Popcorn season: Superheroes, sequels and Spielberg offer summer movie thrillsWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
From the birth of “Avengers” franchises “Thor” and “Captain America” to the curtain call of the “Harry Potter” series, Summer 2011 is geared up to provide some cool relief from the hot days outside. Here are some of the cinematic highlights that should keep popcorn and Twizzlers sales soaring.
“Thor” — It’s time for yet another Marvel superhero movie, the first of three this summer. This time, it’s the God of Thunder himself, played by the guy who played Captain Kirk’s dad (Chris Hemsworth). He certainly looks the part, and whoever decided to cast Anthony Hopkins as Odin deserves a medal. But the big question is, does the general public know Thor as a character enough to justify building a whole movie — let alone franchise — around him? Things working in the movie’s favor: It suddenly has another Oscar winner in its cast (Natalie Portman), and a director who is very respected both inside and outside of mainstream cinema (Kenneth Branagh). We may not be talking “Iron Man”-level grosses here, but it’ll probably do well enough to win a couple of weekends at the box office.
“Bridesmaids” — Imagine “The Hangover” with an all-female cast and produced by Judd Apatow. Kristen Wiig stars as a bridesmaid who meets the rest of her best friend’s wacky bridal party, and shenanigans ensue. Wiig co-wrote the screenplay, and the director, Paul Feig, has many episodes of “Arrested Development” and “The Office” to his credit — seriously, how could this lose? Prediction: Melissa McCarthy, who plays the party’s large and crude member, will be the breakout star a la Zach Galifianakis.
“Priest” — Based on a popular Manga, here’s a post-apocalyptic tale with stylish visuals and over-the-top action. Yep, another one. Here, Paul Bettany stars as (surprise!) a priest who kills vampires. If the idea of Bettany in this kind of movie seems oddly familiar, it should: He also appeared in “Legion,” which substituted angels for vampires, and was directed by Scott Stewart — who also directed “Priest.” However many hardcore action fans turn out for this, it won’t be enough to dethrone “Thor” or “Bridesmaids.”
“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” — Captain Jack is back! And let’s hope this one is better than “At World’s End.”
Director Gore Verbinski has stepped aside, replaced by Rob Marshall, whose own resume (“Chicago”) doesn’t seem to indicate that he has this kind of swashbuckler in him. But still, it has Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush and new female lead Penelope Cruz, so hopes are high. It has this weekend all to itself, so it’ll open huge, but what it does from there is all about how good it is. Especially since the following week has …
“The Hangover: Part II” — Yep, it’s time for the sequel. All the original cast is back, as is director Todd Phillips, whose last film was the lackluster “Due Date.” This time, the guys are all in Thailand for Stu’s wedding when (of course) things go crazy. It’s a major, major challenge to follow up a hit comedy, let alone one of the most popular comedies of all time. It doesn’t help that the trailer has a very “been-there, done-that” feel to it; as it even seems to recycle the exact same plot. Odds are this isn’t gonna be as funny as the first movie (what could be?), but regardless, it’ll make a mint at the box office.
“Kung Fu Panda 2” — Speaking of sequels, here we have the first big family film of the summer, featuring the return of Jack Black as Po, the panda with huge martial arts skills and an appetite to match. All the rest of the cast is back, too, but with a new director, Jennifer Yuh, whose past work is full of awesome non-Disney animation work (story artist on the original “Panda” and “Madagascar,” even directed episodes of the incredible HBO series based on “Spawn”). Simply put, this’ll be the summer’s biggest family film … for at least a month, until “Cars 2” comes out.
“X-Men: First Class” — The original stars are getting too old/too expensive/too involved in their own franchises, so guess what? It’s time for the prequel! Set in the 1960s, this look at the early days of Xavier’s School for the Gifted stars James McAvoy (“Atonement”) and Michael Fassbender (“Inglorious Basterds”) as Professor X and Magneto. The period look of the trailer seems to understand its era well, and using world events as a backdrop (Cuban Missile Crisis, anyone?) might invest the whole thing with a gravity the earlier installments kinda lacked. The director, Matthew Vaughn, also knows his way around special effects (he made “Kick-Ass” and “Stardust”), and Bryan Singer, who made the first two X-films, is back on as a producer, so there is reason to hope.
