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Previewing the cinematic summer

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Looking ahead to 2017’s blockbuster movie season

As always, it seems a bit silly to be writing a summer movie preview so far in advance of summer. Still, Hollywood has extended the season, turning the beginning of May into our summer starting point, so if we’re going to catalog the blockbusters, then it has to be from here.

2017 has plenty of what we’ve come to expect from blockbuster season -  a bunch of sequels and a handful of remake/reboot-type offerings and oodles of superheroes, along with some big-time animated films and a smattering of comedies as well. Some massive movie universes are going to continue to advance their stories and others will look to kickstart their own mythologies.

Honestly, there’s a LOT of what we’ve seen before. But hey – familiarity isn’t always a bad thing. Let’s have a look at what the summer of 2017 has to offer.

(Please note: this not a list of the 17 best films, but rather an attempt at a representative sample of what’s coming. There are movies that I expect to love that aren’t here and movies I expect to loathe that are. Still, it looks like there’s something for everyone.)

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MAY

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” (May 5)

It seems that Marvel has essentially crafted itself a niche as the de facto launching point of blockbuster season.  The trend continues in 2017 with this one; everybody is back from the wildly successful 2014 edition and we can likely expect more of the same. Writer/director James Gunn illustrated his understanding of what these movies need to be last time; there’s no reason to think he’s forgotten with this one. With maybe the best ensemble cast of any subgroup in the MCU, this one has a real chance to outperform its predecessor and kick off Summer 2017 in a massive way. Oh, and FYI – rumor has it there are as many as five mid- and post-credit scenes.

“King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” (May 12)

Guy Ritchie is back with another two-fisted, anachronistically-stylized reimagining of a classic literary character. He had his way with Sherlock Holmes; now, it’s King Arthur’s turn. This movie, which stars Charlie Hunnam and features Ritchie mainstay Jude Law, has that same washed-out grimy look that Ritchie layers atop all of his movies … whether it works or not. From the looks of the trailers, this movie is probably going to fall short both as a King Arthur movie and as a Guy Ritchie movie. It just looks generically gritty in a way that is likely going to be a disappointment all around.

“Alien: Covenant” (May 19)

I’m not going to go so far as to call myself a “Prometheus” apologist, but I didn’t hate the movie quite as much as many others seemed to. That said, I think we’re all looking forward to this newest extension of the “Alien” universe. Ridley Scott is back at the helm for the second installment in the prequel series and sixth installment overall. Doubtless, the film will be visually stunning – Scott’s got a great grasp of the aesthetics of this world. And the cast looks good, with holdover Michael Fassbender joined by a varied corps including Billy Crudup, Katherine Waterston and Danny McBride. I’m betting that lessons were learned from previous mistakes.

“Baywatch” (May 26)

So I don’t think this movie is going to work. But I didn’t think that “21 Jump Street” was going to work either, and look how that turned out. This tongue-in-cheek adaptation of the syndicated bouncy lifeguard classic looks goofy as all get out, but there’s some legitimate talent involved. Guys like Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon – alumni of “The State” and “Reno 911!” – have story credits, for instance. And let’s be honest – considering the run he’s been on, if the Rock is involved, it’s going to make a kajillion dollars. Throw in Zac Efron in full comic himbo mode and this one might be an early surprise. Or totally awful. There’s no in-between.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” (May 26)

Really? Another “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie? I suppose in a time when no preexisting property is safe from sequel-ization, it shouldn’t be a surprise. But this newest installment in the franchise – the fifth in the series and the first since 2011 – reeks of desperation. It comes off as a last-ditch effort for Johnny Depp and company to cash in. And cash in they will – the last three have averaged over a billion in global box office. So Depp and Kiera Knightley and Orlando Bloom and Geoffrey Rush and all the rest can keep getting them checks. As for the movie itself? Well, at the very least, it is entirely unnecessary. Probably should have been keelhauled.

(Other May releases of note: “Chuck” (May 5); “The Wall” (May 12); “Snatched” (May 12); “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” (May 19); “The Survivalist” (May 19))

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JUNE

“Wonder Woman” (June 2)

In the cinematic comic book universe race, DC has lagged behind Marvel in almost every metric that matters. However, they have managed to produce the first female-fronted film in either realm – and that’s a big deal. Especially since Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman was one of the (sadly minimal) highlights of last year’s “Dawn of Justice.” It’s a WWI-era period picture as well, which is frankly awesome. They’ve landed a quality sidekick/love interest in Chris Pine as well. The trailers have looked fantastic, although in the grand scheme of things, the publicity machine has been oddly quiet. Even so, I think this one has the potential to do legitimately massive box office numbers.

“The Mummy” (June 9)

A Universal Monsters Cinematic Universe? Why the hell not? All the cool kids are doing it. And while it remains to be seen whether this idea can gain any traction, the truth is that they’d have been hard-pressed to find a better way to kick things off. It’s Tom Cruise, who has molded himself into the king of summer action franchises through a combination of boundless energy, sheer will and a complete willingness to do anything and everything to make you like him. Expect a lot of practical stunts and running. Hard to say how good this movie is going to be, but bet against Summertime Tom Cruise at your peril.

“Rough Night” (June 16)

Ever since I first heard rumblings about this movie, I’ve been intrigued. This erstwhile black comedy was pulled from the noted screenplay Black List and tapped for production; Lucia Aniello – who co-wrote the script with Paul W. Downs - makes her directorial debut. It’s being billed as “Bridesmaids” meets “Very Bad Things;” if they even come close to pulling that off, this movie is going to be fantastic. Plus, the cast is phenomenal – Scarlett Johansson stars alongside Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer and Zoe Kravitz. There’s real potential here – this could wind up being the funniest film of the entire summer.

