Tuesday, January 6, 2015

2015 genre film preview: 'Avengers,' Bond and 'Star Wars' — oh my!

This spring and early summer clearly will belong to the "Age of Ultron." The closing weeks of 2015 will be when "The Force Awakens."

In fact, many of the big-name films being released this year are from well-known franchises.

This character, named Kylo Ren in a set of Topps trading cards, wields
a new style of Dark Side lightsaber in this footage from the
"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" teaser trailer.
That's right: it's that time of year for yours truly to my annual preview this year's genre (superhero, action-adventure, fantasy and science fiction) films. The pickings are slim for 2015, but three or four of the movies are sure-fire blockbusters.

One is one of the most highly anticipated sequels ever ("Avengers: Age of Ultron") and with director J.J. Abrams helming the next installment of the "Star Wars" saga, "The Force Awakens" is sure to take the box office by … well, force. And it's no wonder studios are steering clear of those two release dates.

"Avengers: Age of Ultron" (May 1): Needless to say, fans have looked forward to this one since the release of the first "Avengers" film. Subsequent Marvel Studios releases have added to the buzz — and for this fan, making the power-hungry robot Ultron the villain is icing on the cake. Fans like me are pumped to see the addition of Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch and Paul Bettany's Vision. Equally fasincating will be how writer-director Joss Whedon handles Peitro Maximoff aka Quicksilver, who was in last summer's unrelated "X-Men: Days of Future Past."

The bottom line is plain and simple: "Age of Ultron" will rewrite box-office records in nearly every conceivable category. (That is until "The Force Awakens" comes out seven months later …!) On top of that, there will be countless repeat moviegoers — and that will whet more people's appetites for seeing this sequel. As I said, only the new "Star Wars" movie will come close to competing with this box-office juggernaut.

"Mad Max: Fury Road" (May 15): Giving the "Avengers" sequel two weeks to breathe is a smart move by Warner Bros., but honestly does anybody care that director George Miller is attempting to resurrect his long-dead science fiction franchise? I'm not sure many fans do — even if "Fury Road" stars fan-favorites Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron. "Mad Max" may do well initially, especially if audiences are going through any sort of "Age of Ultron" fatigue. Regardless, I expect the critical and financial success of "Mad Max" to be moderate at best.

Paul Rudd at the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con
"Ant-Man" (July 17): This will be Marvel's equivalent of "The Little Train That Could," but in this case we're talking about a pint-sized superhero. The cast is nothing but stellar: Michael Douglas as Dr. Henry "Hank" Pym, Evangeline Lilly as Hope Van Dyne and Paul Rudd as con-man Scott Lang, so there's no doubt each of those actors will bring their A-games. (Did you know Cary's Comics Craze has done an in-depth review of the trailer?! Well, now you do!)

The biggest challenge is Rudd's. Granted, he's been a great asset to each film he does, but he's been pigeon-holed as playing the comedic schmuck time after time and honestly has never had a role which I feel has the potential to show off his acting chops. Lang is a different kind of role for Rudd, especially since Lang takes up Pym's mantle of being Ant-Man.

The hero can shrink to nearly microscopic size — which could lend the movie to some humorous moments — but director Peyton Reed's biggest challenge is not to turn "Ant-Man" into a comedy. On the other hand, Rudd must make fans believe he's a brilliant thief/con-man who can become a do-gooder without turning nearly every moment in the film into slapstick or a parody. (The Jan. 16 cover of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY gives the world the first look of Rudd as Ant-Man.)

As far as box-office returns go, "Ant-Man" has the most favorable release date of all the summer genre flicks. There's not much being released around it that's similar, so that means fans hungry for genre material will flock to the theaters — especially since it's a Marvel project that has been in development for years. Another thing going for it is what I call the "Guardians of the Galaxy" phenomenon; Marvel Studios has a tradition of turning heroes and characters that are waaaay off the pop culture radar into pure gold. Expect "Ant-Man" to be the biggest surprise success of the season, if not the entire year.

"The Fantastic Four" (Aug. 7): The end of the summer movie season brings yet another reboot — likely for a franchise that not many fans care about, given how much fans and critics gleefully rip on the last two movies.

There has been next to no buzz, much less excitement, for this take on the first family of comic books.

Worse yet, 20th Century Fox and director Josh Trank haven't done much to whet fans' appetites for what they'll see in "The Fantastic Four." The studio should have taken advantage of social media to release footage and promotional photos/posters. Such an online campaign could have done wonders with calming fans' fears and answering so many of our "WTF?" questions. (The biggest one is why did they cast a black man — even one as talented as Michael B. Jordan — to be Johnny Storm aka the Human Torch? Don't get me wrong: I have nothing wrong with casting African-Americans as Caucasian characters as long as such choices benefit the story; the Jordan casting simply seems to be odd choice at this point.) Such uncertainty could spell doom for one of comicdom's most prestigious superhero ensembles — one that undoubtedly deserves a critically acclaimed Hollywood experience.

"Spectre" (Nov. 6): James Bond finally faces the titular international terrorist organization in this rebooted continuity. The last 007 film, "Skyfall," fabulously ended one era of Daniel Craig's Bond (which started in his debut, "Casino Royale" and continued into its direct sequel, the oddly titled "Quantum of Solace") and by its closing minutes, deftly set the stage of the characters, gadgets and fun we'd been used to seeing in the previous 23 Bond films and certainly in Ian Fleming's novels.

"Spectre" can take all that to a whole new level. Needless to say, I expect big things — both for the future adventures in the Bond franchise and the box office. "Spectre" won't set the world on fire, but it certainly will set the groundwork for a strong end to 2015. 

"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2" (Nov. 20): How will Katniss Everdeen and the resistance fighters fare when they bring the rebellion straight to President Snow and the Capitol? Will Katniss end up with Peeta or Gale?

Since I haven't read the last book in Suzanne Collins' trilogy, I'm quite interested in seeing how everything ends. Expect big business — at least from the young adult crowd, "Hunger Games" fanatics and midnight showings.

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" (Dec. 18): The "Star Wars" universe is in great hands with Abrams. While making his first rebooted "Star Trek" film, he admitted to being more into that galaxy than being a Trekkie. But given how Abrams reached the heart of the relationships of the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, I'm confident he'll work the same kind of magic with Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia about 30 years after "Return of the Jedi."

"The Force Awakens" is a perfect title, given that Abrams is kick-starting the "Star Wars" storyline with the first of yet another trilogy. The teaser trailer didn't give us a lot of information except that Abrams' film will be home to young, racially diverse characters and many more females than the original trilogy. More importantly, the footage reveals that the Force won't just awaken, but that the Big Three once again will be facing Dark Jedis, Imperial Stormtroopers and TIE Fighters.

It's safe to say the Force is strong with this one!

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