Ah, summer. That time of year marked by long days, short skirts, and the application of sunscreen. It’s the season where even the most hardened cineaste can put aside their Criterion Collection discs, if only for a moment, and get excited about the jazzy, visual effects-driven blockbusters coming down the pike. The line between “summer” and “any other time of the year,” in terms of movies, keeps getting blurrier and blurrier, with big-budget studio fare like “Oz the Great and Powerful” and “Oblivion” coming out in the spring (we had a Michael Bay movie open in April, for crying out loud – before this it was questionable whether or not he even existed outside of June or July).
But even with the shakier distinction of what a summer movie is as the blockbuster creep goes earlier and earlier, and with a glutted with would-be warriors, this summer looks like it’s stacking up to be a pretty spectacular one with a number of high-profile reboots, sequels, and spin-offs making their way to the big screen. There are even – gasp! – a couple of high-profile original properties, too.
So before the season swallows us up, we thought we’d run through the most promising of the summertime juggernauts. Get your giant glass of iced tea, put on your biggest, floppiest hat, and remember, spending time indoors in a darkened room is the best sunscreen of all.
“Iron Man 3”
Synopsis: Picking up a year after the events of last summer’s billion-dollar-grossing “The Avengers,” “Iron Man 3” follows a disillusioned, slightly obsessed genius billionaire playboy philanthropist Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), as he deals with his strained relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and maybe his most fearsome adversary to date – the power-mad terrorist known simply as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley).
What You Need To Know: While having “Iron Man 3” come so quickly after “The Avengers” (which was pretty Iron Man-heavy in its own right) might seem like overkill that could result in audience disinterest, there’s something to be said about striking while the iron is hot (pun very much intended). But what makes “Iron Man 3” such an exciting proposition, at least to our ears, is that it’s an epic reteaming of Downey Jr. with his “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” writer/director Shane Black, who at one point was the highest paid screenwriter on planet earth (“Lethal Weapon,” “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” etc). Marvel movies aren’t exactly known for their sense of directorial authorship, so it’ll be interesting to see if a personality as big as Black’s can make his mark on one of these franchise entries. (Read our early review here.)
When? May 3rd
“The Great Gatsby“
Synopsis: A whiz-bang adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s great American novel, it centers around the titular Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) a self-styled baron of new money wealth and his relationship with his shabby next-door neighbor (Tobey Maguire) and that neighbor’s cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan), who has a prior relationship with Gatsby.
What You Need To Know: Bad buzz plagued this costly adaptation since it slid from its original opening date of Christmas Day, 2012. The reasons for the reshuffle are seemingly myriad – more time to tinker with the troublesome 3D effects, Warner Bros not wanting to cannibalize 3D screens from its own “The Hobbit,” and Leonardo DiCaprio going up against himself in “Django Unchained.” Whatever the reason, “The Great Gatsby” promises first and foremost a visual feast, with director Baz Luhrmann (“Moulin Rouge!”) indulging in every audio/visual whim that he fancies, and if you want to gorge yourself on roaring ’20s excess, then this is the place to indulge. As far as razzamatazz goes, there certainly isn’t a movie that will rival ‘Gatsby.’
When? May 13th
“The Hangover Part III“
Synopsis: The Wolf Pack is back for one last debauchery-filled go-round. Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis and Justin Bartha return to Las Vegas, the site of the very first “The Hangover,” to get into more outrageous, vile, blackout-drunk mischief.
What You Need To Know: There seems to be an active campaign from almost everyone involved in the movie to assure potential viewers that this entry will be very different from the abhorrent “The Hangover Part II,” a movie that was so lazy and creatively bereft that it barely qualified as a different movie. And we’ve got to admit that the promotional materials so far have a certain amount of punchy zing that the sequel was sorely lacking. Also, John Goodman is a part of the cast as some kind of skuzzy villain character, which excites us endlessly. Not that the “The Hangover” franchise is some glittery Hollywood benchmark, but we do hope that it goes out on a big, nasty high. Consider us in the “cautiously optimistic” camp.
When? May 24th
“Fast & Furious 6“
Synopsis: The gang (Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Ludacris, Tyrese, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) is back after the “Fast and Furious” franchise took a sharp left turn with 2011’s genuinely fun “Fast Five.” This time they’re going up against some evil British guy (Luke Evans) and encountering a character from their past who was long-thought dead (Michelle Rodriguez). In the trailer, a car speeds out of a flaming airplane. Where the hell is Eva Mendes, though, seriously?
