May 2019 Forecast Part One
By Michael Lynderey
May 4, 2019
As Marvel (correctly) dumped the underperforming Avengers: Endgame on the dead zone that is the last weekend of April, we're missing a big early May opener for the second year running.
The May we do have is a surprisingly old-fashioned collection of roughly four modest blockbuster aspirants, furnished by many more titles around to buttress the depth and quality of the slate. Fifteen films of every conceivable genre enter wide release, the richest total any month in 2019 has or surely will conjure.
This is excellent. To show I'm not an ungrateful bastard who only focuses on the negative, I will explicitly express happiness that yes, for just one month, I can take a little time off from complaining about that genre (you know, the one that produced five of last year's six biggest films, poorly) and onto reciting captivating if pedantic history lessons on franchises like Pokémon, Godzilla, and W. Bruce Cameron's many Dog stories. With the caped crusaders now thankfully out of commission, let this month be ruled by the beasts.
1. Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (May 10th)
The Japanese again lend us Godzilla this month, of course, but they were kind enough to throw in something else.
The Pokémon series began airing on North American television in 1998, which was apparently so long ago now that I was young enough to watch it then (and truly, I haven't checked out this show since about 2000. I promise).
The star was young Ash Ketchum, a standard manga boy who bore a vague physical resemblance to myself, and who took up the series' quest of becoming a master trainer and collector of little creatively-named critters that floundered about the landscape of their unnamed faraway land (he started at the age of ten and will presumably continue indefinitely into adulthood, which he will never reach anyway; I mean, if he hasn't in 20 years...).
His partner in all this hustle was Pikachu, a little sprite Pokémon that looks like a dog mixed with any animal that can stand on hind legs, though is billed as a mouse. It's yellow. And it talks, kind of, in so much as it knows its own name. This manga series has one thousand and fifty three (1053) television episodes officially etched onto its rap sheet; and though, as I can absolutely honestly assure you, I stopped watching the show around 1999, it has continued airing on and on without my consent, through all the usual suspects of children's entertainment (Kids' WB, Disney, Cartoon Network) onward through the decades and into the now. Even as the children got old and these channels possibly went into bankruptcy one by one and vanished from the airwaves (through no fault of Pokémon's own, of course), the show went on and the band could never leave. Ash Ketchum hasn't aged a day. The Pokémon franchise must therefore be so masterful that its cultural force must not be curtailed nor denied. It is not stoppable.
The series was in fact so wildly popular as to produce Pokémon: The Movie (1999), animated in standard Japanese style, which grossed a very respectable $85 million that year, and thus in fact remains one of the about ten highest-grossing traditionally animated films of the last 20 years (gee, what happened to those?).
That was theatrical film number one, and the interesting thing about these Pokémon movies is that, much like their cousins on television, they've not exactly quite ever left our neighborhoods, having hit up North American screens at reasonable intervals for twenty (20) years. There was, Pokémon: The Movie 2000, which grossed $43m, the even better named Pokemon 3: The Movie (2001, $17m), and then onwards through Pokémon Forever (2002), Pokémon Heroes (2003), and two more recent films, I Choose You! (2017) and The Power of Us (2018), which had a couple of decent days in semi-wide release. That makes Mr. Pikachu the eighth Pokémon to reach decent theatrical release in North America. As with Godzilla, once one of these franchises embeds itself in our popular consciousness, it never leaves.
But the good Detective is very different. This is a new live action big-budget American film, the first of its kind. It is called ''Detective'' Pikachu after some previous spin-off property, of course, but I don't care to be sure exactly what it is Pikachu is searching for, other than that he wears a proper detective hat and is voiced ("Pika Pika?" and much more) by one Ryan Reynolds, whose credentials as a star of commercial cinema need not be re-tallied. He's been in movies that people have seen here, and we're still impressed by them.
His reluctant human companion is played by Justice Smith (no, not as Ash Ketchum), who graduated from high school in Paper Towns to running from sharp-toothed green screen in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. In this film, he must befriend the green screen instead (it isn't often, but I sometimes marvel at the fact that actors starring in films like this spend much of their time filming looking down or up at absolutely nothing, later CGI, with which they exchange a heated conversation or comical banter. What an odd profession acting has become.)
Detective Pikachu is hitting our screens not just because of salient late 1990s nostalgia (where is the Furbee film?) but also because of a recent development: the wildly popular mobile game (what's a mobile game?) Pokémon Go, which had its way with the population of this continent and others in the summer 2016, sending out crowds and hordes and packs of teenagers, young people, and many others of all ages into trees and parking lots and forest clearings so that there they would find...
they wouldn't find anything. Nothing you could see with your naked eyes. But if you had a cell phone, see, and your reached a certain point in physical space, the cell phone would tell you "ping! You've found it."
