Summer is almost here.
As I paraded through my local Cineplex recently, surveying the desolation and near post-apocalyptic emptiness within many of its theaters, the chill began its annual spinal tap. That sensation every film buff gets as we sniff that sweet, salty aroma of the year’s prime season for the latest in blockbuster releases.
An original property crashes through to pop culture, a sequel elevates a franchise, an indie darling turns into a global sensation, and somewhere – when all the smoke and dust settles – new movie stars are born, and established stars are served their walking papers.
Summer is a time of wonder and awe for us film fanatics, and for me it’s been that way for decades. Every summer my fandom finds a way to increase in one way or another. Yes, there are a few instances of extreme disappointment and childhood ruination, yet waiting just behind every missed opportunity lies the next cinematic juggernaut.
As we hit this summer in full stride with Marvel’s latest Guardians of the Galaxy, I’m going to take a few stabs in the dark as to what THIS particular season of sunshine and jet skis will bring those of us who prefer to bask in the sounds of our local cinema. These are my five predictions for what summer 2017 will bring us, and I would hesitate to call them “Bold Predictions”. A couple are hopeful, one is blindly optimistic, one is fairly obvious, and another is a peek behind the curtain. You can decide for yourself which are which, but let’s go ahead and get to ‘em.
5. The Old Feels New Again
Alien Covenant, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales , The Mummy, Transformers: The Last Knight, Spider-Man: Homecoming, War of the Planet of the Apes…the list goes on. Every summer, sequels and reboots overwhelm theaters and most of the time, we part with nothing more than warmed over leftovers. I’m calling this summer an anomaly.
Alien Covenant has an air of originality stuffed into its repetitive overview. The Pirates trailer seems to harken back to what we first loved about Johnny Depp’s beloved Jack Sparrow. Mummy manages to lose Brendan Fraser (deny it all you want, he was sheer bliss in those films) and still left us gasping with intrigue. Even Transformers, the stalest franchise in the running, is tossing off a tinge of something fresh.
Yea, I know it seems unlikely that all of these will scream new-and-improved, but that’s what optimism is for, right? Can’t we have just a glimmer of hope that we’ll be rejuvenated with some of our favorite has-beens?
If even half of these films get us excited to see the respective franchises again, that’s a win for humanity in my book. Savvy?
4. Video-on-Demand (VOD) Takes A Leap Forward
This spring, the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) discussed the inevitability of shortening the theatrical exclusivity window – currently at 90 days – to something more beneficial to studios. This means that sometime in the very near future, studios will be able to offer films in our homes much faster after the initial theatrical release date.
Not only is this a matter of eventuality, the very notion of video-on-demand is exploding in definition. With literally hundreds of new films getting cranked out every year, where will they all go and who could ever afford to hit the cinema even if they get there? VOD is where the future lies for many artists to get their visions out there, and to deny this future is a lesson in futility.
Blockbusters are not the target here – there is still only a fraction of the profit available for a mega-budgeted film to release solely on VOD – but this is prime real estate for a small indie film garnering a huge cult following. Much like VHS built legions of Evil Dead and John Carpenter fans, VOD has the potential to expand the circle of smaller films and launch emerging talent into the stratosphere.
I’m pointing my bat and calling this summer when we finally take that deeper plunge. The infrastructure is finally here, the pricing of $5-7 to rent at home is hitting the everyman sweet spot, and those NATO peeps have ignored their own policies just enough – yea, when you say no texting during a flick, ENFORCE IT – that citizens are willing to stay in when it’s not a bombastic “must-see” blockbuster. This is the devil they know.
3. Edgar Wright Steps Into the Mainstream
Get ready to slam your browser shut: I’ve always thought Edgar Wright was overrated.
STOP YELLING! Look, I get it. The auteur has whipped up a couple gems (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, the infamous DON’T trailer), but nothing I’d claim is cinematic bliss nor brilliance. I found Scott Pilgrim vs. the World to be overindulgent hokum and The World’s End was proof that the joke was over.
When he initially signed on for Marvel’s Ant-Man – unlike every other fanboy on the planet – I winced. His off-kilter humor would be fine enough in a Kick-Ass type franchise, but keep this lunacy out of my official MCU (that’s Marvel Cinematic Universe for you people with lives). That’s what my cynical former self thought. Until I caught a screening of Wright’s latest at SXSW.