What You Need To Know: Somewhere, along the way, the “Fast and Furious” franchise went from running on fumes to being one of Universal‘s most important and beloved properties, with a seventh entry already in the pipeline for next summer. This largely has to do with the directorial chops of Justin Lin, who has directed every entry since the third one, and has truly made it into his baby, transitioning it away from the tired street racing “Point Break” formula to a more bouncy, stylistically ambitious “Ocean’s Eleven“-on-wheels. The trailers for the new film promise a kind of “greatest hits” compilation of “Fast and Furious” moments, which isn’t a bad thing at all, especially considering the new blood he’s got in this one (Gina Carano from “Haywire” and two dudes from “The Raid“). Sadly, this will be Lin’s last entry in the fuel-injected franchise (James Wan takes over next time).
When? May 24th
“Star Trek Into Darkness“
Synopsis: The newly refreshed crew of peacekeeping space vessel the USS Enterprise (including Chris Pine‘s Kirk and Zachary Quinto‘s Spock) face a deadly threat in one John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), an evil terrorist with plans for galactic annihilation.
What You Need to Know: Even though the movie has already started screening abroad, details are still few and far between for the hotly anticipated sequel to director J.J. Abrams‘ unexpectedly outstanding 2009 “Star Trek” reboot. That movie was fast and flirty and fun, and while those elements still seem to be in place for the sequel, there’s obviously a greater emphasis on danger and potential loss of life (especially given the movie’s ominous, slightly dopey title). Most of the speculation about the sequel has been about who, exactly, Cumberbatch actually plays, since early reports indicated that he would assume the iconic role of Khan (who first appeared in the ’60s series and the best-original-‘Trek’ feature “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” played by Ricardo Montalban). Anyone who saw the rousing nine-minute preview attached to select IMAX 3D screenings of “The Hobbit” this past winter knows to get really, really excited about this movie – it looks like a jumbo-sized blast.
When? May 17th
Synopsis: A father and son (played by real-life father and son Will and Jaden Smith) are traveling through the cosmos when their spaceship crashes on a strange and alien planet – Earth.
What You Need To Know: This large-scale science fiction epic, co-written by videogame author Gary Whitta (with additional polishes by Stephen Gaghan and Mark Boal), is designed as the big-time comeback for director M. Night Shyamalan, whose name, which used to be synonymous with the kind of awe and wonder of a young Steven Spielberg, has been tarnished after a series of embarrassing, creatively bankrupt thrillers (“The Happening,” anyone?). Supposedly Shyamalan, who is credited with co-writing the script and whose production company was partially responsible for the movie’s huge budget, scrapped a small, secretive project (set to star Bruce Willis, Bradley Cooper and Gwyneth Paltrow) in favor of this more surefire hit. The plot for “After Earth,” although now rather similar to Tom Cruise‘s “Oblivion,” was originally about a father and son who crash their car in the middle of the wilderness, with the son having to go out and find materials. But, you know, everything is more exciting if it involves spaceships and monsters and the original version did sound better suited to David Gordon Green than Shyamalan anyway.
When? May 31st
“Man of Steel“
Synopsis: Superman (Henry Cavill) must defeat the evil General Zod (Michael Shannon), who has come to Earth looking for payback following Krypton’s destruction. Superman, if you’ve forgotten, can leap tall buildings in a single bound and run faster than a speeding train.
What You Need To Know: After the abysmal failure of Brian Singer‘s “Superman Returns” to re-launch the Superman brand, Warner Bros. and DC Comics turned to screenwriter David S. Goyer and director Christopher Nolan, who had successfully turned the Batman property into a crown jewel in the Warner Bros/DC Comics crown. Nolan installed “Watchmen” director Zack Snyder at the helm, assembled a crack supporting cast (among them: Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Russell Crowe as Superman’s Kryptonian father and Lawrence Fishburne as the head of the Daily Planet) and tried to ground the story in the real world, if the melancholic first trailers are any indication (plot specifics have been largely kept under lock and key). The ratio between gee-whiz spectacle and human emotion seems to be almost perfectly calibrated (at a whopping 148 minutes, it better be).
When? June 14th
“This Is The End“
Synopsis: The end of the world befalls a bunch of Hollywood goofballs playing themselves (James Franco, Danny McBride, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jay Barcuchel, Craig Robinson), who try survive while holed up in Franco’s luxurious pad.
What You Need To Know: The proposition of these young stars playing themselves is dicey to say the least, with the potential for unctuous smugness at an alarming high (especially since Rogen co-wrote and co-directed the movie, with his creative partner Evan Goldberg). Thankfully, everything that the trailers have shown suggest that they are poking fun at themselves more than anything else. It seems like Rogen and Goldberg have fully committed to the apocalyptic conceit, which includes extreme violence and all sorts of other weirdness (including – spoiler alert — all manner of cataclysmic events including scary alien visitors) and the duo did, largely successfully, walk a similarly fine tonal line with their script for “The Pineapple Express.” What’s more of a question mark is whether or not audiences will be able to tell this movie apart from the lower budget, similarly titled Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg joint “The World’s End” (opening later in the summer). If you’re wondering which one features Emma Watson playing herself, it’s “This Is The End.”
