The Movies of Summer 2016

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In the 3 years that I have been writing this blog, I have yet to see a summer movie season that has felt exactly the same overall from year to year.  Some years we see ambitious roll outs from the major studios, and then other years, we see a significant roll back as the production companies decide to hold off on big gambles.  And in recent years, it has become more and more common to see blockbuster movies outside of the summer season.  2016 is no exception.  As I write this, the year has already had 3 different films with opening weekends over the $100 million mark (Deadpool, Batman v. Superman, and The Jungle Book) and Summer hasn’t even begun yet.  Couple this with 3 movies already having grossed over $300 million domestic and 2016 is beginning to look like a record breaking year.  This hot streak looks to continue into the weeks ahead, as Marvel gears up their annual summer entry, along with ambitious releases from their competitors (DC/Warner and 20th Century Fox).  Sequels and remakes of course will dominate the field again, but I’m also intrigued to see how some of this summer’s independent fare will perform.  After all, last summer also gave us movies like Ex Machina which while not a huge moneymaker, it still stood out long enough among the big boys to be awarded by year’s end.  That’s usually what makes the Summer season so compelling in the end; not the big tentpoles, but the little surprises, even when they come in huge packages like Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) or Pacific Rim (2013).

As I’ve done before every Summer Movie season, I will be sharing with you my choices for the must see attractions of the coming months, as well as the movies that have me worried and the ones that I know will stink.  While I believe my picks are sound as I write this, keep in mind, I’ve never been all that good at handicapping these things.  In years past, I predicted that Tomorrowland (2015) was going to be a great movie and that Edge of Tomorrow (2014) was going to be a terrible one.  Of course, neither prediction panned out like I thought it would.  At the same time, some of these are safe bets, and others could end up being complete surprises.  I’ll certainly be interested in seeing how this season progresses.  Can Marvel continue it’s hot streak with Captain America: Civil War? Can DC revive it’s image with Suicide Squad?  What could end up being this year’s unexpected hit, or which one will be the most notorious flop?  Time to look over the Summer of 2016 schedule and see what’s ahead.

MUST SEES:

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (MAY 6)

Let’s begin right where this Summer season launches with the next big Marvel movie release.  The Disney owned studio has dominated this weekend in recent years, with Avengers 1 and 2 opening to record-breaking numbers as well as Iron Man 3 (2013).  This year, Cap gets the prime spot, though of course he’s not alone in this third film in his standalone series.  The impressive cast includes pretty much every Avenger character we’ve seen to date, minus Thor and The Hulk, who will get their own separate movie next year.  Not only that, but this film will also mark the debut of Black Panther into the Marvel stable (played by Chadwick Boseman) as well as the triumphant re-introduction of Spider-Man into the Marvel Universe (here played by newcomer Tom Holland).  With a cast like this, you could just as well call this Avengers 2.5.  But, Avengers moniker or no , this still looks like an amazing film just based off of the trailers alone.  Really, I don’t blame Marvel for wanting to use their entire cast to the maximum even outside of the marquee Avengers franchise. The action scenes look top notch and the cast feels as comfortable in their roles as ever, especially Chris Evans as Captain America and Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man.  Certainly, in the wake of the mess that was Batman v. Superman, this will be Marvel’s example of how to do the formula right.  You could learn something from this Zack Snyder; pay close attention.  Hopefully, this won’t be a sign of overkill for the Marvel Studios and that their winning streak will continue as they push forward into their Phase 3 plan.

SUICIDE SQUAD (AUGUST 5)

Speaking of DC Comics, they have their own film for this Summer season.  After the disappointing results of Batman v. SupermanSuicide Squad has an opportunity to turn things around in this cinematic universe and they can do that with a movie that hopefully has a lot more fun with it’s premise, instead of feeling like a cynical mandate.  And I honestly feel like this movie has set the right tone needed for DC.  Under the expert hand of director David Ayer (End of WatchFurySuicide Squad feels looser and more geared towards entertainment than other DC films.  The question is whether it can stand well on it’s own, or is merely just trying too hard to copy the vibe off of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.  Honestly, if they are trying to be the DC version of Guardians, I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing.  One thing that gets me excited about this film is it’s cast of characters.  If there’s one thing that DC does have over Marvel, it is their stronger “Rogues Gallery,” and here’s a movie that focuses entirely on just them.  Will Smith appears to be a good choice for Batman villain Deadshot, and it’s certainly been a while since I’ve been excited for any Smith film.  Plus, we are finally seeing the big screen debut of Harley Quinn (played by Margot Robbie), a comic book favorite that’s long been overlooked.  Jared Leto’s new take on the Joker also looks intriguing, and I’m happy that he’s doing his own thing with the character and not just rehashing Heath Ledger’s iconic version.  Overall, my hope is that this will become the tone-setter for DC going forward.  If DC wants to get the rest of us excited for their bold plan for a cinematic universe, it better be all of that.

