It has taken Jim Gianopulos two years to settle in and find his footing at Paramount, but it seems like the once-struggling studio is finally on the rebound. Paramount has some intriguing IP to mine this year and next, including Ang Lee‘s action-packed Gemini Man, featuring Will Smith (and a clone of a much younger Will Smith); the Elton John biopic Rocketman; and a new Terminator movie from James Cameron and Deadpool director Tim Miller, which you can read more about here. The studio also has sequels to ’80s hits such as Top Gun and Coming to America, as well as family films based on iconic characters such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Dora the Explorer and Spongebob Squarepants. The latter two movies are prime examples of Paramount’s mandate to exploit other Viacom properties including Nickelodeon shows — corporate synergy at its finest.
Paramount led with its best foot first, and that would be Rocketman, which looks terrific. Seriously. There have been plenty of comparisons to Bohemian Rhapsody, and while I was a bigger fan than most of the Queen movie, that film was compromised by the band’s involvement, whereas Elton John seems to have encouraged a warts-and-all portrayal of his remarkable life. Director Dexter Fletcher, who was famously brought in to finish Bohemian Rhapsody, is not expected to shy away from John’s drug use or his sexuality. The costumes on display in the extended footage we saw were absolutely gorgeous, and seem like a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination. Taron Egerton will likely also be in the mix for his startling turn as the eccentric singer. I’m a huge fan of Elton John’s music, but I’m an even bigger fan of the man himself and the important causes he champions. He means a lot to me as an artist, and I can’t wait to see his life unfold on the big screen.
Following a rousing rendition of “Crocodile Rock,” the studio moved on to actual crocodiles (well, alligators) with the first trailer for Crawl, a horror movie from director Alexandre Aja and producer Sam Raimi. Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper star as a father-daughter duo who are trapped in their flooded house in the middle of a hurricane as hungry crocodiles roam the waters. I’m so sick and tired of killer shark movies that it was actually refreshing to see a different kind of underwater creature feature, and I think Crawl could end up being a sleeper hit for Paramount, especially given its relatively low budget. The trailer certainly drew a visceral reaction from the crowd. Aja is a noted gorehound and this film looks like it has a nasty streak, so there should be plenty of carnage on display when Crawl washes up in theaters this July. The trailer is set to the hit Scorpions song “Rock You Like a Hurricane” (a little too on the nose there) and features the line “we do not give up! We’re going to beat these lizard shits!” So really, how can you go wrong?
Next up was Dora and the Lost City of Gold, which looks like a fun family adventure film with a well-cast lead and a hint of danger. We’re big fans of Isabela Moner ’round these parts, and she’s surrounded by a top-notch Latinx cast including Eugenio Derbez, Michael Pena, Eva Longoria, Danny Trejo and Benicio Del Toro. Paramount rolled out the same trailer that recently debuted online, so there was nothing special on the footage front, but this is exactly the kind of movie Paramount should be making, from a purely business perspective.
Speaking of business, if there was a weak link in Paramount’s presentation, it may have been the comedy Limited Partners starring Tiffany Haddish, Rose Byrne and Salma Hayek. Haddish and Byrne are a great comedy duo but the trailer needed bigger laughs, and Hayek is gifted all the best lines. The reception in the press section seemed mixed overall, and I suspect that this film might have benefitted from a female director rather than Miguel Arteta, who can be very hit-or-miss.
Thankfully, things picked up a bit with our first look at Sonic the Hedgehog, which stars James Marsden, Tika Sumpter and Jim Carrey, and features the voice of Ben Schwartz as our titular blue hero. I liked the ad copy in the trailer — “get ready for a new speed of hero” and “every hero has a genesis.” Get it? Sonic was a Sega Genesis game? Nevermind. The trailer did a good job of balancing action and comedy, and we saw one scene where Sonic is surrounded by incoming missiles that reminded me of a Quicksilver sequence from X-Men, only animated. The very end of the trailer gave us our first glimpse at Carrey’s Dr. Robotnik, which I’ve heard is a return-to-form for the beloved star of Ace Ventura and Dumb and Dumber. The studio seems so high on Carrey’s performance that they cut him his own trailer, titled, of course, Robotnik. Carrey came out on stage separately from the rest of the cast, throwing popcorn all over the place, and explained that Robotnik is one of the most intelligent men who ever walked the Earth, “so basically, it’s my origin story.” Paramount’s Kyle Davies argued that Sonic has been entertaining people for years, to which Carrey replied, “been there. Done that.”
Carrey dons a crazy hipster mustache for most of the movie, but the final shot of the fictional trailer shows the ultimate Robotnik look, with weird glasses and a mustache that is much, much bigger. I may have grown up playing Nintendo instead of Sega, but I thought Sonic looked like a fun family film, and I’m eager to check it out come November, when I may need a respite from all the Oscar bait in theaters.
Speaking of Oscar bait, John Cena took the stage to introduce Playing With Fire, which is still in production. I’m kidding about the Oscar stuff, of course, but this is another film that looks like fun for the whole family, with Cena playing a firefighter who has to care for three troublesome kids. We saw one scene where they wreak havoc in the fire station, whose inhabitants also include Keegan-Michael Key and John Leguizamo. This won’t set the box office on fire (hehe) but it could make a tidy profit given Cena’s significant fanbase, who would have loved seeing him come out to his trademark theme song “The Time Is Now.”
Paramount ended its presentation with an extended look at Ang Lee’s Gemini Man, which finds Will Smith playing an assassin hunting a clone of his younger self. The studio went all-out for this one, putting together a reel showcasing the careers of both Smith and Lee. “One actor has inspired us, thrilled us, and reminded us why we go to the movies. One director has pushed boundaries, defied expectations, and redefined how films are made. Now, these legendary artists come together for the first time… Gemini Man.”
Smith said the film is about what one’s younger self can ultimately teach one’s older self. He said the irony of playing a 23-year-old again is that 23-year-old Smith wouldn’t have been ready for this experience, or to take on this kind of role. The trailer is set to a slowed-down version of “Forever Young,” and finds the elder Smith confounded that he can’t kill his target, who knows his every movie. “I think I know why he’s as good as you. He is you,” says Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Clive Owen co-stars, possibly as Smith’s boss/handler, and he advises his star assassin to embrace his fear and then overcome it. The technique used to de-age Smith totally works, because he truly looks like the Smith from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. The trailer delivers on all the hype, grounding the intense action with emotional stakes.