When? June 12th
“World War Z“
Synopsis: A UN employee (Brad Pitt) tries to gather information about the zombie apocalypse as it unfolds.
What You Need To Know: Based on an ingenious novel by Max Brooks that was billed as an “oral history of the zombie apocalypse,” “World War Z” has a tantalizing concept that proved infuriatingly difficult to crack for the big screen. High-profile screenwriters (including “Babylon 5” creator J. Michael Straczynski) came and went and, most notoriously, the movie missed its release date by half a year. It underwent extensive reshoots under the creative leadership of Damon Lindelof and Drew Goddard, who took over from a beleaguered Marc Forster, who supposedly caved due to his inexperience helming a giant, effects-driven studio tent-pole. Even with its very public problems, “World War Z” still looks pretty cool and we give studio Paramount credit for mounting what can genuinely be described as a “horror epic,” something that hasn’t really been attempted in a little while. It’ll be interesting, too, to see if audiences still want their zombies on the big screen after having been fed a steady diet of flesh-eaters on TV with “The Walking Dead.”
When? June 21st
“The Lone Ranger“
Synopsis: A lawyer-turned-Texas Ranger (Armie Hammer) returns from the dead to avenge his brother’s death, teaming up with a mysterious Native American named Tonto (Johnny Depp), to take down a supernaturally empowered villain (William Fichtner) and thwart an evil railroad tycoon (Tom Wilkinson). You know, in the Old West.
What You Need To Know: “The Lone Ranger,” an adaptation of a popular radio and TV hero from the olden times, was outright canceled at least once when Disney balked at the budget proposed by director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. The movie was eventually reassembled, with a more modest budget, although from the looks of it (both the trailer and the 20 minutes of footage we saw last week), it’s still going to be huge. Maybe not “biggest train sequence in the history of cinema” huge (one of Verbinski’s goals, at least originally), but still: pretty damn big. And while all of the stunts and visual effects and train sequences are sure to dazzle, it’s the chemistry between Hammer and Depp that most caught our attention in the footage we saw. Early reports are that it’s just as much riotous fun as Verbinski and Depp’s first “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. We hope they’re right.
When? July 3rd
Synopsis: In the not-too-distant future a dimensional rift opens up in the Pacific Ocean, allowing giant, Godzilla-ish monsters (called “kaiju”) to come through, leading to large-scale destruction and loss of life. In response, humanity has created giant robotic warriors called Jaegers, controlled by pairs of pilots connected via a “neural bridge.” Because obviously the answer to “giant monsters” is “giant robots.”
What You Need To Know: “Pacific Rim” is the kind of movie that seems to have been designed, on an almost genetic level, for director Guillermo del Toro (“Hellboy,” “Pan’s Labyrinth“), whose love affair with all things ooey, gooey, clawed, and fanged, has been well documented, although it served more as a “rebound movie” for the filmmaker more than anything else. Del Toro was attached to direct (at the time) two “The Hobbit” movies for Peter Jackson (production delays forced him out) and then later was mounting a huge adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft‘s “At the Mountains of Madness” (with Tom Cruise attached to star and James Cameron producing) for Universal, before they got nervous about the movie’s budget and R rating. A refreshingly original sci-fi contraption, “Pacific Rim” has an eclectic cast (Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day and, of course, Ron Perlman) and a genuinely fun concept. “Looper” director Rian Johnson saw a rough cut earlier this year and loved it. Warner Bros is so confident they’ve already begun development on a sequel.
When? July 12th
Synopsis: Set sometime after the events of “X-Men: The Last Stand,” the story picks up with adamantium-clawed Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, forever and always) in Japan, where he gets involved with the yakuza and ninjas and bullet trains.
What You Need to Know: Originally planned as director Darren Aronofsky‘s follow-up to “Black Swan,” the filmmaker eventually bowed out because the international production would keep him out of the country and away from his kids for too long. Fox then tapped James Mangold, who had just made the competent but commercially underwhelming action movie “Knight and Day” for the studio. The original Christopher McQuarrie draft of the script, based largely on a 1982 comic book run by Frank Miller and Chris Claremont, was augmented with work from Mark Bomback and Scott Frank, and production began last summer in Australia and Japan. It seems like everyone knew what a shit-show the last stand-alone Logan movie, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” turned out to be and are consciously trying to correct its mistakes. The storyline seems more grounded and relatable, with a Faustian deal being proposed to Logan and a criminal love triangle developing, and Mangold, especially with his underrated “3:10 to Yuma” remake, has proven himself when it comes to handling complex action set pieces. We hope our expectations are sliced and diced and we’re pleasantly surprised. Snikt!
