Summer film preview: superhero sequels, dystopian Earth and questionable efforts 

Regression analysis

Maybe it's me getting older, or maybe it's the global warming of Hollywood megacapitalism, but summer movie season seems to come sooner every year. As you've no doubt discovered, this year's already is well underway, especially considering Iron Man 3's release on May 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness (see here) this week.

Makes sense: Regression obviously is the first order of summer-movie business. To wit, one more batch of repurposed relics of our collective misspent youth: prequels, sequels, reboots and many more childish things we never seem to want to put away.

Of course I've never stopped watching movies made from comics, not least because they keep getting made. In Superman Returns (2006) I thought Brandon Routh seemed himself like some CG artifact, and so perhaps perfectly suited to the project at hand after all. Surely there's no making up for the goneness of Christopher Reeve; I guess all I'll really want from Henry Cavill in director Zack Snyder's Man of Steel (June 14) is that he confirm my ongoing amazement at how much better British actors are at faking American accents than vice versa. Not that it even matters if Cavill flubs that a little; Superman isn't really from Kansas, anyway.

Otherwise, what most interests me is Snyder's casting of Michael Shannon, an actor I've always appreciated, as the super-villain Zod. Of course that's the role Terence Stamp made so memorable in Superman 2, so Shannon himself has a mighty big tunic or kimono or lawn-and-leaf bag or whatever it was, to fill.

This summer's blur of comic-book superhero flicks also includes The Wolverine (July 26), with Hugh Jackman again trying his clawed hand at an X-Men standalone, and for that matter even Kick-Ass 2 (Aug. 16), with Jim Carrey joining Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz and Christopher Mintz-Plasse's foul-mouthed action comedy of costumed adolescent vigilantes. These seem promising to their target demographics, which perhaps is all any of us really expect anymore.

Summer always was a good time to get off-planet. Now more so than ever, maybe, with our collective fears of war and climate change and environmental guilt at last fully saturating the movie market.

Keen observers may detect a trend of future-people revisiting a ruined Earth after some full-scale catastrophe: In April's Oblivion it was Tom Cruise; in M. Night Shyamalan's After Earth (May 31), it's Will Smith and his son Jaden. Relatedly, Elysium (Aug. 9), from Neill Blomkamp, the allegorically inclined director of District 9, involves Matt Damon and Jodie Foster in a futuristic epic about how the haves live in luxury and in orbit, abandoning our ruined overcrowded planet to the doomed have-nots. Quasi-relatedly, This Is the End (June 14) is a comedy with Seth Rogen, James Franco and Jonah Hill as themselves, enduring an apocalypse.

Just as apocalypse never gets old, apparently dullard-catastrophist director Roland Emmerich never gets tired of threatening the White House, which he blew up so spectacularly in Independence Day in 1996, stoking apocalyptic visions later almost made manifest on 9/11. Well, ours is a different world these days — except maybe at the multiplex. Reportedly adapted from a short story written in 1998 and already indistinguishable from this March's Olympus Has Fallen, Emmerich's White House Down (June 28) might be an exciting thriller, but as yet seems more like a desperate grab at past movie glories.

But then, this summer, even the kids' stuff seems regressive. June 21 brings us Monsters University, Pixar's first-ever prequel, perhaps because the recent 3-D re-release of Monsters, Inc., just wasn't enough in the way of franchise propagation. Now witness the frat-house antics of a pair of frighteners (John Goodman and Billy Crystal, reprising their roles) who will later join the corporate world of harvesting children's screams.

Not that it would ever happen, and not that it happening would be in any way good, but some part of me secretly hopes for something ruthlessly debauched here, some shocking attempt to get in on the newest wave of college-kids-who-wanna-party movies, like Project X or 21 and Over, or, hell, even Spring Breakers.

Would it not be entertaining, and maybe even a breakthrough, to see Pixar go there? Aren't we all more or less there already?



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