The summer movie season starts next weekend, and it starts big. It’s so big, in fact, that our coverage had to be split up into two articles. Here’s a look at what Hollywood has in store for the first half of what the studios hope will be a blockbuster summer.
“The Avengers” (May 4)
Writer/director Joss Whedon, the comic-fan favorite behind cult TV shows “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly,” is the man that Marvel Studios entrusted with their most valuable superhero movie to date. “The Avengers” stars Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Chris Evans as Captain America, Mark Ruffalo as Hulk, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye — six super-powered characters who must form an unlikely alliance to do nothing less than save the world. In bringing together the stars from four previous blockbuster pictures (Ruffalo replaces Edward Norton from “The Incredible Hulk”) with the tiniest of story threads to connect them, Marvel is playing a long-term, high-stakes game. Early reports seem to suggest they’ll be rewarded handsomely.
For it: Whedon excels at writing for ensembles, and his 2006-2008 run of writing Astonishing X-Men for Marvel is still one of the company’s best-selling comics to date. Whedon knows what comic fans want.
Against it: If there has ever been a recipe for a Hulk-sized letdown, this is it. For a movie with this much anticipation, is it possible to live up to expectations?
“Dark Shadows” (May 11)
Tim Burton teams up with Johnny Depp for the eighth time with this oddball remake/re-imagining of the late-’60s daytime soap opera that has gathered quite a cult following since it went off the air in 1971. Burton looks to be staying true to the gothic style of “Dark Shadows,” something that set it apart from other shows of its time, but the director has also publicly stated that his movie “may rile fans of the original soap opera.” Jonathan Frid, who played lead vampire Barnabas Collins on the TV show, and has a cameo in the movie, just died at age 87 last month.
For it: One way to pay tribute to an unintentionally campy soap opera that’s 45 years old is to satirize it, and that’s what it looks like Burton and Depp have done.
Against it: After tepid adaptations of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Sweeney Todd” and “Alice in Wonderland,” shouldn’t Depp and Burton be moving on to some original material?
“The Dictator” (May 16)
Sacha Baron Cohen headlines his first film since his supporting triumph in Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo.” The box office disappointment of “Brüno,” the last of his confrontational reality-based satires, may still sting but Baron Cohen’s new comedy looks to be full of a similar wicked sense of humor. Adapted very loosely from an allegorical romance novel by Saddam Hussein, “The Dictator” will purportedly “tell the story of a dictator who risked his life to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed.”
For it: When Charlie Chaplin poked fun at Hitler in “The Great Dictator,” it became his most commercially successful movie, and Baron Cohen is always up for outrageous parody.
Against it: With the sense of danger that came from the pranks and non-actors in “Borat” and “Brüno” be missing in a fully scripted Baron Cohen comedy?
“Moonrise Kingdom” (May 25)
Although “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox” have pretty big followings, mainstream success has yet to find writer/director Wes Anderson. If the brightly-colored, meticulously framed look of his upcoming ensemble film “Moonrise Kingdom” is any indication, Anderson is sticking to his guns. Although the movie stars Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, and Anderson regular Bill Murray, its stars are two young lovers (Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman) who flee a New England island town, while a search party head out to locate them.
For it: It definitely looks to be a breath of fresh air from the blockbuster mentality of summer films, and Anderson’s movies are always beautiful to look at.
Against it: He’ll need a better script than his last live-action film “The Darjeeling Limited,” which was co-written, like this one, with Roman Coppola.
“Men in Black 3” (May 25)
It’s been 10 years since director Barry Sonnenfeld got together with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones for this once-mighty supernatural action-comedy series. Does it still have the same juice? “MIB3” has Smith’s Agent J traveling back in time to 1969 to team up with Agent K as a young man (Josh Brolin, doing a spot-on Jones voice). The two must stop an alien criminal from assassinating K and altering Earth’s history.
For it: Even when it piled on too much plot, the “Men in Black” movies’ self-deprecating sense of humor could go a long way.
Against it: After audiences tire of Brolin’s impersonation, a weak story could sink this franchise once and for all.
