Three summer movie trailers

Three big summer 2014 movies had their first trailers released this week – Godzilla, Edge of Tomorrow and Jupiter Ascending.

In 1998, the hype going into the summer was around two action tentpoles – Michael Bay’s Armageddon and the English language remake of the beloved Japanese monster franchise Godzilla. Godzilla was being made by Roland Emmerich, who 3 summers earlier had clobbered the box office with Independence Day. Given the pedigree of the source material, and Emmerich’s track record, Godzilla was widely expected to become the box office champ of 1998. Instead, the film crashed and burned after its big Memorial Weekend debut, let down by high expectations, poor casting, unlikeable characters and a thin plot. Although its final global box office take was actually pretty decent, it could not escape the stigma of the fan-bashing. Sony Pictures canned the planned sequels and the rights reverted to Japan’s Toho studios.

Now, Warner Bros. is going to give it another shot. If 1998’s Godzilla was entrusted to one of the biggest directors of the time, the 2014 version is being directed by a virtual unknown; Gareth Edwards is a British filmmaker whose only feature film – 2010’s Monsters – cost less than half a million dollars to make and grossed just USD 4 mn in limited release around the world. Edwards has a background in visual effects and he created the effects for Monsters on his computer using off the shelf software! But he won critics over with his focus on the relationship between the two lead characters as well as his spare and lyrical visual style.

These skills were apparent in the first teaser trailer which came out this week. It opens with paratroopers jumping off a plane; the lyrical touch is very much in evidence as we see long shots of the troopers falling with red tracer flares marking the paths of their descent through the dark skies. As they fall, the camera cuts to show their point of view – they are falling into a city in flames and through the smoke they get their first sight of the jagged spikes on the monster’s back. The trailer then cuts to several random scenes from the film, some of the key supporting characters (Ken Watanabe, Juliette Binoche and Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston) and the two young leads, Kick-Ass’s Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen (the younger sister of the famous Olsen twin child actresses Mary-Kate and Ashley).

Godzilla arrives next summer on 16th May, sandwiched by the superhero films Amazing Spider-Man 2 and X-Men: Days of Future Past. It may not make much more than 1998’s Godzilla when adjusted for inflation, but with lower expectations and hopefully better critical acclaim, it will fare better in the public’s memory than the 1998 version.

Tom Cruise’s Oblivion kicked off this year’s summer with decent reviews and a reasonably profitable take at the global box office. Next summer he appears in his second consecutive scifi film, Edge of Tomorrow. The film is an adaptation of the Japanese young adult novel All You Need Is Kill, with screenplay polishes done by power-writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (close associates of J. J. Abrams). The director is Doug Liman, who was very hot ten years ago when he kicked off the Bourne franchise with The Bourne Identity and followed it up with Mr. and Mrs. Smith. He hasn’t done anything of note since then, so this is a sort of comeback for him.

The movie is being described as Groundhog Day meets Oblivion – Tom Cruise plays an inexperienced soldier who is killed in battle (against an alien force) and is forced to relive the same day again and again, until he becomes good enough to break the loop. The film also features Emily Blunt who acts in her 3rd scifi film as the intelligent woman who helps the hero (JGL in Looper and Matt Damon in The Adjustment Bureau) overcome impossible odds.

The trailer sets up the premise clearly, which is very important for this sort of film if it wants to appeal to an audience beyond the scifi fanboys. Tom Cruise, starting show his age a bit and looking haggard (as he should be, considering what his character has gone through), talks to someone off-screen about his ‘recurring problem’. We then see the story unroll, the battle scenes and Emily Blunt’s character as a very appropriate song ‘This is Not the End’ plays in the background. The trailer ends with a short but impressive clip of Tom Cruise’s character in action after presumably going through several iterations of battle training. The tone of the film is remarkably similar to that of Oblivion. The two movies are produced by different studios and different production companies, so this is either coincidence, or Tom Cruise himself has played a role in influencing a certain look and feel for both films…very much a possibility. Since 2005’s War of the Worlds, Mr. Cruise has had only two movies gross more than USD 100 mn in the US…and they were both Mission: Impossible films. I have a feeling that Edge of Tomorrow will not help him break that jinx; scifi action films have a very specific male-skewed audience and in spite of Emily Blunt’s strong role, I don’t think this trailer does enough to expand the appeal to women. However, as with a lot of action movies these days, it is the international markets which really hold the key and it is entirely likely that the film will make a profit through its global box office gross.

The Wachowski siblings’ Cloud Atlas was one of the big bombs of 2012. Based on the ‘unfilmable’ award winning novel by David Mitchell, it was perhaps too much hard work for audiences to keep track of the multiple nested/ intertwined storylines. That was their second big box office failure following on from the disastrous Speed Racer in 2008. So it’s nice to see that Warner Bros. is still standing by the filmmakers who created the seminal Matrix trilogy for them; their new film with the studio is Jupiter Ascending which releases at the end of July 2014. This original scifi story (written by the siblings) stars Mila Kunis as the titular Jupiter and Channing Tatum as her protector Caine. Like Keanu Reeves’ Neo in The Matrix, Jupiter has some sort of power/ ability/ background which she is not aware of, but for which others want her to die. And of course, like Neo, she is perhaps the key to the fate of our world. I also saw glimpses of a couple of young upcoming actors – Eddie Redmayne (who played Marius in Les Miserables) and James D’Arcy (who was in Cloud Atlas and also played Anthony Perkins in Hitchcock).

While I will be lining up on opening weekend to catch all three movies, I think only Godzilla has a realistic chance to become a genuine blockbuster. For the other two, the best one can hope for is that they will be well made films that will at least not make a loss for their respective studios and financiers.

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