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Eight months after Warner Bros. shook Hollywood with the announcement that its 2021 slate would debut day-and-date in theaters and on HBO Max, the studio used CinemaCon to reassure theater owners it was still very much in the theatrical movie business.
Warners showed off clips from its upcoming slate, including the first trailer from the newly titled The Matrix: Resurrections (Dec. 22) and closer looks at The Batman (March 4, 2022) and Dune (Oct. 22), as well as footage from James Wan’s Malignant, Clint Eastwood’s Cry Macho, The Sopranos prequel The Many Saints of Newark and Will Smith starrer King Richard.
Jeff Goldstein, president of domestic distribution, and Andrew Cripps, president of international theatrical distribution, appeared in a pretaped video for the presentation. Goldstein noted the studio has put out 13 new films in theaters during the pandemic era and praised theater owners for keeping audiences engaged before introducing the studio’s upcoming films, perhaps most notably The Matrix: Resurrections.
Ahead of the presentation, little was known about the fourth The Matrix — not even the premise or the title. The film comes from original co-director Lana Wachowski and includes original trilogy stars Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss, who were both heavily featured in a trailer played for CinemaCon audiences but not yet released online.
The trailer began with Thomas Anderson (Reeves) in therapy, telling his therapist (Neil Patrick Harris), “I had dreams that weren’t just dreams. Am I crazy?” He senses something is not quite right with the world, but he has no memory of what the Matrix is. Later, he runs into a woman (Moss) at a coffee shop. They shake hands, and there seems to be something between them, but neither one remembers the other. Meanwhile, Reeves’ Thomas spends his days taking prescription blue pills, and wondering why everyone in his world is glued to their phones — looking around and realizing he’s the only one on a crowded elevator not looking at a device.
Eventually, Reeves’ Thomas runs into a man (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who is reminiscent of Morpheus, the freedom fighter played by Laurence Fishburne in the original trilogy. This mysterious man hands Anderson a red pill, and soon we see footage of him with powers, seeing the Matrix for the fake reality that it is. The footage followed some similar beats as the original, including Neo (Reeves) fighting the Morpheus-like figure in a dojo, and an image of Anderson in an incubator. There’s also a shot of Neo looking in a mirror and seeing an older version of himself. Neo also seems to have a few new powers from the last time, with the trailer including a shot of what looks like him controlling a missile through telekinesis to prevent it from hitting him.
The original Matrix became a defining sci-fi action film with significant influence on the genre. It won four Oscars in the categories of visual effects, editing, sound editing and sound. The signature VFX — known as the “bullet time” effect — went on to be widely used in entertainment. The trailer shown at CinemaCon shows there will be a similar visual style to the original, as well as some fresh VFX trickery.
“From the moment I read the script, it absolutely brought back those memories,” said Goldstein, who worked on the first Matrix. “I was completely floored.”
The film, produced by Village Roadshow, also stars Jada Pinkett Smith and Jessica Henwick.
The studio also showed off a sizzle reel of The Batman. The footage arrives almost exactly one year after the first trailer debuted for the Matt Reeves-directed comic book film, which stars Robert Pattinson as the Dark Knight. The film also includes Jeffrey Wright as Commissioner Gordon and Andy Serkis as Alfred, and villains such as Zoe Kravitz as Catwoman, Colin Farrell as the Penguin Paul Dano as the Riddler.
Reeves noted the film was partially inspired by Batman: Year One, the seminal work from writer Frank Miller, while Pattinson reflected on how this version of Batman is different than those seen onscreen before.
“He’s really working out this rage,” said Pattinson in a featurette. “All the fights seem very personal.”
The Warner Bros. presentation also signaled what appears will be a very big year for Oscar-nominated cinematographer Greig Fraser (Lion), who lensed both Dune and The Batman — creating distinctly different yet equally epic looks for each.
CinemaCon comes as theater owners fret over the shattering of the theatrical window amid the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier presentations from Sony and MGM saw executives from those studios tout that their films did not go to streaming services and theaters simultaneously. In December, Warner Bros. roiled the industry with the announcement that its entire 2021 slate would debut day-and-date in theaters and on HBO Max, which like Warners, is owned by WarnerMedia. The move was met with backlash from theater owners and talent, including filmmaker Christopher Nolan, who has a longtime relationship with the studio, and Dune‘s Denis Villeneuve.
Warners will resume giving films an exclusive theatrical window next year, with its 2022 slate going into theaters for 45 days under a deal made public earlier this month. Meanwhile, the studio is developing films directly for HBO Max, including the upcoming DC titles Batgirl and Blue Beetle.
At the top of the presentation, Cripps spoke of the power of the movie theater, comparing it favorably to watching a film at home.
“Turns out size does matter,” quipped Cripps. “Watching Godzilla vs. Kong on your iPad doesn’t pack the same punch as going to the movies.”
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