Everybody knows what’s going to win May (sigh), so all I really care about here is the race for second. There, three films are in contention: dueling pirates fight off a challenge by feuding, linebacker-sized lifeguards, while chest-sucking space monsters prowl in the shadows. If you like none of the above, you can join me in rooting for Goldie Hawn.
By Michael Lynderey
May 5, 2017
1. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (May 5th)
A Marvel comics adaptation kicks off the summer movie season… again (actually, despite all my complaining about it, this is only the 11th time in a row that this has happened!). If you saw Mission: Impossible 3 over its May 5, 2006 opening weekend and remarked to yourself what a pleasure it was to open the summer with a film that was not based on a Marvel comic book… you may have to wait about 20 years from that day to be able to say it again.
The action is led by Chris Pratt, who looks like an auburn Paul Rudd and talks like a Yankee Matthew McConaughey, if such a thing were possible. Most of the original cast has also returned - perennial player of aliens Zoe Saldana, B-action regular Dave Bautista, and the voices and grunts of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel as now-iconic plants and animals (you know their names). Michael Rooker and Karen Gillan are lovable rogues, and the big new addition is Kurt Russell, currently busy playing Mr. Exposition in the latest Adam Sandler movie, The Fate of the Furious.
As best as I can understand it, everyone really digs the Guardians, but the original film is more interesting to me for its superhero origin story than much else: it arrived at the tail end of summer 2014, which to that point had been home only to a middling collection of financially-unimpressive blockbusters, a troubled landscape where the average big movie opened to something like $90 million, impressed some die-hard fans, and then dropped big and vanished quickly, never to be seen or heard from again. Guardians broke the cycle. Without visible movie stars or a pre-established concept, and including among its cast a gun-toting, impolite raccoon, the film rode its enthusiastic reviews and Marvel goodwill signpost to easily win the summer with a $333 million total, a victory no one had expected, and the only time so far in the 21st century that a summer’s biggest movie had come out in August. Right place, right time, right summer.
This time, this summer, Guardians will, of course, win the season again, and the oncoming landslide shall not surprise a soul (brave but outmatched challengers will include June’s Despicable Me 3 and July’s Iron Man: Homecoming, which guest stars Spider-Man and Michael Keaton). Disney’s Beauty and the Beast will probably stay ahead of Disney’s Guardians as the year’s biggest film, if only until Disney’s annual Friday the 13th Star Wars sequel gets here (a studio having three of its own films fight it out for number one is such a first world problem).
As I also never tire of recounting, not a single one of the fourteen Marvel Cinematic Universe films has ever, never, ever, just truly never, been stamped with a “Rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a fact that I find mostly kind of creepy and annoying (remember, imperfection creates brilliance, and true genius is often divisive). Guardians 2 is, of course, rated fresh, and should excite its base of Marvel enthusiasts enough to easily open in the high hundred millions and finish somewhere in the four hundreds… just the same as the last three Marvel Cinematic Universe films to open over this weekend, Iron Man 3, Avengers 2, and Captain America 3, and as will the next two, Avengers 3 (2018) and 4 (2019) [can’t we have a Saw movie start off the summer for a change? I also hear the new Texas Chainsaw film is looking for a release date. C’mon.].
Opening weekend: $162 million / Total gross: $444 million
2. Baywatch (May 26th)
Making a decent stab for runner-up is Baywatch, a big-screen, high-budget, and very offensively ultra-muscular, adaptation of an apparently legendary television series – a show that I must report never having seen in any capacity, even having been blessed with a 1990s childhood (so it’s about lifeguards who rescue insolent swimmers and solve crimes? An excellent example of multi-tasking).
The noble beachcombers this time are led by Zac Efron, acutely cast given his mild but tangible history of beefcake self-parody, and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who has spent years moving from action to comedy to self-satire to farce, and whose screen presence may at this rate soon evoke the only genre left, horror. While I shudder at his public image, I would never question the man’s box office credentials: Journey 2, $103 million, San Andreas, $155 million, Central Intelligence, $127 million, Moana, gazillion dollars, and onwards through the hall of endless victory (if anyone has proven that too much winning can be boring…). As for Zac Efron, in this film he looks so much bigger than before, that a passerby glancing at a Baywatch poster on a semi-lit street should be forgiven for being unable to pick out which is The Rock and which is Mr. Efron.
Elsewhere, Kelly Rohrbach takes over the Pamela Anderson role of statuesque queen of the beach, while Alexandra Daddario has the other big female lead (and since she played The Rock's daughter in San Andreas, I hope their characters stay as platonic as possible). Priyanka Chopra makes her big American film debut, and cameos will be had by all relevant parties (if David Hasselhoff agreed to appear in Piranha 3DD, you kind of assume he okayed this one, too).
