The good, the bad and the awkward: 20th Century Fox's Comic-Con panel

20th Century Fox held its lengthy two-plus-hour presentation in Hall H at Comic-Con in San Diego on Friday. And what did the studio have to show off?

First out of the gate was The Maze Runner, yet another in the long line of dystopian young adult novels/series being brought to the screen. The director on it is first-timer Wes Ball, and the cast is mostly fresh faces as well, and for a change the cast is almost completely male. Dylan O'Brien plays Thomas, a young man who finds himself with no memories and trapped with other boys in a giant maze for reasons unknown, by parties also unknown.

Ball, O'Brien, novelist James Dashner and co-stars Will Poulter and Kaya Scoledario were on hand for the panel, which featured a lengthy look at the scene in which Thomas is deposited in the maze, as well as a special Comic-Con reveal of the Grievers, the creatures that roam the maze and threaten the boys' lives. If you put the Alien's head on Shelob's body (with mechanical legs), you'd have a pretty good idea of what these fearsome monsters look like. The final clip was an extended trailer that emphasized the striking visuals of the maze itself and the mystery of the story.

On the panel, Ball said he had been meeting with Fox execs about a feature version of his short film Ruin when they handed him The Maze Runner to read. He said that the concept of the maze and the Lord of the Flies aspect of the story drew him to the material. He also revealed that if things go well at the box office, the plan is to begin shooting the sequel, The Scorch Trials, by the time winter rolls around. He even had an image to show of a ruined city, indicating that the sequel takes place in an entirely different setting.

O'Brien did not have a great panel experience, actually blowing a spoiler in the movie while answering a fan question (he revealed a character's death). But perhaps the most heartfelt moment of the panel came from Dashner, who recalled his reaction to seeing the film: "It was incredible ... I was shaking and bawling watching the film. These filmmakers and this cast took their vision of my book and turned it into this amazing film."

The Maze Runner certainly has an opportunity to stand out from the rest of the Y/A pack, with its male hero and unique setting (although O'Brien thinks Katniss Everdeen would take down his Thomas easily). We'll see if it makes the most of that this fall.

Fox next rolled out Book of Life, the animated Mexican-flavored fantasy that is being produced by Guillermo del Toro, who strolled onstage to a thunderous ovation (the man is truly the mayor of Comic-Con). Del Toro was joined by first-time director Jorge Gutierrez and stars Channing Tatum, Ron Perlman and Christina Aguilera, all of whom contribute voice work to the project.

And even with the always-boisterous del Toro on hand, the panel was stolen by rapper Biz Markie, who came out to sing a few choruses of his hit "Just a Friend," which makes an appearance in the film. No one saw that coming.

With its colorful fantasy worlds and del Toro's involvement, the movie may have passing interest for sci-fi fans. Same for Hitman: Agent 47, the second film based on the hit videogame, with this one starring Rupert Friend, Hannah Ware and our old pal Zachary Quinto. Friend was not there but introduced footage with a video message recorded on the South African set of Homeland. His character, Agent 47, is genetically enhanced, but beyond that the connection to sci-fi seemed tenuous as well: This extended trailer was one long barrage of gunplay, beatings, chases and violent action -- most of which we've kind of seen before in numerous other films.

The fifth Fox offering (following the comedy Let's Be Cops) was Kingsman: The Secret Service, based on the comic book by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. Very much an homage to great fictional British secret agents like John Steed, Harry Palmer and of course James Bond, the movie stars Colin Firth as a member of an elite international secret service who takes young recruits under his wing to train them. His latest find is a troubled young man played by Taron Egerton, and the villain is played by Samuel L. Jackson with a lisp and a collection of hats.

Director Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class and Millar's own Kick-Ass) was not there, but Firth, Jackson, Egerton and co-star Sofia Boutella all were, along with screenwriter Jane Goldman. Millar (whose thick brogue can be hard to decipher) said that Vaughn was "in hospital with Rocket Raccoon up his ass," and the director instead delivered a video message with a Kick-Ass mask inexplicably on his face. Next to him was none other than Mark Hamill, who appears in Kingsman and was sporting a beard, which he said was "not related" to the other "small, low-budget" film he's currently shooting in London (we don't have to tell you what it is, right?)

Millar was a bit lost as a moderator, not asking many questions and instead going right to clips -- which were super-violent and super-stylized, but also kind of fun. In the first one, Hamill is tied in a chair helplessly as an agent mows down the 12 men guarding him, only for the agent himself to meet a grisly fate (sliced in half!) by a young woman with blades for feet. 

In the second clip, Firth is having a beer with Egerton in the pub when a group of young thugs storm in. Firth makes short work of them, of course, and it's fascinating to see this dapper, reserved actor cut loose in a ballet of fisticuffs, shootings and stabbings while barely mussing his hair.

Sam Jackson as a colorful villain and Colin Firth as a British superspy? Sounds and looks like a good time at the movies to me.

Millar didn't seem to realize that the presentation had run out of time at the end, leaving no room for questions, and for a moment it seemed as if Fox might have one more card to play. But instead the lights came up and the show was over.

What was missing? Fantastic Four. With less than a year to go, with its target audience captive this weekend in San Diego, Josh Trank's film did not even send out a video message, an image ... nothing. Rumors of the cast coming to Comic-Con proved wrong. We can only wonder why the studio and the filmmakers did not take this opportunity to perhaps drum up some good will after the negative buzz the movie has gotten in recent times.

Stay tuned for more from Hall H and Comic-Con!

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