FINDING DORY (JUNE 17)

Before Marvel had it’s stellar run, it was Pixar Animation Studios that had the best track record in Hollywood.  They’ve experienced a few pot holes as of late, both critically (Brave) and financially (The Good Dinosaur).  But, they are also riding a wave of goodwill from their beloved Inside Out, which was a dominant force in last year’s box office.  This year, they are releasing this sequel to their 2003 blockbuster hit, Finding Nemo.  It’s been quite a gap in time for this sequel to be released 13 years later, but Pixar has made it work before.  There was an eleven year gap between Toy Story 2 (1999) and 3 (2010), and a twelve year gap between Monsters Inc. (2001) and Monsters University (2013).  One of the bonuses for this sequel however is that it’s being directed by Nemo’s original creator, Andrew Stanton.  Unlike the others, which had the reigns handed over to newer teams, Stanton is bringing back his own vision for where the story will go; one that hopefully expands on the world instead of rehashing it.  After his disappointing foray into live action with John Carter (2012) this will be a homecoming for the director and the trailer clearly shows that the trademark Pixar heart and humor is still intact.  Ellen DeGeneres is of course returning as Dory (honestly, it wouldn’t be the same without her) as well as Albert Brooks as Marlin.  New cast members voiced by Ed O’Neil, Ty Burrell and Kaitlin Olsen also look to be welcome additions.  It may have been a long time for Pixar to make a return to the sea to rediscover these characters, but hopefully the wait will have been worth it.

STAR TREK BEYOND (JULY 22)

This new entry in the rebooted Star Trek franchise should be an interesting one.  After two successful films since it relaunched, this series is now faced with having to redefine itself under new direction.  Director J.J. Abrams helped to bring the Star Trek brand up to date, but he’s been absent for the last few years, bringing that same cinematic magic to the other iconic Sci-Fi franchise, Star Wars.  In his place, Paramount Pictures tapped Fast and the Furious helmer Justin Lin to take over, which is no small order.  Abrams left big shoes to fill, and people worried that a filmmaker of Lin’s ilk might push for too much action in the series and not enough of the excellent character development that the Abram’s films were lauded for.  The stunt heavy trailer didn’t alleviate much doubt among some fans, and the Beastie Boys theme only solidified some of the worries that this movies was heading in a very non-Trek direction.  I for one feel that there’s still a lot to look forward to with this movie.  For one thing, the cast is still intact and true to character.  As long as the movie still keeps the character dynamics that have long been a part of the franchise the same, then I don’t think a little extra action would hurt the series at all.  Plus, the script for this entry is being co-penned by Simon Pegg, who’s also returning to the role of Scotty, and given his admiration for the series as a whole, I think this new direction for the series might turn out better than expected.  There may be a new Captain at the helm, but the Enterprise is still boldly heading into that final frontier the way it should be, and hopefully it will continue to do so.

X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (MAY 27)

Speaking of a franchise that has had to constantly reinvent itself, the X-Men franchise gives us their eighth entry this summer.  You would think that a long running series like this would have lost steam by this point, but X-Men is riding strong goodwill right now thanks to the success of their last film, Days of Future Past, which was not only the most critically praised entry in the series, but also the most profitable.  One thing that has helped this franchise out is the return of Bryan Singer to the director’s chair.  Having started the franchise way back with the first film in 2000, Singer made his return with Days of Future Past and has solidified his status as the best fit for the direction of this franchise.  His fourth X-Men film takes on one of the most beloved story-lines from the comic book series, and that’s the arrival of the titular heroes’ greatest threat; the god-like uber mutant known as Apocalypse.  Some fans have complained that the visual representation of the character is too much of a departure from his comic image, but I feel that the look of the character is less important than how he’s used in the final film.  Singer has done well in this franchise before, so I trust his judgment with the changes made to the costumes, as well as to the overall story.  I love the fact that he cast a quality actor like Oscar Isaac to the iconic role (having had a great 2015 appearing in both Ex Machina and Star Wars).  All of the other actors are returning as well, and hopefully their story-lines continue to bear fruit for this long running series.  It certainly appears to have the earth-shattering epic scope attached that’s befitting of the term apocalyptic.

