Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Inner child vs. outer adult: Our conflicted guide to the summer movie season [part 1 of 2]

Here at The A.V. Club, we stare into the gaping abyss of another summer movie season with a bewildering mixture of emotions. Years of boredom, disappointment, and CGI-induced migraines have taught us to fear and distrust this annual four-month gauntlet of studio excess. (Fool us once, Hollywood, shame on you. Fool us every summer since 1975…) And yet, from somewhere deep within, a dissenting voice cries out: “Why yes, I do want to see giant, remote-controlled robots beat the snot out of extraterrestrial monsters.” This is the pesky specter of our 11-year-old selves, back again to remind each of us that space battles are always cool, superhero fights never get old, and there’s no such thing as too many movies about Vin Diesel living his life a quarter-mile at a time.

The eternal, internal battle rages on below, where we’ve looked ahead to the biggest movies of May and June, from the perspective of both our easily excitable inner child and our hopelessly jaded outer adult. Check back tomorrow for dueling takes on the rest of the summer’s prospective blockbusters.


Iron Man 3 (May 3)

What it promises: Going solo again after the melee mayhem of last summer’s The Avengers, self-described genius billionaire playboy philanthropist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) squares off against a terrorist group hell-bent on leveling his empire. Ben Kingsley plays the formidable new heavy; Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle reprise their respective roles of loyal girl Friday and exasperated sidekick. 
Why our inner child is excited: A guy crawls into a high-tech suit of armor and zips around the world vanquishing villains. That guy was in The Avengers, every inner child’s new favorite movie. And the guy directing this time also wrote Lethal Weapon, another favorite of the big kid in all of us. ’Nuff said. 
Why our outer adult is dreading it: Flying in the face of conventional wisdom regarding comic-book sequels, Iron Man 2 was much less fun than its origin-story predecessor. And part three is often the low point in such franchises, so why should this installment prove any better?

The Great Gatsby (May 10)

What it promises: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s lyrical elegy for the irrational exuberance of the Jazz Age gets the Baz Luhrmann treatment in this glitzy extravaganza starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the titular man of mystery and Carey Mulligan as his impossible dream girl. 
Why our inner child is excited: The Great Gatsby is one of the few reading-list staples that actually entertains young people with its live-wire energy and raucous, electric sexuality. If Luhrmann finds the visual equivalent to Fitzgerald’s dazzling prose, the result could be another zeitgeist-capturing smash à la his Romeo+Juliet. 
Why our outer adult is dreading it: Luhrmann’s assaultive style of über-camp could play havoc with the book’s delicate alchemy.


Tyler Perry Presents Peeples (May 10)

What it promises: It’s Meet The Parents by way of producer/presenter Tyler Perry when good-hearted regular guy Craig Robinson attempts to impress his girlfriend’s hard-ass father (David Alan Grier, in the Robert De Niro role) after crashing a family get-together. 
Why our inner child is excited: Our inner child briefly got excited at the prospect that Perry’s name in the title could mean an appearance by a certain sass-mouthed grandmother beloved by the young people. Then it realized that Perry is only the producer on this, so there will be plenty of maudlin sentimentality and broad physical comedy, but no Madea, alas. 
Why our outer adult is dreading it: Perry’s presence is a powerful inducement for adults to stay away, unless they want their emotions manipulated and intelligence insulted.


Star Trek Into Darkness (May 15)

What it promises: J.J. Abrams boldly goes where only Nicholas Meyer, Leonard Nimoy, and Jonathan Frakes have gone before, and helms a second Star Trek film. Most of the cast and crew of his 2009 reboot are reporting for duty again. New to the fold is Benedict Cumberbatch, as a former Starfleet commander who wreaks havoc on Earth. (And no, it appears the Sherlock actor is not playing Kahn. At least that’s what they want us to believe.)
Why our inner child is excited: In Abrams’ last Trek, he supplied a popcorn-movie zippiness that’s been missing from this franchise since 1996’s First Contact. Also crucial was the antagonistic chemistry between Chris Pine’s cocksure Kirk and Zachary Quinto’s uptight Spock. Both are back aboard the Enterprise
Why our outer adult is dreading it: Historically speaking, and at its finest, Trek has split the difference between escapism and philosophical inquiry—the latter of which Abrams basically jettisoned in his action-heavy first installment. Judging from the explosive trailers for this new one, the director still has phasers set to “mindless entertainment.”


