Previewing the ‘Super Summer of 2015’: Part 2


So, what do the other studios have lined up that can compete the Disney’s range of product? Not that much variety, I’m afraid. If there’s one thing we learned from the similarly over-crowded summer of 2013, it’s that audiences can only take so much of a ‘good thing’; in this case the ‘good thing’ is special effects and explosions and big bombastic music scores. Disney has more variety in 2015, with one fairy tale, one kids’ animated feature, 2 superhero films and one space opera. Between Fox, Paramount, Universal and Warner Bros., they have 2 superhero films, one reboot of a scifi classic, a fourth sequel to a scifi/ monster classic, a long-delayed sequel to a scifi/ alien invasion classic, an new animated  feature about a ghost and a big-screen adaptation of a very successful, but creepy children’s story. Somehow, I get the feeling that audiences will be fed up with all that rehashed scifi by the end of the summer.

Fox

20th Century Fox gets a jump-start on the summer by releasing a reboot of its Marvel property The Fantastic Four in early March. Fox’s 2 FF movies released in 2005 and 2007 did middling business, but had terrible reviews. It did introduce movie goers to a certain Chris Evans who played the Human Torch and then went on to much greater fame with what will now be a long-term role as Captain America in the Disney movies. As per the complicated rights deals between Marvel and studios which were in place before its sale to Disney, these studios have to keep making movies at fixed intervals otherwise the rights revert to Marvel (which means Disney). So, Fox still holds the rights to the X-Men franchise which is ticking along very well, thank you…and will now attempt to give this beloved and long-lived Marvel superhero group another lease of life on the big screen. I am really looking forward to this one because the film is being directed by an exciting young talent named Josh Trank, who turned heads by writing and directing a low budget superhero film called Chronicle in early 2012. This ‘found footage’ film featured 3 college students who gain superpowers after they investigate a mysterious phenomenon in the woods. What follows is a very realistic depiction of how they attempt to deal with these powers…certainly the very antithesis of the ‘responsible teenage superheroes’ in Marvel’s universe like Spider-Man and Nova. Trank is expected to bring some degree of gravity to the FF reboot and he will be using his Chronicles experience to create some emotional tension for the characters after they return from their fateful outer space mission.

On the 3rd of July, Roland Emmerich will attempt to repeat his success from 19 years earlier when he owned the box office with the alien invasion flick Independence Day. That film catapulted Will Smith to super-stardom and earned about USD 800 million globally, an unbelievable number in those days. The film featured the now-iconic sequences of the Empire State Building and the White House being destroyed and also had a raft of interesting characters played by the likes of Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Randy Quaid, Harry Connick Jr. and Bill Pullman. Mr. Emmerich has failed to recreate that level of success since then. His films Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 all seem to feature a rehash of the same city-destroying scenes. He has been talking about a sequel to ID4 off and on for some years and this summer Fox finally announced it officially. No word yet on whether Will Smith will return, but no doubt the studio execs and agents are hard at work; with the failure of Smith’s After Earth this summer, he may be more open to a guaranteed big pay-day. The film will definitely generate a big opening due to its heritage and the release date, but long term box office receipts will depend on thrills and big visuals…and as I said, Mr. Emmerich hasn’t been particularly original or creative on that front for several years.

Miss Peregrine's HomeAt the tail end of the summer on 31st July, Fox will release the movie adaptation of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, the debut novel by Riggs Ransom which spent 63 weeks on the NYT Best Sellers list for Children’s Chapter books in 2012. I intend to start reading this book soon; it is characterized by the creative use of spooky photographs to bring the narrative alive (the cover photo should give you some idea). News reports indicate that Tim Burton has signed on to direct the film. I feel that the appeal of the film may be limited, but given the setting of a lonely island and an abandoned orphanage, it shouldn’t be too expensive to produce and should have no problem making a profit.

In early June, Fox will release the animated film B.O.O.: Bureau of Otherworldly Operations. This is certainly an interesting premise, about a ghost who has to return to haunting school to upgrade his skills. While Fox also has The Penguins of Madagascar slated in late March, I haven’t listed that as a player in the 2015 summer wars, simply because these characters have plenty of exposure in the Madagascar movies and on their own TV show. Somehow i don’t think there will be that many paying customers to see the pesky avians in theatres.

It’s tough to say which of the 4 films will be the winner for Fox; frankly I have my doubts if the ID4 sequel will actually see the light of day, and Peregrine seems too niche to become a big hit. So, I guess it all rests on the shoulders of 29-year-old Josh Trank to save the summer for Fox with The Fantastic Four.

