The rules for summer blockbusters are pretty simple. These films must be big in scope and be expected to do well at the box office. That normally means lots of space, CGI, superheroes, name celebrities and millions of dollars. The summer of 2014 appears to be about the same as most years. There will be plenty of films that hit the big screen in a huge way. There will be surprises and flops.
And, like many recent years, there will also be remakes and sequels, lots of them. So, when compiling a list of blockbuster releases this summer, it seemed like a good idea to weed those out and start only with films that haven't been made before or aren't part of some series. So, out go both Godzilla and Spiderman 2 even if I think I'll probably see both. Also, wave goodbye to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which makes me feel uneasy at best, dirty at worst.
What remain are, surprisingly, some pretty interesting movies.
Edge of Tomorrow
Big Star: Tom Cruise
Actor to Watch: Bill Paxton
Synopsis in 10 Words or Less: Groundhog Day with guns and no sense of humor.
Chance of Success: 4 in 10
Cruise plays a soldier trapped in a time loop, being forced to repeat the same day over and over, a day that culminates in his death and some seriously nasty war. Emily Blunt is there to train him how to escape, we assume both from the loop and from dying. The premise is reminiscent of a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode called "Cause and Effect," but probably scarier and full of more Cruise-isms. Despite the appeal of the film's star and the director of the Bourne Identity films, this would likely be a sleeper hit if it succeeded. Still, never count out the power of the Cruise.
Big Star: Mila Kunis
Actor to Watch: Sean Bean
Synopsis in 10 Words or Less: The Wachowskis return to sci-fi.
Chance of Success: 7 in 10
Years after the turkey of a finale to the Matrix trilogy, the Wachowski
brothers siblings return to sci-fi with what sounds like an extremely convoluted story about a young maid (Kunis because girls that look like that always clean toilets for a living) turned would-be royal and targeted for assassination by some threatened monarchs. Bean always seems to play an interesting character, but I'm dubious of the choice of Channing Tatum as soldier/savior. Still, the fact the Wachowskis are involved leads me to believe that, at the very least, this will be a movie full of great CGI, killer fight scenes...and thinly veiled references to S&M.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Big Star: Chris Pratt
Actor to Watch: Benicio Del Toro
Synopsis in 10 Words or Less: Marvel meets Judd Apatow in space.
Chance of Success: 8 in 10
Comic book nerds should drool over this latest Marvel adaptation. More of an ensemble cast, Zoe Saldana (sexy green alien -- where is Capt. Kirk?) and Pratt are in the lead as cosmic felons teamed up to fight the evils of the galaxy. Pratt is best known for his role on Parks and Recreation and a variety of other comedic roles, making him an interesting choice for Star-Lord; think Han Solo played by Vince Vaughn. With John C. Reilly as a criminal wrangler and Bradley Cooper voicing a badass raccoon, this could be Marvel's Men in Black or, if they aren't so lucky, Men in Black 2.
Big Star: Angelina Jolie
Actor to Watch: Sharlto Copley
Synopsis in 10 Words or Less: Bizarro Snow White.
Chance of Success: 7 in 10
Written by the team behind some of Disney's biggest animated hits and helmed by a first-time director with a long, impressive list of visual effects credits (and awards), Disney has managed to turn the story of Sleeping Beauty upside down with this rendering of the classic fairy tale told from the perspective of the Evil Queen. With the popularity of the TV show Once Upon a Time and more fairy tales on the big screen lately like Snow White and the Huntsman, it makes sense for Disney to take a live-action crack at a classic, and who better to play the complicated, perhaps sympathetic queen than Jolie?
Big Star: Chris Evans
Actor to Watch: Ed Harris
Synopsis in 10 Words or Less: Ayn Rand on a train.
Chance of Success: 3 in 10
The haves and the have nots have never been so clearly delineated as in Snowpiercer a film set in the dystopian future (aren't they all?) where the entire population of the planet rides on a constantly-moving train that circles the globe every year, the haves living in comfort up front while the nots starve in the back under the thumb of jackbooted thugs. I'm not sure the movie-going world is ready for Chris Evans to go from blonde-haired, blue-eyed American hero to scruffy slave uprising leader (Captain America turned into John Connor), but director Joon-ho Bong isn't exactly known for sunny, feel-good joints, so away we go. Hard to imagine this being more than a cult hit, but it has a diverse cast (Tilda Swinton and John Hurt?) and probably the most unique concept of the season.
Big Star: Scarlett Johansson
Actor to Watch: Analeigh Tipton
Synopsis in 10 Words or Less: Hot chick brain power vengeance assassin. (Side note: that's a way better title.)
Chance of Success: 6 in 10
If you plan on transporting a drug that magically turns people into genius superheroes, it might be better not to sew it into the abdomen of someone with only a thin plastic bag to protect it. Johansson proved she can play a super assassin as Black Widow, so an action hero turn shouldn't be a stretch. Director Luc Besson is known for films that are long on action and style, but short on plot or dialogue (Léon: The Professional, La Femme Nikita and the cult favorite The Fifth Element). Lucy looks like a fun thrill ride, but could it be more than a sci-fi Transporter with a hot, sweaty tank-topped Johansson in Jason Startham's role? Unlikely.
Big Star: Meryl Streep
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Actor to Watch: Alexander Skarsgard
Synopsis in 10 Words or Less: Ayn Rand on Vulcan.
Chance of Success: 5 in 10
The Hunger Games films have sparked a whole mess of similarly-themed spin offs where people are enslaved by those in power -- see Divergent and Snowpiercer, mentioned above. Maybe it's the influence of Ayn Rand. Maybe it's Occupy Hollywood. Then again, it's more likely big time film companies see the opportunity to cash in on America's working class anger with the one percent. How ironic. In this take, society has been stripped of emotion to keep the peace and Streep rules with an iron fist. If you were into Rush (yes, the band, you nerd), consider this Hollywood's version of 2112 (which was just Rand's Anthem in concept album format). But with so many movies treading the same well-worn ground lately, I'd be surprised if The Giver will turn out to be much more than white noise, Streep or not, especially with a rookie writer handling the screenplay and a director who hasn't had success since Patriot Games.