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

THE BFG (JULY 1)

Now, here we have something that on paper should sound amazing. Steven Spielberg, arguably the greatest filmmaker of his generation, taking on an adaptation of a Roald Dahl classic.  And to be honest, I’m actually very excited to see this movie regardless, because I feel like this is a movie adaptation long overdue.  The only thing is, I have a couple reservations that keeps me from being 100% enthusiastic about this.  For one thing, though Spielberg has been responsible for some of the greatest movies ever centered around children and child-like wonder, it’s been well over 25 years since he last ventured into this kind of story-telling.  And his last attempt at it was Hook (1991) which felt a little muddled and tonally confused in comparison to something like E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982).  Also, the CGI heavy visual presentation makes me worry that the film may not feel authentic in the way it should.  The BFG demands a subdued and magical tone to it’s story, and my worry is that too much CG eye candy might spoil the experience.  But, on the plus side, Spielberg is working from a script by the late Melissa Mathison, who also wrote E.T.  This will be their final collaboration so hopefully it will be a dignified swan song for the legendary screenwriter.  And despite my misgivings of CGI, I will admit the animation of the titular giant does look good (with a voice by recent Oscar winner Mark Rylance).  Hopefully after 20 years telling grown up stories, Spielberg can return to seeing the world through the eyes of a child again, and that it will be just as magical as before.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS (JUNE 3)

This is a strange direction that this franchise has taken.  A couple years back, you might remember that I added the first film to my “movies to skip” preview.  So, why am I upgrading the sequel into this year’s purgatory?  Because, judging by what I’ve seen in the trailers, this is actually one of the few cases where pandering to fan service may actually be a good thing.  The first film was rightly criticized for taking too many liberties with the premise and visual style of the Ninja Turtles, becoming more of a generic action thriller cash in than anything.  This time around, it looks like the filmmakers behind this actually were taking into account what die-hard fans of this Turtles have been asking for, and they are delivering the goods this time around.  It seems like every element from the popular animated series and toy-line that many people from my generation had grown up with has made it into the film; whether it be the van that shoots out manhole covers from the front to the inclusion of fan favorite minions Bebop and Rocksteady.  My own favorite character, Casey Jones (played by Arrow’s Stephen Amell) is also here too.  The only thing that keeps me from being too excited for this is the fact that it’s still a Michael Bay production.  But, unlike Bay’s Transformers franchise, which just treats it’s fan-base like idiots, this franchise is actually treating it’s fans more seriously and are listening to what they want, and that in the end is a step in the right direction.

JASON BOURNE (JULY 29)

It’s been a long eight year gap since we’ve seen Jason Bourne on the big screen.  The series hit a high point with it’s third film, The Bourne Ultimatum (2008), and the finale of that movie felt like a fitting final chapter in the groundbreaking action franchise’s run.  Unfortunately, Universal Pictures wanted to keep the series going, even though it’s star Matt Damon had stepped away.  The result was that we got a Jason Bourne-less sequel called The Bourne Legacy (2012), starring Jeremy Renner in the role of another spy unconnected with the title character, and the overall movie turned out to be a pointless retread of familiar ground.  Now, Matt Damon has returned to the role, but has the franchise already run out of steam to the point where even he can’t bring it back?  My hope is that there is still some juice left in this franchise to make another sequel necessary.  The return of director Paul Greengrass is a good sign, as is the addition of Tommy Lee Jones to the cast.  The only thing is that Ultimatum was such a high water mark and Legacy was such a boring disappointment that I worry that this series should be better left alone than continued.  Honestly, I don’t know if there is anything left to explore with the character.  And there is so many other Bourne clones in cinemas now, that I don’t think a new one will stand out like the original trilogy did years ago.  But, then again, I may be underestimating what Greengrass and Damon can do, and hopefully this will be one spy worth seeing again.

BEN-HUR (AUGUST 19)

Remakes are a tricky sell in Hollywood, especially when they take on beloved classics.  This summer, we are getting a modern re-telling of the classic Ben-Hur.  The original from 1959 is considered by many to be one of the crown jewels of Hollywood’s Golden Age of the 1950’s; an unmatched epic scale production that still inspires filmmakers today.  Certainly one of those inspired by the movie had to be Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch) who is taking on the risky challenge of adapting this story himself.  I’ll give him this, it’s a decision that takes a lot of guts to do.  Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone can truly recapture the wonder and scope of William Wyler’s masterpiece, but it will be interesting to see someone try.  Can this movie work as a remake of the classic film?  Probably not.  Can it do an adequate job of retelling of Lew Wallace’s classic story?  Maybe.  There are some interesting visual ideas seen in the trailer; though it looks like too many other Gladiator wannabes we’ve seen over the years.  The inclusion of Morgan Freeman in the cast also has me intrigued.  Still, I’m sure that too much self-indulgent eye candy may spoil this film’s presentation, especially in the famous chariot race that was so remarkably staged in the original classic.  But, even despite this, I don’t exactly hold Ben-Hur up as this untouchable work of art, so I’m still interested in seeing if any new take on it might turn out something at least interesting.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

GHOSTBUSTERS (JULY 15)

