Metro’s guide to the best (and worst) summer movies
The Summer Movie Season starts Friday, with the release of “Iron Man 3.” September begins Oscar season, but from now until August our minds are free to turn to sun-bleached mush — and occasionally take in brainier fare. From F. Scott Fitzgerald with rap and 3-D to sad supermen to multiple apocalypses to olds with firearms to an alienating movie about chess tournaments, this season has excess for all. (Note: dates are tentative as hell.)
‘The Great Gatsby’ (May 10)
What: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age tome has already made for an underwhelming picture with an ideal cast before (in 1974, with Robert Redford, Mia Farrow and Bruce Dern). So why not do it again?
Why: Leonardo Di Caprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire are all actors who would make an ideal Gatsby, Daisy and Nick, respectively.
Why not: It was also directed by Baz Luhrmann, who treats the Fitzgerald to his “Moulin Rouge” time warp treatment, with flappers getting drunk to Jay-Z and — why not? — 3-D and lots of digital imagery. If the novel’s attributes are largely literary, might as well amp up the cinematic. (Or leave the novel alone.)
‘Peeples’ (May 10)
What: Tyler Perry lends his name — and not much else, it appears — to this family comedy, starring Kerry Washington, Craig Robinson and a gray-bearded David Alan Grier, which appears to have nothing to do with the actress and singer Nia Peeples.
Why: Washington, Robinson and Grier are all talented actors. And wow, Melvin Van Peebles — the first black filmmaker to direct a Hollywood film (1970’s “Watermelon Man”) — emerges from the sidelines of American cinema to play the grandpa.
Why not: What’s a small, actor-driven film doing in the summer landscape? Where’s the ten obligatory action sequences?
‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ (May 15)
What: Everyone’s favorite hard sci-fi franchise that’s no longer hard sci-fi and is in fact now frequently actively stupid returns, this time into darkness, apparently.
Why: The main appeal of J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot was the perfectly cast cast, most especially Karl Urban’s note-perfect pissy Bones. More time for them to flesh out their characters and interact can’t be a bad thing, and nor can Benedict Cumberbatch as the baddie.
Why not: Many mocked Abrams’ penchant for copious lens flare, but the real problem was the way his plot and, in particular, action scenes plow over logic with the recklessness of any dumb actioner. But you know, who said “Star Trek” had to be smart?
‘The Hangover Part III’ (May 24)
What: You thought “Part II” would be different from the first, but it was the same movie, only in Bangkok. But this one is actually different, for real this time, we swear (but probably not).
Why: Hey, there’s always the chance it’s not the same movie as the first. Even though it’s also set in Vegas. You never know!
Why not: Occam’s Razor says otherwise.
‘Frances Ha’ (May 17)
What: Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”) reunites with his “Greenberg” leading lady/”It” Girl Greta Gerwig for this low-budget, B&W ode to the French New Wave.
Why: Baumbach is an acerbic genius and Gerwig is refining her unique, laid-back screen presence with every film, without becoming a stock ingenue.
Why not: Baumbach needs to reunite with his “Kicking and Screaming” stars, including Chris Eigeman, Carlos Jacott and Josh Hamilton. Just because.
‘Fast & Furious 6’ (May 24)
What: The people who were kindergartners when this shape-shifting (and title-shifting) franchise began will soon graduate high school.
Why: Because “Fast Five” was surprisingly engaging, in a turn-off-your-brains-and-stare-at-the-vault-being-dragged-by-cars kind of way. Now with Jason Statham!
Why not: Seriously, can they stick with a title?
‘Before Midnight’ (May 24)
What: Richard Linklater returns for a third time to Julie Deply and Ethan Hawke’s Celine and Jesse, the wouldbe lovers who meet in “Before Sunrise,” now a couple with twins.
Why: See “What.”
Why not: Because you hate yourself and all things that are good?
‘After Earth’ (May 31)
What: M. Night Shyamalan sucks into his orbit fellow Philadelphian Will Smith and his son Jaden, who play humans returning to a post-apocalyptic earth in a film that is in no way “Oblivion.”
Why: Will Smith is a very good actor.
