Summer Movie Preview 2011: Superhero Movies

I’m not sure if the major movie studios are ready for the summer. I mean, yes, they’re ready for the upswing in box-office totals after a terribly slow 2011 so far, but are they truly ready? I’ve mentioned before here on MMR that Jon Favreau sometime last year called summer 2011 a “box-office bloodbath.” I don’t think anyone is truly prepared for the reality of that statement, not even theatergoers.

That’s why I’ve chosen to kick-off my massive Summer Movie Preview 2011 with superhero films. Last year, this category would have included “Iron Man 2” and that’s it. This summer, four superhero movies will be released within two and a half months of each other. Paramount releases “Thor” this Friday to kick things off and also ends the superhero season on July 22 with “Captain America: The First Avenger.” In June, Fox releases “X-Men: First Class.” Two weeks later, Warner Bros. delivers “Green Lantern.” The genre is known for raking in the big bucks, so all these films could make bank, right? Not so fast.

Between “Thor” and “Captain America,” the following films will be released: “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” “The Hangover: Part II,” “Kung Fu Panda 2,” “Cars 2,” “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2.” With the debatable exception of “X-Men,” none of these films has the luxury of being a sequel to a great or loved movie/franchise. Are people going to respond positively and come out every weekend ready to spend their summer earnings, or are they going to be a bit more choosy, especially when it comes to these superheroes they likely don’t know?

Here’s my preview for these four films, the big four that are being heavily marketed to you that you might not know as much about:

Thor (May 6)

Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Written by Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Don Payne (screenplay), J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich (story), Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby (comic)
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston

Summary: For a foolish mistake, the Norse god Thor is stripped of his power, including his almighty hammer Mjolnir, and banned from the heavenly realm of Asgard to Earth. He’s discovered by scientists, one being Jane Foster (Portman). From then on a battle ensues to stop a plan to destroy Earth headed by Thor’s malicious brother Loki (Hiddleston).

The Word: British thespian Kenneth Branagh takes the reigns of one of Marvel’s more obscure and less relatable heroes, Thor, Norse god of thunder. Since he’s not human, Thor can be tough, but in the hands of a true craftsman like Branagh, the sky seems the limit. If Branagh seems unusual, note that he was a huge fan of the comic as a young boy. That’s usually a good sign and one that indicates the source material was treated with utmost respect.

My Thoughts: Despite some excellent grandeur as seen in the set pieces and costumes, my initial reaction was that “Thor” looked cheesy. Hemsworth certainly looks the part and capable of being a rugged leading man, but the real struggle here will be balancing the mythological with modern day. If the script and Branagh could strike that balance, something truly special could happen here.

Box-Office Potential: “Thor” has the benefit of being first. Although “Fast Five” made $86 million this past weekend and will threaten to take some of the film’s audience, fans of the genre who recognize the first weekend in May as signifying the release of the year’s biggest superhero film will still likely come out in droves. An early overseas release with positive reviews could also help “Thor” reach close to “Fast Five” numbers. It hardly has the appeal of “Iron Man,” which earned $98 million in 2008, but no reason $75 M-plus can’t be met. Then again, “Thor” is in fact an obscure and strange character, so a mild disappointment wouldn’t be out of the question.

X-Men: First Class (June 3)

Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Written by Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn (screenplay), Sheldon Turner and Bryan Singer (story)
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne

Summary: Set during the Cuban Missile Crisis in the ’60s, “First Class” is a true X-Men origin story in which two young friends, Charles and Erik (who would later become enemies Professor X and Magneto), decide to use their powers to intervene in the famous global struggle. Other mutants, including familiar ones such as Mystique (Lawrence) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) turn up as do new faces including fan-favorite beauty Emma Frost (January Jones).

The Word: It might be the most well-known of all the franchises, but many are wary of “First Class” because of its rushed production schedule and shoddy-looking promotional materials. Matthew Vaughn (“Kick-Ass”) has terrific credentials and “X-Men” godfather Bryan Singer supervised the prequel of sorts, but a film of this magnitude rarely gets turned around in less than a year like “First Class” was. Can this be pulled off?

My Thoughts: I like the story potential for “First Class” much more than the others. The period setting gives it something we haven’t seen before in the modern superhero era (but only by a month or so because “Captain America” comes out) and the story of how two characters we love from the previous films came to develop different ideologies certainly holds promise. There are lots of characters, however, and subplots like Beast and Mystique as young lovers and something with Kevin Bacon as the villainous Sebastian Shaw might mean too much is going on. This film also has the best young cast of its three other superhero competitors. McAvoy and Fassbender are on the cusp of stardom and Lawrence and Hoult have been cast to star in and lead future young-adult tentpole films in “The Hunger Games” and “Jack the Giant Killer” respectively.

