The first half of summer 2012 has been defined by “Marvel’s The Avengers,” a film that seemed like a gamble, but is now so popular that its made a staggering $1.4 billion worldwide, second only to James Cameron’s “Titanic” and “Avatar.” Only one movie stands to rival that total during the rest of the summer, but there are more bright spots than Batman to look forward to:
“Moonrise Kingdom” (June 29)
Wes Anderson (“The Royal Tenenbaums,” “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”) returns with a melancholy comedy about two 12-year olds that run away from their New England island town. Peppered with Anderson regulars Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, the cast also includes Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton, and Bruce Willis. Although “Moonrise Kingdom” didn’t win at Cannes, it received generally good reviews.
For it: Anderson has developed a distinctive visual style of controlled colors and symmetrical framing with a whimsical tone like no other.
Against it: Sometimes Anderson’s style overpowers the storytelling, making his films seem more like an exercise.
“Ted” (June 29)
When the awful-looking “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” scrapped its release date and scurried away for reshoots, this vulgar comedy moved up two weeks and nestled comfortably into its spot. Since it’s testing gangbusters and is opening virtually unopposed, it stands to make a killing on opening weekend. Mark Wahlberg stars as a guy whose teddy bear came to life when he was a kid and he remains his best friend. The problem is, Ted is a foul-mouthed slacker who refuses to grow up.
For it: Seth MacFarlane, the creator of “Family Guy,” is making his writing, producing, and directing debut.
Against it: Seth MacFarlane, the creator of “Family Guy,” is making his writing, producing, and directing debut.
“The Amazing Spider-Man” (July 3)
Rather than continue the Sam Raimi-Tobey Maguire partnership for a “Spider-Man 4,” Columbia Pictures opted for a reboot of Marvel’s most popular superhero. The studio hired Marc Webb (“(500) Days of Summer”) to direct, Andrew Garfield (“The Social Network”) to star as Peter Parker, and Emma Stone to portray Peter’s blonde-haired crush Gwen Stacy. Also, Spidey’s web shooters are created by him like they are in the comic and not like the organic ones in Raimi’s series.
For it: Webb does relationships well, and that’s at the heart of Parker — known as the most relatable superhero. And if the previews are any indication, his flying sequences will be spectacular.
Against it: Did we really need this series rebooted? Maguire wasn’t exactly an old man, and Raimi should have been given a chance to make up for the disappointing “Spider-Man 3.”
“To Rome With Love” (July 6)
Coming off “Midnight in Paris,” the biggest hit of his 46-year directing career, Woody Allen moves the action to Rome for an ensemble romantic comedy featuring Ellen Page, Jesse Eisenberg, Alec Baldwin, Greta Gerwig and Penelope Cruz. The film promises more beautifully shot locations and Allen’s first onscreen role since 2006’s “Scoop.”
For it: Eisenberg could be a good neurotic Woody stand-in, and women have been known to win Oscars for their roles in Allen ensemble comedies. Could the natural romance of Italy catch fire in Cruz, Page or Gerwig?
Against it: Allen’s writing has become fairly predictable in the last decade, and he has many more misses than hits.
“Ice Age: Continental Drift” (July 13)
The computer-generated animation of the “Ice Age” series has been the cash cow for Blue Sky Studios, even though the movies have been steadily declining in quality. The fourth film in the series again features a bunch of talking prehistoric mammals voiced — among others — by Ray Romano, Denis Leary, and John Leguizamo. In this installment, Sid the sloth reunites with his long lost family.
For it: Somebody wanted to see it, otherwise they wouldn’t have made a fourth “Ice Age” movie, right?
Against it: Ever heard of the law of diminishing returns?
“The Dark Knight Rises” (July 20)
Before the summer movie season started, it looked like Christopher Nolan’s final film in his Batman trilogy would be the clear-cut U.S. box office champion. But then the $590 million behemoth known as “The Avengers” came along and swiped the No. 3 spot on the list of all-time highest-grossing films in the U.S. from 2008’s “The Dark Knight.” Look for fantasy to be grounded in another gritty crime tale as Tom Hardy plays Bane, a hulking new terrorist leader in Gotham, and Anne Hathaway is the mysterious Catwoman opposite Christian Bale’s last turn as Bruce Wayne. Anticipation for this one is deafening.