Since a humourless, straight-forward, Baywatch movie is just about impossible (and immoral) to make, this version has gone the route of comedy, a la Charlie's Angels (which I ‘’think’’ was self-aware) and 21 Jump Street. And so, I assume, straggling beach patrons will be saved from their life-threatening errors, action-comedy quips will be traded, the conspiracy to derail the beachtime idyll will be identified and prevented, television clichés will be recreated in snickering detail, shark attacks will be averted, and the size of The Rock and Efron's pectoral muscles, which would make the average steroid addict green with envy, will be mocked (and other than the one I just made, jokes about how big someone's muscles are, are never, ever, funny; if we must breach the subject of body mass at all, let us just have fat jokes again, instead, please).
By the way, last summer had so many underperforming films, especially sequels, that it would not surprise me in the least to see the sand-bound Baywatch outwit the same Memorial Day weekend's other big movie, the Caribbean-dwelling Pirates.
Honestly, which would you rather see?
(If only because Baywatch is likely to be shorter.).
Opening weekend: $55 million (4-day) / Total gross: $145 million
3. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (May 26th)
Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, and Spider-Man 3 were three of the biggest films of summer 2007. Ten years later, humanity eagerly awaits the releases of Pirates 5, Transformers 5 (June), and Spider-Man… 6, isn’t it, technically? (July). Summer 2007 may soon call summer 2017 and politely ask for its films back (at least they kept Shrek).
The first Pirates of the Caribbean arrived a year after its little-seen DisneyWorld cousin The Country Bears (2002), and pre-release was similarly mocked as a ridiculous adaptation of a children’s theme park ride. Alas, the mockers were silenced and banished, because Pirates had been made into a well-reviewed old school fantasy adventure, buoyed by Johnny Depp’s Oscar-nominated performance, and blew away that July weekend’s other big period piece, the 1899-set The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (in an alternate universe, we’re now getting League 5: the Roaring Twenties instead). Over in our reality, though, Pirates inspired a franchise that soon became known for combining action, comedy, and length (part 3 clocked in at 2 hours and 48 minutes), and collected every last trope one could hope or dread to find in a Pirate picture (say, is that ghost monkey coming back?). Pirates 2 (Dead Man’s Chest) broke the opening weekend record in 2006 with a still-respectable $135 million, and the next two films dropped on the box office rungs as time went by, to a $309 mil total gross in 2007 and $241 mil in 2011.
That brings us to Dead Men Tell No Tales, but who in these films is really dead? While my favorite pirate, Bill Nighy’s humanoid-shaped seafood Davy Jones, is apparently gone for good, Pirates 6 returns Johnny Depp’s Captain Sparrow and enjoins him again with Geoffrey Rush’s salty-looking Captain Barbossa (who has been brought back from the beyond, twice, and apparently liked not being dead so much that he stuck around). They are pitted against Javier Bardem’s Captain Salazar, who is the latest of the dozens of high-powered marine denizens who prowl the waves of the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and all other oceans looking for revenge against Captain Jack Sparrow (the man sure has ticked off a lot of people, even for reasons other than his films’ excessive and offensive length).
Among the new cast are Kaya Scodelario, from the Maze Runner films, and a nice young actor named Brenton Thwaites, who was the lead in the underrated and underseen The Giver (2014) and Gods of Egypt (2016), and also that thriller The Signal, which I’ll use the chance to remind myself again that I still need to see. He plays the grown son of Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom’s characters, which must mean that Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow is roughly 20 years older than he was at the end of At World’s End, even if it doesn’t quite show (sea air is actually very good for you).
Pirates took over 2007’s big Memorial Day weekend, and the crew has returned to reclaim the same tentpole, if we’ll have them. Whoever wins the weekend aside, Pirates 5 might just dip under a $200 million total domestically, though I’m sure on foreign seas it should sail quite robustly all throughout the summer. If Americans really are tired of sequels, there’s even a fringe and unlikely scenario where this entry finishes under $100 million, though it’s absolutely guaranteed that it’ll still outgross The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen 5.
Opening weekend: $63 million (4-day) / Total gross: $145 million
4. Alien: Covenant (May 19th)
Depending on how you count, Covenant is the eighth film depicting the long-running misadventures of the malnourished chest-busters from another planet. A prequel, it is set to excite franchise loyalists for one particular reason: it is directed by Ridley Scott, who went from commercials and the western The Duellists to break out as a serious filmmaker with the 1979 original, and whose direction was succeeded, among others, by James Cameron for Aliens (1986) and David Fincher for Alien 3 (1992).
