Memorial Day weekend is still weeks away, but summer blockbusters are out in full force: Marvel’s crowd-pleasing oddballs come back for seconds, Captain Jack Sparrow and friends take to the waves for a fifth time, the Xenomorph gets yet another helping of terrified human-meat, King Arthur goes gritty-reboot and a big-screen Baywatch attracts a new wave of leering stares. Those in search of something a little smaller-scale have plenty to choose from too, from Cate Blanchett’s high-art masterclass to a pair of docs burrowing into a pair of specific cultural phenomena. Here’s your moviegoing guide for May.
Alien: Covenant (May 19th)
Should anyone have forgotten, Ridley Scott has returned to remind you: In space, no one can hear you scream still. This time around, the carnivorous extraterrestrials known as Xenomorphs have infiltrated a ship carrying a convoy of settlers on their way to colonize a new world. The crew (a starry ensemble including Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, and Billy Crudup) has to fight against the predatory menace not only for their own life, but for the future of their species. Best of luck stopping yourself from yelling “PROTECT YOUR FACE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD” at the characters.
Baywatch (May 26th)
The pop cultural T&A phenomenon can never really replace the glory that is David Hasselhoff. But Dwayne Johnson is one hell of a good substitute, and slapping a new generation of well-tanned hotties into swimwear may be the definition of “a sure thing.” This big-screen buddy-comedy reboot teams the artist formerly known as the Rock with Zac Efron as a Ryan Lochte-styled doofus Olympian. Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach and Jon Bass form the rest of the coastline-protection force that take it upon themselves to foil a seaside drug-ring run by a ruthless queenpin (Quantico‘s Priyanka Chopra). Could this be the new 21 Jump Street self-conscious-Velveeta franchise? Are you slo-mo running down the beach yet?
Burden (May 5th)
There’s suffering for your art, and then there’s crucifying yourself just to make a point. One of American performance art’s pioneers, Chris Burden made a name for himself with a series of death-defying stunts that widened the boundaries of creative expression; he’s been shot, shocked, covered in broken glass, starved himself and yes, strung up like Christ, all to create an ephemeral experience. This bio-documentary surveys the far-reaching influence of Burden’s controversial work (Marina Abramovic is one of many art-world titans speaking to his greatness in talking-head interviews) and looks into his backstory in search of a rationale behind the self-destruction. Prepare for some major sympathy wincing.
The Dinner (May 5th)
At a ritzy restaurant, a pair of Cain-and-Abel brothers (Richard Gere, Steve Coogan) and their wives (Rebecca Hall, Laura Linney) convene for an absurdly upscale meal. Their dinner-table chatter runs the usual conversational gauntlet: weather, art, politics, whether they should cover up the heinous crime jointly committed by their respective sons. Oren Moverman’s character-driven drama adds familial dysfunction, political intrigue and Coogan’s pseudo-Woody Allen accent to the menu. Tonight’s special is the duck confit with a side of words that can never be taken back.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 5th)
Marvel’s jolliest brand vertical is back, armed to the teeth with a new mixtape of Seventies and Eighties pop hits and enough space-opera snark to shake a nebula at. The sequel to the 2014 breakout hit finds our squad of intergalactic crimefighting misfits making enemies out of a gold-plated alien race in the course of their for-hire heroism. And mercenaries are out to get them. And Nebula (Karen Gillan) still has that vow to murder her sister Gamora (Zoe Saldana). And the long-estranged father (Kurt Russell) of Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) seems a little sketchy, too. Did we mention that Baby Groot dances? Oh Baby Groot, you adorable little tree-alien, you!
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (May 12th)
It’s King Arthur – but he’s, like, jacked! Okay, okay, there’s a little more to Guy Ritchie’s rough-and-rowdy redo of the medieval legend than that. But not a whole lot more; Charlie Hunnam’s Arthur is a street-smart ass-kicker before he pulls Excalibur out of the stone, working with a street gang rather than the gallant Knights of the Round Table. But the once and future king will have to muster up some old-school royal pain-in-the-ass-itude if he hopes to curb the expansion of despotic maniac Vortigern (Jude Law, still in DGAF mode after that performance in The Young Pope). Come for the sword fights, bare-knuckle brawls and dark sorcery; stay for the fact that Arthur’s right-hand man is named Goosefat Bill.
Long Strange Trip (May 26th)
It’s four hours long, has authorized contributions from the remaining original members and music-doc superstar Martin Scorsese is one of the executive producers – even without an album-by-album breakdown, it’s safe to say that this may be the closest to a definitive Grateful Dead portrait that we may ever get. Early reports from the Sundance premiere specifically commended the film’s astute understanding of the factors that helped turn what could have been a hippie-era relic into a seminal jam band with unmatched longevity and massive fanbase. Director Amir Bar-Lev delves into the spiritual quality of their freely improvisational music and how it’s spawned a vibrant subculture that refuses to let the band be a flower-child punchline.
Manifesto (May 10th)
A punk rocker. A Russian choreographer. A puppet-maker. A newscaster. Cate Blanchett takes on all these roles and eight more (!) in this singular wonder bridging the gap between cinema and video art. In a series of 12 sketches, she portrays characters that act as a mouthpiece for quotations from an eclectic selection of critical texts – like, say, a kindergarten teacher lecturing a roomful of five-year-olds about the tenets of the Dogme 95. (It is as beautifully bizarre and absurdly humorous as it sounds.) It is by definition unlike anything else at the movies this year.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (May 26th)
Six years and one Johnny Depp scandal later, does the swashbuckling franchise still have wind left in its sails? Audiences will find out when Captain Jack returns for even more rum-soaked antics, with young Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario taking over for Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley. The scurvy dogs run afoul of the undead pirate-killer Captain Salazar (an inky-mouthed Javier Bardem) on his mission to locate the lost Trident of Poseidon and put a permanent end to piracy. And in the tradition of the franchise, the only way to stop him is with cannonfire, elaborate duels, and a watery CGI bonanza or two. Mileage may vary.
The Wall (May 12th)
In a stark stretch of desert in the Middle East, a pair of American soldiers (John Cena and Aaron Taylor-Johnson) enter the crosshairs of an Iraqi sniper. He grazes them both before they take refuge behind a shallow and unsound wall, and they spend the next 80 grueling minutes locked in a deadly standoff. If that sounds like a pretty thin premise, take solace in the assurance that director Doug Liman (Edge of Tomorrow) knows exactly what he’s doing, claustrophobically stranding the viewers along with the trapped troops. Intense.