Summer is finally here, and what better way to start off the blockbuster season than with the sequel to the biggest film from three years ago: Marvel’s “The Avengers.” Though it may seem like it could only go downhill from there, May has plenty of exciting films on its slate, from the “Mad Max” reboot, to the “Pitch Perfect” sequel, to the shrouded-in-secrecy “Tomorrowland.” And while not every title is guaranteed to hit its mark, there’s enough potential here that 2015 is shaping up to be one of the best summers at the movies in years.
“Avengers: Age of Ultron”
Who: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany and Don Cheadle What: When Tony Stark’s robotic peacekeeping program goes awry, it is up to the Avengers to stop the villainous Ultron from enacting his terrible plans. When: May 1st Why: Joss Whedon was given the unenviable task of one-upping “The Avengers” (a job made even more difficult on the heels of “Winter Soldier” and “Guardians of the Galaxy”), but it certainly looks like he’s done it with “Age of Ultron.” Though there was always the risk that adding more characters to the Avengers roster would cause the movie to feel overstuffed (just look at that cast list!), there aren’t many directors who can handle large ensembles better than Whedon, because he always finds a way to make everyone feel like an integral part of the story. “Age of Ultron” may be Whedon’s Marvel swan song, but if early word is any indication, he’s gone out on a high note.
Who: Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara and Robert Kazinsky What: An inept police officer must protect the widow of a drug dealer from criminals and dirty policemen. When: May 8th Why: Pairing Reese Witherspoon with Sofia Vergara may have sounded like a good idea on paper, but this looks absolutely awful. Witherspoon hasn’t made a good comedy since the original “Legally Blonde,” while Vergara has been living off her funny foreigner shtick for way too long. It works as part of an ensemble like “Modern Family,” but just watching the trailer gives me a headache from her incessantly loud and nasally screaming, let alone the thought of having to sit through 90 minutes of it. Hollywood may be desperate to prove that women can be funny, but while there’s no disputing that fact, you’d be better off just waiting one more week for “Pitch Perfect 2.”
Who: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin and Joely Richardson What: A teenage girl becomes infected by an outbreak of a disease that turns the infected into cannibalistic zombies. During her transformation, her loving father stays by her side. When: May 8th Why: Though the whole zombie subgenre has been played to death (no pun intended) over the past five years or so, Henry Hobson’s “Maggie” offers an interesting take on the subject by spinning those genre roots into a father-daughter relationship drama that feels more like “The Road” than “The Walking Dead.” Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return from retirement hasn’t exactly gone the way he hoped, so it’s nice to see the actor stretching himself here with a more subtle turn as opposed to his usual action fare. Whether he has the dramatic chops required for such a role remains unseen, but in a month jam-packed with blockbuster films, this small indie has definitely piqued my interest.
As we edge closer to summer season, you’d think that the quality of films would increase, but one look at the April movie slate suggests the complete opposite. Not only are there a surprising lack of new releases this month, but only a few of them show any sort of promise, like the latest installment in the “Fast and Furious” franchise and the directorial debut from Alex Garland, which still doesn’t make up for the fact that a “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” sequel actually exists.
Who: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Jordana Brewster, Kurt Russell and Lucas Black What: Criminal mercenary Deckard Shaw seeks revenge against Dominic Toretto and his “family” for the death of his younger brother. When: April 3rd Why: The “Fast and Furious” movies have always been about fast cars, beautiful women and ridiculous stunts, but the upcoming seventh installment in the long-running series has a weight on its shoulders unlike any sequel/prequel before it. The unexpected death of Paul Walker not only effected the film’s production, but the manner in which he died has cast a morbid shadow over the project. As a fan, it’s great that they found a way to honor Walker and still complete the movie, but it’ll be interesting to see how the red-hot franchise continues going forward. If “Furious 7” does end up being the checkered flag at the end of an incredible Hollywood story, at least it’s going out in style with new additions like Jason Statham and Kurt Russell, and what looks to be some of the craziest set pieces to date.
Who: Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander and Sonoya Mizuno What: A young programmer is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I. When: April 10th Why: Writer Alex Garland has worked almost exclusively in the science fiction genre, so it comes as no surprise that his directorial debut occupies a similar space. The debate on artificial intelligence may not exactly be a novel premise, but Garland has proven with films like “28 Days Later” and “Sunshine” that he’s capable of bringing a fresh spin to familiar material. And while are certain aspects of “Ex Machina” that we’ve definitely seen before, the trailers hint at something much more intriguing, beginning with the stunning design of Alicia Vikander’s A.I character. The movie also garnered rave reviews following its premiere at SXSW, and between Garland’s reputation for thought-provoking sci-fi and the brilliant casting, “Ex Machina” is shaping up to be something special indeed.