Box-Office Potential: Fox is putting all its chips on the “X-Men” brand to bring it a big pile of winnings this June. The film has plenty of distance from “Thor” and a week’s cushion from “Pirates of the Caribbean.” It should have a nice second weekend with only “Super 8” coming out the following Friday, but then “Green Lantern” will possibly sweep up its audience. It will need a big opening and glowing reviews as well as some nice overseas work, which it ought to have with McAvoy and Fassbender being Scottish and Irish respectively. The June placement is odd for “X-Men” anything, but all the films have been a success so far, so expect no less, even if its on the tamer side.

Green Lantern (June 17)

Directed by Martin Campbell
Written by Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong

Summary: Cocky pilot Hal Jordan discovers the body of a dying alien who hands him a ring possessing great power. With it, he becomes a Green Lantern, one of many defenders of the universe, and he is the first of his kind, which doesn’t make the other Lanterns happy. However, he must learn to harness his power quickly as he could be the key to defeating a menacing threat to all life forms everywhere.

The Word: Fittingly, it seems Warner Bros. has placed a lot of power on Ryan Reynolds. The bankable star might be an odd choice for a pure action film, but he certainly could have enough to make a “Green Lantern” film work. With aliens and all kinds of non-lifelike entities and concepts, this is a tough film to sell. Martin Campbell, director of two of the most beloved modern Bond films in “Casino Royale” and “Goldeneye,” certainly has the chops, but the film will lean heavily on CGI sets, characters and other special effects that will likely not be finished until the last minute.

My Thoughts: If Campbell and Warner Bros. have drawn up an intergalactic world that can even come close to captivating us like “Avatar” did, then “Green Lantern” easily has the most potential as far as action, excitement and never-before-seen entertainment. As such, a lot rests with Reynolds to give the film its humanity and bring the film down to a level that non-comic nerds can identify with. He’s not exactly what Robert Downey Jr. is to “Iron Man,” but that’s what he needs to be for DC Comics to have its first successful non-Batman/Superman franchise-to-be.

Box-Office Potential: With “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” sure to eclipse it completely two weeks after its release, “Green Lantern” needs a heck of an opening too. Reynolds has never truly had his box-office potential tested, but since 2009’s “The Proposal,” he’s become a household name that seems capable. If J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg’s “Super 8” has a booming opening and great reviews that weekend before, however, that could be a major problem for this movie. If “Thor” seems obscure with Norse gods and such, try talking aliens named Kilowog. Warner Bros. can market as good as if not better than any studio, but with the crazy potential for “The Hangover: Part II” and “Harry Potter” this summer, it might focus on those and hope for the best with “Green Lantern.” Overall, I see it as having the steepest climb to a big summer gross.

Captain America: The First Avenger (July 22)

Directed by Joe Johnston
Written by Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely (screenplay), Jack Kirby, Joe Simon (comic)
Starring: Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Hugo Weaving, Stanley Tucci

Summary: World War II is underway and Steve Rogers is a sickly and scrawny guy deemed unfit for military service, but he becomes involved in an experimental procedure that tests a super-soldier serum on him and he becomes Captain America.

The Word: The final piece of the puzzle to be introduced for next year’s “The Avengers,” Captain America becomes the final second-tier Marvel superhero to make it to the big screen after Thor and Iron Man. Chris Evans, who has superhero experience playing The Human Torch in the “Fantastic Four” films, takes the lead and hopes he can bring an all-American charisma to this superhero period film that has a slight flavor of “Indiana Jones.” Veteran Joe Johnston (“Jumanji,” “Jurassic Park 3,” “The Wolfman”) helmed the project.

My Thoughts: If the dozens other summer blockbusters haven’t worn me down by then, “Captain America” sits surprisingly atop my list of superhero films to look forward to this summer. The period angle looks good and the casting of Hugo Weaving as crazed Nazi Red Skull definitely ranks atop all of the summer’s superhero casting decisions. Perhaps the appeal of “Captain America” is that it’s safest: no aliens, no Norse gods and not too many potential characters/story lines.

Box-Office Potential: If fatigue is averted from all the blockbusters out before July 22, “Captain America” might make for the last huge weekend of 2011. It sits three weeks after “Transformers,” which is critical, but only a week after “Harry Potter.” It has to hope that non-Potter fans will be amped up to see it and that “Potter’s” grand finale won’t completely cast a shadow over its opening weekend. A film like this would look much better near the Fourth of July, but it should still do well, just not as much as it could with a better slot.


  1. Heather C. says:

    You mention that none except X-Men is part of a beloved movie franchise yet, every movie you mentioned is a sequel or part of a beloved franchise. Were you only referring to the super hero fare or the entirety of the 2011 summer movie lineup?

  2. Steven says:

    My “these” was a bit confusing. I did mean the “superhero” films only.

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