When? July 26th
Synopsis: In the future, the rich and powerful live on a floating space haven called Elysium (run by Jodie Foster), while the grunts work on a hostile and dangerous Earth. When one of those Earth-dwellers (Matt Damon) becomes irradiated and in need of the medical care on Elysium, he outfits himself in a robot suit and makes a run for it, with a bounty hunter (Shartlo Copley) hot on his trail.
What You Need To Know: The long, long, ridiculously long-awaited sophomore film from “District 9” director Neil Blomkamp, “Elysium” again features his trademark mix of barbed social commentary and cutting-edge futurism (simultaneously gleaming and impossibly junky). Production on the film started in mid-2011, but reshoots and complex visual effects work pushed back its intended release date from this past spring to late summer. While the “social commentary” part of the movie is always tricky – if the message comes on too strong it can easily be mistaken for being preachy, but if it isn’t there enough it becomes another dumb sci-fi movie – there are enough jaw-dropping visuals (robots! Space ships! Matt Damon’s shaved head! Samurai swords!) that it doesn’t seem like it will be much of a problem. We’re ready to go to Elysium, please.
When? August 9th
Synopsis: High school superhero Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) returns, this time forming a real-life Justice League with characters like Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey), along with his sidekick Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz). Once again they’re battling the Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who has redubbed himself The Mother Fucker.
What You Need To Know: Since Matthew Vaughn was, at the time of production, attached to an “X-Men: First Class” sequel, the original director turned over the reigns to Jeff Wadlow, who both wrote and directed the new film (based on Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.‘s “Kick-Ass 2” comic book and the “Hit Girl” miniseries). A more expansive palette and an added cast of characters could end up being just what this franchise needs. If its lifeblood in the first place was to take gleeful aim at the tired comic book genre, well, the genre is even more tired now. However we worry that it could be too much of a good thing and the trailers don’t exactly inspire much confidence (it looks cheap, although we do like the line “Act like a bitch, get slapped like a bitch”). Still, we’ll temper out expectations so that if Wadlow can just recapture the irreverent spirit of the first film, while adding some new flourishes, then that would truly kick ass.
When? August 18th
“White House Down“
Synopsis: A group of terrorists (led by Jason Clarke) overtake the White House, leaving a rejected Secret Service applicant (Channing Tatum) to save the President (Jamie Foxx) and his daughter (Joey King) from certain doom.
What You Need To Know: One of two terrorists-take-over-the-White-House movies to come out this year, following this spring’s surprise modest hit “Olympus Has Fallen,” this action extravaganza was directed by Roland Emmerich, the master of destruction behind “Independence Day” and “2012.” We were shown footage earlier this year and were pleased with what we saw – the action set pieces look phenomenal and the emphasis on the relationship between Tatum and Foxx was refreshing, as a marked contrast to the nonstop, numbing violence of “Olympus Has Fallen.” If anyone can wow us with this kind of thing, it’s Emmerich (working from a script by “Zodiac” writer Jamie Vanderbilt). Shit is gonna blow up real good.
When? June 28th
There are still plenty of potential summertime treats waiting in the wings, additionally including: “300: Rise of An Empire,”a prequel/sequel thingie to the original Greek action extravaganza (August 2nd); “2 Guns,” a “dadcore” action movie starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg as criminals or cops posing as criminals or something — the trailer was a little confusing (August 2nd); Sony attempts to cash in on the young adult craze with the supernaturally-themed “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones,” just nobody mention “Beautiful Creatures” (August 22nd); “R.I.P.D.” looks like a fun/goofy amalgamation of “Beetlejuice,” “Men in Black,” and “Hellboy” and stars Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges as undead cops – what more do you want? (July 19th); people love old fogey action movies so Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, and Helen Mirren are back for more lowbrow fun in “RED 2” (July 19th); Ryan Reynolds (again) is a snail with Formula 1 dreams in DreamWorks Animation‘s “Turbo” (July 19th); Adam Sandler‘s first sequel is “Grown Ups 2” (July 12th); Steve Carell returns to animated super-villainy in “Despicable Me 2” (July 3rd) and while “Monsters University” is an actual Pixar sequel (June 21st), “Planes” is just a Disney-supervised spin-off of Pixar’s “Cars” franchise (August 9th), so, you know, buyer (or flyer) beware.
What are you looking forward to? Let us know below.