Captain America: Civil War – The Avengers sequel that’s better than the Avengers sequel

And so, the Captain America trilogy has come to an end. It began nearly five years ago with The First Avenger, a movie characterized by its simplicity and earnestness, reflecting the spirit of the times. During World War II, when your country asked you to fight, you fought; and it was easy to tell your allies from your enemies. The 2014 sequel The Winter Soldier was set 70 years later in the present day, but drew its inspiration from the conspiracy thrillers of the 1970s, a time when spies and double agents made it difficult to distinguish between friend and foe. The sibling duo of Joe and Anthony Russo are back again in the directors’ chair for the third and seemingly final entry in the series, Civil War. This time around, they seem even more at ease in managing what has become a hugely complex storytelling effort. Not only does Civil War continue with the second movie’s theme of “you don’t know who your allies are”, it goes one step further and turns friends into enemies.

The trailers made it clear that Civil War features pretty much all the characters from The Avengers; Age of Ultron and has frequently been referred to as ‘Avengers 2.5‘; in fact, the Russos will be directing the next two films in the Avengers series, so Civil War is indeed a bridge, both story-wise and thematically, between Age of Ultron and 2018’s Infinity War Part 1.

The only complaint I had after watching the movie yesterday (and this has been echoed in multiple reviews) is the absence of a worthy villain to challenge Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. To think that over the course of the trilogy, we have gone from Hugo Weaving’s menacing Red Skull to Robert Redford’s duplicitous S.H.I.E.L.D. leader Alexander Pierce to Daniel Bruhl’s rather bland Colonel Zemo…that’s somewhat disappointing.

The two new characters – Black Panther and Spider-Man – do add some freshness to the growing ensemble of heroes. Many critics have praised Chadwick Boseman’s performance as Prince T’Challa/ Black Panther and so I was expecting something very special. I came away a bit disappointed with Boseman’s rather stiff rendering of the Wakandan prince. What did work was the wonderful chemistry between him and his father, which is a credit to South African acting veteran John Kani, who plays King T’Chaka. Spider-Man, on the other hand is an unqualified hit and Tom Holland seems a perfect embodiment of the wise-cracking teenage superhero that we all love. I was least expecting his entry into the plot at the point that it happened and there was a collective gasp of joyful surprise from the audience when we all realized whose apartment we were in.

While all the reviews have spoken glowingly about the set-piece fight sequence at the airport in Germany, I thought the opening encounter in Lagos was also very well done, with the camera work particularly effective at bringing the audience into the midst of the hand-to-hand combat in a busy market place. It’s reminiscent of the shaky cam/ quick cut style of Paul Greengrass’ Bourne movies, but far easier to watch. The Russo brothers describe themselves as ‘guerilla filmmakers’ and you understand why.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing very distinctive as far as the theme music is concerned. Henry Jackman is the composer and I loved what he had done with X-Men: First Class in 2011 (particularly Magneto’s Theme). But all we get here is a generic, bombastic score with lots of strings and horns. The best music in the extended Avengers/ Captain America film series so far is still Alan Silvestri’s theme from The Avengers.

Here are my top moments from the movie:-

  • Black Widow’s stylish fighting jacket – Scarlett Johansson continues to be the style icon for the Marvel movies, sporting a tan cotton jacket during the opening fight scene in Lagos. The jacket is already a hot seller on many online stores.

