Blockbuster Season

From the final Harry Potter to a new Planet of the Apes movie, previews the big films of the summer

Above: Daniel Craig in <em>Cowboys and Aliens</em>

Above: Daniel Craig in <em>Cowboys and Aliens</em>

During the past few weeks, Johnny Depp has been habitually spotted running around in a pirate outfit, and that can only mean one thing: the blockbusters have landed. Once more it’s that time of year when you are somehow persuaded to have fun indoors when you could be on the beach, by a barbecue, dancing at a festival or dancing by a barbecue at a beach festival; the familiar season when comic book heroes are recycled, animals are animated and fairground rides are disguised as enthralling adventure stories.

The box office popularity of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and The Hangover: Part II has already testified to the willingness of audiences to repeatedly revisit characters and stories familiar from recent years. Even more sequels are destined for success as July draws nearer, including Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Pixar’s Cars 2. The most exciting of these is undoubtedly Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part Two, whose tantalising trailer has promised that from July 15th, the halls of Hogwarts will be filled with goblins, snakes, and dragons galore in a final showdown between good wizards and bad wizards. Most importantly, the wand-waving will be in 3D. Rupert Grint is currently one of the faces of an EU campaign that sees him sporting a milk moustache on the side of London buses. We can only hope that magical Weasley milk will be on sale next to the popcorn to help us get through its potentially gargantuan running time.

As X-Men: First Class has just shown us, adding a new episode to a long-running superhero franchise can pay off for both spectators and filmmakers alike. It’s no surprise, therefore, that 2011 welcomes the onscreen arrival of other legends of the Marvel Universe. Following on from the Easter hit Thor, July 29th sees the arrival of Captain America: The First Avenger, which contains the daft but exciting prospect of an alternative history of World War II fought by paranormally powerful superheroes and Nazi arch-nemeses. It stars the charming Chris Evans, star of the Fantastic Four movies, alongside the wonderful Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci, but carries the risky presence of Joe Johnston, director of The Wolfman and Hidalgo, who hasn’t had a real hit since Jumanji.

The more exciting superhero movie of the summer, therefore, is SUPER, which follows the attempts of a badly-paid cook (Rainn Wilson) to “Shut up crime!” by dressing up as the Crimson Bolt, a superhero that beats up wrongdoers with his wrench. It’s destined to be this year’s Kick-Ass but with far greater indie credentials – it stars Juno’s Ellen Page and was filmed over the space of a month on a miniscule budget – and relying more on wit than comic action sequences.

Whatever you do, don’t confuse it with the similarly titled Super 8, which is making a great profit in America right now, and judging from preview screenings in London last week, will be doing the same here in August as well. It’s written and directed by J.J. Abrams, the co-creator of Lost who re-booted the Star Trek franchise two years ago. But he would be the first to admit that the story is equally indebted to the film’s producer, Steven Spielberg: it follows the arrival of a mysterious, deadly monster and a malevolent branch of the American military in a small Ohio town. Like a cross between Jaws, E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the action is seen through the eyes of a group of kids (who are trying to make a zombie movie) and a heroic local sheriff.

Spielberg has also produced Cowboys & Aliens, in which his favourite actor Harrison Ford must enlist Daniel Craig’s notorious outlaw, who has no memory of his crimes, to protect the Wild West town of Absolution from some nasty space invaders. The film is based on a popular graphic novel and helmed by Jon Favreau, director of the Iron Man movies, and could therefore be accused of maintaining the endless comic book movie trend. But this is not the greatest threat posed to the integrity of the film industry this summer, and neither is 3-Dementia, sequel-itis, or remakerrhoea. In fact it’s the curse of Handsome Men like Craig and Ford.

Whether it’s a remake, rom-com or an arthouse drama, Handsome Men are absolutely everywhere this summer: Brad Pitt in the Palme d’Or winner Tree of Life, Ryan Reynolds in The Change-Up, James Franco in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, newcomer Jason Momoa in Conan the Barabarian, and Justin Timberlake who we’re gradually forgetting was once a pop star, in both Bad Teacher and Friends with Benefits.

Thank goodness, then, for Bridesmaids, which is out this Friday. It’s about a maid of honour (Kristen Wiig) re-assessing her life and having to cope with a wealth of absurd problems at the wedding of her best friend (Maya Rudolph). From what’s being said in the USA right now, it’s one of those word-of-mouth comedies like Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin which will be adored for months on end. Much is being made of the fact that it’s driven by female actors and yet ten times better than the predictable frat party atmosphere of most recent comedies.

Bridesmaids is nevertheless part of a summer, (with the exception of Harry Potter), set to be dominated as always by American movies. But I can’t help but be more excited by some of the British movies that are coming this Autumn: We Need To Talk About Kevin, Jane Eyre, and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy. Make sure that the books all three of those are based on are on your summer reading list.