“Cars 3” (June 16)

Just because Pixar makes exceptional movies most of the time doesn’t mean that they aren’t capable of tossing out a dud. That’s what “Cars 2” was – at least in terms of the usual critical plaudits that the studio gets. However, that movie made a crapton of cash. And so, while Pixar’s artistic sensibilities clearly remain important to them, they also like money. And so we get this one, with Owen Wilson and Armie Hammer and Larry the Cable Guy voicing talking cars doing talking car stuff in a world that may or may not be a post-apocalyptic wasteland where mankind has wiped itself out. Pixar should have pumped the brakes.

“Transformers: The Last Knight” (June 23)

I’m not even going to pretend that this is going to be a good movie. Michael Bay has settled into his groove as far as this franchise is concerned. It’s going to be a bunch of difficult-to-follow action sequences stitched together by threads of nonsense plot and the occasional terrible joke. Apparently, Optimus Prime is evil in this one or something. Mark Wahlberg is back as the most unconvincing scientist this side of Denise Richards, so there’s that. And Anthony Hopkins is here for that sweet, sweet franchise paycheck. This series is among the most cynical and cash-grabbiest of them all – and this movie will make a billion dollars.

(Other June releases of note: “Captain Underpants” (June 2); “My Cousin Rachel” (June 9); “It Comes At Night” (June 9); “All Eyez On Me” (June 16); “The Book of Henry” (June 16); “47 Meters Down” (June 16); “The Beguiled” (June 23); “Baby Driver” (June 28); “The House” (June 30); “Despicable Me 3” (June 30))

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JULY

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” (July 7)

I will freely admit that this is the film that I personally am most eagerly anticipating. While I have mined enjoyment from all previous cinematic iterations of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, I believe that this one will be the best we’ve seen yet. Spidey’s absence from the MCU has never felt right – he’s probably the company’s biggest icon – so seeing him as part of that world is exciting. Plus, Tom Holland looked legit in “Civil War,” Michael Keaton is playing the baddie and there’s going to be plenty of Robert Downey Jr. Early glimpses have been encouraging; expect this to be the most successful superhero offering of the summer.

“A Ghost Story” (July 7)

This one is a particularly atypical summer offering, albeit one that has already received significant acclaim from a hugely successful premiere at Sundance. It’s precisely what its title tells you – a ghost story. Casey Affleck stars as a recently deceased man who returns as a ghost to his former home and tries to reconnect with his widow, played by Rooney Mara. Writer/director David Lowery has made such disparate films as “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” and “Pete’s Dragon” in the past; he’s talented and possessed of a unique vision. This might be one of the summer’s weirder movies, but it might also prove to be one of the most heartfelt.

“War for the Planet of the Apes” (July 14)

The “Planet of the Apes” franchise has proven to be far stronger than I would have anticipated. 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was quite good and 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” was one of the smarter action blockbusters of the decade. There’s no reason to expect less from this latest installment; mo-cap master Andy Serkis is back as ape leader Caesar, while Woody Harrelson is onboard as the primary human adversary. With Matt Reeves back for another go-round, this promises to bring what has been deemed an “initial trilogy” to a thoughtful and thrilling conclusion.

“Dunkirk” (July 21)

A movie about the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk during the early stages of World War II might seem an odd fit for the middle of summer blockbuster season. Or it would if anyone other than Christopher Nolan were at the helm. Nolan – who wrote, directed and co-produced this film – might be the only filmmaker with the juice to get big-budget non-tentpole original movies made these days. And with a dynamite cast – including Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy and more – it might even manage some awards season attention. This seems destined to be one of the best (if not THE best) films of the summer.

“Atomic Blonde” (July 28)

This stylized spy thriller might be the final step in Charlize Theron’s journey toward becoming a full-fledged action star. Based on a graphic novel by Antony Johnston, the film features Theron as an elite MI6 agent dispatched to Berlin in 1989 to take down an espionage ring as the Wall is about to fall. Director David Leitch was one of the minds behind “John Wick,” so we can probably count on some high-octane action sequences. Theron is joined in the cast by James McAvoy and John Goodman among others; judging from the pedigree and what we’ve seen from the trailers thus far, this one might have some legs.

(Other July releases of note: “Wish Upon” (July 14); “Midnight Sun” (July 14); “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” (July 21); “The Emoji Movie” (July 28))

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AUGUST

“The Dark Tower” (Aug. 4)

I’ll be honest – I don’t even know that we’re actually going to see this movie in this slot. There have been rumblings that the release date might get pushed back. But as of now, this is when we’re supposed to get this long-awaited adaptation of Stephen King’s epic “Dark Tower” series. Reports are that the film has taken some liberties with the book’s narrative in order to create a fuller cinematic experience, but really, all we want to see is Roland pursue the Man in Black across the desert. And with those roles being filled by Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey respectively, we can rest assured that the film’s central conflict will be plenty powerful.

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” (Aug. 18)

For whatever reason, action comedy often struggles in the summer months. And here at the tail end of blockbuster season, we find this entry into the genre. Ryan Reynolds stars as the bodyguard forced to protect a former enemy, a hitman played by Samuel L. Jackson, so that they might somehow defeat a brutal Eastern European dictator played by Gary Oldman for some reason. Look, this movie might wind up being really funny, but let’s be honest with ourselves – it probably won’t be. Still, if we’re lucky, maybe Samuel L. Jackson punches Ryan Reynolds in the face.

(Other August releases of note: “Midnight Sun” (Aug. 4); “Detroit” (Aug. 4); “Annabelle: Creation” (Aug. 11); “Logan Lucky” (Aug. 18); “Gotti” (Aug. 25); “Death Note” (Aug. 25))

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