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  • Scott Lang shows he can go both ways – The airport fight sequence is the showpiece of the movie. It’s where the growing schism between the two factions of the Avengers becomes all-out war. A last minute reinforcement for Captain America’s side is Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man. But there’s a big surprise in store as Lang shows that there’s more than one way to use those Pym particles.
  • Goodbye Peggy Carter – This was a really poignant moment for me. I’m sure Rogers-Carter doesn’t have the same ring to it as Romeo-Juliet, but for me, their unfulfilled romance has been one of the great tragic on-screen love stories of recent times, perhaps accentuated by actress Hayley Atwell’s strong performance in the Agent Carter TV series.
  • Cap keeps the Carter family connection strong – Steve Rogers moves right on, building a nice relationship with Peggy’s niece Sharon, although I do find it very difficult to accept the vapid Emily VanCamp as a replacement for the feisty Hayley Atwell.
  • We get to see the Raft – The prison for super-criminals makes an appearance.
  • Audi product placement – Audi continues their association with Tony Stark and the Avengers. Tony Stark is seen driving the super cool R8 V10 plus Coupé. The new SQ7 features prominently in a tunnel chase sequence involving Bucky, Cap and the Black Panther (check out Audi’s tie-in ad below).
  • Aunt May is really attractive – What a brilliant casting idea to get Marisa Tomei as Aunt May. Even Tony Stark seemed interested.
  • CGI is getting better at making actors look young – A low profile company called Lola VFX has been creating younger versions of actors on-screen for a few years. They ‘de-aged’ Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan for a flashback scene in X-Men: The Last Stand. In last year’s Ant-Man, a young Michael Douglas appeared in the opening scene. In both those films, they were able to take 20 years off the faces of actors in their late 60s/ early 70s. In Civil War, there’s a scene featuring a very young Robert Downey Jr., who appears to be in his late teens or early twenties; a significantly tougher task and a sign of how much the technology has improved. This is a sign of things to come in the sub-specialization now known as ‘visual cosmetics’.
  • Closing titles – The closing title sequence uses abstract shadows to describe the character played by each actor. A nice touch to have ’13’ come up against Emily VanCamp’s name, as Sharon Carter is called Agent 13 in the comic books.

And so, Marvel has yet another bona fide hit on their hands. The Disney machine already has two big hits this year with Zootopia and The Jungle Book. Look for Civil War to zoom up the charts and potentially overtake the current 2016 box office champion Deadpool in the coming weeks.


The 2015 summer movie score-card: And the winner is…

Well, the summer officially finished a few weeks ago and the big winner has been Universal Studios, with Jurassic World, Furious 7, Minions, Pitch Perfect 2 and Straight Outta Compton. Disney as always was a strong performer with animation and Marvel properties Inside Out, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man. And ranked 3rd was Warner Bros. with San Andreas and Mad Max: Fury Road.

After kicking off my summer viewing with the Avengers sequel, I had listed 10 other films that I wanted to watch over the remaining 4 months. Technically, I didn’t complete my mission, because found Tomorrowland to be unwatchable after about 20 minutes. I mentally swapped that movie for Inside Out in my list, but will only be watching that this weekend.

Nevertheless, here are those 11 films ranked on my intuitive sense of which movie I would be willing to go back to theatre to watch, or would stay tuned to watch if it was running on TV. I’ve put the Metacritic scores next to each film, as a point of comparison and linked to my individual posts on each movie.

#1 Mad Max: Fury Road (89) – My #1 movie of the summer, this was always guaranteed to be a dazzling visual treat, but what surprised critics and viewers like me was the depth of the characterization. I really hope there will be another film in the series, and that Charlize Theron is in it. Tom Hardy was almost incidental as Max!

#2 Jurassic World (59) – Yes, the third act became too generic, but the first two-thirds of the film including the set-up, the new characters and the new dinos all made it worthwhile. Newbie director Colin Trevorrow was rewarded with a Star Wars directing gig for 2019, but before that it’s very likely he will be involved in the next Jurassic movie, scheduled for June 2018.

#3 Ant-Man (64) – This was the doubtful Marvel entry that ended up being unexpectedly enjoyable. Everything just clicked somehow. Worth watching again just for Michael Pena and his ‘tip montages’.

#4 Avengers: Age of Ultron (66) – This is one of those movies that is really enjoyable when you watch it, but sort of fades from memory towards the end of the season as it gets crowded out by more innovative or enjoyable fare. Once again, the first two-thirds had some real emotional heft, but it descended into action CGI overload in the last half hour.

#5 Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (75) – Not quite as enjoyable as the previous entry Ghost Protocol, but still strong enough to set up a possible 6th film in a couple of years.

#6 The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (55) – This smart and extremely stylish thriller sadly never found its market, although it’s possible that it may thrive on TV and Home Video. Even so, hopes of starting a franchise are surely dead. Elizabeth Debicki plays one of the most deliciously evil on-screen villains I’ve seen in years.

