It feels like the summer movie season has been underway for some time already, given that last month saw the arrival of huge blockbuster "The Hunger Games," as well as "21 Jump Street," an R-rated comedy that's taken an enormously impressive $130 million. And that's even without mentioning those that hoped to be big box office stuff, but fell at the first: "John Carter," already taking its place among the annals of the great flops, and "Wrath Of The Titans," which has taken less than half what its predecessor made domestically.
So yes, 2012 has already brought its share of blockbusters, but we're just getting started. Next week brings "The Avengers," the first salvo in a four-month-long cascade of tentpoles that cost more than the GDP of a third-world country, star-laden comedies and animated extravaganzas. Between now and the middle of August, every single week brings at least one major studio movie, and this year seems to be bigger than ever, with juggernaut brands/characters like Batman, Spider-Man, Alien and Jason Bourne bringing new movies to theaters.
To help you sort the shit from the shynola, we've picked the ten most promising blockbusters below. We hope they're all great, and while some will disappoint, these are the ten that we our calendars highlighted for. But that's not all, stay tuned this week for our look at the indie movies on the horizon this summer too.
"The Amazing Spider-Man"
Synopsis: Orphaned as a child, high-school student Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) meets an old colleague of his father's, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). But their experiments don't just give Parker amazing powers after he's bitten by a spider, but also turn Connors into a beast known as The Lizard, which puts Parker's family and girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) at risk.
What You Need To Know: "Spider-Man" is one of the most successful superhero frachises to date, and as such, Sony's decision to reboot the series five years after "Spider-Man 3" while controversial, makes sense from the perspective of wanting to keep the character going. The footage we've seen has been increasingly promising, with Marc Webb seemingly having a better handle on the humor than Sam Raimi did, and the leads look well cast, but the idea of another origin story is a wearying one, and it's yet to prove its reason to exist other than as a potential cash cow, and with tough superhero competition this summer, it's got more of a case to make. We remain optimistic, but Sony need to show the goods soon to put this on the same level of anticipation as the competition.
When? July 3rd
Synopsis: As the villainous Loki (Tom Hiddleston) seeks to conquer Earth with an army from another world, S.H.I.E.L.D. must bring together superheroes Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) to bring him down.
What You Need To Know: Most of these films, we're taking educated guesses as to whether they're good or not. "The Avengers" we know if it's good or not, because we've seen it. And it's very good indeed (you can read our review here). It's simply one of the best executed and most purely enjoyable summer blockbusters in a long, long time. Writer-director Joss Whedon pulled off the impossible, and delivered a raucously entertaining, entirely coherent, and pretty smart picture all around. We're hopeful that films like "Prometheus" and "The Dark Knight Rises" will stir the heart and soul a little more than Whedon does here. But for pure fun, if anything tops this, it'll be a truly great summer.
When? May 4th.
"The Bourne Legacy"
Synopsis: As events of "The Bourne Identity" trilogy unfold, the CIA also have to deal with another rogue agent: Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), from another program, Operation Outcome, with even greater skills than Bourne.
What You Need To Know: Can a franchise recover without the star and director that launched it to success? After Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon departed Universal's 'Bourne' spy franchise, the studio turned to Tony Gilroy, the Oscar-nominated director of "Michael Clayton," and a writer on the first three films, to helm a new installment. We spoke to Gilroy late last week, and he confirmed that the new film, which follows a new agent, played by Jeremy Renner, follows directly on from the original, with a little overlap: " 'Ultimatum' is playing out in background in the first 10-15 minutes," Gilroy told The Playlist. "The events of 'Ultimatum' trigger what happens in this film." And moreover, there seems to be an even greater scope than previous film, with Gilroy telling us that the film shot in "Korea, Abu Dhabi, a long time in Manila, way up in Canada… New York." And despite the shake-up, and new cast members including Edward Norton, Rachel Weisz and Oscar Isaac, Gilroy says the essential selling point of the series remains intact: "We have very deep, complex characters, with real behavior and real problems, and you take those real people and put them into extreme, visceral situations, and then you have stuff that's motivated, with real locations, and real gravity and physics. We always say that we're 'Mission: Plausible' not 'Mission: Impossible'."
When? August 3rd
Synopsis: In medieval Scotland, feisty Merida (Kelly Macdonald), the daughter of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), kicks against the status quo, but accidentally unleashes a beastly curse.
