The Projects: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, the bigscreen adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s YA book series. RoboCop, the remake of Paul Verhoeven’s action classic. And Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, the sequel to Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs that you’ve been waiting for, according the producers of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. (Collectively, they were the opening act at the Sony panel for The Amazing Spider-Man 2.)
The Panel: For Mortal Instruments, Clare and director Harald Zwart were joined by stars Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Godfrey Gao, Kevin Zegers, and Robert Sheehan. For RoboCop, director Jose Padilha and stars Joel Kinnaman, Abbie Cornish, Michael Freaking Keaton, Samuel L. Motherf—ing Jackson. For Cloudy, directors Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn were onstage with stars Bill Hader, Anna Faris, and embryonic cult icon Terry Crews.
Footage Screened: Mortal Instruments showcased the first meeting of stars Collins and Bower, who are playing urban Bella and goth Edward, basically. They also showed an extended, pretty awesome action scene between Lena Headey and Kevin Durand, offering TV fans the rare chance to see Cersei Lannister slam a refrigerator door on Martin Keamy’s head.
RoboCop played an extended trailer-ish clip, introducing the movie’s key tweak on the original film’s concept: The new version connects the notion of RoboCop to the hot topic of drone warfare, with Michael Keaton as military-industrial complexer trying to convince America that robots make good peacekeepers. A surprisingly graphic futuristic action scene in Tehran played out, complete with suicide bombers and a murdered child. Weirdly, it was all kind of funny, with Samuel L. Jackson as a futuristic newcasting gas bag providing hilariously off-point commentary.
Cloudy 2 had the most footage, with three different scenes showing protagonist Flint going to work for a Google-ish scientific company, reassembling the original film’s cast, and facing off against various “Foodimals,” animals made entirely out of food. Tacodiles! Shrimpanzees! Watermelephants!
Snap Judgment: A brief scan of online buzz seems to indicate that reaction to the Mortal Instruments stuff was tepid, but I thought the footage they screened was interesting. The Twilight comparisons are inevitable and wholly accurate, but the film looks darker, harder-edged, and generally goth-ier (in a good way) than other recent YA failures. But the stuff they showed was very action-heavy; Mortal Instruments will rise and fall on the chemistry of its leads, and in the scenes we saw, Bower and Collins were limited to whispered exposition and screaming exposition, respectively.
RoboCop was the most impressive by far. As a huge fan of the original, it was nice to see the film strive to maintain Verhoeven’s dark-satire tone: Director Padhila’s Elite Squad movies blended sociopolitical inquiry with the political genre, and RoboCop seems to have much more on its mind than you’d expect from a reboot of a long-in-the-tooth franchise. Kinnaman’s RoboCop suit is disappointingly colorless — he looks like every other exoskeleton’d videogame-shooter protagonist — but Keaton and Jackson look like they’re having a lot of fun.
The Cloudy 2 stuff was flat-out gorgeous; expect the Foodimals to become hot-ticket Christmas purchases for your kids/nieces/nephews/food-obsessed friends. Like several films in the current animation wave, the film’s dialogue doesn’t quite seem up to snuff with the visuals: There was a dirty diaper joke and a fart joke. (By comparison, imagine someone filming an Adam Sandler movie in glorious Technicolor.) But hey: It looks great.
The Big Revelations: The backslapping Mortal Instruments panel had a preach-to-the converted vibe, with everyone clearly anticipating a franchise based on the book series. So it was low on new revelations. Conversely, the RoboCop panel offered a deep dive into the new iteration of the franchise. As Kinnaman explained, his Alex Murphy doesn’t properly die like in the original; whereas Peter Weller was essentially a reanimated corpse tormented by memories of his previous like, Kinnaman’s Murphy is struggling with his cybernetic programming: “Over the course of the movie, he has this internal battle with the artificial intelligence and his own soul, his own humanity.”
The big revelation at Cloudy 2 was probably that Terry Crews is awesome. Crews — who stole scenes in The Newsroom, Arrested Development, and both Expendableses — compared Cloudy 2 to a David Cronenberg movie, leading Bill Hader to proclaim: “It’s like Dead Ringers, for kids!”
Most Incisive Audience Question: A guy wearing Google Glasses asked the RoboCop panel, “Was the purpose of the story to show that technology is something that should be feared? Or just that people should be feared, whether or not technology is involved?” This led Padilha on a rambly answer that vaguely deconstructed and affirmed gun control. Listen, this movie will definitely be better than RoboCop 3.