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Warner Bros. and DC Comics Try for Reinvention at CinemaCon 2018

Warner Bros. works to regain its former glory with Bradley Cooper's "A Star is Born" remake, "Aquaman," "Ocean's 8," and a really big shark.

“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald”

Warner Bros.

The once-mighty Warner Bros. is no longer the cock of the walk among major studios. (That’s Disney.) A year ago, after disappointing results, chairman Kevin Tsujihara installed New Line chief Toby Emmerich in charge of studio production. This January, he promoted Emmerich to chairman, presiding over not only production but worldwide marketing and distribution.

In other words, Tsujihara is letting his new studio chief sink or swim. That includes righting the DC universe, which has been decidedly hit or miss since the glory days of Dick Donner’s “Superman” and Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan’s serial cracks at “Batman.” Despite Tsujihara’s bold 2013 “Batman v. Superman” announcement, Zack Snyder proved to be no Kevin Feige. Now Emmerich has installed his “Conjuring” series producer Walter Hamada as DC president.

Introducing his first Warners presentation at CinemaCon, Emmerich looked nervous as he touted last year’s $5.1 billion global box office and blockbusters “Wonder Woman,” “It,” and “Dunkirk,” and praised current hit Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One,” at $500 million and counting. Inevitably, in the pipeline are Patty Jenkins’ ’80s-set “Wonder Woman 2” (November 1, 2019) and “It Chapter 2” (September 6, 2019), which goes into production this summer. “It’s a scarier and more intense experience,” promised director Andy Muschietti. “Bring your adult diapers to the theater.”

Warner Bros.

Will Arnett (“Lego Batman”), suave and assured in a white suit, fulfilled his interlocutor function with panache, gradually unveiling the starry contents of the Warners company jet. The likes of Sandra Bullock, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, and Cate Blanchett helped him promote a series of DC tentpoles, femme-driven sequel “Oceans 8” (June 8) and David Yates’ return to Hogwarts, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald” (November 16), starring young Dumbledore Jude Law and shock-haired villain Johnny Depp along with returning Redmayne and Katherine Waterston.

Read More:  ‘Aquaman’: Warner Bros. Debuts First Look at Jason Momoa in Atlantis-Set Sibling Rivalry — CinemaCon 2018

Arnett flirted affably with Jason Momoa and Patrick Wilson, stars of James Wan’s work-in-progress “Aquaman,” which is ambitious in scale but hard to gauge (can it really deliver a combination of “Indiana Jones,” “Star Wars,” and “Lord of the Rings?”). And he was genuinely curious about his former roommate/writer-producer-star Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, “A Star is Born” (October 5 ), which was the hit of the night. It looks like a potential Oscar contender.

“Tag”

Kyle Kaplan

Delivering on his promise to deliver a diverse slate, Emmerich backed the first Hollywood-produced movie in 25 years with an all-Asian cast, John M. Chu’s “Crazy Rich Asians” (August 17). “Everyone can relate to a crazy big family,” said star Constance Wu, who praised the film based on Kevin Kwan’s global bestseller. “This differentiates the Asian experience from the Asian-American experience; we’re not checking off a quota. It shows that our culture is more than skin deep, it shows our similarities and the ways we are different.” Chu tracked down her hunky love interest, played by Henry Golding, a London hairdresser and travel host, via Skype.

“Crazy Rich Asians”

Sanja Bucko

Strictly in the B-genre realm is Jon Turtletaub’s “The Meg,” starring ocean deep-diver Jason Statham in a “Jaws” knock-off about a giant ancient shark called the Megalodon, as well as several low-budget laugh-fests such as Melissa McCarthy’s “Life of the Party” (May 11) and boys-will-be-boys action-comedy “Tag” (June 15) starring Ed Helms, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm and Jake Johnson.

It’s hard to imagine, based on the footage shown here, that performance-capture maestro Andy Serkis’s live-action “dark” re-imagining of Rudyard Kipling’s classic “The Jungle Book” (October 19), can possibly match the recent Jon Favreau Disney blockbuster — despite a stellar voice cast (Blanchett plays Kaa and Benedict Cumberbatch the Tiger Shere Khan).

In Hollywood, you win some, you lose some. Blanchett said her performance was inspired by a YouTube battle between an anaconda and a crocodile. “The crocodile lost,” she said.

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