A rundown of big titles from now through Labor Day. Breakout Summer Indies will be covered in an upcoming profile.
- Fast Five – Universal wants you to know that the official cinematic kick-off to summer starts right here. The fifth entry in the highly durable Fast and Furious franchise has gotten some fairly positive early reviews to go with the previews that have been playing for months. I vaguely remember getting amped for 2009’s Fast and Furious and that movie turned out to be a colossal waste of time.
- Thor – So this is our punishment for turning the Iron Man movies into massive hits. A Norse god with magical powers falls to earth and learns what it means to be human. Along for the ride is Natalie Portman, starring in her FOURTH 2011 movie so far, with more on the way. How can we ever miss you Natalie, if you refuse to go away?
- The Beaver – After last summer’s seething, racist tirade made its way online, you could say that Mel Gibson maybe had some atoning to do. Will an uplifting comedy about a man who talks to folks via a beaver puppet do the trick? Probably not.
- Bridesmaids – The best way to get a female-centric movie released this days? Market it just like another raunchy male-bonding movie. Paul Feig (Freaks and Geeks) directs, Judd Apatow produces and Kristen Wiig stars so there’s no reason to think this won’t be great.
- Priest – Here’s the synopsis via IMDB: “A priest disobeys church law to track down the vampires who kidnapped his niece.” This one sounds like a real winner. Ads featuring a buff Paul Bettany battling rubber-looking CG vampires with ninja star crucifixes should tell you if this is for you or not. In case you’re on the fence, it’s also in 3D.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – Remember feeling a giant wave a relief wash over you after the credits rolled on the nearly three-hour long At Worlds End a few years back? “Thank God that’s finally over”, you thought. Sorry, mateys! Cap’n Jack is back to entertain you and your family with more bland swashbuckling heroics and convoluted storylines. Arghhh. Seriously, I’m over these Pirate movies. Why aren’t you?
- The Hangover Part 2 – That was one disappointing full-length trailer released a few weeks back. Remember John McClane’s line in Die Hard 2: “How can the same sh*t happen to the same guy twice?” Todd Phillips’ follow-up to the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time looks pretty much like the exact same movie. Only in Bangkok. There’s so much goodwill towards the first Hangover that it’ll still be a cash-printing machine, just don’t count on the same buzz you got in 2009.
- Kung Fu Panda 2 – Another manic, over-priced sequel from the Dreamworks factory. The first was cute, Jack Black nowadays? No thanks. Oh wait, it’s in 3D? Nevermind, can’t wait!
- Tree of Life (May 27) – Here’s one for adults: Terrence Malick’s fifth film, an impressionistic study of “nature vs. grace” that spans multiple generations and is sure to be a major talking point for serious moviegoers. Need a primer on why folks salivate over Malick? Just watch Days of Heaven.
- X-Men: First Class – The cast and the director (Matthew Vaughn, Kick-Ass) should make anyone optimistic, but Fox’s marketing has been all over the place, plus we’re talking about the FIFTH X-Men movie in a little over a decade. I can’t be the only one feeling mutant fatigue.
- Super 8 – It’s clear from the cryptic ads that J.J. Abrams is doing a pretty good imitation of early Spielberg; the small-town millieu, fractured family dynamics, the lens flares, characters looking offscreen in amazement, etc. As a slavish homage to the Amblin factory, this should already be considered some kind of success. As a standalone film based on an “original” idea? Who knows, but we’re excited.
- The Green Lantern – Warner Bros. spent a reported $200 million (and climbing) to bring the long-standing comic to the big screen and it doesn’t look like they’re catering to anyone but the hardcore faithful. If you’re going to spend a boatload of cash on a creative endeavor, why not make it the relatable tale of a fighter pilot given a magical green ring to fight off evil by an intergalactic squadron? With Batman and Harry Potter ending, Warners needs another cash cow, STAT. As an actual movie, it looks worse than Thor but hey; it could still surprise.
- Cars 2 – Maybe the first Cars wasn’t Pixar’s best movie, but neither was it the worst (that’d be A Bug’s Life). I’m betting this plays, and becomes the family film to beat this summer. Pretty much just like every other Pixar movie.
- Bad Teacher – Just a few minor tweaks to the Bad Santa formula: A completely unqualified, borderline alcoholic (Cameron Diaz) is put in charge of a bunch of kids. Some filmmakers would mine this kind of material for an unsparing character study (Half Nelson), but director Jake Kasdan seems to be chasing big, raunchy laughs.
- Transformers: Dark of the Moon – It’s time for our bi-annual dose of oppressive robot mayhem, now served in migraine-inducing 3D. Michael Bay made recent claims that he wants to “make up” for 2009’s woeful Revenge of the Fallen, an assertion that mistakenly infers that the first Transformers was anything other than a noisy assault of pixels and debris. But seriously, as long as the jive-talkin’ robots are gone this one really has nowhere to go but up.
- Larry Crowne – Well now, that’s an awkward trailer. Can Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts deliver a satisfying summer escape for adults? Don’t know. Don’t care.
- Horrible Bosses – Not much in the way of actual marketing for this so far, but word is that the stellar cast delivers the goods, and this could end up being the summer’s real Hangover-style sleeper hit comedy.
- Harry Potter and the Ridiculous Title I Don’t Want to Type – Hooray, it’s finally ending! Only for real this time!
- Captain America: The First Avenger – After Thor, X-Men, and Green Lantern, is there going to be any room left for another superhero origin story?
- Cowboys and Aliens – Director Jon Favreau, along with megaproducers Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg all seem confident that this is guaranteed nerd catnip, and will prove irresistible to legions of summer moviegoers. Based on what we’ve seen so far, I’m still feeling resistant.
- Crazy, Stupid, Love – Looks pretty good. Warners must be confident on the picture with such a prime summer release date. Possible Oscar contender?
- The Change-Up – Previews for this make me feel bad for Judd Apatow. Watching your wife (Leslie Mann) defecate on screen for an extended toilet gag has to hurt, just a little inside. Wow. What a rancid, unfunny trailer. Instead of promoting this as being from “the director of Wedding Crashers” and the writers of The Hangover, how about “From the guy who brought you Fred Claus and the writers responsible for Four Christmases” instead? At least manage people’s expectations appropriately.
- Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Another desperate reboot of an ancient franchise? Sounds painful, but let’s agree that the trailer and digital effects from Weta look exceptional. Can this knock the 2001 Tim Burton version collectively out of our memories? Shouldn’t be that hard.
- 30 Minutes or Less – Jesse Eisenberg, Danny McBride, Aziz Ansari. There’s no reason this shouldn’t be a homerun comedy classic. The trailer doesn’t really shift the needle either way, but let’s try and stay optimistic, okay?
- Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark – Word is strong on this old-school horror movie. Guillermo del Toro produces, and watching the trailer in a dark theater is unnerving enough, so consider this a must-see.
THE LATE-SUMMER GARBAGE HEAP:
Haven’t had your fill of terrible 3D movies? Conan the Barbarian, Fright Night, Spy Kids 4 and Final Destination 5, all open within weeks of each other, and all come flying at you in glorious 3D. Now you literally have your choice of which terrible movie to pay extra for.