Comic-Con: High stakes in first impressions

'Man of Steel,' 'Pacific Rim' and 'Elysium' need to wow fans at confab

This is Superman’s Comic-Con to lose.

The start of this year’s San Diego fan confab Thursday featured a farewell-to-“Twilight” panel, a warmly received slate from Disney (including a “Lone Ranger” ride-on) and a look at Lionsgate’s second dose of “Expendables” testosterone. But the biggest studio tentpole bets will be wagered over the next two days, as fanboys and girls form first impressions of Sony’s “Elysium,” Legendary’s “Pacific Rim” and Warner Bros.’ “Man of Steel.”

The Superman franchise is of enormous importance to Warners, which begins sunsetting Christopher Nolan’s Batman saga with the bow of “The Dark Knight Rises” next weekend and brought its Harry Potter franchise to a conclusion last summer. With the shortcomings of “The Green Lantern” and “Superman Returns” still fresh in memory, the studio needs “Man of Steel” to be a success not just on its own terms but as foundation for Warners’ hopes of ever creating an “Avengers”-sized meetup hit with its DC Comics division.

Rumors that the studio would show only still art from “Man of Steel” turned out to be false, so fanboys can look forward to seeing star Henry Cavill — news of his planned “surprise” appearance leaked Thursday — during Warner Bros.’ Saturday panel, part of a marathon stretch in Hall H that will also feature Quentin Tarantino’s holiday release “Django Unchained” and Marvel Studios’ presentation, which is expected to include an “Iron Man 3” panel and the announcement of a “Guardians of the Galaxy” pic.

Sony takes center stage Friday, showing first footage from Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium,” the helmer’s followup to “District 9,” which was both a critical darling and box office hit. “Elysium” stars Matt Damon and Jodi Foster, both of whom are expected to appear in Hall H, will essentially introduce the sci-fi drama — about a future in which the wealthy live on a man-made space station while the poor fester on the ruins of Earth — to a wide audience for the first time. Studio also has time-travel assassin pic “Looper” and its “Total Recall” reboot.

Warner Bros./New Line/MGM’s “The Hobbit” takes its first stroll in front of the nerd herd on Saturday, though word on the floor is that Peter Jackson won’t show it in the 48 frames-per-second format that caused a stir at Cinemacon this spring. Jackson is planning to fly in from the New Zealand production, which wrapped principal shooting earlier this month.

And Legendary’s first solo tentpole, Guillermo del Toro’s “Pacific Rim,” will also make its big debut over the weekend. The giant-robots-vs.-monsters actioner from the “Pan’s Labrynth” director has released nothing more than a teaser photo to date. If Thomas Tull’s fanboy-friendly production company wants this production to be a success, it’ll have to make a splash in Hall H.

But Thursday belonged to the “Twilight” franchise, which four years ago changed the face of Comic-Con by bringing more women to Hall H than ever before. Though the panel was ostensibly to tease the series’ final installment, “Breaking Dawn — Part 2” — Summit/Lionsgate brought 28 castmembers onstage and showed the first seven minutes of the movie — it served more as a farewell moment between stars Kristen Stewart, Rob Pattinson, Taylor Lautner and fans.

“This is sad now, to be honest,” Stewart said. “I’m about to start crying. No — but we got to live in this world for such a crazy long period of time. So it’s sad, but it feels good. It’s like yeah, we did it! It’s bittersweet.”

The franchise’s legacy will surely live on, as more femme-friendly properties have come to San Diego in its wake. “Fifty Shades of Grey” author E.L. James, for instance, was expected to sign books and make an appearance at Thursday night’s Random House party. And “Twilight” creator Stephenie Meyer used Thursday’s Lionsgate-Summit panel to show footage from her next pic property, “The Host.” Mining the youth vein again, this creation stars Saoirse Ronan as a young woman with supernatural powers caught up in a conflict involving her kind.

Disney played it fairly low key during its panel, promoting four known pics — Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie,” Sam Raimi’s “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” videogame toon “Wreck-It Ralph” and “The Lone Ranger” — instead of unveiling new projects.

After showing footage from the B+W Frankenstein-themed stop-motion pic, Burton called “Frankenweenie” “the perfect Disney movie.” “People forget Disney movies are about heart and are sometimes scary,” said the helmer.

Raimi’s “Oz,” inspired by Frank L. Baum’s books, tells the story of how the wizard, played by James Franco, winds up in Oz. The director said he relished using 3D. “(It) was a great tool to build this new world we’ve never seen before.”

“Wreck-It Ralph” director Rich Moore said it was easier-than-expected to land the game brands and characters like the ghosts from Pac-Man, Bowser from Nintendo’s “Super Mario Bros” and Sonic the Hedgehog.

Disney ended the panel with a montage of slick action sequences from its “The Lone Ranger,” which still in production in New Mexico. Director Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp were not on hand to discuss the footage.