#7 Furious 7 (67) – Having kicked off the early summer and riding on the Paul Walker sympathy wave to a record high box office for the franchise, it now seems rather generic with the benefit of a few months of hindsight. The producers have still not locked down a director for Furious 8 although they have announced a release date in April 2017.

#8 Entourage (38) – I thought the Metacritic score was a bit harsh. What were critics expecting from the big-screen version of a ‘guilty pleasure’ show like this? Impossible to watch on big screen with all the nudity and language, but I thoroughly enjoyed spending a 100 minutes with Vince and the boys.

#9 Fantastic Four (27) – Another film at the receiving end of an unfair Metacritic score, this is the movie that critics loved to hate; after all its own director hated it as well!

#10 Terminator: Genisys (38) – This film was a big disappointment vis-à-vis the promise of the first trailers and the strong cast of Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke and the returning Arnold. But eventually it just turned out to be a product of lazy scriptwriting that just took events from the first 2 films and shuffled the characters and the situations around in the name of time travel paradox. What a wasted opportunity.

#11 Tomorrowland (60) – Perhaps the biggest disappointment of all, because this was from one of my favorite directors who has not put a foot wrong in his career; Brad Bird, the man who made The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. I started watching this on a flight and had to switch off after 20 minutes because every character on screen was so irritating and the story seemed muddled and pointless. Is this what happens when a filmmaker becomes so successful that a studio will allow him to make whatever he wants? Feels like the misstep that M. Night Shyamalan made with The Village and Lady in the Water passion projects. I sure hope Brad Bird comes out of this one.

I imagine Inside Out will rank in the Top 5 after I see it on Sunday. Other fun movies during the April-August period included San Andreas, Ex Machina, Minions, The Age of Adaline and Woman in Gold.

Now, on to more serious fare in the next few weeks; Everest was absolutely worth the IMAX ticket prices. Next in line will be Sicario, Black Mass and The Martian.

On-screen chemistry helps Ant-Man punch above its weight

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The seeds of success for Marvel’s movies were sown way back in 2008 with Jon Favreau’s Iron Man. What differentiated this film from other successful superhero flicks of the past decade was the light-hearted banter and repartee between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, which then became the framework for all subsequent films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

This undefinable, magical thing called ‘chemistry’ sits at the heart of Marvel’s latest cinematic production Ant-Man. While sub-atomic chemistry in the form of ‘Pym Particles’ is the source of Ant-Man’s shrinking power, it’s the on-screen chemistry that powers this film and makes it a candidate for repeat viewing. There are so many emotional bonds interconnected in a complex tug-of-war here – veteran scientist Dr. Henry Pym trying to draw his estranged daughter Hope Van Dyne away from his megalomaniac former protégé Darren Cross; ex-con Scott Lang trying to go straight while his well-meaning buddies Luis, Kurt & Dave entice him into another heist job; Lang’s young daughter trying to adjust to her mother’s new married life with upright cop Paxton, while pining for her absent dad; Lang reluctantly being tutored by Dr. Pym under the critical eye of Hope; Dr. Pym’s on-going rivalry with his ex-SHIELD colleague/ antagonist Mitchell Carson, who is now a potential business associate with Darren Cross.

With so much character interplay, the casting choices for this film were critical and the filmmakers went for some interesting choices…all of which worked! Comedian Paul Rudd (who I have never particularly cared for) was cast against type as the reluctant superhero. Acting thesp Michael Douglas who has previously played intense characters fighting real world adversaries, was cast as Dr. Henry Pym, the creator of the Pym Particles, the original Ant-Man and now a reclusive retired billionaire. Evangeline Lilly who was very convincing as the elf Tauriel in The Hobbit movies is perfectly cast as Hope Van Dyne; comic fans will note that her on-screen appearance (especially the hair) is a spitting image of the character’s mother Janet Van Dyne, aka The Wasp. Corey Stoll who made a big impact in House of Cards S1 and is the lead in The Strain plays the bad guy Darren Cross.