Epic (May 24)

What it promises: Based on a children’s book by William Joyce, who also wrote the source material behind Rise Of The Guardians, summer’s first animated offering concerns an adventurous teen (voiced by Amanda Seyfried) who gets shrunk down to insect size and drafted into a war between microscopic empires. The trailers suggest a computer-animated descendant of 1992’s FernGully: The Last Rainforest.
Why our inner child is excited: The backyard battle sequences look, well, epic. Plus, who doesn’t like a good fairy tale? Bonus anticipation points for casting menacingly proper (or is it properly menacing?) Christoph Waltz as the villain.
Why our outer adult is dreading it: Blue Sky Studios, the animation house behind Epic, is responsible for such parental endurance tests as Robots, Rio, and the Ice Age sequels.



Fast & Furious 6 (May 24)

What it promises: More cars, guns, and dueling egos, as Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and the rest of the drag-racing crew join forces with ex-adversary Dwayne Johnson to take down a dangerous cartel. Tokyo Drift director Justin Lin is back in the driver’s seat.
Why our inner child is excited: For no-frills dumb fun, the F&F model may be the most reliable on Hollywood’s blockbuster lot. And just when it seemed like the franchise had reached its maximum capacity of muscular badasses, Haywire starlet Gina Carano joins the carpool.
Why our outer adult is dreading it: Lin claims this will be the first Fast & Furious film to part ways with the series’ underground-street-racing angle. That’s like making a Jurassic Park sequel without dinosaurs.


The Hangover 3 (May 24)

What it promises: The “Wolf Pack” (Ed Helms, Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis) is up to more mischief in what director Todd Phillips has promised (seriously, you guys, he means it this time) is the final entry in the epic trilogy.
Why our inner child is excited: The first Hangover was one of 2009’s most pleasant surprises, a randy boys’ comedy redeemed by deceptively elegant plotting and the leads’ strong chemistry. 
Why our outer adult is dreading it: Isn’t it about time for everyone involved in this insanely lucrative, insanely overextended franchise to grow the fuck up and move on? How many hangovers can grown men endure before the next sequel takes place entirely at Alcoholics Anonymous?


After Earth (May 31)

What it promises: Will Smith and real-life offspring Jaden Smith do some onscreen family bonding as a father and teenage son who crash-land on an abandoned Earth, a millennium (or Willennium?) after humans have high-tailed it to a more hospitable planet. The at-odds men will have to work together to get off the cursed rock; here’s hoping they have “Cat’s In The Cradle” programmed into their futuristic iPods.
Why our inner child is excited: There’s a lot of promise in that premise—which, yes, bears a certain resemblance to the recent Oblivion, but so what?—and plenty of stunning imagery in the trailer. Also, we’re pretty sure Smith is contractually obligated to say “Welcome to Earth!” as an Independence Day callback at some point.
Why our outer adult is dreading it: It isn’t telegraphed in the ads, but this is the new film from maligned twist-dropper M. Night Shyamalan, who has apparently become such a pop-culture punchline that studios feel the need to hide his involvement. Shyamalan is an accomplished visual stylist—even his howlingly bad The Happening looks great in spots—but his understanding of the way human beings behave and talk has steadily devolved over the years. (That’s a bad omen for a movie about two characters stranded in seclusion, with little to do but work through their issues.) Furthermore, Shyamalan’s last directorial effort was the dreadful The Last Airbender, which should have disqualified him from blockbuster duty for at least a thousand years.


Now You See Me (May 31)

What it promises: Ocean’s 11 with magicians! Jesse Eisenberg heads up The Four Horsemen, a “supergroup” of illusionists who commit elaborate bank robberies while performing onstage, then shower the audience with the profits. Mark Ruffalo is the FBI agent on the case; Morgan Freeman is a “magic debunker” brought in to decipher their tricks.
Why our inner child is excited: Magicians who perform heists? That’s the type of premise only an ageless adolescent could have dreamt up. We’re frankly a little shocked that Hollywood hasn’t attempted it before. 
Why our outer adult is dreading it: Director Louis Leterrier (the first two Transporter films, Clash Of The Titans) is no Steven Soderbergh. Furthermore, the script was penned by the not-so-deep thinkers behind the Super Mario Bros. movie and Prince of Persia: The Sands Of Time. Even the illusion of intelligence may be too much to ask of that team.


