- OnScreen Chief Film Critic
While recent March releases like The Jungle Book, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Logan, and Beauty and the Beast have moved up the window for when studios release blockbusters, for most of the last 20 years the first weekend in May has represented the unofficial kickoff of the summer movie season, when studios typically release their big budget blockbusters and tentpole features (As recently as the mid-90s, Memorial Day Weekend held this distinction). So with the beginning of May fast approaching, and the summer period kicking off in earnest with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, here are six questions to serve as a preview of the movies scheduled for release this summer.
6. Can The Dark Tower capture the spirit of the source material?
The Dark Tower is a fantasy/sci-fi/western saga from horror legend Stephen King that spans seven novels (an 8th was produced out of chronological order after the series had concluded). I’ve only read the first few books, but the series is a sprawling epic and considered to be King’s magnum opus. The story opens with gunslinger Roland Deschain pursuing a dark figure across a desert and builds from there as he journeys through dimensions and universes in a quest to find and destroy the Dark Tower. The project has been in development for quite a while and its path to the big screen has been full of twists and turns. At one point, it was going to be made by Ron Howard and would be made into a trilogy and a two-season TV series that would connect the films. That plan sounded unnecessarily complicated and fell apart shortly after it was announced.
Eventually it settled at Sony and with director Nikolaj Arcel, a Danish writer/director making his American debut. Idris Elba has been cast as Roland and Matthew McConaughey is the mysterious Man in Black. Based on what has been written online, it is unclear if this is a direct adaptation of the first book, several books compressed into one film, or a reinterpretation of the source material. That does not sound promising. Supposedly, this will still lead into a TV series, which will star Elba. I want it to be good, but given the track record of most projects that have so much trouble making it to the big screen, my expectations are low.
5. Will Ridley Scott deliver the Alien prequel we wanted the last time around?
Hope and expectations were sky high for Prometheus. Ridley Scott made one of the defining sci-fi (and horror) films of all time in 1979 with Alien. It spawned a franchise and a highly successful sequel from James Cameron that is one of the best sci-fi action movies. Everyone who is a fan of the Alien movies was downright giddy when it was announced that Scott was returning with a sequel in 2012. Sadly, Prometheus failed to deliver fully on the hype. Personally, I still enjoyed it, but like a lot of people I wanted more of what I loved about Alien while Scott seemed interested in going in a different direction. It seems as though we might be getting something more in the way of pure fan service this time around with Alien: Covenant. It’s a massive and impressive cast. And like Prometheus the promotional material has been outstanding. What is different this time around? We are actually seeing xenomorphs in the trailers and the publicity stills. And facehuggers. This is very exciting. Let’s hope Alien: Covenant satisfies where Prometheus left us wanting more.
4. Can Wonder Woman deliver where other recent DC movies have failed?
“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice… we can’t be fooled again.” While President George W. Bush may have mangled this expression, his version of it actually applies to where we find ourselves with Wonder Woman. With Zack Snyder at the helm, reactions to Man of Steel were mixed. Its sequel, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, raised some question marks, but the trailers and promotional material provided some hope, hope that was quickly dashed when the movie came out last year. The spin-off Suicide Squad looked even more promising based on the trailers and people got their hopes up again that maybe there wasn’t an overall problem with Warner Bros/DC and that it was just limited to a Zack Snyder problem. However, Suicide Squad was also an incoherent mess.
With all of this as the backdrop, people have tempered their expectations for Wonder Woman, the first notable superhero film with a female lead (Gal Gadot) and a female director (Patty Jenkins). It’s worth noting that Gal Gadot’s extended cameo in BvS was one of the few bright spots in that dreadful film. And the trailers so far for it have looked promising. But we have been here before with BvS and Suicide Squad. It’s possible that a female superhero film directed by a female director could offer something that is a distinct change of pace and possibly right the ship for DC. It’s possible that Wonder Woman ends up being DC’s equivalent to Marvel’s Captain America: The First Avenger. It’s not just the studio that wants this to succeed. But we can’t be fooled again.
3. Is Baby Driver the movie that propels Edgar Wright into the mainstream?
Writer/director Edgar Wright has made some of the best genre-defining movies of the century. Beginning in 2004 with Shaun of the Dead, and continuing on through Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, and The World’s End Wright has made films that know exactly what they are and what the audience expects from the genre that he is working in. To my eyes, there’s not a bad film in the bunch. He even was involved in Marvel’s Ant-Man before eventually leaving the project and still received a writing credit. As much as people enjoyed the end product of Ant-Man, a lot of people who know Wright’s work said, “Ant-Man was fun, but I would have loved to see the Edgar Wright version of that.”