No, this doesn't make any sense to me, either. Couldn't someone have at least hidden a bag of gold coins or old baseball cards about the place, to give a proper historical incentive?
The film has apparently screened somewhere, and the inhabits of this place appear to have enjoyed it, twitting out in merriment and good feelings to a tune of a 70% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In an age of nightmarish and mocking 99% Fresh ratings for silly comic book films, this Tomatoes total is... great! 70% is a solid, likeable rating for something that should be light entertainment.
Without a lot of competition, and with that 'vengers movie fading quickly behind us in the rearview mirror (...), there should be enough room for this to just barely top all previous Pokémon films combined.
Opening weekend: $51 million / Total gross: $182 million
2. Aladdin (May 24th)
The putative highest grosser of the month, although it looks like the Sherlock Holmes-styled Pikachu might chop at its beckon, and those little Pokémon bite hard.
I've exhausted too much oxygen describing at length and width and every angle the plans Disney has for turning 2019 in film into a playground for their live action adaptations (you know the scorecard: Dumbo, released, still unloved; The Lion King, upcoming, terrifying; Lady and the Tramp, straight-to-TV, streaming, whatever streaming means; and Maleficent 2; no comment).
Once you get through all that, you're left with just Aladdin. Egyptian-born Mena Massoud stars as the hero of 1992's Disney animation, who, as in the original story in One Thousand and One Nights, is a homeless teenager minding his own business somewhere in the ancient Arab Peninsula. One sunny night, he finds in the vast desert landscape a hidden cave, clambers inside, comes upon the magic lamp, and unleashes the persistently wish-granting genie inside, coloured trademark blue as before.
Robin Williams delivered one of his most famous performances as the wish-granter's voice, dispensing one-liners at bullet-train pace. Here, the character is embodied by another of the biggest stars of our neck of the galaxy, Will Smith, adorned in vivid blue make-up and grown or glued a goatee, with ponytail reaching up from his bald top into the sky above, for good luck. Smith could match Williams' rapid-fire delivery, and places this film in the realm of comedy. I believe it's intentional.
Naomi Scott (the most recent of many Pink Power Rangers) is the female lead, the princess who's charmed into falling for a commoner, and most of the rest of the trademark roles are filled with character actors who are getting their biggest exposure here - Marwan Kenzari as the evernefarious Jafar, Navid Neghaban as the kindly sultan father. Iago is Alan Tudyk, adept at voiceover, and much of the original film's musical score looks to be reprised, with the most famous A Whole New World getting trailer play.
The big surprise is in the director's seat, which Disney has chosen to be occupied by Guy Ritchie, whose... creatively... edited King Arthur (2017) might not be the I would have expected to blueprint for a leisurely fairy tale such as this. The man had a unique style, and whether Disney has reigned him is one of the key questions.
The aforementioned Dumbo, a fair if not great film, showed the brand is not a guarantee of a vast untold riches, such as previous live action Disney carried ($504m for Beauty and the Beast, $364m for The Jungle Book, $334m for Alice in Wonderland, lead the array of frightful statistics Disney has amassed). That Aladdin should do better than the Dumbo is basically automatic, because its source material film is much more popular, and perhaps because it has its Memorial Day release slate mostly to itself when it comes to blockbusters, although this historical launching pad has slowed some in recent years (see Pirates 5, Solo, Baywatch, and so on, have all fallen under the holiday's blade). At the end of the day, the original Aladdin took in $217 million, and so this film has a real benchmark to live up to.
Opening weekend: $62 million / Total gross: $173 million
3. Godzilla: King of the Monsters (May 31st)
The Japanese giant monsters (and those who hold other citizenship) are majestic, rising from still waters like a dark mass emerging from blue tranquility, their scaly hides moving from unseen depths to the heavens above.
I am grateful we have them in our lives, and this film and others like it commemorate their gargantuan being with tales of glory.
This time, in 2019, Godzilla rises again! And King Ghidorah's got her. Millie Bobby Brown, the psychic ballbreaker from Stranger Things, is the small British actress whose lithe frame stands as contrast to the blobous pores of the beasts that tower so high above her (the posters aren't quite to scale, I say). The cast elsewhere is deep with character actors whose names flash above the monsters' heads on some of the film's posters, to no particular avail. Some - Sally Hawkins, Ken Watanabe - are back from Godzilla, 2014, and others - Brian Tyree Henry, Bradley Whitford - may re-appear in the next Godzilla film, 2020, if they can run fast enough. The humans are useful to a point: someone has to get the 200 foot tall kids together so they can play.