“Snow White and the Huntsman” (June 1)
This past March, the Julia Roberts vehicle “Mirror, Mirror” went the lighthearted comedy route with its retelling of the Snow White legend, while “Snow White and the Huntsman” goes the darker route. This action fantasy features Kristen Stewart as Snow White, Charlize Theron as the Queen, and Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman and promises to be less a Technicolor fairy tale and more the earthy Medieval vibe.
For it: Trailers show that first-time director Rupert Sanders may have quite the knack for staging action scenes, and Theron is having a ball playing the evil Queen.
Against it: If it turns into another tired sword-and-scorcery flick, a la “Wrath of the Titans,” audiences will grow tired of this re-invention stuff soon, won’t they?
“Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” (June 8)
Those crazy talking animals Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) from the first two animated DreamWorks “Madagascar” movies are back again for more 3-D hijinks. This time, while avoiding animal control, they get stuck touring with a European circus that’s seen better days.
For it: The franchise’s creators, Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath are still in charge, and they brought in indie auteur Noah Baumbach (weird!) to help write the script this time out.
Against it: It’s another freaking animated talking-animal movie. With all the limitless possibilities animation has to offer, why do we still get talking animals 90 percent of the time?
“Prometheus” (June 8)
Ridley Scott, the man who directed “Alien” and “Blade Runner,” returns to the sci-fi genre for the first time in 30 years with “Prometheus,” a movie about the crew of a spaceship in the 21st century exploring an ancient alien civilization. The film — starring Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, and Noomi Rapace among others — takes place in the same universe as 1979’s “Alien” and could be considered a prequel, although co-writer Damon Lindelof (TV’s “Lost”) maintains it is a standalone story.
For it: Scott’s other two sci-fi entries are now considered classics, and “Prometheus” seems to be exploring what it means to be human, a theme at the core of “Blade Runner.”
Against it: 2010’s “Robin Hood” showed a little fatigue from the director, who recycled ideas from his own “Gladiator” and “Kingdom of Heaven.” Is returning to the world of “Alien” the act of a creatively desperate man?
“Rock of Ages” (June 15)
Songs from REO Speedwagon, Poison, and Twisted Sister form the soundtrack to this musical from “Hairspray” director Adam Shankman, adapted from the hit Broadway play. Tom Cruise goes ’80s hair metal as Stacee Jaxx, the lead singer of a fictional ’80s rock band, and Alec Baldwin plays the owner of L.A. club The Bourbon Room — a place where waitresses and busboys dream of becoming rock stars and actresses. There’s no doubt that dreams will come true in this feel-good musical, but the real question will be whether audiences can’t fight this feeling any longer.
For it: Well, it’s a big hit on Broadway and a touring company takes it out on the road, so somebody must like it. That’s a good sign, right?
Against it: The gloriously awful wigs worn by seemingly everyone in the cast, especially Baldwin. Can big movie stars get dolled up in ’80s rock outfits and actually be convincing or will the movie seem like one big, lame Halloween party?
“Brave” (June 22)
America’s premier animation studio releases its first non-sequel in three years, and it features a female protagonist that’s good with a bow and arrow. Katniss Everdeen, anyone? Actually, “Brave” is set in the Scottish highlands in the 10th century and is a darker tone than most children’s films. Pixar considers it to be their first fairy tale, modeled after the ever-popular stories of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen.
For it: With six Best Animated Film Oscars under its belt, the Pixar track record is pretty great.
Against it: Pixar is coming off its first critical disappointment, last year’s “Cars 2,” and “Brave” weathered a public directorial change early on its development.
Part 2 will feature:
“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (June 22)
“The Amazing Spider-Man” (July 3)
“Ice Age: Continental Drift” (July 13)
“Ted” (July 13)
“The Dark Knight Rises” (July 20)
“Neighborhood Watch” (July 27)
“The Bourne Legacy” (Aug. 3)
“Total Recall” (Aug. 3)
“The Campaign” (Aug. 10)
“Hope Springs” (Aug. 10)
“The Expendables 2” (Aug. 17)