July 2017 Box Office Forecast
By Michael Lynderey
July 6, 2017
1. Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7th)
May 1, 2008. Los Angeles.
As Tony Stark returns home, elated at victory over the treacherous Obadiah Stane [Jeff Bridges!], he is greeted in his private multi-million dollar loft by an unexpected visitor. Nick Fury, head of SHIELD, has been patiently waiting for Tony's arrival.
"Mr. Stark," Fury asks. "We're putting together a team. Very special people, with extraordinary skills. Kinda assumed you'd be interested. You think you might wanna join up, right?"
The single word, spoken in an unmistakeable accent from the corner of the room, shocks both Stark and Fury. As the theme score from The Terminator suddenly begins playing in the background, a nude, heavily-armed Austrian man steps out of the shadows. Before either of the surprised would-be Avengers has a chance to react, the man r...
Every night, the dream is the same.
The question rings in my mind again and again.
What if Iron Man, starring Robert Downey, Jr., had never been released on that fateful night in May 2008 (or ever, that is), receiving wildly enthusiastic reviews, opening to a shock $100 million (actually only 98...), and inspiring a permanent, indestructible comic book-based universe of interconnected films and imitators?
What kind of world would we live in now? There would be no Marvel summer box office domination, no perfect score of every single Marvel Cinematic Universe film being labeled "Fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes (where is your Cars 2, Marvel? The fans demand it!), no reviewers intoning "they're finally getting comic book movies right". Liam Hemsworth might be the most famous individual ever with that last name, and if not Tobey Maguire, then Andrew Garfield would still be playing Spider-Man, instead of wasting time getting Oscar nominations (hey, I really liked The Amazing Spider-Man 2). Jurassic World could have been the first film to open above $200 million, and who doesn't have a soft spot for those cute little dinos?
And there would also be one less prominent example in the movies of that 20th century pop culture trope, the billionaire from New York who repeatedly saves the world through his know-how and smarts (indeed, it would appear the popularity of this archetype in American fiction may have helped lead to some real-world consequences. Big ones.).
Spider-Man: Homecoming is the last of summer 2017's sequels to three of the biggest films of summer 2007 (the other being Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers, now both on their fifth days out). Spider-Man is technically on day six, but the counter has been reset. Tobey Maguire was the first (we can call him the Spider-Man for the Greatest Generation, and for some of the older Baby Boomers), and Andrew Garfield was next, though their incarnations have now been wiped from the memory banks, with all copies destroyed and all witnesses to the act silenced. Sony's plans for The Amazing Spider-Man 3 (originally set for June 2016) and 4 (June 2018) faded into the island of cinematic nevermades, alongside that Sinister Six film that may some day escape back into our world.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe runs the show now, and the role of Spider-Man has been given to one Tom Holland, who turned 21 a few weeks ago, and was marvelous in The Impossible (2012). He looks enough like a real teenager to play the superhero who was specifically created to represent that age group in the 1960s, which was one of the decades that first helped define the very concept of a teenager (before that, they were really just anonymous farm workers helping dad out during busy season).
I have already spent time in this space questioning the casting of Aunt May, who was always written deliberately as a very elderly woman who raises a teenage boy she can never understand in many crucial ways, though does very much in others. (I suggested, rather than casting the decidedly age-inappropriate Marisa Tomei, my picks would have been Jennifer Lawrence or Kate Upton; having seen the Baywatch reboot, I would now add Kelly Rohrbach to the list of potentially great Aunt Mays).
The new Spider-Man also marks the screen debut of character Ned Leeds, who I best remember from a hilarious and frightening dream of Peter Parker's from a comic book published in the late 1980s (upon seeing Ned, Peter understandably asks, "Aren't you dead, Ned?", to which Leeds replies "Oh, my lord, you're right" and melts away into nothing). Zendaya plays Peter's other friend Michelle, who is counting the minutes until her big reveal as Mary Jane Watson (recall that Shailene Woody filmed scenes as MJ for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, so one way or the other, Ms. Watson always comes). The villain is one of my favorite Spider-Man bad-guys, the aeronautical The Vulture; I always imagined Terry O'Quinn in the role, but Michael Keaton gets the job here, and even if he doesn't much look like the character (neither as human nor as costumed fowl), at least it's Keaton we're getting.