Who: Tom Hardy, Joel Kinnaman, Noomi Rapace, Gary Oldman and Jason Clarke What: A disgraced member of the military police investigates a series of nasty child murders during the Stalin-era Soviet Union. When: April 17th Why: Based on Tom Rob Smith’s bestselling novel of the same name, “Child 44” isn’t the type of movie you’d normally expect to see released during this time of year. The material seems more appropriate for awards season, which suggests that the film didn’t live up to the studio’s expectations and was dumped instead, because there’s nothing about April that screams Russian period drama. Though it’s hard to believe the movie isn’t any good with such an impressive cast, director Daniel Espinosa has yet to convince me that he deserves to be working with top talent like Denzel Washington (“Safe House”), Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman. It probably doesn’t help that the trailer is a complete bore, because it only highlights the potential issue plaguing the film.
Now that awards season is well and truly over, it’s time to turn our attention to the new movies hitting theaters this month, although from the look of things, there’s not much to get excited about. With the exception of Neill Blomkamp’s latest sci-fi treat, there isn’t a single March release that I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing, and while there’s always the possibility that one or more of these films will surprise, I wouldn’t get my hopes up just yet.
Who: Sharlto Copley, Hugh Jackman, Dev Patel and Sigourney Weaver What: When a police droid named Chappie is stolen and given new programming, he becomes he first robot with the ability to think and feel for himself. When: March 6th Why: Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium” was a disappointment on a number of levels, so it’s nice to see the director hasn’t wasted any time erasing the memory of that movie with a new sci-fi project that appears to have more in common (both tonally and thematically) with “District 9,” the film that put him on the map. The decision to reteam with Sharlto Copley – who was hands-down the best thing about Blomkamp’s previous efforts – was a no-brainer, but if there’s anything that could possibly upstage him this time around, it’s Hugh Jackman (playing against type as the film’s villain) and his glorious mullet. That, or the killer visual effects.
Who: Vince Vaughn, Dave Franco, Tom Wilkinson, James Marsden and Sienna Miller What: A hard-working small business owner and his two associates travel to Europe to close the most important deal of their lives. When: March 6th Why: It’s hard to believe that Hollywood is still betting on Vince Vaughn, because he’s not the comedy star he once was. He hasn’t had anything resembling a hit in years, and it’s been just as long since his last good film, which isn’t a coincidence. Though Vaughn’s upcoming stint on “True Detective” could prove to be the launch pad for his comeback, audiences will first have to suffer through this barrage of low-brow frat humor whose biggest crime isn’t how dreadfully unfunny it looks, but that it managed to convince a classy actor like Tom Wilkinson to submit himself to such stupidity. Does he owe back taxes or something?
“Run All Night”
Who: Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman and Genesis Rodriguez What: An aging hitman is forced to take on his brutal former boss in order to protect his estranged son and his family. When: March 13th Why: It’s great that Liam Neeson has been able to revitalize his career by playing a bunch of senior citizen badasses with a particular set of skills, but even he must realize that it’s beginning to veer towards parody. Not only does “Run All Night” reunite the actor with director Jaume Collete-Serra, whose previous collaborations include the generic action thrillers “Unknown” and “Non-Stop,” but with some basic rewrites, it could easily be the next installment in the “Taken” franchise. Neeson’s latest shoot-‘em-up does boast a better-than-usual cast with veterans like Ed Harris and Vincent D’Onofrio, but sadly, it looks like just more of the same.
It may only be February, and half of the country may still be buried under a foot of snow, but there’s a decidedly pre-summer feel to this month’s releases – the time of year when studios unleash a barrage of popcorn-friendly movies on audiences that aren’t deemed important enough for the summer season. Delayed blockbusters with big-name stars? Check. Unnecessary sequels to cult comedies? Check. Edgy comic book adaptations with breakout potential? Check and check. In fact, the February slate is so different from what we typically expect that instead of the usual hoard of Valentine’s Day shlock, women get a film about BDSM instead. How kinky.
Who: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne, James D’Arcy and Sean Bean What: A lowly caretaker who is actually intergalactic royalty teams up with a genetically engineered warrior to stop a tyrant from taking control of Earth. When: February 6th Why: It’s never a good sign when a movie gets postponed, especially one as big as “Jupiter Ascending,” but what really set off alarm bells was the decision to move it from a prime summer release date to the dead zone of February. The studio claims that the delay was to provide the Wachowskis with extra time to polish the visual effects, but that’s just Hollywood talk for covering up a deeper issue. Whether it’s because “Jupiter Ascending” isn’t very good, or because the sibling duo’s last film (“Cloud Atlas”) performed so poorly at the box office, there’s a reason why Warner Bros. suddenly lost confidence in the movie. And when you have Channing Tatum playing a half-werewolf bounty hunter, that’s bound to happen.
