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Summer Movie Preview 2013

Men of iron, steel and adamantium (hey, Wolverine) ride herd on a season that leaves audiences high and critics puking

Summer Movie Preview

Don’t kid yourself. you know you’re jonesing for summer movies that get right up in your fricking face. We all are. But, jeez, do we really need the overkill? Of the 100 or so movies that will be released between now and Labor Day, the vast majority are out to kick ass and pulverize brain matter. That goes for comedy as well as action. What, you think The Hangover Part III is gonna hang back? Aside from a few indie gems, such as Before Midnight, The Bling Ring and Fruitvale Station, guy-centric epics – fresh out of Hollywood’s recycle factory – are the order of the box-office day. But too many craptaculars can take a toll. At what point in the summer do we get tired of watching hack directors blow shit up? Here’s a shortlist to help you separate the class from the crass.

By Peter Travers

Iron Man 3

Marvel Studios

Iron Man 3

In Theaters: May 3

This may sound like heresy, but I’m getting Robert Downey’ed-out – at least as Iron Man and his alter ego, Tony Stark. The loose-cannon vibe that hooked us in the 2008 original has atrophied into shtick. And after a 2010 sequel and last year’s The Avengers, isn’t it time for this dynamo to move on to – dare I say it – acting? He won’t, of course. The franchise needs feeding, and Iron Man 3 is already a hulking box-office behemoth. I admit the movie has its moments. Director Shane Black zips the action along. Guy Pearce and a slumming Ben Kingsley have fun as the baddies. And Gwyneth Paltrow gets more to do than snuggle up to a metal head. But for all the clanking armies of iron knights on display to dazzle the eager kid in each of us, this summer epic rings hollow. There’s no one home inside the suit.

The Great Gatsby

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

The Great Gatsby

In Theaters: May 10

Shush. Listen. That's F. Scott Fitzgerald turning in his grave. Fitzgerald's 1925 The Great Gatsby, a Jazz Age tale of sex, lies and conspicuous consumption, is a great American novel, maybe the greatest. But the tale of dirt-poor Jay Gatsby reinventing himself to win the woman he loves has defied five attempts at filming. Try staying awake during the 1974 version with Robert Redford. Enter Aussie director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!) to make the sixth time the charm. He brought visionary zest to Shakespeare in 1996's Romeo + Juliet. So why not cast his screen Romeo, Leonardo DiCaprio, as Gatsby? Add DiCaprio's pal Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, Gatsby's friend and the narrator of the story, and the stellar Carey Mulligan as Daisy, Gatsby's fantasy made flesh in lush gowns and jewels. Luhrmann digitally re-created New York in Australia (for tax purposes), shot in 3D (God knows why) and brought in Jay-Z to amp up the soundtrack (nothing like hip-hop to add relevance to a retro classic). Shush. Listen. That's blind ambition being gutted by flawed execution. Aside from the staggering beauty of Catherine Martin's costumes, nothing works. The actors are buried in the art direction, along with feeling. The film looks as stiff and lifeless as a posh store window. Luhrmann and co-writer Craig Pearce take risks by conceiving Nick as an alcoholic writing the novel in an asylum. That made me crazy. But not as much as hearing Maguire narrate a scene and then speak it as dialogue as Luhrmann turns the words into display type that pops off the screen in 3D. There may be worse movies this summer than The Great Gatsby, but there won't be a more crushing disappointment.

Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness

In Theaters: May 17

Director J.J. Abrams’ fab follow-up to his 2009 Star Trek origin story isn’t officially the first movie out of the summer gate. But it’s for sure the first one that’s crazy good. Action and laughs erupt as Kirk (Chris Pine) – James Tiberius Perfect Hair, in the words of Simon Pegg’s priceless Scotty – learns to respect the chair as captain of the Enterprise. The whole crew’s back to wage war against the Klingons. Zachary Quinto aces it as the not-really-emotionless Spock, and Benedict Cumberbatch is perverse perfection as the villain who shall not be named. Can’t wait to see what Abrams does when he takes over the Star Wars franchise next year. He’s on fire here, lacing spectacle with soul. It’s a knockout. Trekkers won’t be alone in cheering.

Stories We Tell

Courtesy Roadside Attractions

Stories We Tell

In Theaters: May 17

Canadian actress Sarah Polley, 34, who has already directed two superb dramatic features (Away From Her, Take This Waltz), now conquers the documentary form with this hypnotic and haunting look into her own family secrets. It’s unmissable.