The Internship (June 7)

What it promises: In one of the most egregious instances of product placement since Mac And Me taught a generation of underserved children the magical properties of Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, The Internship casts Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson as men who score a priceless internship at Google and then must compete with the young people with their tweeting and their Facebook and the MySpace to get ahead at the amazing company, beloved worldwide for its incredible search-engine capabilities. 
Why our inner child is excited: Vince Vaughn is a giant man who talks and behaves like an overgrown 10-year-old. Owen Wilson never quite got around to growing up. They’re quintessential man-children in the quintessential up-and-comer gig in a movie that, at the very least, looks very immature. 
Why our outer adult is dreading it: The Internship would look inoffensive, except that it reeks of commerce at its most cynical and invasive. This isn’t just a dodgy-looking comedy: It’s a test balloon to see how much blatant corporate promotion audiences will tolerate. A line must be drawn, people!


The Purge (June 7)

What it promises: In the not-so-distant future—or maybe an alternate timeline, it’s tough to tell—America has become an idyllic paradise, almost completely free of poverty and violence. The reason? One night a year, all crime is legal. During this annual 12-hour stretch of get-it-out-of-your-system anarchy, parents Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey must defend their home from a gang of masked assailants.
Why our inner child is excited: As kids of all ages know, there are few better ways to spend a warm summer evening than getting the crap scared out of you. The Purge’s home-invasion scenario is familiar—the film looks suspiciously like 2008’s The Strangers—but the utopian/dystopian angle could provide fresh shudders. (Where can you hide when the entire country has a free pass to murder you?)
Why our outer adult is dreading it: It’s probably unwise to think too hard about a low-aiming horror flick—especially one produced by Michael Bay—but we have a few nagging questions about the premise. Like, why would the bad guys have to wear masks if they’re legally permitted to wreak havoc? And, per the trailer, how would one night of sanctioned mayhem a year cause the unemployment rate to dip to 1 percent? Even our inner children are having trouble wrapping their heads around that one.


This Is The End (June 12)

What it promises: Wisenheimers Seth Rogen and writing partner Evan Goldberg make their directorial debut with this meta dark comedy about a group of spoiled, pampered, hard-partying actors—essentially, the entire Judd Apatow gang, playing versions of themselves—confronted by the collapse of society. 
Why our inner child is excited: If done right, This Is The End could be a gleefully postmodern, smartass deconstruction of contemporary fame and apocalyptic anxiety. Besides, our inner children love famous people and shit blowing up, and this looks chockablock with both. 
Why our outer adult is dreading it: This also has the potential to be unwatchably smug, winking, and self-indulgent—a glib, hipster variation on Grown-Ups.


Man Of Steel (June 14)

What it promises: Just in time for Superman’s 75th anniversary, director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) gives the franchise yet another theatrical facelift, with a cast of familiar faces in iconic roles: Henry Cavill as Superman, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Russell Crowe as original Superman dad Jor-El, Kevin Costner as adoptive Superman dad Jonathan Kent, and many more. The trailer suggests a story that explores Superman’s role and responsibility in the world from childhood on, but doesn’t stint on the explosive action.
Why our inner child is excited: This looks like the darkest, grimmest, most exciting Superman reboot to hit the big screen, an expansive (and expensive) blockbuster that dodges Superman’s cheesiest aspects and addresses the hero on a grander scale than ever before. Also: Michael Shannon as General Zod.
Why our outer adult is dreading it: It’s yet another superhero origin story, yet another reboot of a recent franchise, and yet another take on a hero who’s been done a thousand ways. Plus, while Snyder is a dramatic and original visual stylist, he’s always had a significant bombast problem, and some difficulty containing his raw glee over badassery. In his work, that often translates as a creepy, fascistic pleasure with the strong dominating and abusing the weak—not a good fit for Superman in any incarnation.


