The Summer Movie Season

As a Midwest native, I know a thing or two about seasons. Every year I witness the beauty of leaves changing in the fall, the plunge into winter with snow topped trees, the thaw of spring, and the hot, sandy beaches of summer. Seasons have become a part of my DNA. They’re a yearly display of God’s creativity.

As a film lover, seasons are just as important. September begins a cool down where waves of heavier, challenging films find their way to theaters. This leads into the winter months where prestigious Oscar fare takes center stage. Then, comes spring where Oscar buzz melts away into a slushy mix of art and garbage. Finally, there’s the summer movie season – a season like no other. The time for explosions, sensory overload, and non-stop fun.

Summer movies get a bad rap in film circles. Film buffs value art and truth. We hate empty calories. There once was a day when the bar was too low, when soul sucking films like Wild Wild West ruled the box office. But times have changed. Audiences demanded more, and the studios responded.

Films like The Dark Knight forever raised the bar of summer entertainment.   Movies began delivering everything the summer movie season is known for without a guilty hangover the next morning. Christopher Nolan doesn’t just make summer movies, he makes good movies. Good movies last beyond opening weekend.   They’re a smart investment. Everybody wins.

Still, some continue to scoff. Are action packed movies inherently inferior to soulful dramas? Is Birdman a better movie than Raiders of the Lost Ark because fewer things explode? No. They’re both perfect films in their own way.

Yes, if push came to shove, I’d choose Birdman over Raiders of the Lost Ark because I’m a sucker for dramas. But I also prefer Fall over Winter. Does that mean it’s a better season? The point is we don’t have to choose. Every season has something to offer. Every season contains truth. And truth is truth, whether it’s spoken or felt.

That’s what I think summer movies do best. Where Birdman makes you think about truth, Raiders of the Lost Ark makes you feel it. Here’s what it feels like when faith becomes sight. Here’s what it feels like to be trapped and set free. Here’s what it feels like when good triumphs over evil.

That’s what the summer movie season is all about.

Here are the top five films I’m looking forward to most this summer. Five films coming soon to a theater near you with thrills, explosions, and truth.

Can you feel it?

The Avengers: Age of Ultron (May 1st)

The best thing about Marvel is the interconnectedness of the world they’ve created. We’ve seen each character become a hero and fight individual battles, but the Avenger movies give us the chance to see them fight together. These characters don’t belong in the same room. They have no desire to join forces. But sometimes the villain is just too big, and the task too great.

That certainly seems to be the case in Age of Ultron. This time there’s a powerful robot who wants to annihilate the human race, and he seems perfectly capable of doing so. He’s mean. He’s amoral. He’s terrifying. The glimpses we’ve seen in the trailer show the team stretched to their limits. There could be a heavy price to pay this time.

The first Avengers movie was a perfect blend of action, thrills, smarts, and fun. I have no doubt the sequel will continue that tradition. What a perfect way to kick off the summer.

Jurassic World (June 12th)

I’ll never forget seeing Jurassic Park in theaters. I was 8 years old. I stood up halfway through the movie and told my Mom we had to leave. She told me to relax, that it was just a movie. I knew better. Those dinosaurs were about to come out of the screen and eat me alive.

The best part about the Jurassic World trailer is how closely it resembles the first film. All of the same elements are there. There’s the park with the beautiful dinosaurs. There’s the amusement rides gliding past mysterious cages. Then someone takes things too far, and all hell breaks loose. Jeff Goldblum said it best in The Lost World – “Oh yeah, ooh ahh, that’s how it all starts. Then later there’s running and screaming.”

Jurassic World does have one thing the original didn’t have: Chris Pratt. Like Sam Neil in 1993, Pratt is destined to make paleontology cool again. I officially jumped on the Pratt bandwagon with Guardians of the Galaxy. The guy has effortless charm. But he looks even more like an action hero in Jurassic World. His eyes are narrowed. He’s ready to save the day.

I hope he does. Those dinos look lethal, and my Mom won’t be here this time.

Ant-Man (July 17th)

I’ll admit – the plot to Ant-Man sounds ludicrous. “Imagine a soldier the size of an insect.” Uh huh. But what gets me excited is the Marvel brand. Marvel doesn’t make bad movies. Their dedication to quality is the reason for their success. They’ve figured out a perfect formula, and every one of their movies works because of it.

Plus, the gimmick does have potential. I grew up on Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. There’s always been something intriguing about the small things of the world suddenly looming large. I love the part in the latest trailer where the hero and villain are fighting insect-size on a toy train. We see a massive explosion as the train derails. Then, we cut back to the real world only to see the toy train fall over anti-climactically.

Take that playful tone, add Paul Rudd’s snarkiness, and top the whole thing off with a little Michael Douglas gravitas, and you’ve got the recipe for another proud addition to the Marvel universe.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (July 31st)

The Mission: Impossible franchise just keeps getting better. We’re four movies in without any drop off in quality. In fact, 2011’s Ghost Protocol was arguably the best of the series. That’s a rare feat. I give credit to Tom Cruise. Scientology aside, this guy knows how to make movies. He’s not only a great actor, but also a great producer. He brings together the right talent behind the lens, and then stands in front of it and delivers a knock-out performance. Now that’s a movie star.

This summer brings the fifth entry in the series. The trailer was perfect. Every element we love was there – high tech gadgets, laughs, and epic set pieces. How do you top the Dubai skyscraper scene from Ghost Protocol? Easy. Strap Ethan Hunt to the side of a jet and watch it take off in real time.

Toss in an intriguing plot about rogue IMF agents, and it seems Mr. Cruise has himself another winner. Mock the guy all you want, but his movies speak for themselves. I can’t wait for this one.

Fantastic Four (August 7th)

This film might not work. I’ll be the first to admit that. The trailer didn’t blow me away, and something about the tone seems off. But again, this is Marvel we’re talking about. They always find a way.

That’s not what intrigues me the most though. What really pumps me up is the cast. Miles Teller from Whiplash is my favorite up and coming actor, and Kate Mara and Jamie Bell round out a great young ensemble. I hope these kids stumble into the next Avengers movie. Two generations of superheroes fighting side by side. Someone better hurl an “old man” joke at Robert Downey Jr.

Fantastic Four is also the last big movie of the summer. This is the last chance to see some fireworks before the cool down begins. If only for that, I’ll be there – popcorn in hand – ready to say goodbye to another hot blast of fun.

Come back next week as we kick off the summer movie season with a Marvel podcast!