23 April 2012

Five Genre Films to Look Forward to This Summer

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

Summer is almost here, and the time is almost right, for dancing in the streets. Or sitting your butt down in a movie theater to watch a big green thing in purple pants beat up aliens.

As I more and more become “The Black Gate Movie Guy,” I’ve grown aware of my responsibilities regarding upcoming films. This summer I promise to review all the major genre releases on the site, which means that, yes, you will get to hear my thoughts on Snow White and Huntsman. Because you didn’t demand it.

Looking over the summer roster (posted below—yes, all shall be reviewed), aside from a few groans of anticipatory pain, there are five films that really have my geek adrenal glands turned up to the danger zone. Here are the films I hope will make summer worthwhile.

#1: Prometheus (June 8)

In 2008, if you asked me what movie I looked forward to the most in 2012, there was no way I wouldn’t have said, “the next Christopher Nolan Batman film.” And yet here it is, the very year of the Mayan Prophecy, and The Dark Knight Rises isn’t at the #1 anticipation slot. It isn’t even at #2!

What happened in the intervening years was that Ridley Scott decided to return to science fiction. Not only that, but return to the universe of Alien and do something unexpected and unpredictable with a franchise dropped six-feet under because of AVPR: Aliens vs. Predator—Requiem.

What gets my thrill glands pumping about Prometheus aside from the obvious (the Alien connection, the two jaw-hanging trailers, Scott’s involvement) is the I have no idea what the movie is actually about. It’s a kinda-sorta-not-really-prequel to Alien, but Scott’s comments regarding it are so cagey that I still don’t know what to expect from the final product. How closely will Prometheus connect to Alien, and what role will the “xenomorphs” and the Space Jockey play in it? Is this horror, or something darkly cosmic? Is Noomi Rapace about to become Hollywood royalty? It’s rare that I can go into a film that is part of a tentpole franchise and have no notion of what I’m going to see beyond the broad plot outline—and I’m damned excited about that. If Prometheus lives up the growing anticipation for it, it will be the film of the Summer of ’12.

#2: The Avengers (May 4)

I’ve waited for this movie since I was twelve, when I was a fanatic, dedicated reader of the comic book featuring the team of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. And Marvel Studios has masterfully built up to this moment, producing a line of fine solo films to introduce the heroes who will band together to defeat the foes too tough for only one hero. (Okay, Iron Man 2 was lame, but the rest of the films were good.) Critics have already seen The Avengers, and although there is still an embargo on reviews, that hasn’t stopped the social media whispering announcing that the film more than lives up to expectations.

Captain America: The First Avenger fulfilled my dreams of seeing my favorite comic book hero of all time in a great feature film, and now I get to see Cap sling his shield again, this time at the side of a heavy-hitting cast of all my other childhood buddies. And it’s coming out next weekend. I can’t believe that we finally got here.

#3: The Dark Knight Rises (July 20)

Prometheus may win the critical popularity contest, but unless the 2012 doom predictions take place before July, The Dark Knight Rises will be the highest grossing film of the summer and of the year. The success of The Dark Knight in 2008 ($1 billion and change worldwide) guarantees the sequel will be enormous, and director Christopher Nolan’s stock has only risen higher during the in-between years with the blockbuster win of his original piece Inception. His third Bat-film will cart away more money than the Riddler ever dreamed of electronically embezzling.

And it’s this fait accompli attitude that has somewhat undercut my enthusiasm. Will it be a good/great film? No doubt. But I already know what Nolan can do, I’ve gotten the appropriate Bat-high from The Dark Knight, and this summer it’s another comic book franchise that plucks at my nostalgia heart-strings. Finally, I’ve never cared for Bane as a villain, and even with Tom Hardy under the mask I can’t get that excited about seeing him as the head heavy. I was hoping to see Chris Nolan’s take on Dead Shot, Black Mask, the Riddler, Mad Hatter, or even the Penguin (now that would’ve been interesting). Anne Hathaway in a catsuit does balance this out, admittedly.