But besides these lead roles, the supporting cast has really lifted the movie and deserves special mention:-

Michael Peña previously played typical Latino supporting roles in ensemble action films like Fury and Battle: Los Angeles, with occasional meaty roles as co-lead (End of Watch and World Trade Center) or lead (Cesar Chavez) in serious dramatic fare. In Ant-Man, he shows off his funny side as Luis, Scott Lang’s former cellmate who tries to get Lang back on his feet when he gets out of jail. Peña is the comedic lynchpin in the film, stealing every scene he’s in, particularly a couple of brilliant exposition dialogues (referred to as ‘tip montages’) written by uncredited writers Gabriel Ferrari and Andrew Barrer that will surely end up on YouTube soon. I also loved the clever touch of him whistling “It’s a small world after all” at the start of the climactic heist scene.

The hard-working Bobby Cannavale plays Paxton, a cop who is married to Scott Lang’s ex-wife. Cannavale rose to prominence on TV (Boardwalk Empire, Nurse Jackie) and then broke out onto the big screen playing the Marlon Brando role in Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen’s reimagining of A Streetcar Named Desire. Earlier this summer, he was very good as Al Pacino’s estranged son in the highly watchable Danny Collins. In Ant-Man, Cannavale’s Paxton is someone who genuinely wants the best for his new family, which means having to cut some slack for his wife’s ex-con ex-husband, while staying true to his job as a cop. He is the straight foil to all the other over-the-top stuff going on in the movie.

Young Abby Ryder Fortson plays Scott Lang’s daughter Cassie with a lot of gumption and charm. I suspect we will see her in a lot of cute and sassy child roles in the years to come.

Another aspect of the movie that worked for me was the music. Christophe Beck (the guy who created the theme for Buffy the Vampire Slayer) delivers the best superhero movie soundtrack since Henry Jackman’s work in X-Men: First Class. It has an old world spy movie feel to it, but also elements of playfulness with the horns, big band and latin sounds. The closing piece Tales to Astonish reminds me of Dick Dale’s Misirlou. Lots of percussion; definitely worth listening to on its own.

Scriptwriters Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish would have been fully justified in telling a conventional origin story about Dr. Henry Pym’s discovery of the rare sub-atomic Pym Particles that allow him to shrink in size and communicate with insects. That’s how Marvel introduced Iron Man, Captain America and Thor. But over time, audiences have become fatigued with origin stories which have been accused of just being a set-up for a sequel. Rather than ‘waste’ an entire movie on it, Ant-Man’s origins are explained through dialogue referring to Dr. Pym’s undercover exploits way back in the ’80s (yes, that’s what ‘the past’ is for this generation; for me, it would be the ‘50s and ‘60s) and there is also a short but thrilling flashback segment which shows the original Ant-Man and his partner The Wasp in action trying to dismantle a rogue ICBM.

So, instead of a padded up origin story, Ant-Man has been set up as a heist movie…and in the case of Scott Lang’s character, it also plays out as an ‘underdog-beats-the-odds’ movie. Especially in the latter context, the vibe between Michael Douglas and Paul Rudd reminded me at times of Burgess Meredith and Sylvester Stallone in Rocky or Pat Morita and Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid.

Going forward, Paul Rudd will reprise the character in next year’s Captain America: Civil War and I guess he will show up in The Avengers sequels scheduled for 2018 and 2019. Currently, there is no Ant-Man sequel scheduled, so I’m not sure if we will ever get a chance to see this entire ensemble of actors together again, which would be a great pity. I hope the brains trust at Marvel is thinking about bringing this magical chemistry back to the screen again soon!

Summer 2015 movies to watch: 1 down, 10 to go!

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We kicked off the summer movie circus yesterday with Avengers: Age of Ultron which was everything the trailers promised it would be – more superheroes and more action, but also more layered, with some characters taking personal journeys down dark pathways. Bond-style, the action kicks off from the get-go with an exhilarating prologue set-piece and there were plenty of memorable moments right through the movie.

