Marvel's Comic-Con surprise: Joss Whedon unveils the Age of Ultron

As if brand-new trailers for Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier weren't enough, Joss Whedon came out at the end of the Marvel panel at Comic-Con to really blow the audience's minds.

Whedon strode out only to announce, "I don't have a lot to say," before pointing to the big screen behind the stage as the lights went down. A short teaser unveiled a quick glimpse of a mechanical head very familiar to Marvel fans and the name The Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Ultron, of course, is the robotic being created by Dr. Hank Pym that has tried again and again over the years to wipe out humanity, most recently in the Brian Michael Bendis run also titled Age of Ultron.

It's unknown whether Whedon will pull from that story or earlier ones, and whether he will incorporate the Ultron-created android the Vision, a role that has been linked to Vin Diesel. The mind reels at all the possible ways this could go. And where does Thanos fit in? Also, will Hank Pym be introduced in the Avengers sequel, since his Ant-Man movie is being released after that?

Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige brought Whedon out at the end of a thrilling panel that also featured visits from the casts of the Captain America sequel and Guardians of the Galaxy, as well as an assembly of footage from the latter movie, which is only 10 days into shooting.

The panel kicked off with a visit from Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in the flesh, as the actor exhorted the delighted audience in costume and character.

He introduced the new extended trailer for Thor: The Dark World, which opened with the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) and his fellow Asgardians in battle before Thor eventually heads to Earth to reunite with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). A destructive force soon appears on Earth as well, the work of Malekith (Christopher Eccleston).

With Malekith potentially destroying the fabric of reality itself, Thor must turn to Loki for help. But can his imprisoned brother be trusted? In one final shot, it looks like Loki betrays his adopted brother to Malekith.

Following that, Feige brought out Captain America: The Winter Soldier directors Joe and Anthony Russo, plus cast members Chris Evans (Cap), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Anthony Mackie (the Falcon), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill), Emily van Camp (Sharon Carter/Agent 13) and Frank Grillo (Brock Rumlow/Crossbones).

Asked how large a role Black Widow has in the movie, Scarlett said she's "very integral" to the story, adding that she and Cap develop a very complicated relationship. "They have different approaches to morality," added Evans.

Evans also said that Cap is now dealing with a modern age where "people are less trusting and the world is not as black and white as it used to be."

The talk was kept brief as the lights went down again and the footage began with a riveting scene of Cap being surrounded in an elevator at S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ and laying waste to all of them within the enclosed space. As with most of these trailers, the action flashes by too quickly to absorb everything, but we do get to see Evans being debriefed by the S.H.I.E.L.D. exec played by Robert Redford, several shots of the Falcon taking flight and pursued by a jet fighter, a penultimate scene of the Helicarrier crashing badly into a body of water and one last shot of the Winter Soldier picking up Cap's shield.

Before the audience could recover from that relentless footage, Feige next brought out -- fresh off a plane from London -- director James Gunn and the cast of Guardians of the Galaxy, including Chris Pratt (Star-Lord), Dave Batista (Drax), Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Michael Rooker (Yondu), Benicio Del Toro (The Collector), Lee Pace (Ronan the Accuser), Djimon Honsou (Korath the Pursuer) and Karen Gillan (Nebula), the latter of whom stunned the audience by pulling off what turned out to be a red wig and revealing that she has shaved her head for the part!

Again, the discussion was kept to a minimum, although the massive Bautista won over the crowd when he said that he fought really hard for the job, and "when I got it I broke down and cried like a baby." Pratt described his character by saying, "He's kind of a jerk; he had a hard time as a kid and now he goes around space making out with hot alien girls and being a bit of a rogue and a jerk, and through teaming up with these guys finds a higher purpose, something to care about and fight for and put his life on the line."

Saldana chimed in, "I've been blue once, so why not try green?"

Despite just starting production, Marvel assembled an impressive reel of footage that emphasized, above all, that the tone of Guardians will be decidedly lighter and more comedic. Pratt's wise-ass persona comes shining through, and we got a glimpse of all five heroes -- including the green-skinned Gamora, the walking tree Groot and Rocket Raccoon (although we didn't hear him speak). Best part is a shot of all five Guardians in a cosmic police lineup, with John C. Reilly saying, "They call themselves the Guardians of the Galaxy," to which his partner replies, "What a bunch of a**holes."

Guardians seems to be setting itself up as a wild space opera with flavors of both Serenity and Galaxy Quest, which sounds right to us and completely different from anything Marvel has done before. It was the surprise hit of the panel -- until Mr. Whedon pulled off his act.

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