As a self-professed film addict and lover of all things fantasy and science fiction, summer tends to be my favorite time of the year at the box office. :) This is when Hollywood tends to roll out the best of its big-budget films, and this summer, we have quite a selection: from superheroes, to giant fighting robots to the return of the USS Enterprise. Although the reception to the 2013 films released so far has been a bit lukewarm, quite a few hotly-anticipated films will come out in the next few months. Here are some of the most buzzed-about movies this summer:
Iron Man 3 (May 3)
"Iron Man 3" is the first individual Marvel superhero film to be released after the success of last summer's mash-up "The Avengers," and I'm curious to see where Marvel plans to take the franchise. With a goal of building anticipation back up for the second Avengers film in 2015, Marvel's challenge will be to maintain the tone that has worked in the past for these films — a blend of humor, heart and action — but also prevent that formula from becoming stale.
That's why I'm excited for "Iron Man 3." Arguably the most popular member of "The Avengers" cinematic universe, Tony Stark is known for his trademark snarky wit and devil-may-care attitude, and the belief that he can handle anything that's thrown at him. However, this new film seems to challenge the character and expose his vulnerabilities in ways we haven't seen before. While I hope the film makers haven't cut out too much of Stark's humor, I think it's a smart strategy to take the story in a new and slightly darker direction.
Trailers aren't always a perfect indicator of how good a film will actually be, but the trailers released so far for "Iron Man 3" look pretty epic. It wouldn't surprise me if this film turned out to be the biggest money-maker of the summer.
The Great Gatsby (May 10)
I finally read "The Great Gatsby" for the first time last fall, and after I finished it, I was left with two thoughts: first, that I loved the book, and second, that it might be difficult to adapt the book for film.
Taking place in the Roaring Twenties, "The Great Gatsby" is the story of Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a wealthy man who throws lavish parties and buys anything he wants, yet has an empty existence. He's haunted by his love for the capricious Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), and their doomed romance ends up destroying more lives that just their own.
The plot itself is fairly simple, but the real power of the novel lies in author F. Scott Fitzgerald's rich descriptions and the beautiful way he strings words together: "In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.” Unfortunately, prose doesn't transfer to a visual medium (you don't want too many voice-overs with a character describing what's going on), so I'm curious to see how the film makers will capture the spirit of Fitzgerald's novel.
Page 2 of 5 - The world depicted in the trailers is colorful and stylized, and presenting it in 3D is an interesting choice. The film was originally slated for release in December last year, which perhaps seemed like a better fit than summertime. It will be interesting to see how well this film does at the box office, especially since it's sandwiched between two of the summer's most buzzed-about blockbusters: "Iron Man 3" and "Star Trek: Into Darkness."
Star Trek: Into Darkness (May 17)
Out of all the films slated for release in 2013, this is the one I'm most looking forward to, and I'm both excited and nervous about it. I loved J.J. Abrams' first "Star Trek" film, which was a surprise hit and successfully rebooted a previously struggling franchise. Because of Abrams' earlier success, there's perhaps even more pressure this time around.
True to form, Abrams hasn't let many details slip about the film's plot. We know Benedict Cumberbatch is playing a vengeful terrorist named "John Harrison," who may or may not actually be a famous villain from classic "Star Trek" lore (theories about Cumberbatch actually playing Khan or Gary Mitchell have been floating around). As the newly minted captain of the Enterprise, James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is forced to confront Cumberbatch's villain and prove that he's worthy of his post.
Since Abrams will be directing the upcoming "Star Wars" film set for release in 2015, this will probably be the last "Trek" film we see from him. I'm hoping he leaves us with a cinematic thrill ride that will be as fun and exhilarating as his first.
After Earth (June 7)
Once one of Hollywood's most promising new directors, M. Night Shyalaman has had a rough ride at the box office lately, with several high-profile flops on his résumé (including 2010's "The Last Airbender," which is, I must admit, one of the worst fantasy movies I've ever seen). However, "After Earth" could be his comeback.
Set (apparently) in the future, after the planet Earth has become an untamed, uninhabitable wasteland, the film follows an interplanetary ranger (Will Smith) and his son (played by his real-life son Jaden Smith) who crash-land on Earth and are forced to fight for their survival in the wild and dangerous environment.
The trailer for the movie didn't pique my interest quite as much as I was hoping it would, but I'm a fan of Will Smith, and I'm intrigued by the film's premise. Hollywood has actually been releasing quite a few science fiction films lately, which is a trend I'm definitely excited about. I hope these films end up doing well at the box office, so we'll be likely to see more of these types of films in the future.
Page 3 of 5 - Man of Steel (June 14)
Although Superman is arguably the best-known American superhero, he hasn't been as popular of late. In an age of flawed, conflicted superheroes (see Robert Downey Jr.'s sarcastic Iron Man, Christian Bale's brooding Batman, etc.), Superman almost seems too "perfect." He can fly, he has x-ray vision, and aside from "Kryptonite," he doesn't really have many vulnerabilities. He seems too distant, too aloof, and audiences have had trouble relating to him.