It’s a great start to the summer and there are another 10 movies in my must-watch list from now till mid-August:-

Furious 7 – Well the movie’s been out for a few weeks and is already a worldwide hit. What’s more, the reviews are pretty decent too (Metacritic average score of 67). Will have to catch this soon before it exits theatres. Hats off to horror maestro James Wan, who has directed this ‘emotional’ instalment of the long-running franchise. Eleven years ago, the Malaysian-born director created the micro-budget horror phenomenon Saw, then went on to direct one of the best-reviewed horror films in recent years, The Conjuring. Now, he has succeeded with a completely different genre and is currently rumored to be in the running to direct Warner Bros./DC Comics Aquaman!

Mad Max: Fury Road – This intense R-rated restart of the beloved post-apocalyptic franchise is at the top of my list. The first trailer was epic/ operatic and the final trailer which I caught a glimpse of as I entered the theatre today, tops the first one. From what I’ve seen, the star of this movie is director George Miller. Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult are all but unrecognizable. In terms of plot, it will be more of the same – brooding loner roams a blasted landscape and crosses paths with a bunch of loonies (see picture at the top of the article) who pay the price for not getting out of his way. Plenty of violence follows. This will not be for the weak-hearted. This is officially my most anticipated movie of the summer.

Tomorrowland – This PG-rated scifi entertainer from Disney is directed by one of my favorite directors, Brad Bird. The 58-year-old has made just 4 films before this – 3 animation classics (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille) and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, the movie that gave the franchise a new lease of life and provided Tom Cruise with a rare hit in the past 10 years. The movie’s plot is a bit of a mystery, but the trailers are intriguing as is the casting combination of George Clooney and Britt Robertson (Angie McAlister from Under the Dome).

Entourage – I was a big fan of the TV series and although I skipped out after the 5th season, I remain invested in the lives and loves of the 4 friends who rose up from humble beginnings in Queens to the razzle and dazzle of Hollywood. The movie is directed by creator Doug Ellin and will see the return of all the familiar faces plus a revolving door of celebrities who will be playing themselves. It promises to be good fun and should make a nice little killing at the box office much like the Sex and the City film; I’m not so sure that this will play as well overseas as SATC though.

Jurassic World – The Mad Max franchise gets resurrected after a gap of 30 years and the same summer, the Jurassic Park franchise gets restarted after 14 years, this time helmed 29-year-old whiz kid director Colin Trevorrow. Back in 2001, Jurassic Park III suffered due to weak characters (William H. Macy, Tea Leoni and Alessandro Nivola…really?), but this time around we have Chris Pratt coming in hot off the success of Guardians of the Galaxy and Bryce Dallas Howard playing the greedy corporate maven. But the stars of the movie as usual, will be the dinosaurs – since T.Rex is now passé, we have the new genetically created Indominus Rex and a pack of Velociraptors that appear to be loyal to Chris Pratt! I am also expecting this movie to deliver the goods because the story comes from Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver who scripted the two highly acclaimed Planet of the Apes reboot movies and are currently working on James Cameron’s Avatar sequels.

Terminator: Genisys – This is clearly the summer for reviving dormant franchises. The last film in the series, Terminator Salvation was a critical and commercial disappointment (in my view, not much more could have been expected from a director like McG), in spite of having Christian Bale and then red-hot hunk Sam Worthington playing the leads. This time around, there’s a completely new team and the trailers indicate that the story is going to feature a time-travel story retcon, much in the way Star Trek Into Darkness rewrote the story of Khan. This is a risky approach, dangerously close to being a gimmick. Having said that, the trailers and the Entertainment Weekly cover story from January look very cool. I have a lot of respect for the actors – Jason Clark, Emilia Clarke (the dragon queen from Game of Thrones), Jai Courtney and of course, ‘Ahnuld’ is back! This version is directed by TV director Alan Taylor, who has previously done episodes of Game of Thrones.

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Ant-Man – Ah, what might have been if Edgar Wright had stayed on to direct this movie. No less than ‘His Marvelness’ Joss Whedon has said in a recent interview that “Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man was the best script that Marvel ever had’. But it was not meant to be. And now we have this version being released, directed by comedy helmer Peyton Reed, with a script co-written by lead actor and perpetual ‘on-screen loser’ Paul Rudd. I can only hope that Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige is the real man in the driver’s seat of this movie, as we all know how well he has shepherded the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) for the past few years. We’ve all been wondering when the big Marvel machine will fail. Let’s hope this isn’t the one. I actually like the trailer.