As it so happens, the chronology and history of this series, is a subject I can speak of with some length, detail, and excess (like quantum mechanics and the geopolitical history of the Asian Steppe).
But I will try to be brief, unsuccessfully: the Japanese have so many ideas on the subject that they have been making Godzilla movies from 1954 all the way to last week, when Godzilla: The Planet Eater was released (ok, it was actually November). This makes for roughly thirty two Toho Godzilla titles over the years, which I believe is still a slower pace than the one we're making Spider-Man films at during just the 21st century (in any case, you better start watching if you want to catch up before May 31st!).
America gets in on the act once in a while with Godzilla, shooting English-language footage to augment the Japanese original or helping out with Godzilla 1985 (1985). They first went it alone with 1998's Godzilla, which was the designated big blockbuster of that summer, before it was panned, ignored, and outflanked by Armageddon, $201m to $136m. Our continent tried to have its way with the scaly lizard again with Godzilla (2014), a mere sixteen years and a forth night after the first try, and with a film that I think was scarcely better, and which exhibited a phenomenon unique to the summer of 2014: a quite lofty opening, $93m in this case, and then a drop of percent all the way down to a mere $200m.
But studio Warner Bros. liked what they saw, and so deigned to scheme out a whole long series of interconnected monster films, a plan they set into motion with Kong: Skull Island ($168m in 2017), and which continues right through this film and the inevitable Kong Vs. Godzilla in 2020, due less than a year after this one gets in the game.
This time around, Godzilla has to get another foe out of the way, as elegant monster King Ghidorah arrives as advertised (it has three heads and an attitude). Given the film title I divulged above, it would appear that Godzilla either somehow survives the battle or that the Kong joust is a prequel (I think she makes it).
Whether the public at large is interested still in giant monsters pummeling each other while noble character actors exchange on-set stories on the ground below them is another issue. Pacific Rim: Uprising ($59m) and Rampage ($99m) from last year can be held as primers for disappointment. Sadly, a monster on the rampage seems not to hold the same appeal unless some jackalope with a superhero cape is flying up to personally sock it in the jaw. And in this case, there's no jackalope, thank heavens.
Opening weekend: $51 million / Total gross: $143 million
4. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (May 17th)
Parabellum: that's prepare for war.
The villains here are legion, as any number of the world's several million assassins, hired killers, and other dirty rogues line up and down the street to take their shot at comrade John Wick, perhaps unaware that such designs will lead only to their swift and unremarkable demise, just cogs in a machine and numbers on an ever-growing cosmic scorecard.
No, they haven't seen the first two films, that much is clear, or else they'd know not to mess with the man. We have seen them: John Wick opened to $14m right before Halloween four and a half years ago. It finished with $43m, turning what appeared to be a generic B-movie film starring a hardened action movie veteran named Keanu Reeves into an entertaining cult phenomenon that did superbly well on video (sorry, "video." Copies of the film practically flew off the Blockbuster shelves!). John Wick 2 went up to $92m two years ago.
The chain of events of this whole mess is simple: Wick is a retired hit person, Wick's wife has died (cancer, not carnage), she gifted him a small dog which then also died (bloody murder), Wick proptly avenged the animal (lots of people died), and then became entangled in a complex chain of events that had much to do with very specific rules that govern the assassin occupation. Most recently, he broke one of the big commandments (though shall not kill union members on company grounds), and so this new film finds him on the run from many more killers in futile pursuit of ever larger bounties.
Surviving cast members return (Ian McShane and Laurence Fishburne in mentor roles), along with some choice new faces (Halle Berry as a star love interest, Mark Dacascos as a lethal martial artist, Jason Mantsoukas as comic relief). And a beloved dog, Mr. Wick's second, is still around. And shall remain so.
The great hope is that John Wick will play like one of those mythical franchises that doubles its box office the first sequel out and then multiplies by two again with part 3. I see it just a little like Austin Powers, which went from a $53m total for part one to $206m for two and $213m for three. The man has expanded his reach, his fandom must have grown even more since 2017, but these kind of R-rated live action shooting ranges, entertaining as they are, must have their limit.
Certainly, the film has a more profit-friendly release date, in the contra-dog-days of summer, in between the first film's chilly autumn and the second's early days in February. It will once again have universal reviewers' acclaim on its side. And Reeves has re-established his cultural cache, as a man who wrings out suspense even in situations and films where we know that no matter how many bullets and others fly in his general direction, that he will never, ever be killed.
Opening weekend: $41 million / Total gross: $122 million
5. Ma (May 31st)
There's an unusually active number of horror movies this month, a neat trend that's going to play all through the summer (heck, two killer doll films are knocking down our doors in June alone). To spruce up May, we've got three official horror films (plus Godzilla) [plus Detective Pikachu].
