Top 10 summer movies we hope don’t suck

Captain America Avenger

Bring your popcorn and prepare for a summer spent in the luxury of the air-conditioned movie theaters, as we count down our top 10 most anticipated movies of the 2011 summer.

If you based the seasons on the Hollywood movie schedule, summer would be a fickle mistress. Sometimes summer would decide to descend when the so-called “scientists” declare the season to have begun, sometimes it would decide to pre-funk the season with movies beginning as early as April. There need to be standards, by God! If we allow Hollywood to dictate when summer begins, we will have people walking around in shorts and t-shirts in early April. The fashion industry would be ruined, the travel seasons would be a mess, and people in northern states would be very cold. In short, it would be pandemonium.

So despite a few films attempting to false start the season (looking at you, Thor and Fast Five), we all know that the summer season actually begins on Memorial Day weekend. Sure, “science” may tell us that it truly begins on June 21 during the summer equinox, but tell that to an army of kids still in school. See what they think of the idea that summer won’t start for them until late June. It won’t go over well.

But traditionally the summer movie season has begun on Memorial Day. So the question then becomes what is coming out this summer that we will be able to check our brains at the door and enjoy? It is hard to worry about the unemployment rate and gas prices when giant robots are smashing through a skyscraper or guys wearing an American flag are punching Nazis in the jaw.

There are a few films coming up that will draw the people in almost regardless of whether or not they are any good. They are spectacles and they will at least make money. That doesn’t mean they will be any good though. So here is our list of the 10 movies coming out this summer that we hope don’t suck (because we will probably go see them all regardless).

Captain America Poster

Captain America: The First Avenger
(July 22, Rating TBA)

Will the recent death of Osama bin Laden make people more interested in watching a guy run around with an American-themed costume while pummeling ratzi scum? Maybe not, but it probably won’t hurt to have a movie about a patriotic superhero released shortly after people were dancing in the streets shouting “USA! USA!” Putting all that aside, the real question is how do you take a guy wearing a flag and punching said ratzis, and give him depth. It feels like Hollywood is finally getting on board with the idea that superhero movies don’t have to be stupid, but Captain America is a tough character to bring forward into our more cynical world.

Back in the 40’s, especially during WWII, wearing a costume with an American flag theme made you look like a boss. You could probably skip the lines at night clubs, and sashay yourself right up to a pretty doll and have her think you were the bee’s knees. But times change, and blind patriotism in movies has yielded to gritty realism when it comes to war movies, and that is whatCaptain America is—a war movie.

Directed by Joe Johnston, the film stars the Human Torch from Fantastic Four, but that movie is best forgotten, so actor Chris Evans returns to Marvel in a much more high-profile costume. Joining him are Tommy Lee Jones as Col. Chester Phillips, the man responsible for the project that turns a weakling named Steve Rogers into Captain America, Sebastian Stan as Cap’s sidekick Bucky Barnes, and Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter. Leading the Nazi organization known as Hydra is Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull, Cap’s archenemy, and the man that finds the magical Tesseract, otherwise known to comic book fans as the cosmic cube.

If it all works, Captain America: The First Avenger could be an awesome film that combines the heroic legacy of WWII movies with the current superhero flicks. Or, it could totally suck. We’ll know on July 22 when America visually punches the world in the face.

Cars 2 Poster

Cars 2
(June 24, Rating TBA)

Everybody loves Pixar movies. If you don’t you may be a monster. You should probably look into that. A Hollywood summer wouldn’t be the same without an animated Pixar flick, and this year is no different. That being said, of all the Pixar properties, of all the films they could bring back via sequel, why Cars?

The original film was a hit back in 2006, but since 2001 when the Academy Awards began awarding a “Best Animated Feature” Oscar, it is only the second Pixar movie to lose the award (it lost to Happy Feet, while the 2001 Monsters, Inc. lost to Shrek). On top of that, it is the only Pixar film in the last decade to have under a 90-percent approval rating on Rottentomatoes.com (it is at 74-percent). For most studios, having a successful franchise that made money and was mostly praised by critics and audiences would be a good thing, but for Pixar it is the black sheep in a family of diamond sheep that leave golden droppings.

Then there is the fact that the film has faced something of a Mummy’s tomb curse, as three of the actors from the original have since passed away: George Carlin, Joe Ranfit and Paul Newman. Both Carlin and Ranfit’s character will return with new actors voicing them, while Newman’s character will not return.