Fantastic Four – Here’s another iffy Marvel product, although this one comes from rival studio Fox, which continues to hold on to the rights to this Marvel property. I was excited that this reboot is being directed by 30-year-old Josh Trank who made the found-footage superhero film Chronicle a few years ago.  But then the cast was announced and I was felt they were either unappealing or miscast, particularly Miles Teller (one of my favourite young actors) in the role of Reed Richards. Then the trailer came out and my hopes fell further, because it doesn’t really show anything new that we have not seen in the 2005 origin story. Is Josh Trank the real thing or a flash-in-the-pan? Rival studio Disney (which owns Marvel) wants to know because Trank has been signed on to direct their 2nd Star Wars Anthology film due out in 2018.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation – With writer-director Christopher McQuarrie in the hot seat this time, the M:I franchise keeps rolling on, nearly 20 years after it hit the big screen. The real driver is producer Tom Cruise, I think. McQuarrie directed Cruise in Jack Reacher which I very much enjoyed, but he is better known as the man who won an Oscar for the screenplay of The Usual Suspects. I also liked his writing on two other Tom Cruise films – Valkyrie and Edge of Tomorrow, although he has also written his share of flops, i.e. The Tourist and Jack the Giant Slayer. The trailer has Cruise doing his usual death-defying stunts – we’ve seen him hanging from trains and skyscrapers, now he’s holding on to a military transport plane for dear life. It certainly looks like this latest outing will continue to deliver a good mix of intrigue and thrills.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – British director Guy Ritchie went from being the darling of indie crime cinema with his debut film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels at the age of 30, to nearly becoming an also-ran who also happened to be the latest husband of Madonna, before redeeming himself with two sparkling large-screen interpretations of Sherlock Holmes, featuring that other comeback artist, Robert Downey Jr. He now turns his attention to a spy series from the ‘60s and hopes to do for it what Brian De Palma did for Mission: Impossible in 1996. On paper, the combination of Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer in suave 60’s duds sounds appealing; unfortunately, the trailer looks rather boring and the banter seems very forced. It will have been a long hot summer by the time this one rolls in and the buzz will have to be very strong to get paying audiences into the theatres.

Marvel line-up 2015-17: Part 1

With the recent announcement of new Marvel films by their head honcho Kevin Feige, I figured it was time to write an updated version of the Marvel line-up post I had published in Dec 2012 for the period 2013-15. I also figured that if Hollywood can break up a movie into 2 parts (Kill Bill Vols I and II, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Parts 1 and 2), I can go one better and break this up into 3 parts. So here’s the line-up for 2015; although this year was already covered in my original post, there are updates and minor changes, so it’s worth revisiting.

Avengers: Age of Ultron. Releases in May 2015 – Joss Whedon’s follow up to the most successful Marvel movie of all time is eagerly anticipated, to say the least. The trailer which was leaked and then formally released a couple of weeks ago and the mega-poster which was launched at Comic-Con a few months back have all stoked the flames of anticipation.

We can expect this film to have the biggest opening weekend of 2015. All the familiar characters return – Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Hulk, Hawkeye and Thor. We have two new characters – the brother-sister duo of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch (of whom we saw a brief glimpse in the post-credits scene of Captain America: The Winter Soldier earlier this year), we have a crazed super-robot Ultron as the villain (voiced by James Spader) and most exciting of all for me, the introduction of Vision. Vision is an android whose origin is closely linked to that of Ultron in the comic books; I am looking forward to seeing how he fits into the story in the movie version. You can see him floating in the air in the far left upper corner of the mega-poster. Comic book fans know about his future connection to Scarlet Witch.