Paramount

The Terminator franchise has changed ownership over the years and consequently the movies have been released by different studios as well. Somehow, all the companies that have owned rights to Terminator have declared bankruptcy one by one – Hemdale Film Corporation, Carolco Pictures and The Halcyon Company! The rights are now owned by the Ellison siblings, Megan and David through their respective production companies Annapurna and Skydance. Larry’s kids (yes, that Ellison) have been making waves for the past couple of years, co-producing a slate of movies including Zero Dark Thirty, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Star Trek into Darkness and World War Z. Megan Ellison tends to go for the indie award-contenders while David backs the big tentpoles. With Paramount now confirmed to distribute the film (titled Terminator) and Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones and Thor: The Dark World) set to direct, they just have to sort out the small matter of having a working screenplay and casting the main parts. It is expected that 66-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger will somehow be incorporated into the storyline!

I am pretty sure that Paramount will announce some other big projects for the summer of 2015, perhaps a sequel to World War Z or G.I. Joe or the next Tintin film to be directed by Peter Jackson.

Universal

Univeral’s Jurassic Park franchise has seen declining grosses since the first film broke box office records and redefined CGI special effects in the summer of 1993. The movies have had writers of the caliber of David Koepp and Alexander Payne writing the screenplays but the thrill of seeing live dinosaurs has worn off due to an overabundance of TV shows like Walking with Dinosaurs (which is getting its own movie this Christmas) and cheap movie knock-offs.

It will be a gap of 14 years from the last film by the time Jurassic World is released in June 2015 and while the brand name is very well known due to the popularity of the original film and numerous theme park rides, the filmmakers will have to put together a really interesting screenplay and characters to squeeze any more dough out of this series. New director Colin Trevorrow has only directed one other movie, the quirky comedy Safety Not Guaranteed in 2012. He is updating an earlier draft of the screenplay, so this one is going to be a real unknown until more news filters through next year.

Warner Bros.

Warner Brothers re-launched the Superman franchise this year with Man of Steel…yet another attempt to replicate the phenomenal success of Marvel’s comic book properties. Unfortunately, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy which ran from 2005-12 is firmly set in a different universe/ continuity, so they could not hook it up with Zack Synder’s film. Therefore, the sequel to Man of Steel will now feature a new Batman, which WB hopes will lead to the expansion of the DC Universe and a Justice League movie sometime soon. I am sure that with the recent announcement of a new film franchise set in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter universe, WB execs are breathing a bit easier and don’t need to stress so much about when Flash and Wonder Woman will hit the big screen.

Superman vs. BatmanGetting back to Snyder’s Man of Steel sequel, it created a firestorm of controversy with the recent announcement of Ben Affleck in the role of Bruce Wayne/ Batman. While Mr. Affleck has gained widespread respect as a director recently (Gone Baby Gone, The Town and his Oscar-winner Argo), comic book fanboys have still not forgiven him for his disastrous turn as Marvel superhero Daredevil in 2003. No doubt, he has the chin for playing Batman, and in movies where he directs himself (especially in Argo) he has shown that he can throw off his ‘aw shucks’ persona and play the grim, determined protagonist very convincingly. So I’m willing to give him a shot (although frankly I too would have preferred someone else in the role). Certainly in a Superman vs. Batman film, we can expect to be relieved from the kind of city-wide destruction which became so difficult for audiences to stomach in Man of Steel. Of great interest will be the choice of villain for the movie; I am desperately hoping it will not be Lex Luthor, as I have disliked both cinematic iterations played by Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey. Since there is no continuity with Chris Nolan’s films, they could bring back the Joker, but I suspect that the producers will not want to compete with Heath Ledger’s iconic performance.

Whichever the villain, it is likely that Superman vs. Batman is the only film that can give Disney a run for its money as the top grossing film of the ‘Super Summer of 2015’.

Summer movie rankings and scorecard


With the summer half done, I thought it was a good time to take stock of the movies I’ve seen so far.

My #1 movie of the summer is World War Z (8.5/10): (SPOILERS AHEAD)

When I first heard that the film adaptation of Max Brooks’ celebrated novel was going to be substantially different from the book, I had my misgivings. What was the point of adapting a book, if you were going to change the story and potentially leave out everything that made it so good? The novel is structured as a series of interviews with the survivors of a 10-year long global war against zombies, which eventually the human race won. The interviews, which take place ten years after the end of the war, act as a commentary on the political, economic and social state of different countries across the world. The novel touches upon everything from black market organ trade to apartheid to fudging of test results by pharmaceutical companies. Then came the first trailer and I was appalled that the film makers had re-defined the inherent properties of zombies, making them fast-moving and seemingly capable of coordinated attacks. But after watching the trailer a few times, I had to admit, this version of zombies did behave like humans would if they had been infected by a mutated strain of rabies, which is what the novel indicates as the source of the plague. Anyway, I watched the movie earlier this week and if one puts aside all the comparisons with the book and the news about the troubled film shoot, it turned out to be a smart, incredibly plausible globe-spanning thriller giving the viewer a real sense of having to race against time before humanity is wiped out.

