There’s exactly two months left to the summer movie season, which officially ends on Labor Day. Of course, the start of the period used to be Memorial Day Weekend, but generally has begun the last few years by the first weekend in May(“Thor” in 2011, “The Avengers” in 2012, “Iron Man 3” in 2013). And the box office has been very kind to the blockbuster films that have opened in May and June 2013. “Iron Man 3” alone has raked in over 1.2 billion dollars worldwide. It’s an astonishing number. “Man of Steel”, “Fast & Furious 6”, “Star Trek Into Darkness” are all either at, well over, or approaching the half billion mark, so far. Even “The Great Gatsby” has grossed 321 million! But, the question remains—have any of them been any good? “Man of Steel” left me cold. And, except for maybe “Star Trek”, the others were tepidly reviewed by the critics I respect the most. And don’t be fooled—I truly love experiencing the occasional big, splashy, summer action flick. And the trio of perhaps the biggest remaining this season have filled me with both excitement and trepidation for months now. And the forecast for the first one up is not looking so good.
I’ve secretly been hoping that director Gore Verbinski and star Johnny Depp(as Tonto), the duo that brought you the first three “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies(Gore bailed on the most recent one), would somehow make “The Lone Ranger” sing. Call it nostalgia for the reruns of the old television shows that I watched as a boy. Label it the desire for a fun, fast, desert-soaked western. I mocked it at the same time that I was hoping it would surprise us. Then the trailers arrived—and they were uninspired. And as last night’s opening approached, the critics started having a field day(its current metacritic score is a lowly 37). I was ready to dismiss it entirely. But, lo and behold! My favorite reviewer, spanning at least the last decade, Walter Chaw from filmfreakcentral.net(his first film book was covered here almost a year ago)has gone maverick and given the film a very positive notice! That may just be enough for me, but I fear its box office prospects appear dim.
Guillermo del Toro is a director I never miss. His masterful “Pan’s Labyrinth” from 2006 is among my favorites of that decade, and his most recent work—2008’s “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” was a smart, funny, thrilling epic, that suffered the misfortune of opening exactly one week before “The Dark Knight”. After a solid opening weekend, it was never able to recover. Still, it was considered a minor hit, and del Toro was even tapped to direct “The Hobbit” while Peter Jackson took the producer role. As I like to tell people, especially after getting through that first installment, if Guillermo had done it—it might have actually been good. But on July 12th, we finally get to experience his latest vision, upon the arrival of the giant alien and robot flick, “Pacific Rim”. But what is it? An end-of-the-world sci-fi? A “Godzilla” homage? The first good Transformers movie? Again, the trailers are leaving me uncertain. No real advance word yet, however del Toro has yet to let me down. In fact, I’m consistently amazed at how deftly he balances his work between art-house and blockbuster fare. So, unless it’s a unanimous critical trashing—I’m in.
“District 9” was a 2009 sleeper hit that cost under 30 million bucks to make and grossed seven times that amount. It was an action film and a socio-political allegory that tallied four Oscar nominations for that year—including Best Picture! And now South African director Neill Blomkamp is back with “Elysium”, due in August. And the trailers for this science fiction action film actually look good. Blomkamp also has a 90 million dollar budget for his sophomore effort and a heavyweight cast including Matt Damon and Jodie Foster. Apparently his political metaphors are once again in full force—will it be too deep and/or controversial to be a gargantuan hit? I sure hope not…because it looks pretty sweet.
So for now, I’ll simply continue to hold out hope for the best. In the meantime, I’ll be starting my July 4th weekend later today with a couple of tickets to “Monsters University”. I promised my 5 year-old, and you can expect the review in the coming days. Happy 4th, everybody!