Why not: You know what? M. Night Shyamalan is too easy to mock. Let’s hope he’s found a premise that will actually drive his creative juices, as with “Signs” — but without the garbage ending, as with “Signs.”
‘Much Ado About Nothing’ (June 7)
What: Hot off directing the third highest grossing film ever (“The Avengers”), Joss Whedon turns to Shakespeare, the second greatest writer ever (after Stan Lee, of course), with some of his usuals (Nathan Fillion, Amy Acker) filling out the Bard’s comedy of errors.
Why: Even if everyone’s terrible, it’s still “Much Ado About Nothing.”
Why not: Some of the cast are reportedly terrible. And even with Keanu Reeves, it would be hard to top Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 version.
‘Man of Steel’ (June 14)
What: Bryan Singer’s continuation of the ‘70s/’80s “Superman” films “only” grossed $400 million, so it’s time for another reboot. James Cavill, who was awful in “Immortals,” is the new Clark Kent/S-Man.
Why: Michael Shannon as General Zod! From the trailer it looks like producer Christopher Nolan strongarmed director Zack Snyder into not being like himself.
Why not: Can someone please make more fun superhero movies, just for more variety? Comics were once a bit more sprightly than these heavy broodfests.
‘This is the End’ (June 14)
What: The Apatow boys play “themselves” at a Hollywood party taking place during the apocalypse. Not to be confused with Edgar Wright’s forthcoming “The World’s End,” which is also a drunken comedy about the apocalypse.
Why: Michael Cera and others get amusingly offed.
Why not: The Apatow clan has been running a bit on fumes lately. A self-referential, valedictory romp after a string of bombs and underperformers seems a bit desperate.
‘The Bling Ring’ (June 14)
What: Sofia Coppola returns with her version of a crime saga about girls, led by Emma Watson, who use the internet to track celebrities’ whereabouts and rob their homes. Based on a real story.
Why: Sofia Coppola has her problems, but they’re often the same as her gifts. No one makes movies like her, which is to say that no one is making films about the insularity of privilege with the actual insight into the insularity of privilege. Also, she’s becoming more and more fixated on minimalist great Chantal Akerman, which is only a good thing.
Why not: “Paris Hilton as herself.” Although this could be great, in Coppola’s hands.
‘Berberian Sound Studio’ (June 14)
What: Toby Jones plays a sound designer hired by questionable Italian producers to work on a “giallo,” one of the sleazy Italian thriller films prevalent during the ‘70s.
Why: Director Peter Strickland ably captures the “giallo” mood — which is their major selling point — as well as casts Jones, an excellent and striking-looking actor.
Why not: This isn’t for everybody. Or is that not a negative point?
‘Monsters University’ (June 21)
What: It’s that prequel to what was once upon a time the worst Pixar movie, which at the time was still a badge of honor.
Why: Pixar had such a sterling track record for so long that it’s worth noting that they’ve only done one actually terrible film (“Cars 2”), which is still absurdly impressive. This could be perfectly fine. And hey, Helen Mirren as the headmistress!
Why not: A “Monsters Inc.” prequel means more Billy Crystal.
‘World War Z’ (June 21)
What: It’s the apocalypse — again! But with zombies! Again!
Why: Brad Pitt is a very good actor.
Why not: Marc Forster made “Quantum of Solace,” the only Bond film to actually be boring. That’s impressive. In a way. Also, reshoots are always a good sign, yes?
‘White House Down’ (June 28)
What: Remember that movie that just came out where 1600 Pennsylvania Ave was invaded? This is totally different.
Why: Channing Tatum, as a secret service agent who will save the day, is a big step-up from Gerard Butler.
Why not: Roland Emmerich last made a movie about how William Shakespeare didn’t write the works of William Shakespeare.
‘I’m So Excited’ (June 28)
What: Pedro Almodovar made another movie, with Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas. Does it matter what it’s about? (It’s a comedy about wacky passengers on an endangered airplane.)
Why: Pedro Almodovar made another movie, with Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas.
Why not: Some of Almodovar’s films are less good than others?
‘Byzantium’ (June 28)
What: Neil Jordan returns to the bloodsucker world for the first time since “Interview With the Vampire.”