“Super 8” — Perhaps the summer’s most intriguing movie, in large part because the trailer takes great pains to not give too much away. Advertisers, take note. Director/writer J.J. Abrams brings a sci-fi tale of kids in the 1970s filming an amateur movie who happen to capture a horrific train crash in progress, as well as … something … escaping the wreckage. No big stars in the cast to speak of, but with its intriguing premise and pedigree (Steven Spielberg is among the executive producers), this will probably draw people in on the strength of its makers alone.
“Judy Moody and the Not-Bummer Summer” — Based on a popular series of children’s books, this family romp is about a young girl who is determined to have the best summer ever. This isn’t a high-concept plot or anything, but the trailer has a lot of energy and fun in it, so for kids looking for a bit of summer frivolity this may just be the ticket. Director John Schultz last turned in the questionable “Aliens in the Attic” though, so the jury’s still out. Also features Heather Graham.
“Green Lantern” — Hmm, it’s been two weeks since the last comic book movie, which means we’re way overdue for another one! This time, it’s the only character from the DC stable to get a flick this summer, as Ryan Reynolds stars as Hal Jordan, adventurous test pilot who through a twist of fate gets inducted into an intergalactic group of guardians known as the Green Lantern Corps. The trailer promises lots of flashy special effects and alien races, but really, how many outside of die-hard comic geeks know enough about Green Lantern to care? Then again, the same could be said of Iron Man, so …
“Mr. Popper’s Penguins” — Another live action family flick sees Jim Carrey starring as a businessman who inherits six penguins. Don’t even start thinking of comparisons to “Ace Ventura” here — this is a light-hearted kids’ comedy (very) loosely based on a much-loved book. Carrey hasn’t been around that much lately (“I Love You, Phillip Morris” notwithstanding), so it’ll be interesting to see how his first mainstream live action flick in nearly three years will fare.
“Cars 2” — The original film back in 2006 ended up being one of the most popular films in Pixar’s history, so a sequel was probably inevitable. But instead of simply rehashing the original, director John Lasseter and the rest of the crew have taken a wild left turn, making the sequel into a spy thriller with Lightning McQueen and Mater exploring the world.
This neatly makes everything feel remarkably fresh, and sidesteps the sad fact that neither Paul Newman nor George Carlin can reprise their roles from the first film. Also, Lasseter (who made the first two “Toy Story” movies and “A Bug’s Life”) hasn’t helmed a Pixar flick since the first “Cars,” so it’s nice to see him directing again.
“Bad Teacher” — Here’s your raunchy, nasty, potentially hilarious comedy of the month. Cameron Diaz stars as an extremely disgruntled teacher who wants to seduce a new colleague (played by Justin Timberlake), but feels she needs to get breast implants to be noticed. The fact that Cameron Diaz thinks she needs bigger breasts to be appealing to a guy is a little out there, but whatever. The trailer is really, really funny (especially the uncensored version), and the director is Jake Kasdan, who last turned in the hilarious “Walk Hard,” so fingers crossed.
“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” — Let’s get the obvious comments out of the way — yes, another Transformers movie. Yes, it’s still directed by Michael Bay. No, this isn’t an adaptation of the Pink Floyd album. There. Now, even Bay admits the last movie wasn’t very good (no, really?), and has promised this one will be better and deeper. Of course, better for Bay usually equals more pounds of C4 exploded, so we’ll see. The trailer’s intriguing at least, and the first film in the franchise was shockingly good, all things considered, so who knows.
“Larry Crowne” — Tom Hanks returns to the big screen as a director for the first time in 15 years with a quaint dramedy about a simple man (Hanks) who loses his job at a Sam’s-Club-ish store and tries to better himself by going to a community college. Co-stars Julia Roberts as his reluctant professor. Hanks’ first film was the charming “That Thing You Do,” — he has genuine talent behind the camera. This won’t blow any doors off the theaters, but the older crowd will eat it up.
“Zookeeper” — Or, as we can think of it, “Night at the Museum Goes to the Zoo.” A roly-poly zookeeper (Kevin James) discovers to his shock that the animals he cares for can all talk (with celebrity voices, in fact) and want to help his love life. The trailer looks dumb but harmless, and director Frank Coraci is not particularly known for sophisticated humor (his credits include “The Waterboy” and “The Wedding Singer”). Those hoping for a low-key family flick will enjoy it, but anyone looking for more should keep looking.
