For children in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a comic book movie was Spider-Man on TV wearing pajamas and swinging on rope bought at a hardware store. This left us all imagining: “What would life be like if Hollywood executives used every resource at their disposal to make superhero films?”
A few decades later, that dream is simply called “summer.” Comic book movies are so plentiful that they’re being planned in phases, like condominium developments. It has reached the point where a simple sequel is like a pure summer movie season snowflake. The typical release is a sequel to a sequel to the spinoff of a superhero movie reboot.
Do not treat the above as pure cynicism. This is the world we asked for, and this is the world we must embrace. But when I write my annual roundup of the season of lowbrow cinema, I will always channel my 13-year-old self from the 1980s to do the job.
Below is The Chronicle’s summer movie preview. We watched the trailers, counted the explosions, picked the most histrionic lines and set odds for the winner of the title “summer’s most awesome film.” Analysis comes from the perspective of a comic-book-movie-starved seventh-grader living in the Reagan era.
We’ll stipulate that the summer movie season actually starts in March now, and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “The Jungle Book” are already in theaters. (“Captain America: Civil War,” included below, opened May 6.)
Opening dates subject to change.
Captain America: Civil War (May 6)
Explosions in the trailer: 10.
Histrionic line in the trailer: “You just started a war!”
Analysis: Never forget, people living in the year 2016, how good you have it. There are at least 12 legit superheroes in this movie, including one played by “Less Than Zero” co-star Robert Downey Jr., and they all fight each other! It’s a Civil War of superheroes, just like it says in the title! Why did it take Hollywood more than 100 years of motion picture production to decide to do this? Many of the reviews were stellar, and this blockbuster directed by “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” architects Anthony and Joe Russo is an all-time great comic book movie.
Odds it will be the summer’s most awesome film: 5-2.
Alice Through the Looking Glass (May 27)
Histrionic line: “One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small …”
Analysis: This sequel to “Alice in Wonderland” does little to hide its simultaneous appeal to both tween girls and adults who smoke copious amounts of weed. This one only looks as if it were directed by Tim Burton — “Da Ali G Show” writer-director James Bobin has taken the helm. Mia Wasikowska returns as Alice, and Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway and Johnny Depp reprise their roles as the Red Queen, White Queen and Mad Hatter.
X-Men: Apocalypse (May 27)
Histrionic line: “I’ve never felt power like this before!”
Analysis: If you wanted to see a Wolverine movie in the 1980s, you had to borrow your dad’s RCA camcorder, attach pipe cleaners to the back of the hands of your hairiest friend, and make it yourself. Three decades later, Hollywood has nearly perfected the X-Men movie, with the last three — “X-Men: First Class,” “The Wolverine” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past” — all delivering solid summer movie thrills. Oscar Isaac stars as Apocalypse, an X-Men foe from the 1980s comic books who is the world’s first mutant and nearly impossible to kill.
Warcraft (June 10)
Histrionic line: “If we do not unite, our world will perish!”
Analysis: “Warcraft” may be our greatest reminder that it’s summer, and not everything has to please the “Out of Africa” crowd. Based on the popular video game, some good guy orcs team up against some bigger bad guy orcs, in what shapes up to be a much less epic “Lord of the Rings”-style battle movie. Added weirdness: There appears to be an orc/human romantic subplot. Maybe we shouldn’t judge. “Warcraft” is directed by Duncan Jones, son of David Bowie, who made the heavily underrated “Moon” and solid “Source Code.”
Finding Dory (June 17)
Histrionic line: “My family! They’re out there somewhere! I have to find them!”
Analysis: The early 1980s, with the exception of “The Secret of NIMH,” were an American animated feature wasteland. So be happy that you’re living in a time with at least five animation studios making an effort, and Pixar and Disney Animation both on a good run. “Finding Nemo” was a huge hit and one of the most audience-friendly Pixar films. “Finding Dory” assembles the same team (including director Andrew Stanton) and wraps up an obvious loose end — where Dory came from and why she lost her memory.
Independence Day: Resurgence (June 24)
Histrionic line: “I see them in my dreams! They’re coming back!”
Analysis: The original “Independence Day” may have been the ultimate summer movie — really dumb, action-packed, funny in a couple of places and ultimately pretty emotionally rousing. Most of the cast returns to deal with another wave of alien invaders, minus Will Smith, after the studio apparently came a few armored trucks short of meeting his fee. If someone was going to bring back a sequel from a million years ago, we would have preferred “Blue Thunder 2.” But this could still be cool.
The BFG (July 1)
Histrionic line: “It was the witching hour, when the boogeyman comes out!”
Analysis: Let me tell you what life was like in the 1980s: There was no Internet, no “Angry Birds,” no 37 comic book movies per year, and our parents didn’t drive us to one fun event after another. After “Return of the Jedi” was over, all there was for a 13-year-old to do is watch the last Steven Spielberg movie on VHS 12 more times, waiting for the next one. In “The BFG,” Spielberg adapts a Roald Dahl story about a “big friendly giant.” Sure, almost no one has heard of the story before, and it’s getting less buzz than 10 other movies this summer. But show some respect for the master.
The Legend of Tarzan (July 1)
Histrionic line: “A normal man can do the impossible to save the woman he loves … my husband is no normal man!”