Octavia Spencer plays the title character, a middle-aged mystery living on a farm with a great roomy barn somewhere in the outdoors, just waiting to be used by teenagers looking for a safe party space. They befriend Ma, find refuge in her habitat, make it a regular place to visit, and remind initially blissfully unaware that while they partake in their prototypical post-1950s teenage activities (drugs, rocknroll) Ma is cooking up her hidden agenda. As it turns out, she's evil (to paraphrase Power Rangers Zeo, she's the only one in the galaxy more evil than myself), and their merry ways are leading in the direction of them being terrorized, stalked, and presumably killed by the old miss.
There appears to be a link to the heady high school days of the late 1980s, when the parents of many, most, or all of these unlucky high school students had a falling out with Ma, who has ambitiously waited all these thirty plus years for revenge, hoping that every last person she has a grudge against will indeed reproduce (somewhat like how the parents of all those Hogwarts students in Harry Potter knew each other, or The Midnight Club on Riverdale). The past defines the present. Hate spills over generations.
Octavia Spencer moves nicely from any number of memorable parts (she has three Supporting Actress nominations under her belt, one consumated), to a lead role as a menace in a teen horror film. In a decade where most cinematic horror villains have been evaporating ghosts or invisible evil demons possessing the living, it's nice to have a potentially memorable flesh-and-blood badun, perhaps ready to entertain a sequel. The studio is Blumhouse, which turns creative horror ideas, high concepts, into strong opening weekends that have beaten down any number of unsuspecting respectable films opening on the same dates. Godzilla surely won't be bested by Ma... surely. But Rocketman will probably get plowed down under her path.
Opening weekend: $25 million / Total gross: $65 million
6. A Dog's Journey (May 17th)
Many a film has placed "Dog" in its title as a declaration of pride in their protagonist and a call to arms for all champions of this beloved animal. We dog obsessives are legion.
On the other hand, as A Dog's Journey is here, film obsessives such as myself will now have to spend any number of future minutes, decades, and centuries explaining to civilians that A Dog's Purpose was a 2017 film about a dog spirit reincarnated through different canines over generations before meeting again their beloved first owner, A Dog's Way Home was the 2019 adaptation of a different novel by the same author, about a lost animal who's watched Homeward Bound too many times and decides to brave the far reaches of America in search of home, and A Dog's Journey is yet another 2019 film, released but four months and six days after the second herenamed title. The dog in this one is the same as the one in the original film. I think.
Journey is from the same studio, and so is a direct sequel to Purpose - Dennis Quaid returns and all, and he's slightly less evil than in The Intruder - but Way Home was not a sequel, despite the word "dog," featuring a "dog," and having been based on a book by W. Bruce Cameron, the author of all three films, who obviously really likes one member of the animal kingdom above the rest.
The first film grossed $64m and the second (which isn't really the "second") about ten million over half that, at $42m. I see the official sequel making more like the first, especially in a month without a lot of designated mega-hitters sucking up much needed oxygen from more normal animals and their plight.
Opening weekend: $19 million / Total gross: $62 million
7. Rocketman (May 31st)
Not to be confused with the 1997 film with Harland Williams, which really was about an astronaut trainee without much Right Stuff (and by the way, this habit of repeating the exact same title is incorrigble! Just last month I wrote the world didn't need two movies named "Hellboy" in the span of fifteen years, and it appears I was not alone).
No rockets are launched into the heavens here, although Elton John sings very loudly and proudly. He is such a mainstay in popular culture that many might have forgottne if they ever knew that he's been part of it for roughly forty years. He is played in this biographical picture by Taron Egerton, in a film that presumably sticks to the man's life from his 1947 birth to roughly the late 1980s (Egerton is not particularly convincing as a 45 year old).
Egerton was good as the hapless Eddie the Eagle, and as in that film here transforms himself with various John paraphernalia, the glasses, hair, and makeup. His co-stars are unimpeachable, with Jamie Bell as writing partner Bernie Taupin, Richard Madden as his Scottish manager, and Bryce Dallas Howard as, oh my, Elton's mother (no, there's not a believable age difference between Howard and the star).
Dexter Fletcher directs, though the credits don't show it, he's the man who finished the last rounds of filming on Bohemian Rhapsody. So many other comparisons will be made to that film, in fact, that I will absolutely refrain from making any more, other than saying it's interesting Bohemian Rhapsody finished with $216m, just above A Star is Born's $215m, which itself was just over Venom's $213m (the latter two opened on the same day).
That has much of little to do with Rocketman, which will play on his own strengths or lack thereof, outside of the Oscar season, where even reviews won't necessarily decide his fate. The man has his fans.
Opening weekend: $22 million / Total gross: $58 million