Ant-Man. Releases in July/ August 2015 – This film was originally slated for November but has now been moved up to the latter part of the summer. The director has also changed, with maverick Brit Edgar Wright departing due to creative differences and being replaced by 50-year-old journeyman rom-com director Peyton Reed. This is an unusual choice and I would say that Ant-Man is Disney/ Marvel’s riskiest venture, a tag that was formerly attached to Guardians of the Galaxy. In the case of Guardians, all doubts vanished when that first trailer was released and likewise we will be waiting to see Paul Rudd in action (and in costume) when the first trailer comes out. The movie will definitely have comedic elements, but with the change of directors, we can expect it to have become much lighter; Edgar Wright after all is the guy who gave black humour a new genre setting with the zombie-comedy Shaun of the Dead, whereas Peyton Reed is the guy who directed Jim Carrey in Yes Man…you get the picture. As it is, I was a bit apprehensive when Paul Rudd was announced to play the superhero; I’m not a big fan of his movies. But the concept art poster released during Comic-Con looks quite heroic and I’ve been reassured by the rest of the casting featuring Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly and Corey Stoll (as the villain Yellowjacket).

The Fantastic Four. Releases in August 2015 – 30-year-old rising filmmaker Josh Trank’s reboot of this iconic Marvel property was originally slated to kick off the 2015 summer but has now been slotted in just one week after Ant-Man. Why would Marvel give its two titles so little breathing space? Because The Fantastic Four is being produced and distributed by rival studio Fox who doesn’t care one bit about what impact its release would have on Disney/Marvel’s Ant-Man. The casting also created some controversy for its divergence from existing Marvel canon; the Johnny Storm/ Human Torch character is being played by an African-American actor, Michael B. Jordan, whereas his sister Sue Storm/ Invisible Girl is played by white actress, Kate Mara. No one is really very sure why Fox would want to make such a fundamental change and what Marvel feels about that. The release date plus the poor reviews of the original Fantastic Four movies (from 2005 and 2007) mean that Josh Trank has to create an awesome product to relaunch the franchise. Fox needs to keep releasing new FF movies (they have already scheduled a sequel for July 2017) otherwise the rights will revert to Marvel. Trank is a highly regarded young filmmaker. Fox ‘discovered’ him when they released his low budget found-footage superpower-themed debut film Chronicle to healthy box office and critical acclaim in 2012. He has also recently been picked by Disney to direct a Star Wars spin-off movie due for release in 2018. So we may be pleasantly surprised by an innovative new take on Marvel’s ‘first family’. There has not been a single piece of marketing released so far, so Fox is clearly biding their time until they have something exciting to reveal, either in the form of concept art, character posters or a teaser trailer.

Previewing the ‘Super Summer of 2015’: Part 1

Studios always block out their launch weekends 2-3 years in advance, partly as a signal to other studios to ‘get out of the way’. This also creates a lot of buzz in advance which is always good for the studios. After all, it’s never too early to get excited about upcoming movies; and observers are certainly getting worked up about the ‘Super Summer of 2015’. The period from March to July will feature 4 superhero films, a creepy new film from Tim Burton, new entries in the Jurassic Park, Terminator and Star Wars franchises, a live-action re-telling of an animated classic and a risky sequel to a mega-hit after a gap of 20 years. As was the case with this summer, with so many big names ready to duke it out at the multiplexes, there will surely be some high-profile casualties.

I’ve decided to break this down by studio, just to get a sense of how each of them is managing its portfolio for that summer. Part 1 will have the Disney releases and Part 2 will have all the rest.


There is no such thing as a sure thing in the movie industry, but at the moment, the smart money is on Disney winning the summer crown in 2015, having clearly emerged as THE industry powerhouse over the past few years. Their current status can trace its roots back to their acquisition of Pixar in 2006, followed by Marvel in 2009 and Lucasfilm last year. This breadth of product has allowed them to take big risks and win big; this also means Disney can bear the impact of big budget failures like John Carter and Lone Ranger in the last 2 summers.

2015 is the year when it all comes together with each of their divisions having something big to flaunt.