Who: Ben Barnes, Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore and Alicia Vikander What: A young man is apprenticed to the local Spook to learn to fight evil spirits, and his first great challenge comes when the powerful Mother Malkin escapes her confinement. When: February 6th Why: If you thought the delay of “Jupiter Ascending” was bad, that’s nothing compared to “Seventh Son,” which has seen its release date change three times over the past two years. Originally scheduled for early 2013, the fantasy film – which is based on the first book in Joseph Delaney’s young adult series – actually boasts a really good cast, including Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Olivia Williams and Kit Harrington of “Game of Thrones” fame. Unfortunately, this looks like pretty standard sword-and-sorcery fare, with Bridges basically playing a variation of the Rooster Cogburn character from “True Grit” and “R.I.P.D.” Fans of the genre will probably get a kick out of it, but it’s unlikely that “Seventh Son” will have much life beyond that.
“Kingsman: The Secret Service”
Who: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong and Michael Caine What: A veteran secret agent takes a young upstart under his wing just as a global threat emerges from a twisted tech genius. When: February 13th Why: After satirizing the superhero genre with “Kick-Ass,” the creative team behind that film (director Matthew Vaughn, co-writer Jane Goldman and comic book writer Mark Millar) returns with an equally over-the-top take on spy films. Developed separately from the Millar-penned comic on which it’s loosely based, Vaughn’s big screen adaptation looks a lot more fun, bursting with the energy and humor that was lacking in Millar’s version. It’s incredible to think that Colin Firth was never considered for the James Bond gig, because he’s perfectly cast as the badass super-spy, while newcomer Taron Egerton is already garnering acclaim for his debut role. Early buzz for this one is through the roof, and if you’ve seen the trailer, then you can understand why.
January used to be a place where studios could dump their worst films like an orphan on the front steps of a church, but over the past few years, there’s been a noticeable improvement in the quality of the releases. For the most part, the movies still suck, but following the box office success of films like “Taken” and “Ride Along,” the studios seem more willing to give higher-profile titles a chance to perform against the weaker competition. It doesn’t make much difference in the long run, but if you’re able to catch just one good film that you wouldn’t have otherwise seen during a busier season, then it’s a win-win for everyone involved.
Who: Liam Neeson, Forest Whitaker, Maggie Grace and Famke Janssen What: After he’s accused of a ruthless murder he didn’t committed, Bryan Mills goes on the run in order to find the true killer and clear his name. When: January 9th Why: Thankfully, no one’s been taken this time around, because that would have been too ridiculous even for this series, which already requires a willing suspension of disbelief not seen since the days of “24.” Though it’s unclear if the men framing Mills in this movie are connected to the bad guys from the first two films, the real draw of “Taken 3” (other than the action, of course) is its “Fugitive”-like storyline, which finally gives Liam Neeson a worthy co-star in Forest Whitaker. And if Neeson truly is done with the series after this installment, Luc Besson could easily keep it going with Whitaker’s federal agent. That is, provided he’s not the villain.
Who: Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Wei Tang and John Ortiz What: A hacker is released from prison to help American and Chinese authorities pursue a mysterious cyber criminal. When: January 16th Why: It’s been awhile since Michael Mann made a great film, and though it’s unlikely that will change with “Blackhat,” the techno-thriller at least looks more entertaining than his last few movies. Plus, it comes with the added bonus of being released on the heels of the highly publicized Sony hacks, which gives it a sense of timeliness that Mann couldn’t have planned better himself. Though Chris Hemsworth doesn’t exactly look like your typical hacker, he’s proven that he has the charisma and talent to be a really good leading man, and it’s the collaboration between actor and director that gives me hope that, if nothing else, “Blackhat” will be a fun distraction.
“The Wedding Ringer”
Who: Josh Gad, Kevin Hart, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting and Alan Ritchson What: A shy young groom needs to impress his in-laws, so he turns to a best-man-for-hire to help him out. When: January 16th Why: Kevin Hart has become to January what Will Smith used to be to Fourth of July weekend: box office gold. Simply put, the guy is on fire, and Screen Gems, the studio behind three of his most recent hits, is milking him for everything he’s worth. But while both Hart and Josh Gad can be funny with the right material, there’s no getting around the fact that “The Wedding Ringer” – which is basically “Hitch” meets “I, Love You Man” – looks pretty dumb. There are a few good bits in the trailer (especially that “Goonies” line), but if that’s the best the marketing team could find, you’d be wise to steer clear.