Cars 2 will be the second franchise the studio has brought back, with the first being Toy Story. It won’t be the last however, as Monster, Inc. will return next year in the prequel, Monsters University, so this appears to be a new direction for the studio. If it succeeds, expect Pixar to possibly further mine its past — but a success for Pixar is measured in more than just box office. If the awards start drying up, the once seemingly invincible animation studio may show vulnerability, which would be great for other studios, but bad for fans.

Cars 2 stars the voice talents of Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Jason Isaacs and many more.

Cowboys Aliens Poster

Cowboys & Aliens
(July 29, Rating TBA)

The Hollywood equivalent of combining chocolate and peanut butter into one delicious treat, comes this summer in the form of Director Jon Favreau’s Cowboys & Aliens, which combines…well, cowboys and aliens. The idea comes from a graphic by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, and makes the Wild West a bit more bad ass by throwing aliens that apparently hate us into the mix. The aliens are climbin’ in your window, they’re snatchin’ your people up, etc., etc. Aliens = bad.

If peaceful aliens ever come to Earth and are intrigued by our concept of cinema, there are going to be some awkward moments in the future of that relationship.

Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig are joined by the film’s resident unbelievably hot actress, Olivia Wilde, who almost certainly wouldn’t have looked nearly as good in 1873 due to the minor little details like malnutrition and dental hygiene that would make the English giggle. But the result is a summer film crammed with legends, A-listers and Olivia Wilde. When your second choice for the lead is Daniel Craig (Robert Downey Jr. had to back out due to filming the next Sherlock Holmes), your project is doing ok.

But will it be any good? The first trailer that debuted during the Super Bowl was meh-tacular, while the second shows a lot of promise. It is a difficult movie to sell. You have a mysterious stranger with a device on his wrist that can blow up alien ships and stop them from stealing humans. But with a $100 million budget a famous(ish) director, a ton of talent in front of the screen and two of Hollywood’s favorite subjects, what could possibly go wrong? Don’t answer that.

Green Latern Poster

Green Lantern
(June 17, Rating TBA)

It’s a good thing that Green Lantern has a well-established history. Without it, the pitch might have been a bit awkward. “So, you have this guy, and this alien gives him this ring that makes things…WITH HIS MIND! And he can like fly and stuff, and make giant boxing gloves that punch people!” The writer would then be shown the door and Hollywood would return to its obsession of remaking and rebooting every movie ever made. So far they are on target to have recycled every possible idea by 2032, at which time they will start over again.

Ryan Reynolds plays Ryan Reynolds with a powerful ring, much to the chagrin of almost anyone that is familiar with the character of Hal Jordan (who Reynolds plays). But the bewilderingly A-list actor has shown that he can carry a massively complex action sci-fi movie when he starred in… umm… Well, the trailer looks cool.

Honestly, it is hard to tell what Green Lantern will turn out to be. It has been described as the Star Wars of the DC universe, meaning that it is supposed to be a space epic, and if they do it right, it could be the biggest non-Superman/Batman property for the company that is getting sand kicked in its face by rival Marvel. On the other hand, the best laid plans of mice and filmmakers could be swept away by the massive amount of CGI in use. Hopefully it will live up to the potential it has shown. And if not, they can just reboot it in five years anyway.

Directed by Martin Campbell, the film stars Reynolds, the lovely and possibly even talented Blake Lively, Mark Strong as Sinestro (who will be a major focus of any possible future Green Lantern films), Peter Sarsgaard and a lot of computers.

Hangover part 2 poster

The Hangover Part II
(May 26, Rated R)

So how do you recapture the magic of a surprise comedy hit? Well, if the trailer is any indication, you take the exact same formula and recreate it joke by joke. But in Thailand! Hopefully there is more to the movie than we have seen yet, but so far it appears like the original movie has been only slightly rewritten to incorporate the exotic climes of southeast Asia.

This time Stu (Ed Helms) is the one getting hitched, and he wants to avoid the troubles of the Vegas trip so he invites the boys to Thailand for a quiet pre-wedding weekend. Things go badly when he loses his soon to be brother-in-law. Hijinks ensue. From the details that have been released — and admittedly those details are still scarce — it sounds like a near retelling of the original.

But director Todd Phillips has proven repeatedly that he can surprise us, so maybe judging the potential of a movie based on a trailer — a trailer that was since pulled due to simulated sexual acts by a monkey (no, really) — is unfair. The original cast returns, including the three principles: Helms, Bradley Cooper, and Zach Galifianakis. Also returning are Ken Jeong and Mike Tyson, which seems a bit harder to buy.

