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Summer Film Preview 2014: The Season of ‘Fierce’

Fire-spewing lizards, militant apes, and a gangsta Melissa McCarthy: Brace yourself for a long, hot movie summer

peter travers summer movie preview

Warner Bros. Pictures; Sony Pictures

If anyone can shake up summer, it's comic tornado Melissa McCarthy. Just watch the trailer for Tammy, in which she robs a fast-food joint, set to the rap of "Gangsta's Paradise." The lady is one of a kind.

Alt-Summer Movie Preview: 20 Non-Blockbusters to Check Out

Originality is otherwise MIA, no matter how many thrills are sparked by the usual sequels (22 Jump Street, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), remakes (Hercules), retooled monsters (Godzilla), retread action figures (Transformers: Age of Extinction) and return visits from comic-book heroes (Spider-Man, X-Men, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). Even comedy is going back to the well: Neighbors, with Seth Rogen, revives the spirit of Animal House, and A Million Ways to Die in the West is a Blazing Saddles for millennials. Out of 100-plus summer contenders, here's a selective guide on how to separate the flash from the trash. By Peter Travers

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‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ (July 11)

Set 10 years after 2011's surprise hit Rise of the Planet of the Apes, this latest chapter in the rebooted Apes franchise again spotlights Caesar (voiced and motion-captured by the great Andy Serkis), a chimpanzee who has to show who's boss to other simians and a small group of human survivors, including those played by Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Jason Clarke and Kodi Smit-McPhee. "It's an ape world," says director Matt Reeves. "That's the fun." 

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‘Jupiter Ascending’ (July 18)

Last time out, in 2012's Cloud Atlas, Andy and Lana Wachowski didn't do it for me. But there's no denying the fierce willingness of these Matrix auteurs to walk a tightrope. So I'm stoked for this sci-fi provocation about Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), a Russian immigrant who cleans toilets and fights off the jealousy of the gods (you heard me) with the help of an albino (Channing Tatum), who's half-wolf. 

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“Hercules’ (July 25)

Since there have been many cheeseball film takes on the Greek demigod, I don't know why I get good vibes on this one. Maybe because Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson could be the right blend of muscle and mischief to give us the definitive Hercules. "I was born to play this role," says Johnson. Bold, Rock. Now let's see you break those B-movie chains.

Andreas Rentz/Getty Images for Sony Pictures

‘Magic in the Moonlight’ (July 25)

After the financial-crisis sturm und drang of the Oscar-winning Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen creates a beguiling summer bauble, set on the French Riviera in the 1920s and revolving around a magician (Colin Firth) falls for a psychic (Emma Stone) he's trying to expose. Love battles cynicism in a romance that speaks eloquently to any time period.

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‘Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” (August 22)

Nothing succeeds like excess. At least that was the case when Robert Rodriguez brought Sin City, from Frank Miller's series of graphic novels, to savage life onscreen in 2005. Like before, Rodriguez and co-director Miller shoot the actors (led this time by Josh Brolin, Eva Green, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and, yes, Lady Gaga) against computer-generated backgrounds that make the action leap off the screen. If you're looking for fierce, this this Sin City sequel is "fierce" to kill for.