Fast and Furious 6

Giles Keyte/Universal Pictures

Fast and Furious 6

In Theaters: May 24

Don't mock. This tired franchise wouldn't earn an exhaust fart if 2009's F&F5 wasn't such a hot-damn surprise. Vin Diesel and Paul Walker are back in full 'roid rage, along with the cars and pumped-up crashes. And so is Michelle Rodriguez as Diesel's lady. If it bothers you that her character died two    F&F's back, wait till the arty fall movies start. Summer is not for you.

The Hangover Pt. III

Courtesy Warner Bros. Entertainment

The Hangover Pt. III

In Theaters: May 24

The trick is to forget the slick 2011 sequel that nuked our fond, filthy memories of the 2009 original. The only plot change was to move the party from Vegas to Bangkok, and the only directing Todd Phillips did was to let Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis phone it in for fat paychecks. In this trilogy finale, Zach G’s idiot boy deals with death and rehab, and Phillips goes darker and dirtier. Count me in. The laughs in the first Hangover hurt so good.

After Earth

Courtesy Columbia Pictures

After Earth

In Theaters: May 31

OK, I have my doubts. Why in hell is Will Smith co-starring with his son Jaden Smith in a megabudget sci-fi epic directed by M. Night Shyamalan, whose sixth sense for staging hits evaporated a decade ago? Set 1,000 years in the future when only wild things roam a planet devoid of humans, After Earth nonetheless deserves props: It’s not a prequel, a sequel, a remake or a reboot.

This Is the End

Courtesy Columbia Pictures

This Is the End

In Theaters: June 12

Tag this as the bust-out, badass comedy of the summer. It’s a shitfaced Apocalypse Now with Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson and Jay Baruchel playing themselves as neurotic Hollywood stoners. A stretch? You be the judge. When an alien invasion interrupts a party at Franco’s house, much is revealed. No spoilers, except that Rogen, partnering with his Superbad co-writer Evan Goldberg, makes a hell of a hilarious directing debut. What a high.

Man of Steel

Courtesy Warner Bros. Entertainment

Man of Steel

In Theaters: June 14

Kill me now. that was my first reaction to learning that Hollywood was getting back in the Clark Kent business. Superman Returns, in 2006, didn’t exactly set the world on fire. But from the looks of Man of Steel, director Zack Snyder is taking his cue from producer Christopher Nolan, of the Dark Knight trilogy. Out with the camp, in with the grit. No Day-Glo Supie suit for Brit actor Henry Cavill. He plays the emotionally bruised icon for 50 shades of gray. Don’t get any ideas about kinky stuff for Clark and Lois Lane (Amy Adams). Kryptonite is gone, replaced by feelings that can bring a superhero to his knees. Intrigued? I bet you are.

The Bling Ring

Courtesy of A24

The Bling Ring

In Theaters: June 14

A ring of L.A. teens (Emma Watson excels as the leader) steal millions in bling from the likes of Lindsay Lohan to feel closer to fame. Director Sofia Coppola uses the fact-based story to examine the roots of reality-TV obsession. A stunner.

World War Z

Courtesy Sony PIctures

World War Z

In Theaters: June 21

Rumors of reshoots, rewrites and production problems have plagued World War Z ever since Marc Forster's $170 million-plus film adaptation of Max Brooks' 2006 novel began filming back in 2011. Screw the toxic buzz. The nerve-frying, addictively exciting WWZ comes ready to rock. It grabs you and squeezes hard – no mercy. The suspense is killer as Brad Pitt, generating mega-watt star power, plays a United Nations troubleshooter out to zap a global zombie invasion. The dead don't walk, they sprint. You can feel the oozing buggers even when you can't see them. Check out that opening attack in Philadelphia. Tension, not gore, fuels this great summer ass-kick. It's everything you want in a blockbuster – smart, shifty, and scary as hell.

White House Down

Courtesy Columbia Pictures

White House Down

In Theaters: June 28

When the home of the president (Jamie Foxx) is invaded by terrorists, a hero is needed. Sounds like March’s Olympus Has Fallen, which means it sounds terrible. But director Roland Emmerich has an ace in the hole: Channing Tatum as the Secret Service savior. Tatum, 33, has earned his bona fides as a Gen Y star. Fans will follow him anywhere.

I'm So Excited

Courtesy Sony PIctures Classics

I’m So Excited

In Theaters: June 28

If anyone can cure your allergy to subtitles, it's Spain's Pedro Almodovar. This exultant farce about jet passengers and crew in a holding pattern is a irresistible campfest with a stinging  political subtext. It's also the director's wildest comic ride since Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

The Lone Ranger

Courtesy Disney Enterprises, Inc.

