‘Tis a time for major studios to pitch their tentpoles, to walk amongst the commoners under the Big Top hawking their nuts and to prove that they’re fliers on the trapeze and not mere swingers.
Luckily, there’s always a little something for everyone during summer movie season.
Whether you’re a fan of robots, monsters, superbeings, androids, behemoths, demigods, cyborgs, leviathans or Übermenschen, the studios will have you covered.
So grab a tub of popcorn and head into the nearest screening room.
Grab a tub of anything, really, as long as it’s a tub of something.
“Avengers: Age of Ultron”
If you haven’t heard of this superhero sequel, then you must have spent the last three years living under The Rock.
At the start of the film, the Avengers have grown weary of crime fighting and are anxious to devote themselves to side projects involving metal formalwear, Norse theology rebranding, and shishkabob kiosks.
So billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) creates Ultron, a robot Avenger designed to take up the slack.
Unbeknownst to Stark, Ultron achieves sapience, which is not the same thing as what happens when your girlfriend cries after reading your pastel greeting card.
Ultron comes to believe that humans are the planet’s ultimate threat, which shocks Stark because he has apparently missed every other movie and novel about robots ever created.
Ultron proves to be a formidable enemy because Stark has programmed him with his genius, his wit and his tendency to walk out on interviews where his history of drug use and his political affiliations are explored.
“Avengers: Age of Ultron” is not just a series of superhero battles; it is also the story of a “father” (Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury) trying to hold his “family” (The Avengers) together.
His struggles should be familiar to any parent who has ever worn an eye patch (Opens May 1).
In “Tomorrowland,” inspired by the Disney theme park area of the same name, a young boy discovers a mythical realm that transcends space and time, but cannot – for some reason – slip the surly bonds of merchandising.
The boy grows into a cranky, but dashing, inventor played by George Clooney who is pressured to return to the magical universe by a girl (Britt Robertson) who has uncovered its existence.
As the frightened girl makes the journey to the otherworldly kingdom, her fears are allayed somewhat when the inventor assures her that he never saw any sign in the enchanted dimension of the Country Bear Jamboree (Opens May 22).
After a 9.0 earthquake brings the California to its knees, a Los Angeles Fire Department rescue-helicopter pilot named Ray (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) tries to help it back onto its feet, perhaps by lifting under its arms.
With the quake’s aftershocks threatening to trash more famous western landmarks than an escorted motorcoach filled with University of Michigan fraternity and sorority members, the firefighter must journey the length of the state to rescue his daughter, with whom he has a strained relationship.
His single glimmer of hope is a prophetic suggestion given to him by a psychologist: that he and his daughter might benefit from some “apocalypse therapy.”
But surviving the aftermath of “the big one” won’t be easy.
A seismologist played by Paul Giamatti has already warned Ray that the quake would be felt on the east coast “perhaps as an upheaval in White Zinfandel prices.”
Later, while Ray is preparing his copter for flight, Giamatti’s character wishes him well, saying, “I knew Charlton Heston. Charlton Heston was a friend of mine. You, sir, are no Charlton Heston.”
Luckily, some levity is provided by the tendency of the film’s characters to giggle whenever anyone says “the big one” (Opens May 27).
It only took four movies and countless eviscerations to accomplish it, but the Jurassic World theme park is finally up and running.
Jurassic World is not unlike most other theme parks, really: It must take precautions to prevent its visitors from being killed by its attractions, its admission fees have to cover the cost of DNA manipulation and it has to pretend to its unsophisticated attendees that it isn’t staffed almost entirely by gay men.
Jurassic World is like other theme parks in one additional respect: It has to keep coming up with fresh thrills.
So Jurassic World execs, doubtless inspired by Cedar Point ‘s decision to update Millennium Force with rotating knives, authorize the creation of a dangerous new dinosaur, Indominus rex.
Indominus rex makes Tyrannosaurus rex look about as fearsome as a family pet, especially after the former is seen walking the latter on a giant leash and collecting its poop into giant bags recycled from the delivery of giant newspapers.
When animal trainer Chris Pratt points out to Jurassic World geneticists that their new predator seems to have been expressively engineered to kill humans more efficiently and with greater passion than any actual dinosaur they could have resurrected, they look at him with genuine puzzlement.
Everything Pratt’s character needs to know is encapsulated in a Jeff Goldblum quote from the first film: “Money finds a way.”
So he sets out after Indominus rex with his Velociraptor pals, all of which undoubtedly will be available in Happy Meals, but not all in the same week.
The movie hopes to strike a few nostalgic notes with scenes featuring vibrating cups of water, kids trapped in a broken-down vehicle and a dinosaur bred to laugh like Goldblum (Opens June 12).
With “Terminator: Genisys,” Paramount Pictures hopes to put another feather in this franchise’s cap, a cap that no studio has worn confidentially since 1991.
In this installment, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) travels back in time to save the life of Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) and to prevent his mother from marrying Biff Tannen.
Reese discovers that the titular Terminator he volunteered to fight has actually been a doting surrogate dad to Connor for many years –destroying all the assassins sent to kill her and all the vice principals sent to send her to detention.
The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) has grown surprisingly elderly in the process, but he explains that he has no control over how the living tissue covering his metal endoskeleton ages or how it sleeps with the housemaid.
New characters in “Terminator: Genisys” include one played by J.K. Simmons. He’s an alcoholic detective who comes to regret ever getting involved in this film’s shenanigans when the future sends him his own metal man: an Oscar.
A potential wow factor arrives in the form of a robot made of liquid metal, but this factor may only work on anyone who hasn’t said wow since 1991.