Spider-Man: Homecoming has, of course, received the most positive reviews of the series bar Spider-Man 2 (2004), with the expected "he's the best Peter yet" and "He finally gets Parker right" quotes and their variations to be found in any number of assessments, including the inevitable "[This is] My new favorite Spider-Man film" (don't worry, the next reboot, which should hit around 2024 and star the new character Miles Morales, will get much of the same; recentism is just human nature, and I've long stopped objecting).
Spider-Man: Homecoming will prove a spectacular earner, of course, probably one-upping the opening weekend of the original Spider-Man, which in 2002 debuted with $114 million, the first film to open to over $100 million (gosh, it sure wasn't the last). The official Marvel seal of approval can re-ignite any blighted flame, and will send a strong signal to other Marvel superhero characters adrift in the sea of conflicting studio rights that it's time to come home. And they will.
The problem, for me if no one else, is the heavy presence in the film of Iron Man, a fact that has been advertised in abundance as if it were a plus. The film includes such sacrilegious material as Tony inventing the Spider-Man costume (nope) and then threatening to confiscate it (... definitely not). Tony even intones, "If you're nothing without this suit, then you shouldn't have it!", an ironic line to have been said by someone who walks around in shiny metal armor.
It won't happen, but the creatively right thing for Spider-Man: Homecoming would be for Tony Stark to die at the hands of the Vulture. Aside from justifying his presence in the film, it would provide motivation for Spider-Man and real stakes for the film (including a sort-of Uncle Ben moment that may otherwise be excluded from Spider-Man's origin story this time). Such a scene would also restore a sense of cinematic and cosmic balance - after all, Michael Keaton, the man who, along with Christopher Reeve, invented the modern-day big-screen superhero, would be taking down the man who began the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008 and gave it a new lease on life. (In a career that arguably dates back to 1970, that was Downey's first hundred million earner, by the way. It would not be his last).
By now, the character of Tony Stark has been overplayed and outworn. He has appeared in a film almost every single summer since that fateful May 1, 2008 night, and his story arc is complete.
I wish I could say to Tony what Ellen Ripley told the snarling, ravenous, bloodthirsty alien monster in Alien³, "I've known you so long I can't remember a time when you weren't in my life."
Opening weekend: $125 million / Total gross: $353 million
2. War for the Planet of the Apes (July 14th)
Here is a film with a single title and many call signs: it's the third entry in the new incarnation of the Planet of the Apes series, the fourth Apes film released in the 21st century, and the ninth Apes film overall! (I do this math so you can double-check it).
War concludes the transition back from homo sapien to orangutan, as humanity's long but futile journey comes to an end. Its most prominent human character in a scarce non-simian cast is a distinctly trigger-happy Woody Harrelson, who should be a blast to watch as he blasts away legions of oncoming apes (don't worry, I'm a huge animal lover), while the rare humans worth saving will be represented primarily by a young girl, whose handholding with a large hairy paw on the film's poster is a direct redo of a similar image from a poster of Logan earlier this year. There are some gorillas working alongside the humans, which is kind of cool, while elsewhere, Andy Serkis' performance as ape leader Caesar ought to inspire the usual impassioned internet pleas for an Oscar nomination to his name (... in vain).
A lot of people seem to really dig these new prequels to the ape-dominated universe, and while undeniably effective on a technical and emotional level, they've oddly never particularly engaged me: somehow I lack the interest in seeing three movies speed toward the inevitable, that place in time when humanity surrenders or essentially dies, a fact marked by the moment when Mark Wahlberg deigns to drop from the sky and discover the Lincoln memorial has suffered some rather... creative... redecorating?
War for the Planet of the Apes has received better reviews (95% Fresh on the meter) than the second film, Dawn of (90%), which itself received better reviews than the first prequel, Rise of (81%), although when you're dealing with numbers that high, such distinctions become trivial. Part 2 opened with $72 million and finished with $208 million in 2014, which bested Rise of the Apes (2011) but may in fact be about the ceiling for Apes movies, especially as the repeat business for Spider-Man takes away even a few battle-hardened science fiction fans from their date with humanity's destiny.
Opening weekend: $85 million / Total gross: $234 million