#4: Brave (June 22)

Pixar owes us … big time. Their last two films were both sequels, and while Toy Story 3 was good, Cars 2 was embarrassing. The wish to sell toys and nothing else was smeared all over that thing. But here comes Pixar with a fresh property. A medieval Scottish fantasy property with a Jirel of Joiry-style heroine with an affinity for the bow. And big bears!

If Pixar was trying to directly placate me, they have picked the right property. Come on, Pixar, hit the bulls-eye! We’re all counting on you.

#5: The Bourne Legacy (August 3)

Jeremy Renner is looking to have a good summer. The Avengers will clean up around the globe, and that will position Renner, who plays the hot-headed bowman Hawkeye, to seize audience attention in this late season re-working of the Jason Bourne franchise without Jason Bourne. Normally, trying to continue a franchise without its main character—hell, its title character—would count as box-office suicide. But Jason Bourne isn’t what viewers love about this series; they love the fast-paced, glob-trotting, gritty espionage flavor and the spectacular stuntwork that emphasizes suspense over CGI antics. Besides, how much more stuff can Jason Bourne remember? His story is over. Continuing the franchise with other characters who’ve gone through the same conditioning as Bourne is a perfect continuation, and Renner is the man to handle it. After his turn in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, I have no doubt that he as the action chops. And the trailer is magnificent.

Dishonorable Mention: Dark Shadows (May 11)

Looking over the list of this summer’s releases, nothing reeks more of “disaster waiting to happen” than Tim Burton’s entry in the ongoing attempt to resurrect the 1966–1971 Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows. (I’m not old enough to have seen the show first run, but am old enough to remember the Ben Cross prime time TV revival in the early 1990s.) Although Burton is coming off his biggest financial success ever with Alice in Wonderland, he’s floating critical purgatory. Warner Bros. waited until very late to even release a trailer, indicating they don’t have much hope in the project. Burton’s decision to make Dark Shadows an outright comedy in the “fish-out-of-water” has sent fans of the original show into lycanthropic fits.

But I have this morbid fascination to see how this plays out. Perhaps, just perhaps, this is Burton getting back to Beetlejuice territory. I used to love the man’s films, but a long time has passed since I enjoyed anything he’s done; maybe, against all expectations, this will turn out to be the weird geek property that turns things around.

Well, I can hope. Either way, I’m eager to see exactly what the hell he’s done to Dark Shadows.

Here’s the schedule of all the other big genre properties this summer, and a few comments on what I’m anticipating less than the above:
I don’t know if there’s anyone who begged for a Men in Black 3, but there you go. I thought the first movie was one of those perfect entertainment pictures that needed no sequel, and the second one proved it. The Spider-Man re-boot doesn’t interest me at all, especially since I think the Raimi films already got it right, and this film looks too desperate to sell to the Twilight crowd (or are they the Hunger Games crowd now?) and they already have Snow White and the Huntsman to take care of them. (Now, if that ends up good—shock of the season. Update: Shock of the season.)

The Bourne Legacy looks as if it will be the sleeper hit of late summer, and that doesn’t look good for Expendables II, which aims for a similar market. The re-make of Total Recall falls in between them, and after watching the first trailer for it, I think it will get soundly squashed. Re-making Total Recall is a terrible decision, and the “going back to the short story!” excuse is ludicrous on the face of it. Anyone who’s read Dick’s story know there’s no way to duplicate its ending, and everything else has already been done.

Battleship has already made $150 million in overseas money, which makes me as a U.S. viewer feel very powerless. Bets on whether Liam Neeson will at some point shout “You sunk my battleship!” are the only interesting thing about this release.

Oh, there’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation. There’s a chance this might be a decent time-waster right before the big superheroes hit us in a one-two punch. (The fall on G.I. Joe’s second week numbers will be epic.) The director promises this will be closer to the comic book than the first movie was, and it does have bruce willis as the original 12” G. I. Joe, but—Prometheus!

Update: Paramount has abruptly kicked G.I. Joe to next March. Bad sign.