You don’t know this yet, but you’re going to love Baby Driver. Ansel Elgort stars as Baby, a getaway driver who infuses music into his escapes as a sort of melodic choreography. The film features several great actors in unique roles (Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx) and a breakout performance from Elgort as the Fred Astaire of crime flicks.
Then there are the action scenes.
High-speed racing has been a thing for decades, from The French Connection to the latest Fast and Furious. If you’ve seen one car chase, you’ve probably seen them all. And then you live in the moment of Edgar Wright’s world – real steel brutality timed to a thumping soundtrack that is more character than compliment – and you realize that you are witnessing a movie cliché given new life by the meticulous handiwork of a skilled thespian. A director so in tune with his own vision he has it worked out down to the tiniest detail.
This summer, Edgar Wright will prove to the world that he is not some cultist sensation, he is a director who belongs in the game. He also manages to bring forth something in myself that I rarely acknowledge in a public forum, but this SOB has earned it: Edgar Wright’s work hasn’t been overrated, apparently, I just didn’t get it. This guy is the real deal.
2. R Is All the Rage
Thank you, Deadpool. Thank you with every fiber in my being. Not for being the first R-rated hit film ever, that’s obviously not the case, even though far too many fans seem to see it that way. But for being the R-rated film that reinvigorated the belief in using the rating for GOOD instead of evil.
Hollywood is a business and it’s all about the Benjamins. PG-13 is best for blockbuster business, therefore that is what is churned out en masse. Predictable thrill rides with a modicum of edge to keep it from feeling like saccharine-induced fluff, yet tame enough to ensure no Moms will be writing letters anytime soon. The only thing excessive in PG-13 is generally the shameless product placement.
Ever since Deadpool astounded the world with its vulgar and uproarious take on the superhero genre, studios have begun paying closer attention. It is not a formula that works for all, nor should it be, but it IS a formula that works if you find the right property. Logan proved that earlier this year when it became the first R-rated X-Men film and ultimately the most successful Wolverine stand-alone in the series.
Atomic Blonde, Alien Covenant, and Baywatch (The Dark Tower is rumored to carry the rating as well) are just a few getting the more mature overhaul this summer. And with continued success, this overreliance on PG-13 will begin to slowly erode back to the semblance of normalcy our summer season used to serve up with some consistency. Teenagers and kids deserve their heroes and villains amid a measure of safe entertainment. And those of us who enjoy a taste of the dark side every now and again, we deserve our peppered F-bombs and claws in skulls.
I foresee studios continuing this trend and if they continue to build it well, we will definitely come.
1. DC Gets On Track
DC has had a rougher road than Marvel in getting its shared universe up-and-going, but I believe this summer we turn the corner. Batman v Superman had its issues – and most of them are spelled Martha – but I will swiftly kick the dissenters to the curb for calling it a misfire. Suicide Squad had a sloppy structure and an ending that looked more relevant in a Ghostbusters movie, but it was still a fun men-on-a-mission flick. If people can’t or won’t enjoy them, they can Bobby Brown that nonsense. I have re-watched both films several times and as much as logic tells me not to, I still manage a smile every time.
All that said, there were still some very valid criticisms, and the biggest one was hope. It’s downright hilarious that hope would be lacking in a Superman movie, but it definitely was. We need a little optimism in our superhero flicks, a reason to root for these Gods among mortals. And on June 2nd, I predict we’ll finally have some when Diana Prince finally graces our screens with the power and might of Wonder Woman.
Not only does the film appear to allow a little sunshine into DC’s bleak aesthetic, Gal Gadot’s take on the iconic character has already been the highlight of their entire universe thus far. Gadot radiates a warmth and compassion in her brief Batman v Superman stint that her cohorts never approached.
For all of the flack Gadot endured with her casting, it seems painfully ironic that DC’s greatest chance for redemption now lies not in their studio stalwart, Batman, nor in their rebranded Superman. Instead, millions are breathlessly awaiting the boys and Zack Snyder to get their asses in the backseat and let the strength of a hero for the ages carry DC and their invisible jet-sized ambition into the next decade, with a woman’s touch.
It is this breath of optimism that DC desperately needs, and by launching Wonder Woman with her own story and brand intact, while graced with Gadot’s tailored persona, this is the moment to reimagine their own destiny. Humor is shining through in the upcoming Justice League, sure, but audiences need to know right this instant that DC and Warner Brothers have heard their grievances loud and clear. Raising their heads firmly above the sand.
Audiences don’t need an imitation of Marvel. We simply demand something wonderful.