Why: Saorise (it’s pronounced “Ser-sha”) Ronan is in it. And Jordan is an always interesting (if inconsistent) filmmaker.
Why not: Jordan is an inconsistent (but always interesting) filmmaker.
‘The Lone Ranger’ (July 5)
What: The radio show icon who hasn’t been popular in ages finally comes to the screen again, for the first time since 1981’s The Legend of the Lone Ranger.” Let’s hope up-and-comer Armie Hamer fares better than that film’s Klinton Spilsbury.
Why: When he’s not on bloat autopilot, director Gore Verbinski is capable of inspired weirdness, as with “Rango.”
Why not: Oh, you know, casual old school racism vis-a-vis Native Americans that Johnny Depp will do his best to awkwardly overcome.
‘Pacific Rim’ (July 12)
What: It’s been awhile since there was a movie about people piloting battle-bots —in fact, since 1990’s “Robot Jox.” (The Hugh Jackman Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots movie doesn’t count.) So here’s one from Guillermo del Toro, with the kind of cast where Idris Elba is second billed.
Why: Giant robots. Idris Elba. What, do you need a road map?
Why not: Del Toro has a penchant for creature design over narrative or sense. His fans consider that a good thing, but he can favor look over all else, to a fault.
‘Grown Ups 2’ (July 12)
What: You all gave money to a film in which a bunch of lazy comics (plus Chris Rock) filmed their weary ad libbing while on a nice vacation. So here’s another one. Good job.
Why: If you go see this, Adam Sandler might feel comfortable to do something good, like a Paul Thomas Anderson film, again.
Why not: You prize self-preservation.
‘R.I.P.D.’ (July 12)
What: Ryan Reynolds plays a murdered cop who joins a police department in the after life that hunts down wrongdoers.
Why: Jeff Bridges is in it, and he has a big gun.
Why not: Director Robert Schwentke previously made the artistically underperforming “Red,” but not its sequel, which premieres the week after, to some mild amusement.
‘Fruitvale Station’ (July 12)
What: Ryan Coogler’s drama follows a young Bay Area resident (Michael B. Jordan, Wallace from “The Wire”) on an event-filled New Year’s Eve.
Why: When it was known simply as “Fruitvale,” it won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance.
Why not: As though Sundance hadn’t ever heaped trophies onto undeserving product. But everyone raves about this one, so let’s chill out.
‘Computer Chess’ (July 17)
What: Andrew Bujalski (“Funny Ha Ha,” “Mutual Appreciation”) returns with a film shot in B&W on ‘80s video set at a chess tournament.
Why: Bujalski was one of the first “mumblecore” filmmakers, and word is his new film is so strange that it all but creates its own style of film.
Why not: This might only appeal to a small number of people. Those people will apparently have a great time.
‘Red 2’ (July 19)
What: The movie about olds shooting guns is back.
Why: It’s a good premise, and the first had some nice bits in it, like olds shooting big guns. Maybe a second chance will inspire them to try harder?
Why not: Sequels to mediocre films always try harder the next time, right?
‘Only God Forgives’ (July 19)
What: ‘Drive’ conspirators Ryan Gosling and director Nicolas Winding Refn. Does it matter what it’s about? Yes, and luckily it concerns a Thai boxing ring, with the promise that its pretty boy star gets his face wrecked but good.
Why: Sorry, haters: “Drive” is awesome.
Why not: Refn is on a roll, but he has a long career in which he hasn’t always been on. We could always get a return to the justly unloved “Fear X.”
‘The Wolverine’ (July 26)
What: When we last saw him, in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” Hugh Jackman’s memory was erased. Hopefully so was yours, otherwise you might question whether to see this Japan-set sequel.
Why: The Wolverine fights samurai.
Why not: Again, because you remember how jaw-droppingly stupid “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” was. And director James Mangold (“Walk the Line”) is kind of boring with action.
‘Blue Jasmine’ (July 26)
What: Guess what? Woody Allen made a new movie! Go figure!
