Warners, Legendary, Marvel, Sony impress fans

Does Comic-Con really matter anymore? That was the question around Hollywood in the weeks leading up to the nerd prom after Paramount, Fox and Universal all dropped out.

The answer is still yes — assuming the studio really has the goods to wow the fans. By forging fantastic first impressions for no less than four tentpoles, Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures proved it: The studios’ Saturday presentation was the clear winner both in style and substance, and none more important to WB/Legendary than “Man of Steel.”

That a peek at its Superman reboot flew so high with fanboys and fangirls on Saturday is auspicious, particularly for Warners, which badly wants a claim on the superhero-meetup vein that Marvel struck with “The Avengers.”

Star Henry Cavill and director Zack Snyder bounded in to present the trailer, which begins playing in front of “The Dark Knight Rises” next week.

“Superman really is the jewel in the DC crown,” Snyder said. “What we’re doing is really trying to get his house in order. After that … we’ll see what happens.”

Viewers reported goosebumps for the drama-heavy footage, yet another origin story — but this one of a man whose powers and place in the world have confounded him since childhood.

“How would you feel if you were Superman?” Snyder said. “That was the thing we went after. In the past he was just a big blue Boy Scout up on a throne. We wanted to make him someone you could sit down at a table with.”

While Superman soared, the blogosphere had even bigger love for “Pacific Rim,” Guillermo del Toro’s robots-vs.-monsters epic that is Legendary’s first all-in-house project. The never-before-seen footage of 25-story fighting robots, steered by two pilots working in tandem, doing battle with giant beasts, caused a hype tsunami in Hall H and on Twitter.

Legendary also snuck in a short clip from “Godzilla,” an indicator that the project is now moving forward. But this is no campy redo for the destroyer of worlds — a haphazard trail of urban destruction, voiced by a grim radio announcer, created a palpable sense of fear and dread before a brief glimpse of the rampaging reptile.

Warners also raised the Hall H bar by erecting extensions of the gargantuan main movie screen, creating an immersive atmosphere in a room better known for its airplane-hangar feel. And no better use was made of it than for its presentation of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” Enveloped in Middle-Earth imagery, fans were treated to a long behind-the-scenes reel — the likes of which Peter Jackson has been video-blogging all through production — and a healthy dose of footage of a world that is rich, colorful and exquisitely handmade.

“The Hobbit” footage was not shown in the 48-frames-per-second format that Jackson debuted at CinemaCon to very mixed reactions. Jackson passingly said that Hall H was not the cinematic environment required to encounter the form, but word around the halls was that he just didn’t want to re-create the debate it raised in Las Vegas.

Not to be completely outdone, Marvel Studios, rulers of the Comic-Con roost since the first “Iron Man,” took its “Avengers” victory lap immediately after Warner Bros., packing its traditional Saturday night spot with plenty of announcements and, of course, Robert Downey Jr.

The actor essentially arrived in character as Tony Stark, danced in from the back of the room to Luther Vandross and, as he’s always done, completely stole the show.

Marvel dropped a cache of news, beginning with pair of sequel titles — “Thor: The Dark World” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” The latter got the Marvel faithful nerding out hard, as it reveals that Cap will next take on Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan in “The First Avenger”), the popular comicbook arc by Ed Brubaker that has the sidekick turning into a Communist supersoldier.

Marvel also confirmed a “Guardians of the Galaxy” pic is coming, and showed a brief test reel from Edgar Wright’s “Ant Man” treatment.

But it was “Iron Man 3″ that made the biggest splash, when footage showed Stark’s Malibu perch being plunged into the Pacific, the result of a helicopter rocket attack. The footage also confirmed what Marvel’s been coy about up until now: that the villain will in fact be the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), Stan Lee’s original archenemy for Stark.

The dystopian future got a good workout from Sony, which counterprogrammed its panel against a Friday lineup that saw TV shows promo-ed in Hall H for the first time, showing the increasing importance and emphasis of smaller screen fare to the event.

“Elysium,” “Looper,” and the Aug. 13 release “Total Recall” all played on fears of ugly and authoritarian days to come; all three films played well here, with Neill Blomkamp’s “District 9″ follow-up — starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, both attending their first Comic-Cons — eliciting the most positive chatter.

But it wasn’t just superheroes and giant monsters who fared well in San Diego; Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” kicked off Saturday’s marathon movie session with a blazing eight-minute reel (the same shown in Cannes) that had the room roaring with appreciation. And Open Road got in the act this year with “End of Watch,” showing an intense series of police encounters from the David Ayers pic starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena.

But in terms of creating that critical first-impression — the likes of which can drive anticipation and the monthslong fan-sharing of online marketing assets that studios crave — it was Warner Bros. who managed to leap over the Comic-Con bar in a single bound.

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