Hey! The summer movie season starts this weekend, and from here through Labor Day it’s comic-book characters, explosions, and less-than-Oscar-caliber acting and writing — all designed to get you in your seat and munching popcorn. Excited? Excellent. Here’s my quick take on the summer’s science-fictional and fantastic would-be hits, which I grade, in order of increasing enthusiasm, as follows: “Gaaah,” “Meh,” “Hmmm,” and “w00t!” Because ranking by stars or letter grade is boring.
Thor (May 6)
What’s it about? The Norse god of thunder (or, more accurately, the comic-book version of the same) is tossed out of Asgard and ends up having to defend the Earth. Oh, and he’s dating Natalie Portman.
Am I excited? Hmmm. I’ve never been a huge Thor fan, but the director here is Kenneth Branagh, who once got a Best Director nomination at the Oscars for Henry V. Will Branagh be slumming or classing up the joint? That’s what I want to know.
Priest (May 13)
What’s it about? In the future dystopic theocracy (those are the best kind), a renegade-assassin priest defies the church in order to hunt vampires. In 3-D!
Am I excited? Meh. I’m fond of star Paul Bettany, and the flick promises at least your minimum daily requirement of wirework action. But the whole thing looks like a prog-metal album cover spooling by at 24 frames a second.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (May 20)
What’s it about? Captain Jack Sparrow is back and searching for the Fountain of Youth. Because even Johnny Depp isn’t getting any younger (although co-star
Penélope Cruz seems to be maintaining just fine).
Am I excited? Meh. The first film in the series was fun, but the sequels were tiresome. Perhaps new director Rob Marshall can bring back the vibe of the first
film, but I’m not holding my breath for that.
X-Men: First Class (Jun. 3)
What’s it about? The origins of Charles Xavier and
Erik Lehnsherr, i.e., Professor X and Magneto, who, before they were on opposing sides of the mutant wars, were friends using their special mutant talents during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Am I excited? Hmmm. The last X-Men film wasn’t exactly
good (and didn’t exactly make sense), but I’m a fan of director Matthew
Vaughn (who did the underrated Stardust), and leads James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender both seem eager to give their characters some
depth. Hope the screenplay lets them.
Super 8 (Jun. 10)
What’s it about? A train from Area 51 derails in Ohio, and a bunch of kids with cameras are there to document the strange things that happen next.
Am I excited? w00t! Yes, I am. This J.J. Abrams film, set in the late seventies, seems
aimed directly at the heart of Spielberg territory (it’s produced by
Spielberg, even), and I’m very interested to see if Abrams, who recently
resurrected Star Trek, can get back that very specific film vibe. I’m optimistic.
Green Lantern (Jun. 17)
What’s it about? A hotshot pilot becomes part of an interstellar law force when he comes across a mystical green ring. Will he be required to save the universe? Oh, probably.
Am I excited? Hmmm. Green Lantern is a second-tier DC hero, in my estimation, and I’m not the world’s biggest Ryan Reynolds fan. But director Martin Campbell is one of the most
consistently effective action directors out there, so I have some hope
he can put this film through the right paces.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (Jul. 1)
What’s it about? Oh, you know, Transformers. And this time, they go to the moon.
Am I excited? Gaaah. No. Even Michael Bay, of all people, has admitted the previous film in the series stank up the room, so there’s that. But while Bay can recognize the obviously bad, none of the rest of his films suggests he has much of a handle on what is actually good. So I expect this to be
standard-issue Michael Bay, i.e., loud, messy, and mostly stupid.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (Jul. 15)
What’s it about? The climactic end of the Harry Potter series, in which our hero confronts the evil wizard Voldemort and the fate of the wizard world and our own hangs in the balance.
Am I excited? w00t! Definitely. This is one of the few series that has gotten consistently better the longer it’s gone on, and as this is the last
film they’re going to pull out all the stops. I’m very excited and plan to see it in 2-D because I think 3-D will get in the way.
Captain America: The First Avenger (Jul. 22)
What’s it about? A scrawny would-be WWII soldier is transformed by science into a buff super-soldier and then goes after some Nazis (like you do).
Am I excited? Meh. This will be the fourth major superhero film of the season, and I’m feeling fatigued just knowing I’ll have slogged through three others to get to this one. But it has Hugo Weaving as the bad guy, and he’s always fun to watch.
Cowboys & Aliens (Jul. 29)
What’s it about? A man wakes up in the Wild West with no memory and a weird object clapped on his wrist. What is it? A gun for shooting aliens, who show up
Am I excited? w00t! Yes. The cast includes Daniel Craig
as the hero and Harrison Ford as the less-than-good guy, and director Jon Favreau has
earned some good will with the Iron Man flicks. This could be a lot of
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Aug. 5)
What’s it about? What happens when you give apes intelligence? If you say “Why, they try to take over the world,” you may be right.
Am I excited? Meh. I’m willing to be surprised, and the ape effects look good. (Old ape hand Andy Serkis — who played King Kong — plays the main ape character.) But the last visit to the planet of the apes didn’t exactly thrill me. Also: human star James Franco better
bring something besides the smug.
Conan the Barbarian (Aug. 19)
What’s it about? What’s best in life, of course: crushing one’s enemies and hearing the lamentations of their women!
Am I excited? Gaaah. I very strongly suspect I will need to clip off the blood flow to my brain in order to sit through this one.