Now here’s a remake that I have not one shred of faith in.  Let me be clear, I don’t object to the casting of female actors in the roles.  That’s an idea that absolutely could have worked if given the same amount of care as the original.  No, what I object to is the heavy handed slapstick that they’ve added.  The original Ghostbusters (1984) is a masterpiece of character driven, understated, dry witty humor that was perfectly in tune with it’s cast that included Bill Murray and the late Harold Ramis.  This remake seems to think that all they need to get a laugh is to rely on shtick and physical gags.  This is not what made Ghostbusters a classic in the first place.  The original also had the great juxtaposition of genuine scary elements mixed in with the sarcastic one-liners.  This remake almost feels restrained and lazy.  Seriously, they’re lowering themselves down to another Exorcist reference.  The overly used CGI doesn’t help either, because it only adds to the artificiality of it all.  Maybe the cast will try their hardest to be funny, but unless they get the tone right, this remake is doomed to fail.  And I hold the original up in such high regards that I feel any attempt to piggy back on it’s legacy is pretty much doomed to fail as well.  Sadly, with the talent involved, this is going to be a disaster that will hurt and I worry that this will end up tarnishing the good name of a comedy masterpiece.  No, just no.

INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE (JUNE 24)

Here we have a sequel coming to theaters after an extremely long absence; 20 years in fact, almost to the day.  Roland Emmerich’s 1996 original was a true phenomenon, breaking box office records and revolutionizing the use of CGI graphics and cinematic scale into the Summer blockbuster for it’s time.  It also spotlighted actor Will Smith, turning him into a bankable star overnight.  At the same time Independence Day was also big and dumb, but in a nice goofy way, just as long as you didn’t take it too seriously.  Unfortunately, over time Roland Emmerich has lost some of the playful goofiness of his earlier work and has now turned into a director that rehashes the same old tricks, only with less of a sense of humor attached.  His movies (like 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow) have only gotten dumber and too self-important, and sadly it looks like he’s bringing that same sense of storytelling back to the film that made him famous.  Independence Day: Resurgence just looks like all the worst Emmerich tropes all rolled up into one; wooden characters, self-important aggrandizing, and excessive CGI-assisted disaster porn, all without the knowing self-aware humor that made the original tolerable.  The absence of Will Smith is noticeable too.  Sadly, Jeff Goldblum might not be able to save this movie alone.  It’s a big bloated sequel that is perhaps a decade too late and from a director who’s clearly lost his ability to have some clever, winking fun.

ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (MAY 27)

Disney seems determined to adapt all of their animated classics into live action and so far the results are mixed.  Some have been excellent (Cinderella), some just okay (The Jungle Book), and others have been outright terrible (Maleficent).  But certainly the one that missed the mark the most was their 2010 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, directed by Tim Burton.  The film was a mess of tone and characterizations that felt nowhere close to the spirit of the animated classic, or even the original Lewis Carroll novel.  So, why is it getting a sequel?  Oh yeah, it made over a billion dollars worldwide, despite the poor reviews surrounding it.  Even still, this follow up doesn’t indicate to me a step in the right direction.  Instead it just looks like more of the same things that made the original so disappointing; overused CGI, an unnecessary grim tone, a poorly written script, Johnny Depp doing another weird hammy performance, and a severe lack of insight into what the story is actually about.  The only thing I did like from the original was Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, and I’m glad to see her return here.  Also, Tim Burton is sitting this one out, with The Muppet Movie (2011) director James Bobin taking his place, which could be helpful.  But, even still, there’s not much hope I see here, even with the addition of Sasha Baron Cohen to the cast, who might be in a ham acting duel with Johnny Depp for most of the movie.

So, there are my predictions for this summer season.  Hopefully, there will be a lot to praise this year, and nothing to overall complain about.  Certainly, the over reliance on sequels during this time of year is discouraging, but when the franchises still enough mojo left in them to be worthwhile (like Captain America and X-Men), I really can’t complain.  This is still the time of year for Hollywood to flex it’s muscles, and given the already stellar start that 2016 has seen, it will be interesting to see if this summer can continue the trend.  It’s really fascinating to see the way that audiences go to the movies now, where these seasons don’t really matter as much like they used to.  A blockbuster can now find it’s audience in the dead of winter, like Deadpool managed to earlier this year.  At some point, we’ll be seeing an opening weekend north of $100 million in every month of the year at this rate.  Even still, the Summer Movie Season has it’s own special draw and hopefully we’ll have a standout on this year.  I’ll certainly be getting my fair share of entertainment as I try my best to review as many of these big releases over the next few months.  But, then again, it’s the thing that never changes for me at the movies whether I’m writing about it or not.  I hope you all find worthwhile entertainment at the movies this summer too and that this guide was helpful overall.

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