What You Need To Know: Ordinarily, we'd be able to say one word to convince you: Pixar. No other company has quite built up the level of goodwill as the computer animation giants. But then, last year, they faced up to critical anger for the first time with the poorly-received "Cars 2." Was this the beginning of the end for the studio? Well, we're not 100% sold on "Brave" yet, but it certainly looks like a step up, especially as it's the first time that the company have gone with a female lead. The plot specifics are still being kept under wraps, but there's a neat Miyazaki-does-"Braveheart" tone to the footage we've seen so far, and reaction to 30 minutes of advance footage screened for press has been enthusiastic. If nothing else, with "Monsters University" filling the slot next summer, after "Toy Story 3" and "Cars 2" in the last two, it'll be the only original Pixar movie for some time, and that's surely something to celebrate.
When? June 22nd
Synopsis: A North Carolina congressman (Will Ferrell) becomes embroiled in a sex scandal, causing an unlikely outsider (Zach Galafianakis) to run against him.
What You Need To Know: Like clockwork, Will Ferrell and Adam McKay have contributed a big summer comedy every other year for close to a decade or so, from 2004's "Anchorman" to 2010's "The Other Guys." This time around, McKay's only producing, with comedy vet Jay Roach ("Austin Powers," "Meet The Parents") at the helm, and "The Hangover" star Zach Galifianakis joins Ferrell as a pretty tantalizing comic match-up (with Jason Sudeikis, John Lithgow, Brian Cox and Dan Aykroyd in support). It's timely stuff, in an election year, and Roach's experience on "Recount" and "Game Change" means we could get a based-in-fact satirical edge to the laughs. That being said, this is the biggest summer movie that's yet to release a trailer, so this could still go either way: either the "Anchorman" of politics, or a feature-length version of one of those mediocre "Saturday Night Live" opening sketches.
When? August 10th
"The Dark Knight Rises"
Synopsis: After eight years of relative peace, a terrorist known as Bane (Tom Hardy) begins wreaking havoc on Gotham City. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is forced to don the Batman mask once more, but has he finally met his match?
What You Need To Know: The final installment of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, no film can match the feverish anticipation that this has been generating. And what we've seen so far suggests that Nolan has delivered a film with even bigger scope than either "Batman Begins" or "The Dark Knight" to close off his time with the character. One could argue that Nolan's yet to truly drop the ball with a film, so this seems like a safe bet for something close to excellence. That said, faced with living up to the late Heath Ledger, Nolan's stacked the film, not just with Hardy but also with Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Juno Temple all joining the principles. But does bigger necessarily mean better? In Nolan we trust, and all, but is there the risk that this might get away from him?
When? July 20th
Synopsis: Having been turned into a vampire and buried alive 200 years earlier, Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) arrives in the 1970s, and helps his family take on the same witch (Eva Green) who cursed him.
What You Need To Know: Tim Burton and Johnny Depp's collaborations now stretch to seven films across 22 years, but given that their last team-up, "Alice in Wonderland" made a billion dollars, shareholders are particularly excited that the two are working together, on a version of the cult 1960s supernatural soap penned by Seth Grahame-Smith ("Pride & Prejudice & Zombies"). And maybe we're being optimistic, but after a string of disappointments, this looks like Burton's most promising film in a while, seemingly harking back to earlier work like "Beetlejuice" in its mix of horror and broad comedy. There's a strong cast on board with Chloe Moretz, Eva Green and Michelle Pfeiffer, in her first work with Burton since "Batman Returns," and a sense of stylish fun in the trailers. Advanced word is good too, and Paramount was worried enough that they moved "The Dictator" off the same head-to-head date to make room.
When? May 11th.
Synopsis: A group of suburban men get together to form a neighborhood watch group, but soon discover that aliens may be at work in their community.
What You Need To Know: The sci-fi comedy is a tricky beast to pull off, which explains why it's taken years to get "Neighborhood Watch" made. But a script rewrite from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg finally put it into greenlight territory, and snapped up a mean list of comic talent: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade as the leads, while Will Forte, Billy Crudup and Rosemarie DeWitt are among the supporting stars, and "Hot Rod"/"Lonely Island" helmer Akiva Schaffer directing. The cards are still being kept close to the chest at this point, although Fox's hand has been forced somewhat due to the Trayvon Martin case. This could be a pleasant surprise, or it could be this year's "Land of the Lost," but in a year where many of the big comedies look very weak ("Men In Black 3," "That's My Boy") we'll take the talent assembled over anything else.
When? July 27th.
Synopsis: After an archaeological find, a crew of scientists journey to distant planet to investigate mankind's origins, only to find unimaginable horrors.