For it: Nolan doesn’t jump into anything until he’s certain the script is ready, and this one is again co-written by he and his brother. Even when he takes time off from the Batman movies to recharge, he’s playing at a pretty high level. (“Inception” anyone?)
Against it: “The Dark Knight” had a brilliant performance by the late Heath Ledger, who was also supposed to appear in the sequel. How will “The Dark Knight Rises” measure up without him? Is there any way it can live up to expectations?
“The Watch” (July 27)
In an effort to distance their movie from the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case, 20th Century Fox changed the name of this Ben Stiller comedy from “Neighborhood Watch” to “The Watch” at the beginning of May. Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill costar with Stiller as suburban residents who join a neighborhood watch group only to find that they soon must fend off an alien plot that threatens the entire world.
For it: Re-written by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, it looks to combine the sci-fi/supernatural comedy elements of “Ghostbusters” with the kind of R-rated underdeveloped manchild comedy its stars are known for.
Against it: It’s directed by “Saturday Night Live” writer and Lonely Island member Akiva Schaffer, whose only other directing credit is Andy Samberg’s 2007 comedy “Hot Rod.”
“The Bourne Legacy” (Aug. 3)
With the tagline “There was never just one,” “Bourne” trilogy writer Tony Gilroy takes over as director of the franchise, and Jeremy Renner replaces Matt Damon as a new CIA operative who doesn’t remember his past. Past director Paul Greengrass and his annoying shaky-cam may be gone, and Gilroy has proven to be more than just a capable writer, winning an Oscar nomination for directing the George Clooney drama “Michael Clayton.”
For it: With Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit and a strong supporting cast featuring Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, and returning cast members Joan Allen, Albert Finney, Scott Glenn and David Strathairn, it’s loaded with talent.
Against it: If it recycles the same plot and story beats of the previous “Bourne” movies (like “The Hangover Part II” did), it could be very tired for an action movie.
“Total Recall” (Aug. 3)
Jeremy Renner isn’t the only actor who loses his memory on Aug. 3. Colin Farrell is a factory worker who thinks his mind may have been erased and replaced in this futuristic thriller. Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 sci-fi mind-bender “Total Recall” starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and is now revered for its camp value almost as much as its bizarre plot twists. Though it was based on Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale,” neither it nor this new remake bears it any real resemblance. The movie looks to have a lot of high-octane action, but will “Total Recall” have the brains to back up its often confounding tale?
For it: The movie cost a remarkable $200 million and every cent of it looks like it’s onscreen in the fast-paced, visually impressive preview.
Against it: Len Wiseman (the husband of co-star Kate Beckinsale) is directing. Past credits include the first two “Underworld” movies and “Live Free or Die Hard.”
“The Campaign” (Aug. 10)
Perhaps the antidote to the constant media spotlight of the presidential election that will be omnipresent in August will be “The Campaign,” a new comedy about two politicians from North Carolina trying to win a House seat in their congressional district. Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis star in and are producing the movie, and there is some early buzz building for Kansas native Jason Sudeikis’ supporting turn already.
For it: If anyone’s going to lampoon our political system as the awful joke its become, why not Ferrell and Galifianakis?
Against it: Sure, director Jay Roach brought us “Meet the Parents,” but he’s also responsible for “Meet the Fockers” and “Dinner for Schmucks.”
“The Expendables 2” (Aug. 17)
Action heroes never die, they just join forces. After the unexpected box office success of Sylvester Stallone’s violent ensemble 2010 picture “The Expendables,” Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris join the cast of aging action stars for a sequel. Stallone isn’t directing this time out, and he only co-wrote the script, but Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Jason Statham, Terry Crews, and Randy Couture are all back to expend more energy kicking ass.
For it: At least Steven Seagal isn’t in it.
Against it: Rumor has it that Chuck Norris didn’t like the swearing, so the film’s been toned down to a PG-13 rating.