The Lone Ranger

In Theaters: July 3

Studio suits don’t put a movie into the coveted July 4th weekend spot without confidence that they’ll hit pay dirt. Enter The Lone Ranger, with Armie Hammer as the masked man of Western lore and Johnny Depp as Tonto, his Native American sidekick. Gore Verbinski, who directed Depp in three smash Pirates of the Caribbean epics, knows that Depp is nobody’s stooge. The daringly unpredictable actor could play Tonto as Jack Sparrow in feathers and Kabuki makeup and still have us lining up. That’s box-office insurance, baby. That’s summer.

The Way Way Back

Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures

The Way, Way Back

In Theaters: July 5

Directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who co-wrote The Descendents, hit the sweet spot with this poignant winner of a comedy about a mom (Toni Colette) who sticks her teen son (Liam James) with her bullying boyfriend (an outstanding Steve Carell, breaking type). The acting is aces, including Sam Rockwell as the water-park loser the kid bonds with.

Pacific Rim

Courtesy Warner Bros. Entertainment

Pacific Rim

In Theaters: July 12

Just seeing the words "directed by Guillermo del Toro" fills me with joyful anticipation. Yes, in my book, Pan’s Labyrinth is that sublime. Pacific Rim stars Idris Elba as a military honcho leading an army of Jaegers (skyscraper-size robots) into battle against Kaiju (creatures from another planet). If you think that sounds like the dreaded Michael Bay in Transformers mode, you don’t know del Toro. "What we went for is a very, very romantic look," he says. "I wanted to have a lot of crazy rain, wind, all the drama of an Emily Brontë movie in a high-tech movie." Sold.

The Wolverine

Ben Rothstein/Twentieth Century Fox

The Wolverine

In Theaters: July 26

Hugh Jackman, Oscar-nominated for singing his butt off in Les Misérables, returns to Marvel’s X-Men universe for the sixth adventure, the second time going solo after 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. That alone should make the fanboys orgasmic. Better yet, a first-class director is on board in James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma). The setting is Japan, allowing Mangold and Jackman to indulge their passion for samurai cinema. No burdensome backstory this time, just Wolfie showing his claws and letting the action rip. What’s not to like?

Fruitvale Station

Courtesy The Weinstein Company

Fruitvale Station

In Theaters: July 26

Can a summer movie create Oscar buzz? This one can. In telling the true story of a reformed drug dealer (a superb Michael B. Jordan) wrongly shot by an Oakland transit cop, debuting director Ryan Coogler creates a bruising masterpiece.

Blue Jasmine

Courtesy Sony PIctures Classics

Blue Jasmine

In Theaters: July 26

No Woody Allen movie can pass without a trace,  though last summer's To Rome With Love came close. This risky, resonant update on A Streetcar Named Desire – with Cate Blanchet, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins and (surprise!) Louis C.K. – is too good to ignore. Lacing laughs with emotional gravity, Woody is out to shake us this time. He does.

2 Guns

Courtesy Universal Pictures

2 Guns

In Theaters: August 2

They could have called it 2 Stars and still had people salivating. Who doesn’t want to kill two summer hours watching drug-cartel scumbags get busted by Denzel Washington, as a mouthy DEA agent, with Mark Wahlberg as a Navy Intelligence hardass?

The Spectacular Now

Courtesy A24

The Spectacular Now

In Theaters: August 2

Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller give ardent, award-caliber performances as teens with divergent views of the future in this raw and remarkably restrained film version of Tim Tharp's novel. Because director James Ponsoldt and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber  dodge the coming-of-age clichés, the movie hits you like a shot in the heart.

Elysium

Courtesy Columbia Pictures

Elysium

In Theaters: August 9

About a year ago, Matt Damon told me how excited he was to be working with director Neill Blomkamp. "I mean, did you see District 9?" Damon asked. I did indeed. Blomkamp’s 2009 feature debut won the South African writer-director an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Blomkamp’s back on sci-fi turf with Elysium, in which the have-nots struggle on Earth while the haves, repped by Jodie Foster, orbit in a space station. Damon is a factory slave looking to move on up. It’s WALL-E with weapons and a social conscience.

Ain't Them Bodies Saints

Steve Dietl/IFC Films

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

In Theaters: August 17

You can call it a Texas Bonnie and Clyde, but Ruth (Rooney Mara) and Bob (Casey Affleck) – both terrific – make their own kind of history with a local sheriff (Ben Foster) in David Lowery’s lyrical spellbinder about a love triangle out of balance.

Kick-Ass 2

Daniel Smith/Universal Pictures

Kick-Ass 2

The 2010 Kick-Ass was a mosh pit of a comic-book movie that dared you to dive into its anarchy. With the indispensable Chloë Grace Moretz back as Hit-Girl, a kid killer with a Mamet mouth, nerdy Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and his new crony Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey, of all people) are sure to kick up geek-action nirvana.

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