Fox Debuts Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Johnny Depp Movies at CinemaCon, But “Apes” Still Reign Supreme

War for the Planet of the Apes20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox used its CinemaCon presentation to debut new footage from Hugh Jackman’s P.T. Barnum movie The Greatest Showman, Jennifer Lawrence’s sexy spy thriller Red Sparrow and Johnny Depp’s whodunit Murder on the Orient Express, but it was a stunning scene from Matt Reeves’ War for the Planet of the Apes that reigned supreme by the time red-and-gold balloons showered the crowd.

The Apes footage was the polar opposite of everything we’ve seen so far at CinemaCon in that it was quiet and restrained, especially for a movie with “War” in its title. The scene introduced us to a fascinating new ape played by Steve Zahn, and focused on character, not action.

This time around, Caesar leads his apes into conflict with an army of deadly humans led by a Colonel played by Woody Harrelson. Fox executives touted the fact that the franchise has made audience empathize with a community of apes, that like humans, features a mix of good and evil apes, both noble and savage.

The life-like work that WETA Digital has done on these creatures is truly breathtaking, and has only improved since the first film. After watching the Apes clip and the film’s new trailer, it’s no wonder Warner Bros. was desperate to have Matt Reeves direct The Batman, which appears to be in very safe hands.

Fox’s distribution chief Chris Aronson kicked off the studio’s presentation following a fun dance routine set to “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” and Jackman later joked that he had to beat out Aronson for the role of P.T. Barnum in The Greatest Showman, which looks like a true awards contender — particularly with regards to the Golden Globes given that show’s Musical/Comedy categories.

The starry ensemble includes Michelle Williams as Barnum’s wife, Zac Efron as a circus worker and Zendaya as a trapeze artist, but Jackman told the crowd to keep an eye on Keala Settle, who beat out several big-name actresses to play the Bearded Lady. Jackman then relayed the story of Settle’s audition, saying she came out and sang the show-stopping tune “This Is Me” with tears running down her eyes, prompting Stacey Snider to get out of her chair, give the actress a hug and say, “young lady, you just booked your first major motion picture.”

The heart-warming theme of The Greatest Showman is one of individuality, with Barnum saying “no one ever made a difference being like everybody else.” He and Efron tap dance on tabletops in the film, which finds Barnum coining the term “show business.”

Francis Lawrence’s thriller Red Sparrow also made a strong impression, with his Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence playing an injured ballerina who is recruited as a spy and trained to exploit her enemies’ weaknesses through seduction by none other than Charlotte Rampling. Red Sparrow looks smart and sexy, but I said the same thing about Allied last year and that didn’t see to help the film at the box office. Joel Edgerton stands in for Brad Pitt this time around, though we didn’t see much from his mysterious character.

Kenneth Branagh’s remake of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express also looked like a lot of fun this holiday season. The film, which Branagh describes as less a “whodunit” than a “whydunit,” boasts a star-studded ensemble including Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz, Josh Gad, Judi Dench and Leslie Odom Jr., among others.

Branagh taped an introduction from Malta, where the mystery movie is still shooting. The trailer featured lines such as “I see evil on this train” and “the murderer is with us.” When someone asks Branagh to identify himself, he says he’s “Hercule Poirot, probably the greatest detective in the world.” He’s rocking a wild grey mustache to play the iconic role.

After that, we saw the first trailer for Matthew Vaughn’s sequel Kingsmen: The Golden Circle transports the action from England to Kentucky, where Channing Tatum and Jeff Bridges are part of the Statesmen, the American version of the Kingsmen. The sequel boasts plenty of eye-popping action scenes, including a character who uses a glowing blue lasso to cut a man in half. Colin Firth is indeed back (wearing an eye patch this time around), and the trailer ends with an American flag parachute deploying. Returning star Taron Egerton says “it’s very American,” leading to Tatum shouting “fuck yeah!”

We also got a first look at The Mountain Between Us, a romance-cum-survival movie starring Idris Elba and Kate Winslet, who must rely on each other when their small plane crashes, leaving them stranded in the wilderness. It looks like the kind of film my mother and her friends would eat up, and given how strong both of those actors are, it’s possible that Mountain could develop into an awards contender this fall.

Sir Ridley Scott brought yet another new look at Alien: Covenant to CinemaCon, where he greeted the audience via video by saying he hoped to “scare the shit out of you.” It’s safe to say he succeeded, because I was sufficiently creeped out.

Covenant brings back Michael Fassbender, who claims he has not only “found perfection,” but he has “created it.” There was a line to the effect of “The Gods who rejected mankind are weak, cruel and greedy… but their power is an allusion. They don’t deserve to start again, and I won’t let them.” I suppose that begs the question of who the real threat is — the xenomorphs or Fassbender’s character.

Fox also showed trailers for the animated film Captain Underpants, the Amy Schumer-Goldie Hawn comedy Snatched (which earned some hearty laughs), Fox 2000’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (which looks like a cute family film based on the bestselling book series) and Blue Sky’s animated film Ferdinand, featuring the voice of budding movie star John Cena, who is receiving CinemaCon’s Action Star of the Year Award on Thursday night.

Perhaps most refreshing about Fox’s presentation was the number of high-ranking female executives on stage, where Aronson was joined by Stacey Snider, Emma Watts and Fox 2000’s Elizabeth Gabler. And let’s not forget that Nancy Utley runs Fox Searchlight with Stephen Gilula. The studio credited its strategy of “putting filmmakers before all else” with helping it gross over $4 billion last year thanks to Trolls, Ice Age: Collision Course, X-Men Apocalypse and of course, Deadpool, which became the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time.

While there may not have been any news on Fox’s biggest franchises, Avatar and X-Men, the studio still managed to deliver the goods with a strong, diverse slate that ran the gamut of genres. There aren’t many stable studios in Hollywood these days, but Fox is certainly one of them.

Report Card

War For the Planet of the Apes – A
Murder on the Orient Express – A-
The Greatest Showman – A-
Kingsmen: The Golden Circle – A-
Alien: Covenant – B+
Red Sparrow – B
The Mountain Between Us – B
Snatched – B-
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul – C+
Captain Underpants – C
Ferdinand – C-

  | Editor in Chief
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