Still, in a summer dominated with big budget extravaganzas, explosions and superheroes, it is nice that a comedy can still grab the attention of so many people. The original Hangover was such a success in part because it snuck up on people. No one saw it coming, which gave it a bit of a “cool” factor. The sequel won’t have that advantage, but it is working off a proven formula. Here’s hoping they get it right.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 poster

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
(July 15, Rating TBA)

Harry Potter returns for the last time, as he and Voldemort finally go mano-y-wizardo in the series’ finale. Some saw the decision to split the final book into two movies as a good move to preserve the plot and give the franchise a proper sendoff, while others saw it as a cash grab. Both sides are probably right, but that won’t matter to the hordes of fans that will be waiting in line, wearing their Hogwarts robes despite the July heat, and finding a way to simulate wizarding duels.

It isn’t even a question of whether or not the film will do well, it is more of a question of how well it will do. Part 1 made close to a billion dollars worldwide, and should have a bunch more money coming to it through home media before the sequel debuts. So, you have the eighth movie in a beloved franchise, a franchise that is among the most successful in literary and cinema history, and it is coming out right at the heart of the summer movie season. Yeah, it should do ok.

The final chapter follows Harry, Ron and Hermione as they decide to abandon the wizarding world and try to settle into a normal life in a Californian high school. Unfortunately things aren’t so simple, and the three become the butt of many jokes as they attempt to fit in. With the prom coming up, it won’t be easy, but the trio learns to make friends and in the end they teach the school a valuable lesson about acceptance.

If that were actually the plot, odds are it would still make an obscene amount of money. Directed once again by David Yates, the final film stars the cast you have watched grow up as they hunt the remaining horcruxes, battle a dragon, fight off Death Eaters and head towards the final showdown with Voldemort. Can the series live up to the expectations of its rabid fanbase? Probably not — what could? But hopefully it will do the series justice, and give it a sendoff that Potterheads will enjoy. If not, there will be blood in the streets…

Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides poster

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
(May 20, Rated PG-13)

Ok, so after the long-winded opening about the summer movie season starting on Memorial Day weekend, this film is a bit of a cheat, but eh. Sue us. Of all the sequels coming out this summer, this is one of the oddest. The first film was a critical and commercial success, while the second and third were a bit on the meh side despite still raking in lots of gold doubloons.

The biggest problem in the last two films (and there were plenty to choose from) was the focus of Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom over Johnny Depp. Knightley and Bloom are both unquestionably pretty people, but Depp’s character was memorable and original — borderline iconic — while K-Bloom’s character(s) is best remembered as maybe being some sort of pirate. It got a bit muddled.

For the fourth adventure, Depp is the sole star, or at least the primary focus of the new film. The convoluted plot of the past films is gone, as is the director, Gore Verbinski, who has been replaced by Rob Marshall. Depp’s Cap’n Jack Sparrow will face zombies, mermaids and privateers as he is forced to help the mysterious Angelica (Penelope Cruz) and her father Blackbeard (Ian McShane) find the Fountain of Youth.

The weird thing is that Hollywood and Disney love Depp so much that they have already begun discussions of a fifth and sixth movie for the franchise. After all, why bother going through all the hardships of rebooting a franchise, or even — God forbid — creating something original, when you can continue to milk a franchise for years. Unless it is really terrible — like Battlefield Earth terrible — the movie will make money and sequels will be greenlit. Since we will then be forced to endure these additions to the franchise regardless, hopefully the new film will not suck.

Super 8 poster

Super 8
(June 8, Rating TBA)

Behold, an elusive “original movie”! One day these may be extinct, but today they can still occasionally be seen frolicking in the wild. If this movie does well, perhaps we may see more of its kind. Dare to dream, people, dare to dream.

Despite the fact that the movie is due out in the first week of June, very little is actually known about the plot. There has been a lot of coverage about the fact that it is a J.J. Abrams movie, and Spielberg is on board as a producer, but not so much on the plot. In another movie, that might be alarming. With Abrams though, it is par for the course.

In many ways, the film is a spiritual successor to Cloverfield, but without the vomit-inducing shaky cam, and something that appears to be an actual plot. Set in 1979, a train carrying materials from Area 51 to Ohio is derailed, and a creature escapes. What the creature is—monster, alien or both—is unknown. A group of friends filming a movie using super 8 cameras capture the train wreck on film, hence the name, but the film will use standard cameras and won’t rely on the kids’ POV. As things begin to go badly, the local small town sheriff then tries to piece together the truth, while the townies try their very best not to get eaten, stepped on or probed.