Coming off one of his biggest hits, The Martian, Scott returns to the well again, 38 years after he launched both a franchise and a sub-genre, inspiring any number of films about largely working class teams of space travelers/soldiers/mercenaries who get munched on by aliens/monsters/hungry dogs in a closed-off location, until only the female lead has survived, with maybe a solitary male, along the lines of Noah’s ark.
Scott’s 2012 semi-prequel Prometheus mixed high-priced sci-fi theorizing with bits and pieces of alien creature action, including a successful (!) and improvised self-surgery to remove a ready-to-pop alien. This time around, Prometheus’ Michael Fassbender plays one of the series’ trademark cyborgs, and new cast members include Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, and Danny McBride (I assume the last two will not return for a sequel, except in flashbacks, if you know what I mean). In most ways, the series is back to basics: unsuspecting scientists will walk into darkened rooms, alien monsters will lurch hungrily from both inside and out, and new information about the creatures’ origin may be revealed (are those things really that mysterious? I assumed what you see is what you get).
If we don’t count the more vaguely connected Prometheus (which opened with $51 million and finished with $126m), then Alien: Covenant has a decent chance at becoming the series’ first film to officially, finally, without any adjustment of numbers, cross the $100 million mark (Aliens came nearest, at $85 million). If Scott has done something new and exciting with his original concept, he will be given thanks at the box office. If he has at the very least crafted an entertaining and memorable action and gore film, it may be even more successful. These days, fan service is rewarded loyally and handsomely.
Opening weekend: $45 million / Total gross: $117 million
5. Snatched (May 12th)
Snatched (lord, please say that title isn’t a pun) conjoins Goldie Hawn and Amy Schumer as mother and daughter (in that order?), and places them into an R-rated road comedy slotted in between the month’s more obvious blockbusters. The presence of the always topical and often controversial Schumer may excite some of my co-generationists, but the main event in Snatched is the comeback of one of my all-time favorite actresses, Hawn, in her first film role since 2002’s entertaining The Banger Sisters, and the second since 2001’s Town & Country, which has gained some fame for many wrong reasons. Goldie, who is very funny and quite likeable, was one of the top female box office stars of the 1980s, with a legendary set of credits from Cactus Flower (1969) to Private Benjamin (1980) and the amusing Overboard (1987), though she has chosen to sit out most of the 21st century, so far.
Schumer came off her breakout hit Trainwreck in 2015 with a number of potential projects on her to-do list (pun definitely not intended), including a mother-daughter film with Hawn and a sister-sister film with Jennifer Lawrence (that one is still in the works, I assume; get on it!). Schumer takes on a much more conventional studio comedy for her second lead role, as she joins Hawn on vacation and, as is usually the case with people on holiday, ends up with mistaken identity and a crime plot, fleeing from teams of killers, bandits, and perverts, in a road trip-slash-comedic chase entertainment akin to Hawn’s own Bird on a Wire (or Foul Play, or The Out-Of-Towners, or Seems Like Ol… yes, Hawn has avoided a lot of killers, bandits, and perverts over the decades. They never stop coming).
Whether Hawn and Schumer have or have not made a film as effective and astute as their talents is unclear, but I think Snatched should overcome whatever difficulties to play much like Monster-In-Law from 2005; that was another broad comedy pairing an upstart (Jennifer Lopez then) with a legend who hadn’t acted in a decade and a half (Jane Fonda, who has since become more prolific). That film also opened over Mother’s Day weekend, starting with $23 million and finishing with $82 million, roughly double at least my expectations. While it may not always seem obvious, there is an audience for this material, and I know that Hawn must have many fans who are more than ready to see her again.
Opening weekend: $21 million / Total gross: $69 million
6. Everything, Everything (May 19th)
This teen romance travelogue stars Nick Robinson, a bright young actor who first headlined the effective indie The Kings of Summer, and then turned to run screaming from the camera in one of the biggest movies of all time (that would be Jurassic World). The female lead is Amandla Stenberg, last seen as the tragic Rue all the way back in the first Hunger Games, and here playing a teenage girl ill with SCID, a genetic disorder somewhere along the lines of The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (though the trailer contains no bubbles that I could see). He helps free her from her life status as housebound, and the two venture out into the great unknown of a breezy eternal May afternoon in Southern California (should I be writing romance novel blurbs, or what?).
