20th Century Fox rolled out four of its most promising film offerings for 2017 — a darker-yet-again take on its “Wolverine” franchise, a terrifying reboot of the 1979 space thriller “Alien,” a “Planet of the Apes” sequel that promises extra pathos and humor, and a psychological horror flick from the maker of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films.
The four films highlight a slate that will be the first under Stacey Snider, the new chairman of the studio’s film operation, though the films were put into production when Jim Gianopulos still headed the studio.
Introducing the latest of the Wolverine films, “Logan,” was director James Mangold, who said that star Hugh Jackman was only ready for another go as the slashing, tormented protagonist if he had a chance to do something really different. The studio showed 42 minutes of the super-charged, super-dark film Wednesday, but embargoed any plot reveals or reviews.
Mangold said that he meant the film to appeal to grown-up audiences, saying adults want more than they usually get from standard comic book fare. “I am feeling a kind of exhaustion” watching most super-hero films, Mangold said. He said he designed the latest film as a mash up of “‘Little Miss Sunshine,’ with Marvel characters and violence.”
Fans in the audience at the Zanuck Theater on the Fox lot, and on social media, seemed mostly won over by what a few dubbed as the “old man Logan” movie, with Jackman protecting a young girl who is a clone of his character, as they are pursued by a secret cabal of evil-doers.
Fox rolled out its latest “Planet of the Apes” offering with a series of clips, the film’s first trailer and an introduction from director Matt Reeves, returning to the franchise for the third time. “War for the Planet of the Apes” is the eighth re-conceiving since the 1968 original and the third reboot of the recent series that began in 2011.
It again features Caesar, played by Andy Serkis, the once kindly ape who has turned increasingly against the humans who have driven their primate cousins to the edge of extinction. Caesar has a crisis of conscious when confronted with evidence of the abundant suffering of both humans and apes, as both species are driven to the brink. Reeves said new characters will be introduced — including Steve Zahn as a chimp liberated from a zoo — who will bring new humor and emotion to what is essentially a war movie.
“The movie has heightened everything and we have a tremendous amount of humor,” said Reeves, “which you haven’t had in either of the previous films.”
The latest “Apes” sequel is set to open July 14 and also stars Woody Harrelson and Judy Greer. Reeves said that Harrelson feared that playing a CGI-generated character meant that he would not have other actors to play against. The actor wondered if would have to run his lines past a “tennis ball.”
But the three clips shown by Fox demonstrated the film in all stages of development, with the actors able to fully-relate as they played out the scenes in their motion-capture suits. The director said the New Zealand-based technology wizards at WETA had improved the technology so much since the last sequel that the ability to convey actors’ emotions was “leagues above” what it was just three years ago.
Fox has high hopes for the third offering in the current cycle, as box office take jumped substantially from 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” to 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” The former made $482 million in worldwide box office on a production budget of $93 million, while “Dawn” brought in a whopping $711 million worldwide, on a production budget of $170 million.
The jump in technological wizardry that aided Reeves was even more evident in director Ridley Scott’s new look “Alien: Covenant,” which arrives May 19, nearly four decades after the 1979 original with Sigourney Weaver.
This generation’s aliens appear to be decades more slippery, relentless and unnerving than the 20th century originals. Katherine Waterston, the actress who takes on the Sigourney-esque role of “Daniels” in the current iteration, credited director Scott with keeping the set loose and giving the actors a lot of rein.
Waterston said Scott generally only wanted a couple of takes and that the actors were aided in imagining the CGI alien creepers by the use of puppets. “Then it was off for dinner,” she said with a laugh.
“Pirates of the Caribbean” director Gore Verbinski brought the most original of the four films featured in the Fox showcase. “A Cure for Wellness,” is based on a story written by Verbinski and Justin Haythe, beginning with a bit of New York corporate intrigue before quickly shifting to a mysterious “wellness center” in the Swiss Alps.
Verbinski said he found the horror genre “very liberating,” allowing a dive into deep themes revolving around the very nature of consciousness. The film — starring Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs and Mia Goth, is due to be released Feb. 17.