Maybe you never heard of Conner4Real, the hip-hop phenom played by Andy Samberg in Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. Yeah, well, maybe you should kiss his ass. Connor4Real, created by Samberg and the Lonely Island gents, is one of the rare originals in this summer's nonstop attack of the clones. I'm getting a bad vibe from Tarzan, Ben-Hur and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pretending they're not past their sell-by date. This guide is a search for intelligent life and rowdy fun in the universe of prequels, sequels and retreads.
Summer comes out blazing with this baby. The third in the Marvel series on Captain America (a stellar Chris Evans) proves that a comic-book epic can be smart, politically savvy and light on its feet. Take note, Batman v Superman. The Cap and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) lock horns over collateral damage. The iron dude thinks the Avengers need U.N. supervision. The Cap disagrees. It's war. No spoilers on who sides with whom. But the Tom Holland cameo as a young Spider-Man is a knockout. So's the movie.
"I might be the one with the gun here, but I'm not the real criminal," says Jack O'Connell as an irate fan who goes berserk, live on air, as he threatens a TV financial guru (George Clooney) for giving him a lousy tip. Clooney and director Jodie Foster use the thriller form to get up in our faces about the economy. Good timing.
The low-rent video game that became a global sensation is now an animated movie. There's no telling if kids will grasp why raging adults also became obsessed with taking a video slingshot and flinging birds into battle with pigs that stole their eggs. Jason Sudeikis voices Red, the angriest bird, making the film fun for damaged psyches of all ages.
Writer-director Rebecca Miller knows how to make relationship comedies that pull you up short. And here, with this story about a college student (Greta Gerwig) planning to get pregnant — and filling out a love/lust triangle involving Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore — she touches a nerve.
Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling play angry birds themselves in Shane Black's farcical take on the crime scene in 1970s Los Angeles. Gosling is a P.I., Crowe is less legit. It's a kick seeing two serious actors shake their sillies out for what Crowe calls "the pure, dumb fun of it."
Uh-oh. Tim Burton is out as director of this sequel; James Bobin is in. And then you have to wonder if Alice (Mia Wasikowska) has returned to Wonderland to save the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) or to duplicate the wowza $1 billion global box office of 2010's Alice in Wonderland. With Burton back as producer, you can bet the visuals will be eye-popping.
If anyone can wake up a tired franchise, it's Oscar Isaac. As the ancient god Apocalypse, he leads a mutant uprising against humanity with help from Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and resistance from Professor X (James McAvoy) and Raven (Jennifer Lawrence). A comic-book geek ("I grew up collecting X-Factor"), Isaac relishes pulling the rug out so that audiences "never know what to expect from me."
This mockumentary starring Andy Samberg as rap legend Connor4Real and directed by his Lonely Island BFFs Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer emerges from their hilariously twisted minds – with an assist from producer Judd Apatow – and is therefore unmissable. "Lazy Sunday," "Dick in a Box," now this. Never stop.
When director Duncan Jones was a kid, his dad – David Bowie – told him to stop with the video games and play outside. Now, Jones, whose 2009 film Moon is a gem, has made the online Warcraft game an Orc-invasion movie that cost more than $100 million. Trust in Jones.
Can a sight gag sustain a big summer comedy? It can if it's funnyman Kevin Hart mixing it up at a high school reunion with Dwayne Johnson, who's a foot taller and playing a CIA killer. "We're both fitness fanatics," says Johnson, who must know a Hart can't crush a Rock.
It sounds like a classic in the making: Steven Spielberg directing a story by that wicked tale-spinner Roald Dahl about a giant (Mark Rylance) who refrains from eating the orphan girl (Ruby Barnhill) he protects from other giants. The script is by the late Melissa Mathison, who teamed with Spielberg on E.T., another film with an intuitive understanding of childhood and loneliness. Rylance, an Oscar winner for Spielberg's Bridge of Spies, plays the big friendly giant through motion capture, but still digs deep. As Spielberg says, "Dahl empowered children by giving them wishes and dreams far beyond the age of the intended readership." Spielberg does the same.
The ratings board stuck a hard "R" on this comic raunchfest about two bad-boy brothers (Zac Efron and Adam Devine) who hire "nice" dates for their sister's wedding. Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza play the women who don't come as advertised. Love the way Kendrick says "cockbusters."
"How come every animated movie is doing a sequel except Finding Nemo?" That question has become a refrain for Ellen DeGeneres, who indelibly voiced Dory, the forgetful blue tang, in that Pixar smash. Now, 13 years later, DeGeneres is back in the swim as Dory, stealing scenes from Ed O'Neill, who voices Hank, a shape-shifting octopus. Expect magic.
The big news here is the presence of the powerhouse Idris Elba as the bad-ass alien out to get all up in the Federation business of Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto). How great to hear Elba spit out the threat, "This is where the Frontier pushes back."
Matt Damon returns to the role that made a franchise, and I, for one, am stoked. It's been nearly a decade since Damon played the amnesiac CIA operative in The Bourne Ultimatum – Jeremy Renner filled in as another agent in 2012's The Bourne Legacy – but Damon is the Man. The actor, 45, says it was "brutal" getting into fighting shape for a film that propels Bourne into a world of financial collapse, race warfare and cyberterror. Bring it on.
Michael Keaton, a great actor who has never won an Oscar, even for Birdman, gets another shot by playing Ray Kroc, the McDonald's founder who hit pay dirt by kicking the McDonald brothers (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) to the curb.
Veteran indie filmmaker Ira Sachs (Keep the Lights On; Love Is Strange) tells a small tale that uncovers large truths as two boys, beautifully played by Theo Taplitz and Michael Barbieri, find their lives inextricably altered by a Brooklyn apartment that changes hands in the family. Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Ehle and Alfred Molina co-star.
Can the DC comics universe emerge from the wounding word-of-mouth that greeted Batman v Superman? Optimism is high about Suicide Squad, a mission for good carried out by a killer collection of villains, including Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and, of course, the Joker (Jared Leto). For Leto, it was tough working in the shadow of two great Jokers – Jack Nicholson in 1989's Batman, and the late Heath Ledger, who won an Oscar for the role in 2008's The Dark Knight. Leto never broke character or spoke to his co-stars. In his words, playing the Joker was "like giving birth out of my prick hole." Ouch!
Meryl Streep, a great actress who can't stop winning Oscars, goes for the gold again as a New York socialite who dreams of opera stardom. There's a setback, says Streep: "She can't sing." The film is hilarious and surprisingly touching.
Summer’s last surprise blast is based on Guy Lawson's 2011 Rolling Stone article about two amateur Miami scammers, played by Jonah Hill and Miles Teller, who hustle a $300 million weapons deal for arming U.S. allies in Afghanistan. You expect director Todd Phillips to clone his trilogy of Hangover hits. Instead, he delivers a black-comic punch to capitalism in modern warfare.