“Horrible Bosses” — Three buddies, led by the invaluable Jason Bateman, decide that their terrible bosses are the things holding them back and concoct a grand scheme to kill them all. Yep, we’re dealing with a dark comedy, here, a “Throw Momma from the Train” for the workplace set. The odd factor may be its director, Seth Gordon, mainly known for his fun documentary “The King of Kong” and less fun comedy “Four Christmases.” Does he have the kind of cheerful malevolence this material needs? Time will tell.
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2” — Do I really need to say anything? Yep, it’s the grand finale, the final battle, the end-all-be-all-this-is-it for the most popular movie series of our time. Warner Bros. and all the cast deserve to be applauded for making it to the end, and consistently turning in extremely entertaining films that did justice to the books they came from. Will this be the biggest film of the summer? The competition’s steep, but if the dramatic conclusion satisfies on film as much as it did in print, fans may want to revisit this one a few times.
“Winnie the Pooh” — Now here’s an odd bit of counterprogramming. On the same week that one of the most successful franchises ever reaches its climax, Disney releases a traditionally animated film based upon one of its most beloved characters. It’s a superb idea to not upgrade Winnie to computer animation, to be sure. But will this relatively slight film get bulldozed by the Potter juggernaut?
“Captain America: The First Avenger” — Yep, here comes another comic book flick, the second that will act as a stage-setter for next summer’s “Avengers” movie. This and “Thor” can almost be seen as feature-length trailers for the real movie in 2012. But that doesn’t mean this one can’t be a success on its own merits, with Chris Evans as the supersoldier who fights the Nazis and supervillain Red Skull (Hugo Weaving). As little as two weeks ago, an All-American hero might have seemed a tad passé. But in the wake of the events of May 1, Cap might be arriving at precisely the right time.
“Friends with Benefits” — Hmm, where have we seen this plot before? Two friends who are unlucky in love decide to just have sex with each other, no strings attached. Oh, wait, that’s right, there was that movie last fall, called, what was it? Oh, well, doesn’t matter. Anyway, this version stars Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake, two of the hottest stars around, so if this one does well, it’ll be all about their drawing power. Director Will Gluck’s last flick was the well-received “Easy A,” so maybe this one’ll surprise us, originality be damned.
“Cowboys and Aliens” — The summer’s most unique mash-up, with either the best or worst title in history. Daniel Craig stars as a mysterious drifter in the Old West who doesn’t know how this here futuristic bracelet got on his wrist, until aliens from another world start attacking. Co-stars none other than Harrison Ford. The trailer excites and interests most audiences until that title comes up, at which point they burst into laughter. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is yet to be seen. On the plus side, the director is Jon Favreau, who hit it huge with the “Iron Man” movies.
“Crazy, Stupid, Love” — Steve Carell stars in this romantic dramedy about a man whose marriage is collapsing and whose kids are caught in the crossfire. The trailer is actually hilarious, and if the movie can deliver on the pathos the concept seems to have, this may be a genuinely memorable winner. Another reason for hope: The writer, Dan Fogelman, is one of the writers credited for the “Cars” movies. Less of a reason for hope: He’s also credited for “Fred Claus.”
“The Smurfs” — Four words: Katy Perry as Smurfette. Yep, it’s time for the Smurfs to go CGI, helmed by Raja Gosnell, the auteur responsible for the “Scooby-Doo” movies and “Beverly Hills Chihuahua.” Scared yet? Well, let’s look on the bright side — most of the celebs are nice choices for their assigned Smurfs (Jonathan Winters as Papa, George Lopez as Grouchy), and the wonderful Neil Patrick Harris plays the human who finds the blue things. Maybe adults won’t be tortured too badly while their kids watch.
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” — Yes, it’s time for an “Apes” prequel. Hoo boy. A scientist played by James Franco — wait, James Franco? What was his agent on when it was decided this should be the follow-up to “127 Hours?” Anyway, a scientist experiments on chimps, gives them intelligence and apparently ends up dooming the whole world. So he’s the guy Charlton Heston was damning to hell in the first movie. Saving grace: Andy Serkis (“Lord of the Rings,” “King Kong”) is playing the chimp. Really.
“The Change-Up” — Hey, remember back when the idea of two people swapping bodies was a fresh and interesting idea? No? Anyway, here it is again. Two buddies (Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds) end up changing places, so the family man becomes the single swinger and vice-versa. The director, David Dobkin, has “Wedding Crashers” to his credit, so he can pull off raunchy comedy quite well. Let’s just hope this is more “Big” than “Like Father, Like Son.”
