It's Not Over
Summer cinema's heavy hitters came and went, but there's still more to come
The calendar on the wall says June 21 is the first day of summer, but Hollywood, as usual, cares little for the technicalities of the real world. Traditionally, the summer movie season has been observed from Memorial Day to Labor Day, yet even that has been expanded to such an extent that this year’s most-anticipated so-called “summer” movies have already opened and been seen before the season even begins: Indiana Jones, Iron Man, Prince Caspian, Carrie Bradshaw, Adam Sandler and a computer-animated panda are all currently appearing in a theater near you, and if you haven’t seen them by now, you probably aren’t gonna.
But if that leaves the rest of the summer room to breathe, so much the better. Because the big movies of the remaining months, while not as hyped as May’s entries, look to offer some of the most interesting would-be blockbusters in a while.
Topping my must-see list is Disney/Pixar’s WALL.E (June 27), a confession that elicits strange looks from many of my peers, who seem to think the film is just another sequel to Short Circuit. Kids likely don’t need to be given a reason to see a movie about a robot in outer space, but for you more jaded types, here’s the lowdown: WALL.E is the last operational robot on a hideously polluted Earth that has long been abandoned by humanity. Centuries of compacting the rubbish, cube by tiny cube, have caused the little guy to develop a bit of a personality, and when a rocket touches down, revealing an iPod-esque robot named Eve, WALL.E tags along on her return journey to a luxury starliner in orbit, where the spoiled remnants of the human race have evolved into slothful blobs in hover-chairs. Director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) has said that his chief inspirations were sci-fi movies of the ’70s such as Silent Running. The movie is also very sparse on dialogue, as the robots communicate in R2-D2-like fashion, as “voiced” by R2-D2’s sound designer himself, Ben Burtt. Tell me that doesn’t sound pretty damn great.
Initially, The Incredible Hulk (opening Friday) didn’t sound too exciting, but Universal rather smartly leaked a few clips online that look like a lot of fun—Hulk ripping a police car in two and using the halves as boxing gloves sells me on the thing immediately. Sure, he still looks a bit fake, but so did King Kong Versus Godzilla.
Far more potentially worrying for comic fans is The Dark Knight (July 18), the first Batman movie to not actually use the word “Batman” in the title. One hates to speak ill of the dead, but so far, I’m just not buying Heath Ledger as the Joker. An elegant, psychotic dandy in the comics, he appears to have been turned by director Christopher Nolan into a deranged bank robber with smeared war paint. Not to mention that his spoken lines in the trailer hit all the pitfalls of a Brit or an Aussie faking an American accent: the flat, nasal vowels, the overemphasis on R’s . . . Christian Bale could have given him some lessons. Aaron Eckhart seems like a good bet as Two-Face, however.
No, the one summer superhero star besides Iron Man that’s a sure bet is Hellboy, whose first movie—with no big stars and based on a cult comic—was an unlikely enough hit and has now spawned an even-crazier-looking sequel, Hellboy II: The Golden Army (July 11), in which our lovable big red demon hero (Ron Perlman, always awesome) takes on a horde of mythological beasties led by one very pissed-off fairy prince (Luke Goss of Blade II). Director Guillermo del Toro made more-jaded art-house viewers believe in imaginary kingdoms with Pan’s Labyrinth, so convincing regular thrill-seeking audiences should be a breeze.
If you like your superheroes even more subversive than a stogie-smoking demon, there’s also Hancock (July 2), in which the director of Very Bad Things gives us Will Smith as an invincible alcoholic bum. And if you prefer super-villains, Russian director Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch) delivers Wanted (June 27), a hard-R graphic-novel adaptation about assassins with the power to alter the trajectory of bullets in midair. The unrated Russian-language trailer implies a combination of Fight Club and The Matrix, only with Angelina Jolie, which seems like a good thing.
Was Harrison Ford’s heroic return insufficient to satiate your “Indiana” jones? Never fear, Brendan Fraser is here in a double-dose of Indy-style adventures (rip-offs, frankly), first facing dinosaurs in Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D (July 11), and then getting entangled with undead kung-fu fighters and the Yeti in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (Aug. 1). The Rock will not be returning as the Scorpion King, but he will be backing up Steve Carell, who steps into Don Adams’ telephone-shoes for the adaptation of the TV show Get Smart (June 20). Carell is perfect casting, although Anne Hathaway looks way more gorgeous than Barbara Feldon.
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The less said about Eddie Murphy as a robot piloted by mini-Murphys in Meet Dave (July 11), or Mike Myers as The Love Guru (June 20), the better; I’d like to see them both run into the demented cannibal/butcher played by Vinnie Jones in Midnight Meat Train (July 11), a Clive Barker-penned horror tale the author calls the best adaptation of one of his short stories ever (that includes Hellraiser and Candyman). Aside from that, horror pickings this summer are pretty slim—Alexandre Aja’s loose remake of Korean ghost story Mirrors (Aug. 15) is the only other solid bet for gorehounds. It’s hard to know whether to expect decent scares from The X-Files: I Want to Believe (July 25), since its misguided marketing is thus far aimed strictly at the already-converted. Equally unpredictable is M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening (opening Friday), in which people mysteriously start committing mass suicide after being forced to watch a double-feature of The Village and Lady in the Water. Oops . . . did I just blow the big twist?
Iffy in the comedy field is Tropic Thunder (Aug. 15), with Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr. and Jack Black as Hollywood stars making a war movie who find themselves, Three Amigos-style, in the middle of a real jungle war. Yes, Downey looks hilarious as an actor so method he undergoes surgery to make himself black, but Stiller is directing, and his track record in that position (The Cable Guy, Reality Bites) isn’t exactly thrilling. A better bet for laughs is Step Brothers (July 25), with Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly as grown men who still live with their respective single parents and are forced to become disgruntled roommates when their parents marry. A huge question mark is Pineapple Express (Aug 8), a Seth Rogen stoner comedy from director David Gordon Green, whose usual milieu is moody, nearly non-narrative scenes from the South such as George Washington and All the Real Girls. He’s great at what he does, as is producer Judd Apatow, but can their sensibilities mesh?
Almost forgot—there’s a new Star Wars movie coming this summer! (That’s okay, so did everyone else.) In what may be a subtle joke about complaints that the prequel acting was wooden, the new computer-generated “Episode 2.5,” officially titled The Clone Wars (Aug. 15), renders its characters in a form that resembles wooden dolls. The plot involves a conspiracy by the evil Sith Lords to kidnap Jabba the Hutt’s son and frame the Jedi (subtle message to fans: If Jabba can get laid, so can you!). The movie is the kick-off to a TV series, so don’t expect story closure, new John Williams music, or any original cast members besides Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) and Matthew Wood (General Grievous).
If absolutely none of these movies is your thing, what can we tell you? There’s always the ABBA musical Mamma Mia! (July 18) and the latest adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (July 25), starring usual suspects Emma Thompson and Michael Gambon, sure to please audiences who like their onscreen emotions repressed and their accents English. If those don’t work for you, either, then it’s going to be a long summer. Try stepping outside occasionally.