What You Need To Know: Ridley Scott has only made two sci-fi movies in his long, diverse career. Those two, "Alien" and "Blade Runner," happen to number among the very finest ever made in the genre. Now, 30 years later, he's gone back to sci-fi, and indeed back to the "Alien" universe that made his name, for the much-anticipated "Prometheus." Working from a script by Jon Spaihts and "Lost" writer Damon Lindelof, it's clearly set within the same world as the 1979 original, but focuses on a new set of characters, played by the likes of Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba and Bowie-like android Michael Fassbender, who look to come across the space jockeys from the original film, as well as, possibly, much more… We've got a few reservations, it should be said; we weren't terribly impressed by Rapace in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows" and it remains to be seen if she can match up to Sigourney Weaver's Ripley as a heroine. But Fox have pulled off a killer marketing campign on this one so far, with great trailers and viral spots, and our hopes are that, more than any other film this summer, it'll combine amazing spectacle and serious smarts.
When: June 8th
"Snow White And The Huntsman"
Synopsis: Discovering that her step-daughter Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is destined to be the most beautiful in the kingdom, Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) tasks a huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) with disposing of her, but the huntsman is sympathetic to the girl, and the two are soon leading a rebellion.
What You Need To Know: While they're having success on TV thanks to "Once Upon A Time" and "Grimm," the fairy-tale craze has yet to deliver a home-run hit at the multiplex, with "Red Riding Hood" and "Mirror Mirror" both underperforming. But if anything has a chance to pull it off, it's "Snow White And The Huntsman." Starring Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth, who've both made their names on major franchises, "Twilight" and "Thor," and Charlize Theron, it's got A-list talent, and has displayed some impressive visuals, courtesy of first-time director Rupert Sanders. It certainly has the scope, and a cast of ace character actors playing the dwarves worth the price of admission alone (Ray Winstone, Toby Jones, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan et al), but whether it has the right stuff in the script to bring something fresh to a tired tale remains to be seen (although a rewrite from "Drive" writer Hossein Amini will hopefully help).
When? June 1st
Also In Theaters: We're yet to be convinced by Sacha Baron Cohen's "The Dictator" (May 16th), which looks worryingly close to his answer to "The Love Guru" meanwhile, while having caught it in the U.K., where it opened six weeks earlier, we already know that "Battleship" (May 18th) is a terrible, awful piece of shit. "What To Expect When You're Expecting" (May 18th) looks more bearable than "Valentine's Day" and the other films that spawned it. Our aversion to found-footage horror means that we're likely to avoid "Chernobyl Diaries" (May 25th), while "Men In Black 3" is yet to suggest that the franchise deserved to be resurrected, ten years after the dire second film.
"Piranha 3DD" (June 1st) is getting a limited roll-out, which isn't a great sign, even if the first film was more fun than you'd imagine. While we find DreamWorks Animation's "Madagascar" among the least essential franchises around, the new installment, "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" (June 8th) does at least have a script by Noah Baumbach, and the voice talents of Frances McDormand, Jessica Chastain and Bryan Cranston, so we could be persuaded to check it out. As far as guilty pleasures go, musical "Rock of Ages" (June 15th) could fill the gap, while Adam Sandler starrer "That's My Boy" (June 15th) looks particularly wretched, even by his standards. "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" (June 22nd) has the same stylish violence that Timur Bekmambetov made his name on, for better or worse, and "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" (June 29th) looks more of the same, with added the muscle of The Rock, Bruce Willis and sword-fighting-ninjas-on-mountains.
July brings another kid-friendly sequel, "Ice Age: Continental Drift," (July 13th) which at least is the only time you'll see Peter Dinklage, Drake, Nick Frost and Nicki Minaj on the same cast list. "Family Guy" head honcho Seth MacFarlane moves into the movie world with "Ted" (July 13th) and we're sure fans will be delighted, although those of us who find him a bit one-note haven't yet found much to love. "Step Up Revolution" (July 27th) brings the dance franchise into the Occupy Wall Street era, for what that's worth.
Bourne has competition in August with "Total Recall" (Aug 3rd), which looks entirely redundant, while the same day brings resilient tween franchise "Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Dog Days." Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell bring some rare adult fare with "Hope Springs" (Aug 10th), and Disney are hoping to capture families with the sugary-looking "The Odd Life Of Timothy Green" (Aug 15th). Sylvester Stallone has re-opened the action heroes retirement home for "The Expendables 2" (Aug 17th), while Whitney Houston's last screen performance arrive in musical "Sparkle" (Aug 17th). One of the most promising films we didn't have room for in our main feature is "ParaNorman" (Aug 17th) a creepy stop-motion animation from the studio behind the excellent "Coraline." And the season closes out with horror "The Apparition" (Aug 24th) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt bicycle actioner "Premium Rush" (Aug 24th).