What the word “Genysis” means in the future is any moviegoer’s guess at this point. It could refer to a Monsanto rebranding, a robot with the face of Phil Collins or the most popular baby name of 2029.
As timelines overlap and universes multiply, viewers will be left wondering if the dilution of the space-time continuum isn’t to blame for the characters growing increasingly more boring with each installment (Opens July 1).
After biochemist Henry Pym (Michael Douglas) discovers an unusual set of subatomic particles, he quickly labels them “Pym particles” before Marvel Studios can steal another of his scientific achievements from a comic book and give credit for it in a movie to Tony Stark.
Pym particles intensify the strength of things that are shrinking, but Pym bypasses the lucrative erectile dysfunction industry for some reason and moves directly on to creating a superhero.
Eventually, Pym asks a conman named Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) to wear the Ant-Man super-suit and to curate his collection of candelabras and ostrich capes.
Ant-Man’s subsequent secret missions have a high rate of success, as long as he steers clear of a villain known as Yellowjacket and any kid holding a magnifying glass.
In the comic books, Ant-Man eventually became a succession of enormous superheroes named Giant-Man, Goliath and Overcompensation Man.
Despite Ant-Man’s prominence in the early days of Marvel Comics, it is not known where or even if he will fit into Phase Two of Marvel Studios’ apparent campaign to gorge us on superhero movies the way foie gras geese are force-fed corn.
On “Ant-Man,” Edgar Wright – a director whose film “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World” is much beloved by comic book fans – was dismissed and replaced with Peyton Reed – a director whose film “Bring It On” is much beloved by cheerleaders.
Marvel Studios has made such bewildering moves before and most have been successful.
The moral of the story: It’s Marvel’s world. We just shake pom poms in it (Opens July 16).
“Fantastic Four” (aka “Fant4stic”)
Even in a summer (and a decade) that has been glutted with superhero movies, Fantastic Four is distinctive in two respects: It’s about the first superhero team that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby ever created together and it’s the last reboot anybody wanted.
So much has happened since 2007.
Chris Evans became Captain America, Jessica Alba got married and gave birth to two daughters, Michael Chiklis’ band released its first single and Ioan Gruffudd’s name became no less unpronounceable.
The last movie these four actors will ever star in together, “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” managed to make even Lawrence Fishburne look bad and all he contributed to the film was dubbing.
Like “Man of Steel’s” Zack Snyder before him, Josh Trank – the latest Fantastic Four director – was recruited largely because he’d helmed a moderately successful superhero satire (“Chronicle”).
The last Fantastic Four film was widely criticized by fans for departing from the source material, and Trank’s strategy has been to depart even further.
Even if Trank manages to pique moviegoers’ interest on July 30th of a franchise-packed summer, what unfolds on screen won’t be half as riveting as what has unfolded behind it.
First, there was Trank’s decision to cast a black actor (Michael B. Jordan) as Johnny Storm, a character that is white in the comic books.
Many fans thought this was a totally horrible idea for reasons that they assured everyone were totally not racist which they tried to explain in totally non-racist paragraphs that tended to start, ‘I’m totally not a racist but…”
Second, there is Marvel Entertainment’s feud with Fox.
Thanks to a deal that predates Disney’s acquisition of Marvel Entertainment in 2009, Fox owns the movie rights to a handful of Marvel characters including the Fantastic Four.
So incensed is Marvel Entertainment by Trank’s upcoming film that it decided to cancel the comic book on which it is based.
Presumably, when children who have seen Trank’s film and enter their local comic book stores looking for tie-ins, they will be told (in the style of Sergeant Schultz), “I know nothing!” (Opens July 30)
“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”
I’ll tell you about a Mission: Impossible, my friends.
Imagine being a feature writer or copyeditor who has to figure out a sensible and visually pleasing way to punctuate a second subtitle.
It can’t be done; not even by Ethan Hunt.
Hunt, Cruise and this franchise are what the Department of Irregular Poultry would call odd ducks.
Action franchises thrive not just because of special effects and spectacle but because the actors and writers have created indelible characters that we want to revisit again and again.
Yet, five movies in, Hunt remains bewilderingly generic.
The franchise has never been particularly good at (or interested in) evoking its progenitorial TV series, every episode of which began with some magnetic tape starting to smoke and a voice intoning, “This sound recording format will self-destruct in two decades.”
For Paramount, “Mission Impossible” remains little more than a clothes hanger on which it drapes the latest in cinematic finery.
To be fair, Paramount is an outstanding draper.
Watch a “Star Wars” trailer and you talk about how good it is to see your old friend, Han Solo, again. Watch a “Mission: Impossible” trailer and you talk about a stunt.
Stunts are the indisputable selling points of these installments: the escalating craziness of them and the fact that Cruise performs them himself.
In “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” Hunt purportedly hangs off the side of a jet, a stunt which –hypothetically – is far wilder (but less poignant) than hanging off the side of Katie Holmes’ departing limo.
The second subtitle here refers either to Hunt’s increasingly marginalized IMF or to an antagonistic organization, the name of which is known only to agents who have achieved “Top Secret” clearance or Operating Thetan levels.
Hunt needs all the help he can get, so he tells all disgraced agents that they can safely come out into the open as long as they don’t refer to it as “going clear.”
We can expect more rubber mask reveals in this sequel, although probably not one where Laura Prepon pulls off a mask to reveal that she’s really Mimi Rogers (Opens July 31).
“Hitman: Agent 47”
This film will be utterly bewildering to anyone who hasn’t seen the other 46 installments (Opens August 28).