Monsters University (June 21)

What it promises: This prequel to Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. catches protagonists Mike and Sulley (Billy Crystal and John Goodman) in college, where they both want to major in the monster profession of scaring. They’re only supposed to get one chance to enter the program, and they blow it due to their mutual dislike and rivalry, so they have to work together to get back in, get their scaring degrees, and not make Monsters, Inc. retroactively cease to exist.
Why our inner child is excited: Pixar has long claimed a policy of not doing sequels unless the story is worth it, and Toy Story 2 and 3 back that up. Cars 2 is much more dubious, but then, the first one wasn’t that hot, either. Still, Pixar has a terrific track record, and a new Pixar feature remains an event. Plus, CGI animation has come a long way since the first Monsters, so it should be fun to see the bizarre, colorful world in much richer detail.
Why our outer adult is dreading it: Director Dan Scanlon is largely untested, and his prior credits—as a Cars writer and a storyboard artist on Disney direct-to-DVD sequels—aren’t hugely promising. The same goes for screenwriters Robert L. Baird and Daniel Gerson, who previously collaborated on Cars, the disappointing Chicken Little, and the better-than-average Meet The Robinsons. Mostly, though, Monsters University is an adjunct to a beloved film that was fine on its own, and prequel/sequel/remake/spin-offs so often feel like cash-grabs that it can be hard to drum up enthusiasm for them at this point, no matter who’s putting them together.


World War Z (June 21)

What it promises: Brad Pitt tries to get to the root cause of the worldwide zombie plague threatening humanity. Director Marc Forster (Quantum Of Solace, Stranger Than Fiction) and credited screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan (Lions For Lambs, The Kingdom) adapt Max Brooks’ bestselling novel, ostensibly the true oral history of the zombie apocalypse. 
Why our inner child is excited: Dang, that’s a lot of zombies. The action sequences in the trailer are fairly stunning, focusing on the gigantic scale of the calamity. Still…
Why our outer adult is dreading it: Zombies have been done to walking-death lately, and this film feels awfully late to the diseased trough. The film’s long, troubled production history is partly to blame: It was stuck in pre-production for several years while seeking a financial backer. Carnahan retooled the original script by Babylon 5’s J. Michael Straczynski, reportedly because the backers were looking to develop a franchise. Even after production ended, seven weeks of reshoots followed, with Cloverfield’s Drew Goddard brought in for more rewrites. None of this bodes well. Nor does the PG-13 rating, usually a sign of a horror movie trying to blunt its impact for a juvenile audience. (Not always, but usually.) And to top it all off, the story looks fairly generic—another zombie movie meeting another hunt-the-McGuffin actioner.


The Heat (June 28)

What it promises: Federal agent Sandra Bullock is uptight. Local cop Melissa McCarthy is brash and sassy. What happens when these opposites must come together to break a case? 
Why our inner child is excited: Our inner child nurses fond memories of munching popcorn and watching the spate of buddy-cop comedies that descended upon American film in the ’80s, where mismatched partners with seemingly nothing in common bond over a case while being bullied by their perpetually apoplectic sergeant. Also, The Heat was directed by Paul Feig of Bridesmaids and Freaks & Geeks, so it has a much hipper pedigree than most cop comedies. 
Why our outer adult is dreading it: Our outer adult is savvy and realistic enough to realize that most of the buddy-cop action comedies we thought were so awesome were actually pretty dire. Plus, The Heat’s trailer is sufficiently horrifying, in spite of the talent involved.


White House Down (June 28) 

What it promises: Godzilla and Independence Day maestro Roland Emmerich, the king of mindless spectacle, adds to his oeuvre a clattering contraption about a would-be Secret Service agent (Channing Tatum, fulfilling his legal obligation to appear in every film) who is afforded a shot at redemption when it falls upon him to rescue the president (Jamie Foxx).
Why our inner child is excited: We’re pretty sure White House Down was written by the world’s collective inner child in a Pixy Stix-fueled sugar rush. A lone man has to rescue the president? If that wasn’t dreamt up by an actual child, it was certainly conceived by someone very much in touch with his inner child. 
Why our outer adult is dreading it: The response to Olympus Has Fallen, this year’s other action movie about an attack on the White House, suggests that two similarly timed movies about a lone wolf defending the Oval Office may be two too many.

Tomorrow: We conclude the summer movie preview by alternately squealing with glee and shrugging at films scheduled for July and August releases.


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