A lot of the credit must go to Brad Pitt, who like Ben Affleck in Argo, plays a capable, intelligent professional who calmly goes about his job and deals with crises without any sort of melodrama. Normally this genre of film is made by directors like Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich and is accompanied by all sorts of inane dialogue. In spite of the fact that the script had to be re-written and polished by multiple writers, the realistic behavior of the lead characters makes this feel like something that could happen to any of us.

The movie has 4 major set pieces, one in a Philadelphia traffic jam (scary and so real), one at a military base in South Korea, one in Jerusalem (tragic) and the last one in a medical facility in Wales. The film makers re-wrote and re-shot the entire third act of the film, switching from an epic battle in Russia to that tense cat-and-mouse game in Wales. I think it was a brave choice, because for a global disaster epic like this, the playbook says it must end in some sort of climactic battle. Instead, the change of pace really works without compromising suspense or the audience’s emotional engagement. I contrast this with the last act of Man of Steel, which surely takes the prize for the worst case of mind-numbing cinematic violence seen so far this summer.

There has been some online criticism of how overly calm some of the people are in the face of all this death and destruction, but I feel this is the reaction of critics who have become too used to the cinematic version of grief…very public and visual, never private. In fact, I feel that the small touches pack the biggest emotional impact – Brad Pitt’s character Gerry Lane reacts with a mix of shame and exhaustion after making an insensitive remark about another survivor’s family, Lane’s wife’s face silently crumples as she struggles to contact him via satellite phone, a team of Black Ops commandos stoically goes out to face almost certain death.

I’m hoping that WWZ makes enough money at the box office that they will complete the planned trilogy of films, perhaps even retaining some of the events from the book like the South African ‘solution’ and the Battle of Yonkers. But even if not, it stands on its own as one of the best disaster films made; at the same level as my other favorites like Independence Day, Deep Impact and War of the Worlds (all of which were much more American than global, in terms of storytelling scope).

Listed below are the remaining summer films I’ve seen in order of preference. Two big gaps in the resume are The Great Gatsby and Fast and Furious 6, all of which I hope to watch before the summer’s out:-

#2: Star Trek Into Darkness (8/10)

#3: Despicable Me 2  (7.5/10)- I just watched the preview this morning. It was as entertaining as the trailer promised it would be. Gru has to be sweetest dad in movie history (at least, in animation movie history) and the Minions must surely be one of the funniest supporting characters ever, ranking alongside Timon & Pumba as well as the Penguins and King Julien from the Madagascar films . The new character Lucy Wilde played by Kristen Wiig (who I’m not a fan of in her live action movies, by the way) is an excellent addition to the cast. To some extent, one could complain that the movie is just a series of skits/ comedy set pieces strung together, but when all those sequences are so funny, who’s to complain. I think I was laughing more than some of the kids in the hall today. And of course, my favorite part is when the head of the Anti-Villain League introduces himself “I am the league’s director Silas Ramsbottom”, followed by sniggers from two of the Minions. Steve Carrel’s voice acting of course, is beyond awesome.

#4: Iron Man 3: (7/10)

#5: Epic: (7/10): Perhaps the most beautifully animated film of 2013 so far. Great eco-friendly concept, although the bad guys were very stereotyped. Lovely theme song “Rise Up” by Beyonce will definitely go into my iPod.

#6: Oblivion: (7/10)

#7: Man of Steel: (7/10)

It seems a bit unfair to have Man of Steel all the way at the bottom of the list, but the scores for the last 4 films are all level at 7/10 and if that last act had been handled better, then quite possibly MoS could have ranked as high as #2. For me, the summer season ends with the release of Elysium in early August. But the 3 biggies to watch out for before that are The Lone Ranger, Pacific Rim and The Wolverine…all worth spending the extra coin to see on IMAX 3D! Roland Emmerich’s White House Down starring Channing Tatum (the biggest box office draw of 2012, but yawn for me) is the possible joker in the pack.

Man of Steel flies high!


