Which Movies to See This Summer: The Reader’s Digest Version
The season of computer-generated apocalypses is upon us, and we used "science" to rank this summer's popcorn-chompin'est, alien-fightin'est, DiCaprio-exploitin'est blockbuster movies, so you don't have to.
6. World War Z (June 21)
The Reader’s Digest Version: UN employee/perfect human Brad Pitt just wants to save his family, but he’ll have to save the whole dumb world from a zombie pandemic first. Splatters ensue.
The cast: WWZ is a no-shame Brad Pitt vehicle, in which Brad Pitt plays a vehicle for his own hair and deltoids. Leading lady Mireille Enos was nominated for a Tony and has done a lot of quality TV work (Big Love, The Killing), but probably won’t be asked to do much here besides long for Brad Pitt, a role for which my mother could win a Oscar.
The crew: Director Marc Forster works better with emotion (Monster’s Ball, Finding Never Land) than action (Quantum of Solace, Machine Gun Preacher,) so this zombie apocalypse could prove messy. But cinematographer Robert Richardson pulled DP duty for Oliver Stone all throughout the ’80s and ’90s, and for Tarantino all throughout the ‘aughts, so at least we know it’ll be a pretty apocalypse.
Freshness: There’s only so many zombies one zeitgeist can tolerate—and these are fast zombies; smart zombies; why-did-they-even-bother-calling-them-zombies zombies. Admit it, escapists: you just want to see a bunch of humans getting gunned down, but don’t want to feel guilty about it, huh? Depressing trend. At least WWZ was based on a book, so its mere existence proves people are still reading (encouraging trend!).
5. Oblivion (April 19)
The Reader’s Digest Version: It’s 2073 and the world is pretty much down to Tom Cruise and a bunch of robots. Like a less endearing WALL•E, Tom chills on an empty planet repairing murder drones; like a less sociable Morpheus, Morgan Freeman lives in a cave with a bunch of Armageddon truthers. Revelations ensue.
The Cast: Tom Cruise playing a hard-runnin’, hard-gunnin’ savior? Yawn. Morgan Freeman playing anything? Always! Worst case scenario, if Cruise proves a snoozer, just close your eyes and pretend that dream grandpa Morgan is reading you a bedtime story about conspiracy theories.
The Crew: So far director Joseph Kosinski has only made TRON: Legacy, which was far more sonically and visually breathtaking than such a bad, bad movie deserved to be. Oblivion looks similar. A muddled congress of four screenwriters bring the words; French dance shamans M83 bring the beats; Oscar-winning cinematographer and Middle Earth hair tribute Claudio Miranda brings the swooping.
Freshness: Evil murder drones are definitely in right now. Meanwhile, the screenplay is based on an unpublished graphic novel, which means—at the very least—we have not seen this exact thing made by someone else yet. Points deducted for the shamelessly Matrix-y trailer, but especially Morgan Freeman’s ridiculous full-moon spectacles.
4. Star Trek: Into Darkness (May 15)
The Reader’s Digest Version: A young James Tiberius Kirk must save the galaxy from war and terrorism by being ballsy. Interstellar explosions, risk management ensues.
The cast: The solid cast from 2009’s Trek reboot returns older, wiser, and wearing angrier eyebrows: Chris Pine as Cap’n Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Doc Spock, Zoe Saldana as Uhura, and Simon Pegg as Scotty form the cast’s core eye/ear candy. In a sweet upgrade, Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock from Sherlock) plays the big baddie who may or may not turn out to be Khan. Either way, it’s a perfect angle for his spooky otter-skeleton face.
The crew: JJ Abrams and the new Trek writing team have collectively given us Lost, Transformers, Prometheus, and Cowboys & Aliens—an impressive list of spectacular productions with plots that don’t make any real sense. Bank on some of the most thrilling, pointless trans-galactic catastrophes in film history. Consider any plot that slips through the smoky debris and pulsing space gas a bonus.
Freshness: It’s been four years since the first chapter of this Trek reboot, which is half a lifetime for the 8-year-old minds it was primarily marketed to. The world is eager for this sequel…if just so we can all get it out of the way and start talking about Star Wars again.