Director Zack Snyder is hoping to change that. His "Man of Steel" film seeks to find a new way to tell Superman's story, and — even though the character isn't from this planet — to make him seem more "human."
"Man of Steel" is probably the riskiest film this summer. If DC Comics wants to pursue a "Justice League" film, then they really need this new Superman film to be a success. So far, the trailers seem promising, and Superman actor Henry Cavill certainly looks the part. The fact Batman director Christopher Nolan is producing the film also is a good sign, though I hope "Man of Steel" will be able to find its own voice and won't seem too much like the Superman version of "Batman Begins."
World War Z (June 21)
Zombies seems to be everywhere in the media these days. AMC's zombie drama "The Walking Dead" is one of the most popular TV shows currently on air, and the zombie romantic comedy "Warm Bodies" was a surprise hit earlier this year. Brad Pitt is bringing zombies to the big screen again this summer with "World War Z."
Pitt stars as a U.N. specialist who is tasked with traveling around the world to find the origins of a deadly virus that is turning people into zombies. While most people think of zombies as slow-moving stumblers, the zombies in this film move with an eerie amount of speed and pile on top of each other to reach a target.
I'm curious to see what the reviews will say and what the audience response to this film will be. Although zombies are a poplar subject for films and TV shows right now, there's always a risk of audience fatigue if there are too many zombie stories in too short of a time period. "World War Z" will need to demonstrate it can bring something new to the genre.
The Lone Ranger (July 3)
"The Lone Ranger," a popular TV show in the 1950s, is getting a big-screen update this summer. The action/adventure western stars Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp as the masked hero and his friend Tonto, and is directed by Gore Verbinski, the director of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films.
Page 4 of 5 - With a budget that's reportedly north of $200 million, there's a lot of pressure for this film to do well. I think it will be one of those "go big or go home" movies — it will either be a runaway hit, or a major flop. There probably won't be a lot of middle ground.
I'm hoping this is a fun, quirky action/adventure comedy in the same spirit as Verbinski's "Pirates" films. Johnny Depp is a master at creating eccentric, memorable characters, and he and Hammer have a chance of playing well off each other here. Though I wasn't a fan of last year's Snow White film "Mirror Mirror," which Hammer also starred in, I thought Hammer's character was still likable and funny and a stand-out amongst the cast in an otherwise "so-so" film.
Pacific Rim (July 12)
Robots, monsters and aliens — honestly, it doesn't get much cooler than this. ;) "Pacific Rim" is director Guillermo del Toro's first major venture into Hollywood's summer tentpole season, and it looks like it's going to be a lot of fun. With a solid cast that includes Idris Elba (BBC's "Luther") and Charlie Hunnam ("Sons of Anarchy"), the sci-fi movie is about humanity's last efforts to fend off an alien invasion.
I'm hoping "Pacific Rim" will fulfill the hopes I originally had for the "Transformers" franchise. If the trailer is any indication, the movie will have plenty of over-the-top action sequences with giant fighting robots. However, I'm hoping del Toro will be able to balance all these special effects with a carefully-crafted story and interesting characters (and he's proven he's very capable of this in the past).
"Pacific Rim" could be a break-out hit this summer, and it's one of the films I'm most looking forward to this year.
The Wolverine (July 26)
Wolverine is the most popular character to come out of the "X-Men" films, and he's getting his second stand-alone movie this summer. This time around, he's heading to Japan, where he'll battle both ninjas and personal demons.
I have to admit, I do have mixed feelings about this one. I love Hugh Jackman's portrayal of the character, and I believe he was the absolute perfect choice for the role. However, while I did enjoy the previous Wolverine spin-off in 2009, titled "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," it didn't have the same energy as 2011's excellent prequel "First Class," which featured a young Magneto and Professor Charles Xavier. I'm very excited about the "First Class" sequel in 2014 but haven't sensed as much buzz about the new Wolverine film.
Still, I think the idea of setting this movie in Japan was a good choice and could bring a much-needed fresh perspective to the spin-off franchise.
Page 5 of 5 - Elysium (Aug. 9)
Directed by Neill Blomkamp ("District 9"), "Elysium" is a dystopian sci-fi drama that takes place in 2159, when the world has been divided into two distinct classes: the wealthy, who live in a lavish orbital space station, and the poor, who have been abandoned on the planet's dying surface. Matt Damon plays a lower-class character named Max who is exposed to radiation at his factory job and has to break into the space station to find treatment.
Of all the science fiction films scheduled for release this summer, "Elysium" is likely to be the grittiest and perhaps the most thought-provoking. Blomkamp filmed part of the movie in a garbage dump in Mexico City and isn't presenting a white-washed version of our future.
I'm excited about this film, and again, it's great to see so many sci-fi projects in theaters this summer. Matt Damon has proven himself to be a versatile actor — equally at home in smaller dramas and big-budget action franchises — and I'm looking forward to seeing what he does with this role.
So, what films are you most looking forward to this summer? Which ones do you think will be hits? Which ones could be flops?