Disney’s summer begins very early; in fact it begins in early spring with the release of their big budget live action remake of Cinderella, directed by Shakespeare thesp turned director Kenneth Branagh. This would be Disney’s 2nd live action remake/ update of an animation classic in two years. In 2014, the Mouse House releases Maleficent with Angelina Jolie in the title role as Sleeping Beauty’s nemesis. Both Maleficent and Cinderella are being put together as tentpole family entertainment films (market research executives would say that they tick ‘all four quadrants’ – male, female, under- and over-25); both lead and supporting roles are filled with actors who have both box-office drawing power and acting chops. For example, Cinderella features Cate Blanchett as the evil stepmother and Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother. Sparks will certainly fly!

The summer then really kicks off with the release of The Avengers: Age of Ultron, which brings back all the big Marvel superheroes, this time fighting the criminally insane, sentient robot Utron, voiced by James Spader. Joss Whedon is back in the director’s chair and I am excited to see 2 new superheroes, Magneto’s twin children Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch.

Disney started building this franchise in 2008 by creating an unexpected monster hit with Iron Man, who was essentially a Tier 2 character in the Marvel universe. Their magic formula consisted of the following ingredients – the superhero is played by a charismatic actor who can also act, the heavy action is leavened with doses of humour, the smart but low-key female love interest is played by an accomplished actress who generates lots of chemistry with the hero and finally, the fanboys are kept happy with cameos and post-credit sequences that give them glimpses into the larger Marvel universe. After Iron Man’s success, this formula was successfully replicated from 2010 to 2013 and looks set to continue for the next couple of years into 2015, which will mark the culmination of their ‘Phase 2’ movies.

The summer will also end with a Marvel-Disney release, this one being the launch of potential new franchise with Ant-Man. This character is one of the more complex superheroes in the Marvel Universe. In the original comics, Ant-Man is the alter ego of a brilliant scientist named Henry Pym, who figures out how to shrink himself and use a special helmet to communicate with ants. He is one of the founding members of the Avengers group. The same technology allows him to increase his size and become the superhero Giant-Man/ Goliath. He later suffers a nervous breakdown and takes on a new insect-themed identity – Yellowjacket – with no memory of his association with the Avengers. He is also the creator of Ultron (yes, he is clearly as disturbed as he is brilliant). Clearly, the comic book continuity is going to be thrown aside in the movie world, as Ultron will have a different origin earlier in the summer before Ant-Man is introduced to audiences. I am really curious to see how Ant-Man is brought to life on the big screen, as the movie is being directed and co-written by Edgar Wright, who is better known as the man behind bizarro-comedies like Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and this year’s The World’s End. Marvel is taking a calculated risk by working with Mr. Wright, but why not? They will need to bring in some variety of characterization and tone into their movie portfolio if they don’t want to bore audiences with a sea of sameness. The industry is expecting casting announcements for Ant-Man to be made soon.

But the real jewel in Disney’s 2015 summer crown, the film which is expected to top the box office, is J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII. Naturally, speculation has been rife about the storyline of the next installment, but it is a given that it will include the next generation of Jedi in the Skywalker family, as well as feature the return of actors Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher to reprise their roles. Although the second trilogy released from 1999-2005 made lots of moolah, it is commonly considered to be a critical disappointment for several reasons – overuse of digital backgrounds and props, poor casting choices, generally wooden acting and the lack of chemistry between Hayden Christiansen and Natalie Portman. However, there is hope for the new trilogy. Lucasfilm is now headed by Kathleen Kennedy, who for years has been the producing partner behind all Steven Spielberg’s successful films, besides working with other giants like Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood (she has been co-nominated for 8 Best Picture Oscars, including ET, The Sixth Sense and Lincoln). Mr. Abrams certainly knows how to keep the action going and how to generate lots of tension among the characters. He works with elaborate sets, so no fake-looking digital landscapes hopefully. However, I we will have to put up with lens flare.

inside outIn mid-June, we get to see an interesting new project from Pixar called Inside Out. This is the story of the 5 personified emotions (Fear, Sadness, Joy, Disgust and Anger) that live inside the head of a 11-year old girl. Pixar released this concept art last month.

There was to have been a 6th Disney blockbuster that summer, but thankfully they have pushed Pirates of the Caribbean 5 to 2016 or beyond.

The other 4 studios are releasing 7-8 big movies between them and hoping that they can survive the Disney onslaught. I will cover those in Part 2.