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The Summer Movie Season’s Good, Bad and Terrifying

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Trailer

Like it or not, summer has turned into Hollywood’s persona on cattle steroids, an opportunity for viewers to see precisely what’s right and wrong with the entire mainstream movie-making industry. Although there are certainly a few big releases on the horizon that appear destined to be laughable splashes of cinematic insanity, there is still a lot to be hopeful for as studios get ready to launch some of their biggest movies of the year. Here is a breakdown of the summer movies I’m excited about, the ones that appear to have some hope, and the ones that you might want to avoid like the plague (or at least sneak in a six-pack).

Excited About

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Teaser Trailer

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 5th)

Even to someone who has been known to resist superhero movies, or occasionally flee from them in horror, the first Guardians of the Galaxy worked for me as a delightful and very funny throwback to the 1980s, packing in imagery that seemed delightfully teleported straight from Heavy Metal. Although the trailers certainly seem like very standard sequel fodder, falling well beneath the hilarious trailers of the original, there is still plenty of hope that Star-Lord and company will have a fun time on their way to saving the galaxy.

What to watch for:

After being an unexpected comedic standout in the first release, Dave Bautista’s Drax could hold the key to the galaxy on the second go-around.

War for the Planet of the Apes Trailer 2

War for the Planet of the Apes (July 14th)

After being completely won over by the first in the new Apes series, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was darker and bolder, finding a complex story (for summer blockbusters anyway) that was convincing even if it wasn’t entirely original. With two civilizations now set to clash for the ultimate battle, it all does feel a bit like familiar Hollywood territory, yet the series is in terrific hands with Matt Reeves (“Let Me In”) and there is hope that there will be enough character-building to make the battle sequences worth watching. A neo-Nazi-looking Woody Harrelson seems to be a bit on the nose for the grand finale, but the rebooted series has been smart enough so far to deserve a little bit of leeway.

What to watch for:

For a series about apes taking over the planet, the first two in the new trilogy did a phenomenal job at making the plot appear plausible, or at least dramatically more so than most big-budget action flicks. Does the series continue to favor characters and nuance, or do we head into full “let’s just blow up everything” mode in order to wrap it up with a bang?

Dunkirk Teaser Trailer

Dunkirk (July 21st)

Trading in mind-f*ck dreams for hard historical fiction, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk blazes new territory for the director and promises to be an intense trip into the most important WWII battle that Americans have never heard of. Whether you think Nolan is a great mainstream filmmaker or a hack (the former for me), his films have undoubtedly turned into events and there is sure to be quite a bit of hype when Dunkirk hits theaters in the middle of July.

What to watch for:

Although the trailer suggests it could end up sputtering in Saving Private Ryan territory, it’s a great opportunity for Nolan to show he can do a lot more than dress up a slick screenplay.

Detroit

Detroit (August 4th)

The thing that’s going to get extremely annoying about Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit is the political battles it will inevitable stir up – even before anyone has even seen it. Still, Bigelow’s follow-up to Zero Dark Thirty digs deep into a misunderstand series of events – the Detroit riots of 1967– and could turn out to be one of the most thought-provoking films of the summer.

What to watch for:

Zero Dark Thirty was so overhyped as a great film that it – possibly inevitably – failed to match very high expectations. This time around, Bigelow turns to an important domestic conflict that we’re still figuring out a half-century later, and we’ll see if the film is good enough to match the material.

Hopefully worth seeing

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Trailer

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (May 12th)

Anyone who has ever had a geeky King Arthur phase understands the cinematic potential of the mix of facts and myths that have blended into Arthurian legend. Having said that, so far the movies made about Arthur have fallen staggeringly short, from the Richard Harris version in the 1960s to the fun but shockingly dimwitted Connery-led epic First Night. Even the Clive Owen-starring King Arthur ultimately crumbled despite its attempt to show the famous despot of Camelot in a more historically accurate light. Now we have King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, a tough guy action flick from Guy Ritchie that looks to merge the historical setting of Arthur with the mythical world of magical swords and prophecies. Guaranteed to gloriously piss off anyone who takes historical fiction too seriously, Legend of the Sword nonetheless has some potential for those looking for a wild hybrid of history and fantasy.

What to watch for:

Does Ritchie find a character worth caring about before flinging headfirst into the fantasy action?

Alien: Covenant Trailer 2

Alien: Covenant (May 19th)

It’s hard to get too excited about another entry in the Alien series, yet you never know when a terrific screenplay might reignite a stale franchise. With Ridley Scott returning for his third entry in the Alien universe along with a terrific cast, you could definitely be forgiven for having some high hopes when Covenant hits theaters.

Baywatch Trailer

Baywatch (May 23rd)

It’s certainly possible that Baywatch will fold into an unwatchable carnage of lazy drug jokes and explosions, similar to 22 Jump Street, yet the trailer offered a glimmer of hope that it could connect with audiences this summer. Dwayne Johnson can be very funny in the right role (see the otherwise mediocre HBO series Ballers) and Zac Efron looks like he might be the perfect punching bag for mockery, which could end up being a potent combination – as long as it all doesn’t go to hell in the first half-hour. Not saying I want it to win an Oscar, but it could turn out to be a Hollywood high-concept comedy at its finest. Or a huge piece of sh*t.

What to watch for:

Hollywood has taken some blowback for being as male-dominated as other industries, which actually leads to an ironic opportunity to show some progress with a movie like Baywatch. Do Alexandra Daddario and Kelly Rohrbach actually have real roles as the other members of the team? Or is Hollywood still the collective psyche of Chandler and Joey from Friends, two dudes who nearly stroke out and die every time they see Pamela Anderson running in a onesie.

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman (June 2nd)

Watching the trailer to Wonder Woman made me think a little bit too much about John Carter, which is helpful precisely zero percent of the time. While the trailers do at least hint at a decent sense of humor, they also showcase such boilerplate hero material that it seems destined to bore well in advance of excitement. Still, it will be interesting to see if the movie can convincingly hop from the fantasy world to the backdrop of WWI and set the stage for other female superheroes.

What to watch for:

Considering the movie is based on a story by Zack Snyder, one might wonder if the action is going to look like something out of Michael Bay’s discarded daydreams.

Tulip Fever

Tulip Fever (August 25th)

After a long summer of explosions, a simmering thriller set in 17th century Amsterdam might be a welcomed respite to wrap the summer movie season. Starring Christoph Waltz as a patrician who hires a talented artist to paint his wife, Tulip Fever looks to be a visually extravagant period piece that has some terrific potential for breakout performances from Alicia Vikander and Dane DeHaan. The script is also from Oscar-winning scribe Tom Stoppard, famous for Brazil and Shakespeare in Love.

Notable others: Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7th); Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (July 21st).

 

Avoid Like the Plague

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Trailer

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (May 26th)

Despite some eye candy and an absurdly talented cast every time out, the Pirates of the Caribbean series has been off the rails for some time, and it’s hard to imagine it turning around now as Disney squeezes out the last few box office

dollars (before the inevitable reboot). Part of me would love to see a terrific comeback for the series – after all, who doesn’t love rum-slugging high-seas criminals? – yet I’m not sure adding Javier Bardem as the villain is enough to make it happen.

Others to skip, or at least wait until Redbox: The Mummy (June 9th); Transformers: The Last Knight (June 23rd)

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David James
I've been a cinema addict ever since I saw Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as a curious five-year-old with parents who didn't understand the PG-13 rating.