“30 Minutes or Less” — Jesse Eisenberg reunites with his “Zombieland” director Ruben Fleischer for an R-rated comedy about a pizza delivery guy who is kidnapped and forced to rob a bank within a short time limit. The trailer isn’t anything to write home about, but the concept is intriguing, and in the afterglow of his triumph in “The Social Network,” Eisenberg is a fairly hot commodity right now. Also will benefit from the presence of Danny McBride, who is always entertaining, even when his movies aren’t.
“Final Destination 5” — It’s the last one. For realz. We’re serious this time, you guys, we won’t make any more. Yeah, right. Let’s at least be grateful that the rumored original title — “5-nal Destination” — didn’t come to pass. Anyway, you know the drill, attractive young people nearly die in an accident then start dying anyway. Frequent James Cameron collaborator Steven Quale gets a shot as director here.
“One Day” — Here’s your high-concept rom-com of the month: Two people (Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess) meet on the night of their college graduation, and then the film checks in on them every year on the same date for the next two decades. What are the odds they’ll fall in love by the time the 20th year rolls around? Anyway, Hathaway is the most likable person in movies today and her in a romantic flick almost always scores. And director Lone Scherfig’s last project was the Best Picture nominee “An Education.”
“Fright Night” — Remake of the classic 1980s vampire flick sees a teenager (Anton Yelchin) who suspects his neighbor (Colin Ferrell) of being a bloodsucker. Sure, vampires are hot right now, but releasing this one in the waning days of summer doesn’t seem like a vote of confidence. But there are hints of awesomeness: The director, Craig Gillespie, made the wonderful “Lars and the Real Girl,” and the Roddy McDowell role is being played by David Tennant, the best Doctor Who of all time. (I await angry letters from Tom Baker fans.)
“Conan the Barbarian” — Speaking of remakes, here’s a loincloth-clad revisit of the classic pulp character made famous by the Governator. This one stars Jason Momoa, who may not have Arnold’s pecs, but is red-hot right now thanks to “Game of Thrones.” Also red-hot (in a different way) is co-star Rose McGowan, and the director is Marcus Nispel, who last helmed the 2009 remake of “Friday the 13th.”
“Spy Kids 4” — Director Robert Rodriguez was last seen blowing heads off in “Machete.” Now he returns to his popular kids’ franchise, with a mostly new cast but appearances by almost all the old characters. This one stars Jessica Alba as a former spy brought out of retirement and helped by her stepkids. This one will also be in 3-D, as Rodriguez was well ahead of that curve, releasing the third film in the format more than six years ago. Will this kiddie franchise still pack enough punch now that its former stars are Spy Tweens?
Tags: 30 Minutes or Less, Andy Serkis, Angelina Jolie, Anne Hathaway, Anthony Hopkins, Bad teacher, Bradley Cooper, bridesmaids, Captain America, Cars 2, Chris Hemsworth, Colin Ferrell, Conan the Barbarian, Cowboys and Aliens, Daniel Craig, Daniel Radcliffe, David Cross, David Tennant, Doctor Who, Ed Helms, Final Destination 5, Friends With Benefits, Fright Night, Geoffrey Rush, George Lopez, Green Lantern, Harrison Ford, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Horrible Bosses, Hugo Weaving, J.J. Abrams, Jack Black, Jackie Chan, James Franco, James McAvoy, Jason Bateman, Jeff McGinnis, Jesse Eisenberg, Jessica Alba, Jim Carrey, John Lasseter, Johnny Depp, Jonathan Winters, Judy Moody, Julia Roberts, Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Kenneth Branagh, Kevin james, Kristen Wiig, Kung Fu Panda 2, Larry Crowne, Love, Lucy Liu, Michael Fassbender, Mila Kunis, Mr. Popper's Penguins, Natalie Portman, Neil Patrick Harris, One Day, Owen Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Pixar, Pop Goes the Culture, Priest, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Robert Rodriguez, Ryan Reynolds, Seth Rogen, Spy Kids 4, Steve Carrell, Steven Spielberg, Stupid, Super 8, The Change-Up, The Hangover Part II, The Smurfs, Thor, Tom Baker, Tom Hanks, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Winnie the Pooh, X-Men: First Class, Zach Galifianakis, Zookeeper