3. Iron Man 3 (May 3)
The Reader’s Digest Version: Everyone’s favorite billionaire playboy crime-fighter must make the choice Batman already made twice: to either protect free society, or protect his girlfriend. Quips ensue.
The cast: Downey, Goopy, Cheadle, Favreau…No big surprises here, except Sir Ben Kingsley as a kimono-wearing creeper named The Mandarin. That particular casting choice seems a bit racially insensitive—but honestly, we should be thankful to receive King Benny in any ridiculous wig they provide him. So long as he soliloquizes. 5/5
The crew: This production is brought to you by the Lethal Weapon writer, the Braveheart cinematographer, and the visual effects army behind Avatar. They are all awesome movies, so given the transitive property of awesomeness, this flick will be awesome too.
Freshness: Hot on the heels of The Avengers (so named because The Tony Stark & Friends Alien Punishment Hour would look cramped on a marquee,) it’s gonna be hard for Marvel to raise the heroic stakes here. But who cares? Iron Man is badass, and therefore he gets a trilogy. That’s Hollywood law.
2. The Great Gatsby (May 10)
The Reader’s Digest Version: It’s 1922, and Jay-Z is booming from every automobile in West Egg. A young man called Nick turns over some advice his father gave him by hanging out with crazy, wealthy adulterers. Jay Gatsby is the craziest, wealthiest of the lot. Exuberance, and vehicular manslaughter ensue.
The cast: Leo may be a bit baby-faced to sell the hardened war hero-turned-zillionaire mystique that Redford gave Gatsby in ’74, but at least it’ll be an easier part on his teeth than his role in Django was. Tobey Maguire will make a fine narrator, and remains one of the most pleasant-to-watch actors working today. The talented Carey Mulligan will have to rev up her repressed energy from Drive to sell the universally lusted-after Daisy. And: Who the heck is Joel Edgerton?
The crew: Baz Luhrmann is the right man to make a movie about excess. He and his cohorts made show-stoppers like Moulin Rouge dazzle bright as a cancan dancer’s smile, stick like her perfume, and explode like her long-neglected liver. There’s no more stylistically defined director working today, except maybe Tarantino. But he would never work here, because there’s no scene where Gatsby turns on his party guests with a samurai sword.
Freshness: This is the fourth feature-film version of Fitzgerald’s shirt-throwing-est novel—but the first one in digital 3D. A mere marketing ploy? Or cutting commentary on the simultaneous excess and narrow-mindedness of our own pleasureful pursuits? Doesn’t matter. 3D is usually lame.
Finally, if you only see one blockbuster this summer, see…
1. Man of Steel (Jun 14)
The Reader’s Digest Version: One day a magical alien baby crash-lands in the countryside. He has terrifying superpowers that could obliterate the Earth, but is raised with good morals because his foster parents probably read a lot of Reader’s Digest. He gets a sweet journalism gig in the city, and protects the world from meaner magical aliens on the side. Patriotism ensues.
The cast: Super. (How could it be anything but?) Henry Cavill as Superman. Amy Adams as Lois Lane. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Pa and Ma Kent. Russell Crowe as space Zeus, Jor-El. Michael Shannon as space Hitler, General Zod. Laurence Fishburne as some guy. (Doesn’t matter; Laurence Fishburne.)
The crew: Batman reboot masterminds Chris Nolan and David S. Goyer wrote the story. Hans Zimmer, Mozart of the melodramatic violin pitter-patter, wrote the score. Director Zack Snyder’s films (Watchmen, 300, Sucker Punch) have been inconsistently good, but consistently engaging (via consistently distracting slow-motion.) Expect the most sensuous close-ups of capes and/or American flags slowly flapping in the breeze you’ve ever seen.
Freshness: Another gritty, realistic, Nolan-inspired superhero origin story—sigh. The last Superman reboot came out in 2006, and that at least had a scene of Kevin Spacey screaming in it. The biggest new development here is that Superman’s little red underpants have mysteriously vanished…and we may never find them. The entire Internet is suspect.
And that’s that.