Why: According to the Internet Movie Database, the plot is “Plot undisclosed.” But it’s a drama and it features Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, as well as Louis C.K. and Andrew Dice Clay. The last one might be the funniest joke he’s made since “Deconstructing Harry.”
Why not: Can you ever rely on a latter career Woody Allen film? It could be terrible, it could be charming, or it could thoroughly forgettable. But we’ll always have “Untitled Woody Allen Project” next year.
‘300: Rise of an Empire’ (August 2)
What: Zack Snyder’s 2007 gym bunny epic was a surprise monster hit, meaning all execs had to do was wait for Frank Miller to not complete his prequel “Xerxes” before rushing into production anyway. The action turns to the Battle of Artemisium, which was probably as thrilling as the Battle of Thermopylae.
Why: Eva Green stars.
Why not: Could it ever be as OTT and racist and both homophobic and homoerotic as the Zack Snyder original?
‘2 Guns’ (August 2)
What: Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur (“101 Reykviak”) comes to America for this thriller about two men (Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg) set up by the CIA in a mob sting.
Why: Kormakur is a stylist, and both actors are capable of eccentric weirdness, so this might be unique rather than rote.
Why not: It might be rote.
‘The Spectacular Now’ (August)
What: Miles Teller plays a permanently soused high school senior who hooks up with a nice sci-fi chick (Shailene Woodley).
Why: Filmmaker James Ponsoldt wowed some with his alkie dramedy “Smashed,” and did the same with this slightly different look at excessive drinking. Woodley, fantastic in “The Descendants,” reportedly extends her craft even farther
Why not: “Smashed” broke as many indie cliches as it succumbed to.
‘Elysium’ (August 9)
What: “District 9” maker Neill Bloomkamp returns with this tale of a future earth in which the rich have vacated and left the rest to rot on an overpopulated cesspool. Matt Damon and Jodie Foster star.
Why: Bloomkamp has a knack for melding politics with high concept popcorn fare.
What: But “District 9” wasn’t always as sharp as it (or its fans) thought it was. And what is this premise but a slight reworking of the setup for “Blade Runner?”
‘Planes’ (August 9)
What: “Cars” is the most popular Pixar film with kids, so it was only a matter of time before their parent company Disney did that but with planes.
Why: Val Kilmer takes a break from direct-to-video fare that in no way deserves him to headline this.
Why not: This is a copycat of Pixar’s worst, most cynically calculated films.
‘Kick-Ass 2’ (August 16)
What: The meta-superhero action film gets a sequel, even though it underperformed. This time Jim Carrey gets into the mix as baddie “Colonel Stars and Stripes.”
Why: The original was enjoyably OTT, and featured an awesomely weird Nicolas Cage.
Why not: Nicolas Cage died in the original. Also gone is director Matthew Vaughn. And for a movie partly about a little girl murderess, the trailer is shockingly meh.
‘Prince Avalanche’ (August 16)
What: Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch play construction workers spending a summer toiling on a remote Texas highway destroyed by wildfire. And drinking.
Why: Director David Gordon Green returns — sort of — to the quieter, moodier indies of “George Washington,” after a stint making stoner comedies (“Pineapple Express”). And Hirsch is incredible in this.
Why not: It’s a modest indie easy to overrate — and to underrate.
‘The World’s End’ (August 23)
What: The last (we think) of the season’s apocalypse movies is, luckily, the latest from Edgar Wright, reteaming with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.
Why: Wright, Pegg and Frost haven’t been together since “Hot Fuzz” in 2007. That’s reason enough.
Why not: Pegg and Frost were last seen in “Paul,” which was criminally underwhelming and choked to death on “Star Wars” jokes. “Star Wars” jokes aren’t funny anymore.
‘The Grandmaster’ (August 23)
What: Martial arts pioneer and legend Ip Man has been the subject of no less than three biopics recently. So here’s another one.
Why: This other one happens to be Wong Kar-wai’s first film in five years. That he reunites with Tony Leung (as Ip Man) and Zhang Ziyi only adds to the wonder.
Why not: Wong’s last film was “My Blueberry Nights,” whose beauty could only distract from the stupidity for so long. Advance word hasn’t been, shall we say, great.