And that’s the thing, not enough people know who Edgar Wright is. For as beloved of an instant cult classic as Shaun of the Dead became, as energetic and consistently enjoyable as all of his films have been, they have not made significant noise at the box office. Shaun made $13.5 million at the box office, Hot Fuzz earned $23.7 million, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World made $31.5 million, and The World’s End took in $26 million. None of those are anything more than modest numbers. He’s never had a movie be #1 at the box office yet. Given that his latest, Baby Driver, is coming out the same weekend as Despicable Me 3 and the Will Ferrell-Amy Poehler comedy The House, I don’t expect that to change either.
But the buzz surrounding Baby Driver, which got rave reviews coming out of SXSW, pegs it as something of the La La Land for heist movies, a movie that is action packed and propelled by its soundtrack. Sony was impressed enough with it to move up its release date from August 11th to June 28th, right in the heart of the summer release schedule. They clearly have faith in it. Personally, as a huge fan of Wright, I would love to see this film further elevate his status among more mainstream moviegoers.
2. Will Spider-Man: Homecoming be a return to form for our friendly neighborhood web-slinger?
Spider-Man is my favorite comic book superhero, period. When I was a kid I read Spider-Man comic books, played with Spider-Man action figures, and watched the Saturday morning TV show Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends as well as the ‘67 animated series. As a teeneager, I watched animated series from the 90s on Fox in the afternoons. So I was over the moon when Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man came out in 2002 and was actually good too! I was ecstatic when Spider-Man 2 was even better. I was crestfallen when they stumbled with Spider-Man 3. When they blew it up and decided to reboot the character with a whole new director and cast? None of it felt right to me and the two Amazing Spider-Man movies were incredibly disappointing to me. It felt like Sony was killing the golden goose.
In 2015, Sony and Marvel Studios came to an agreement where Marvel would co-produce new Spider-Man movies and bring him into the Marvel Cinematic Universe while Sony would retain control over the character. In the eyes of many, myself included, this was seen as the beginning of a rehabilitation of Spider-Man’s tarnished box office image. Spidey’s appearance in Captain America: Civil War, furthered the hope that this was a turning point for the character and so far the trailer have mostly continued that positive momentum. As a character, Spider-Man resides in a sweet spot of action, drama, and humor. Here’s hoping they find that sweet spot again with Homecoming.
1. Is there a sleeper hit lurking in the weeds, a la The Hangover?
Because summers are dominated by franchise sequels and big budget blockbusters, it’s pretty much a given what the biggest films of the summer are going to be. We may not know what the biggest movie of the summer is going to be, but in some order, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Despicable Me 3, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Wonder Woman, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Baywatch, and War for the Planet of the Apes will all almost certainly make $100 million or (significantly) more. Every once in a while, though, a movie comes seemingly out of nowhere and connects with audiences at just the right time and in the right way. Perhaps the most famous example ever is The Blair Witch Project, which was made for $60k and made $140 million. More recently, The Hangover, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Straight Outta Compton really connected with audiences and exceeded their box office expectations. These hits are few and far between. There’s really no discernible pattern to them either, making it impossible to predict since past sleepers don’t necessarily indicate future sleepers. With that said though, what are some titles to keep an eye on in the coming months?
Two action films I’m looking forward to are Atomic Blonde and the previously mentioned Baby Driver. Atomic Blonde stars Charlize Theron and is from the director of John Wick, which just had a sequel earlier this year that made $92 million. As for Baby Driver, see what I wrote above in #3. Trailers for both movies look awesome and both generated great buzz at SXSW. One potential indicator of a sleeper hit is an underserved audience. If it’s well done, All Eyez on Me could fit that bill as Straight Outta Compton showed what kind of audience is out there for a hip-hop biopic and Tupac remains very popular two decades after his death (hard to believe it’s been that long). Detroit, the Kathryn Bigelow period crime drama about the 1967 riots, is another film that could tap into the increased racial tensions of the last few years surrounding police shootings of black men. Either of these movies could succeed if they are well made.
After the success of Bad Moms and Trainwreck in the last few years, could Snatched, Rough Night, or Girls Trip be a bigger hit than anticipated? Horror fans are rarely underserved as an audience, but this summer is surprisingly light on horror thrills outside of, perhaps, Alien: Covenant and a spin-off prequel to The Conjuringin Annabelle: Creation. Horror fans seem to be less inclined to be beholden strictly to franchises and established intellectual properties than other genres. With that in mind, perhaps Wish Upon, geared more toward teens, finds an audience. A24 is a company that has produced some of my favorite films of the last few years, but they’ve only had three releases (Ex Machina, The Witch, and Moonlight) top $25 million as theatrical releases. They’ve got It Comes At Night which opens in June opposite The Mummy. It’s from Krisha director Trey Edward Schults and the trailer suggests a similar foreboding atmosphere as that of The Witchand Ex Machina.
As much as I’m looking forward to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, Ridley Scott returning to the Alien universe, or the rehabilitation of Spider-Man, there are few things as exciting in movies as when a hit comes out of nowhere and unexpectedly takes off. I’m not necessarily expecting it with any of the movies I listed, but I’d love to see it.