In the first act of Man of Steel, the actors wear the elaborate costumes of a Greek tragedy and enact a plot from a Shakespearean one. There is a military uprising, talk of treason, a blasphemous act and a Brutal slaying. (yes, there is a reason the ‘B’ is in caps). The actors delivering the stoic lines are certainly well chosen for it – Russell Crowe appears very stately as Jor-El and Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer (who had quite a good role in the 2008 thriller Vantage Point) who plays his wife Lara lives through the loss of child, husband and world with an impressive degree of forbearance. The actors who play the misguided Krypton council have been cast for their strong facial bone structure. And of course, there is the star of the show – Michael Shannon, playing General Zod, manages to impress as a villain in spite of his strong American accent (all the best villains usually have British or European accents, don’t they?). First of all, kudos to screenwriter David Goyer and producer Chris Nolan for having the smarts to take one of the most iconic villainous roles in the DC movie universe and insert it into the retelling of the origin story (I could not have put up with another helping of a cinematic Lex Luthor, after Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey). Second, kudos to whoever picked Oscar-nominated character actor Michael Shannon to play Zod; I had never imagined that anyone could top Terrence Stamp’s performance in Superman II (1980). But Shannon is the real deal. The man has played some disturbing characters in the past 4 years including his breakout performance in Revolutionary Road in 2008. Michael Shannon brings a level of physicality and menace to the character of Zod that is truly frightening, all the more so because unlike Gen. Zod from Superman II who was just a megalomaniac, this Zod actually believes he is the true Son of Krypton and Superman is the traitor to the cause.

And ultimately, this movie is about each man (oh that’s right, they’re aliens) having to decide where his moral center lies.

But before we get to that point, there’s a whole lot of story to cover.

We get to see a beautifully visualized Krypton (with an interesting insectoid design sensibility), falling to its inevitable apocalypse while the spacecraft carrying Kal-El wormholes its way towards Earth. We then cut to the present day where a grown-up Clark Kent playing a strong/ silent worker on a fishing trawler finds himself part of a spectacular set-piece where he puts some of his powers into play.

Director Zack Snyder plays liberally with flashbacks and that’s where we are introduced to Diane Lane and Kevin Costner as Martha and Jonathan Kent respectively. I am a fan of both actors and very much enjoyed their grounded interpretation of these important roles. Costner has relatively little to play with, but there is a very memorable and poignant moment at the end of the tornado scene that will stay flash-frozen in my memory. Some of Clark Kent’s most ‘human’ moments came – not surprisingly – with his mother Martha Kent and these moments interspersed across the runtime of the film give it some much-needed breathing space. I think Russell Crowe, inclusive of his post-corporeal existence, eventually gets more screen time than Kevin Costner, but I don’t think there was really much chemistry in those scenes with his son (and why should there be, you may ask, when the son is talking to an image, projected by an Artificial Intelligence filtered through the consciousness of the father he never knew!).

Amy Adams is a pleasant surprise as Lois Lane. Margot Kidder was absolutely irritating in the Christopher Reeve films and Kate Bosworth didn’t even register in Superman Returns (2006). I was worried that Amy Adams would go the Margot Kidder way, as she eminently is capable of playing irritating and neurotic characters. But she was surprisingly ‘normal’ and sensible in this movie and I’m not sure if the credit for that goes to director Snyder or screenwriter David Goyer (neither of whom I would credit that degree of sensitivity) or to Amy Adams herself.

And so of course, we get to the 2nd half of the movie which features some seriously impressive action on a scale that we have perhaps never seen in a superhero movie – and by that, I include even Marvel’s The Avengers from last year. At some point, I found myself wondering how Superman could really claim to be protecting the Earth when he was partly responsible for all that destruction. Because of the almost total absence of humor, this will never be as beloved a superhero film as the Iron Man films or The Avengers. But, it is certainly an entertaining and suitably contemporary reincarnation of one of the most often-told stories in comic book lore. It won’t take long before Warner Bros. greenlights the sequel and while Henry Cavill will never be the equal of Christopher Reeve in this role, I think he will grow into it quite well if given the chance over the course of a sequel or three.

New Superman Logo for “Man of Steel” has just been released


Warner Bros. has just released the official new Superman logo for the upcoming Superman reboot Man of Steel, starring Henry Cavill (yes, a British actor fighting for “Truth, Justice and the American Way”) and releasing on June 14th, 2013.

Looks very organic.

On one hand, I don’t like all this tinkering around with established icons.

On the other hand, I find it very exciting and of course, it generates lots of buzz and interest among the fanboys.

The movie is directed by Zack Snyder, who ranks up there with Tarsem Singh as the most visually inventive Hollywood director today. You may not like his storytelling style, but you can’t ignore the eye-popping visuals of movies like 300, Watchmen and Sucker Punch.

Check out the full press release and the logo visual here on the Darkhorizons website.