And so Everything, Everything carries its awkward title (what does it really mean?) into that early summer launch window of films about the teenage experience, stories of road trips and first loves and parents who just don't understand and forbidden adventures by the sea, a sub-genre that has covered such varied pictures as The Lizzie McGuire Movie and the Olsen Twins' New York Minute, through The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Mad Love with Drew Barrymore and Chris O’Donnell, and all the way into Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, even. As a YA book adaptation and a romance involving a teen with a serious disease or disability, it may play to the same audience that turned Me Before You into a modest hit and sent The Fault In Our Stars into the beyond. Everything, Everything means counterprogramming.
Opening weekend: $11 million / Total gross: $41 million
7. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (May 19th)
Author Jeff Kinney’s Greg Heffley returns in another film chronicling his awkward young years as a sub-alpha kid, even if he is one of the few middle schoolers who has, as of this month, inspired no less than four (!) motion pictures about his tragi-comic shenanigans (that’s a lot of life lessons). As Greg, Jason Drucker takes over for Zachary Gordon, who was 11 in the first film and is currently in the process of being 19 somewhere (for the record, he bears a sly resemblance to Steve Martin, who should have cameod as a grandparent). Tom Everett Scott and Alicia Silverstone take over for the parents, and another recast actor, Owen Asztalos, plays Wimpy’s best friend Rowley, who looks and behaves like a gentle and wholesome version of Eric Cartman from South Park, if such a creature could exist. The story takes the characters onto one of my favorite subgenres, the road trip, where they will perhaps encounter some of the weary travelers from the month’s other two road films.
The first three Wimpy Kids were decent entertainments, and reminded me of those wholesome 1990s family movies I was raised on, about optimistic all-American teenagers in the suburbs solving relatable and non-threatening problems, like an updated quasi-1950s paradise of peace, prosperity, and good will. Those were the days. The Wimpy Kid movies most recall the 1997 remake of Leave it to Beaver, which also features a put-upon pre-pubescent, and which I wholeheartedly recommend.
The total grosses for the series have gone from $64 million to $52m to $49m in annual succession from 2010 to 2012, and part 4 should end up on its expected spot on this financial chain (let’s say high thirties). Drucker appears to maintain Gordon’s gawky self-doubt, and the fact that the book series still enthusiastically releases new entries (a twelth book is scheduled for November) is good evidence that this franchise, which has occupied bookstores since about 2004, still has fans over multiple generations of wimp-loving children and adults.
Opening weekend: $12 million / Total gross: $37 million
8. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (May 12th)
Saved for last is the newest telling of the life and legend of King Arthur, an incarnation of which we get roughly once a decade, at about the same pace as the Peter Pans and Robin Hoods (no team-up movie, please…). Without even the use of google, my mind immediately named other recent Arthurs as Excalibur (1981), King Arthur (2004), and the animation Quest for Camelot (1998), the latter of which I remember nothing about, except that it must have involved King Arthur in at least a token role.
Here, Arthur is essayed by Charlie Hunnam, known to the world most for his bearded Harley Davidson-related TV work, and perhaps less for his period films, like Nicholas Nickleby in 2002, the underseen Crimson Peak (2015), and Del Toro staple Pacific Rim (2013), which was a different period altogether. Jude Law’s presence as the snarling opponent Vortigern is well marked in the ads, and there’s some neat casting on the sidelines, like Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey as eternal love interest Guinevere, Djimon Hounsou as fellow knight Bedivere, and, as Arthur’s father Uther Pendragon, no less than Eric Bana, star of any number of films about war in the distant past. Legend of the Sword touches on most of the focal points of the story everybody knows – the sword in the stone (a la Thor’s Hammer), the round table, nods towards romance, and a bit role for Merlin. This decade’s Arthur may be restoring some of the supernatural elements, and playing it lighter in tone and sunnier in spirit than the grimmer 2004 version with Clive Owen, which dispensed with the pageantry in favor of cold historical realism (swords in gut, no sword in stone).
The director of myth this time is Guy Ritchie, who has moved from his largely self-created niche genre of verbose and quasi-comedic British gangster films into apparently self-aware incarnations of pop culture material, some in the public domain and imagination (Sherlock Holmes) and some not (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.). The latter film is a fair and effective entertainment that opened with $13m and finished with $45m in August 2015, and it seems most probable that Ritchie’s new film will maintain box office consistency with his last one, for better or worse. International audiences, who probably dig on sword-happy knights and lovelorn maidens more than North Americans, should give it a more favorable glance, and in the UK this hometown boy will play like gangbusters.
Opening weekend: $14 million / Total gross: $35 million