now-confirmed Sentinel inventor Bolivar Trask. The teaser ends with the young Professor screaming "I don't want your future!" before we see him and his older self facing each other, with the latter saying, "Please ... we need you to hope again."

It's great stuff for a trailer, and if Singer can balance all these characters and make it work, he may have the biggest X-Men movie yet on his hands.

Speaking of doing a balancing act, Singer next brings a huge group of people to the stage, including writer/co-producer Simon Kinberg, producer Lauren Shuler Donner, producer Hutch Parker and actors McKellen, Stewart, Jackman, McAvoy, Dinklage, Omar Sy (Bishop), Ellen Page (Kitty), Shawn Ashmore (Iceman), Anna Paquin (Rogue), Halle Berry (Storm), Michael Fassbender (young Magneto), Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique), Nicolas Hoult (Beast) and Evan Peters (Quicksilver). They receive a standing ovation that rivals the reception to the Avengers cast when Joss Whedon brought them out three years earlier.

McAvoy gives the audience itself a rousing cheer before saying, "It's amazing the passion you guys have, and it's awesome to be among you."

The biggest audience applause is reserved for Stewart and McKellen, seated together and also well-loved for their roles as Jean-Luc Picard and Gandalf. Stewart says that "working with this kind of ensemble twice has been extraordinary," while McKellen quips, "I feel safe here [in California] now that you've gotten rid of Proposition 8." It's actually a delight to see that the two actors seem to have become very close friends as well, with McKellen announcing that they're doing two plays together on Broadway later in the year.

Berry says she's thrilled being part of the franchise again, although she wonders why Storm never "gets any love." (Evidently she has not read that Storm is married to Black Panther.)

When everyone is later asked which mutant they would like to play aside from their own, Stewart has the best response: "Any female character in any X-Men movie, because then I might have the chance of winning an Academy Award." (Berry, Paquin and Lawrence have all won Oscars.)

It was actually pretty amazing to see all these cast members together and many of them reuniting with the original X-Men director 13 years after the franchise was launched. That first movie, in many ways, kicked the superhero movie genre into high gear, so it's fitting that its cast -- and their younger counterparts -- made a little more history today in Hall H.

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