In keeping with the somewhat low budget approach (the film cost $45 million, which is less than one-fourth what some of these other summer movies cost), Super 8 lacks the star power that is usually present in disaster-alien-creature movies. Instead, the lead is Kyle Chandler, the star of the best show nobody watched, Friday Night Lights.

A lot is riding on this film. If it does well, Chandler may receive the attention that the public has denied him for years, and more importantly, it might actually encourage Hollywood to make more original movies — HAHAHAHAHA… ahhh, sorry.

Transformers Dark of the Moon poster

Transformers: Dark of the Moon 
(July 1, Rating TBA)

What more is there to say about Michael Bay’s Transformers? They are like alcohol — sure they will make you much dumber in the long run, but they can offer a fun ride in the meantime. Putting aside the little flaws with the last film, like the giant Decepticon with the metal testicles, the slightly racist comic relief-bots, the total lack of anything resembling character development or the story so dumb people were confused because they thought there must have been more to it (Pro tip: There wasn’t), the third movie promises something the other two did not — no Megan Fox. Whether that was the smartest move of her life or the first nail in her career’s coffin will rest on the shoulders of Bay and Shia LaBeouf. So on paper it sounds like a good move on Fox’s part.

The third film focuses on a long-buried ship from the planet Cybertron carrying a secret that both the Autobots and Decepticons want. The film also promises to solve several mysteries about the origin of the Transformers, the truth about how much the government has known and how LaBeouf can land girls like Fox and former Victoria Secret’s model Rosie Huntington-Whitley, who plays the new love interest. Along the way, robots will fight! Cameras will zoom around actors’ heads! And things will blow up real pretty! If you are looking for plot, you must not have seen the last two films. But sometimes mindless carnage can be fun, so here’s hoping.

The film will be directed by Michael Bay, of course, and will also star Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson and John Turturro, all of who return for the third time, and all of whom could be the answer to an incredibly hard round of trivia that asks you to give their characters’ names. Seriously, it is the third movie, does anyone know their names?

The thing about Transformers is that the film can be junk and still make a ton of money. Just look at…well, the last Transformers movie, which was junk. Besides the spectacle of seeing robots blow up cities, which is always fun, it is a piece of the childhood of everyone that grew up in the 80s and 90s. According to Bay, this will be his final outing with the robots, so here’s hoping he finishes the series in style.

X-Men First Class poster

X-Men: First Class
(June 3, Rated PG-13)

And finally we have X-Men: First Class. Set in 1962, the film is a prequel to the two previous X-Men films. Yes, technically there were four previous X-Men films including X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but it is best to just move on and call those films expendable. But while the movie is a prequel, it is also a reboot in the style they will use. The third X-Men movie was rushed out, and somewhat foolishly laid all its hopes on Brett Ratner to take the project that was a mess from the beginning, and mold it into something coherent. It wasn’t Ratner’s fault that the film failed, but he didn’t help much. The result was a movie that alienated a lot of old school fans of X-Men, and Wolverinethen rubbed salt on to that open wound.

First Class hands the franchise over to Matthew Vaughn, and he has brought a certain look and feel to the film that is what many X-Men fans have been waiting for. While the comics have taken the story more and more towards the angle of a prejudice world raging against the “mutant menace,” and the last movies have reflected that, the new film seems to be picking up on the earlier look of the comic where the idealized feel of the swinging 60s was used to counterbalance the themes of prejudice and racism. Plus, it is fitting that the movie takes place in 1962, which fans should appreciate, as the comic debuted in 1963.

Set during the Cuban Missile Crisis, X-Men: First Class introduces the world to Professor Charles Xavier, AKA Professor X, and Erik Lehnsherr, AKA Magneto. Back before they were oil and water, they were BFFs, both dedicated to helping to shape the future of the mutant race. While trying to find their place in the world, the X-Men face off against the Hellfire Club, a group of mutants that have their own agenda.

The film stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon and a cast of recognizable faces like Oliver Platt and Ray Wise. The look and plot seem to be a new direction for the franchise, which might further help to steer the growing superhero genre towards good films rather than predictable ones where one hero or group beats up an evil character or group. That might still be the case with X-Men: First Class, but they will fight wearing mini-skirts and go-go boots, which is fine by us.

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