Analysis: Tarzan, Zorro and the Lone Ranger never quite made the leap from my father’s generation to the newest ones, and various attempts to resurrect these franchises have failed. But there are some great people working on the latest Tarzan movie, including “Hustle & Flow” writer Craig Brewer and David Yates, who directed the last four “Harry Potter” movies. Alexander Skarsgard is Tarzan, and there appear to be some huge special effects scenes, as the already domesticated ape man returns to Congo to fight for his old home.
Ghostbusters (July 15)
Histrionic line: “There are people out there who need our help!”
Analysis: The new Ghostbusters are an all-female team, featuring comic actresses Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones. We were all in until we saw the trailer, where the comedy seemed to fall flat. But we haven’t seen any of the cameos yet (Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and others from the 1984 original appear), and the project is in the hands of “Bridesmaids” and “The Heat” director Paul Feig, who is as reliable as any mainstream comedy filmmaker working. We’re keeping expectations low, and hope to be surprised.
Star Trek Beyond (July 22)
Histrionic line: “We will find hope in the impossible!”
Analysis: After bringing back the original Spock and Khan in the last two movies, the filmmakers seem to be going with an original story line and a bad guy (Idris Elba) who is new to the “Star Trek” universe. Justin Lin, who made several “The Fast and the Furious” movies, is directing. Fans complained about the action-heavy trailer, which was basically a music video. Let’s assume Lin and co-writer and co-star Simon Pegg made time between explosions for some plot in the actual movie.
Jason Bourne (July 29)
Histrionic line: “Jesus Christ … that’s Jason Bourne!”
Analysis: The Bourne movies have always had a modern look with a throwback foundation. (Robert Redford was on the run and doing cool espionage stuff when Matt Damon was still learning to crawl.) After a Jason Bourne-less Bourne movie — “The Bourne Legacy” in 2012 — Damon returns and looks more broodingly confused than ever. He’s also involved in some kind of fight club. As it gets later in the summer, we’re all required to think a little more. Unlike every previous movie on this list, you may need to listen to the dialogue to know what’s going on.
Suicide Squad (Aug. 5)
Histrionic line: “Here’s the deal: You’re going somewhere very bad to do something that will get you killed.”
Analysis: We live in a wonderful time. Not only is the summer filled with superhero movies, there are really good ones as late as August, like a comic book film after-dinner mint. This villains-are-the-heroes romp from the DC universe looks like an absolute blast. Jared Leto takes over as the Joker, Will Smith is Deadshot and Margot Robbie steals the show (or the trailers, at least) as the psychotic and sexy Harley Quinn. After the success of the similarly subversive “Deadpool” earlier this year, a huge box office toll will surprise no one.
Peter Hartlaub is The San Francisco Chronicle’s pop culture critic. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @PeterHartlaub
Twenty more movies in 25 words or less …
Money Monster (Friday, May 13): George Clooney is a financial TV host who gets held hostage by a viewer who has been victimized by the banks.
The Angry Birds Movie (Friday, May 20): That app you haven’t played in two years but is still on your phone is now a movie. Sean Penn lends his vocal talents.
The Nice Guys (May 20): Action movie legend Shane Black directs this 1970s buddy cop movie with Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (May 20): Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne and Zac Efron return to the “Neighbors” universe, this time in a battle with the sorority next door.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (June 3): The turtles are back, predictably, battling some kind of alien invasion.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (June 3): Andy Samberg and The Lonely Island crew spoof the Justin Bieber lifestyle.
Now You See Me 2 (June 10): Magicians played by Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo and Woody Harrelson return, with Lizzy Caplan replacing Isla Fisher as the fourth horseman.
The Conjuring 2 (June 10): James Wan co-writes and directs the sequel to his 2013 exorcism film, one of the better horror movies in recent memory.
Central Intelligence (June 17): Dwayne Johnson is a CIA agent and Kevin Hart is an accountant, who team up in this buddy action comedy.
Free State of Jones (June 24): Matthew McConaughey stars in this historical action movie about a Mississippi county that bucked the Confederacy during the Civil War.
The Purge: Election Year (July 1): A policeman and politician fight for their lives on the one night a year where anyone can get away with murder.
The Secret Life of Pets (July 8): “Despicable Me” animator Illumination Entertainment starts a new franchise, featuring an apartment building full of pets.
Ice Age: Collision Course (July 22): The fifth chapter of the Ice Age series adds Neil deGrasse Tyson to the voice cast.
Cafe Society (July 22): Woody Allen’s latest film has a great cast including Parker Posey, Corey Stoll and Jesse Eisenberg.
The Founder (Aug. 5): Michael Keaton plays McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc in a biographical drama about the fast food chain’s beginning.
Pete’s Dragon (Aug. 12): Robert Redford is a gentle presence in this live action remake of the short story and 1977 movie.
Sausage Party (Aug. 12): “This Is the End” co-writers Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen are behind this R-rated comedy that spoofs animated films.
Florence Foster Jenkins (Aug. 12): Meryl Streep plays Jenkins, a turn-of-the-past-century opera singer known for her inability to carry a tune.
Ben-Hur (Aug. 19): Jack Huston is Judah Ben-Hur, who rises against his oppressors and challenges his brother to an epic chariot race.
Kubo and the Two Strings (Aug. 19): Laika executive Travis Knight makes his directorial debut, in an animated adventure about the son of a samurai.
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