, ,


By T.T. Stern-Enzi

Ten years ago, the summer movie season began, in earnest, on Memorial Day Weekend. Back then, by late May, the mercury was finally starting to rise and audiences, especially kids ready to make a break from stuffy classrooms, were dreaming of escape. Releases after January 1 – those not involved with the awards season – largely lacked drawing power. The period was little more than a long holding pattern, waiting for the real heat to kick in.

Oh, how things have changed.

This year, palpable buzz, a veritable crackling of air particles, exists as early as this coming weekend (come on, it’s the first weekend in April) thanks to the arrival of the latest installment in the “Fast & Furious” franchise. Part seven will undoubtedly be buoyed by the untimely and tragic death of Paul Walker, a beloved performer in the series, but it is what has transpired in the fourth through sixth movies in the ongoing saga that has utterly captivated its faithful fans. The premises have gotten incrementally more outsized and outlandish, with action set pieces that have significantly upped the ante in terms of expectations for next-level vehicular hijinks, and the addition of top-shelf action-oriented actors and actresses, both recognizable figures from other franchises and entertainment genres (wrestling/MMA) as well as more unknown entities with the potential to expand and explode the property. “Furious 7,” which introduces Jason Statham into the mix, promises to continue the onward and upward trend in the series, while also positioning itself as the first major player in the race for the annual box office crown.

One short month later (May 1), it will face stiff competition from the billion-pound gorilla that is “The Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Marvel, as part of its mega-partnership with Disney, has set about creating a game-changing dynamic, seeking to own the summer season with its team up featuring the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, characters like Iron Man, Captain America and Thor (each with hugely successful stand-alone franchises in their own right) who combine along with other mainstays (the Hulk has had two less noteworthy attempts at franchise creation, while Black Widow has been a strong and reliable supporting player in some of the solo outings) and new power sources (this time out, it’s the sibling duo of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch and the enigmatic Vision). The craze of developing intricate shared universes stocked full of comic book super beings is in full-swing with no end in sight, and it certainly has the potential to not only help to usher in summer a whole lot faster, but it may bring the heat year round.

Of course, the proper arrival of summer (June 12) will spotlight the return of the dinosaurs in “Jurassic World” from director Colin Trevorrow (indie hit “Safety Not Guaranteed” served as the calling card that earned him the seat at the helm of this “World”) and executive producer Steven Spielberg. The last “Jurassic” adventure took place in 2001, so the high anticipation required the recruitment of a heavy hitter to assume the prominent role as the new human face of the franchise and the search led to everyone’s favorite “guardian of the galaxy” Chris Pratt, the quip-ready warrior with a box office heart of gold. If the dinos weren’t enough, Pratt brings a breezy and friendly vibe that makes him the perfect summer companion to share a sweltering afternoon with.

By the time Independence Weekend rolls around (July 1), we will have the early double feature of “Magic Mike XXL” and “Terminator Genisys” to keep us company, and likely close out the season with a bit of a bang. “Magic Mike XXL” swaps Steven Soderbergh out of the director’s chair – with longtime Soderbergh assistant director and producer Gregory Jacobs stepping up – but aims to maintain the sexual heat as Mike (Channing Tatum) and the boys (minus Matthew McConaughey) hit the road for a wild and quite and quite mad ride across the stripping landscape, on the hunt for fame, glory and G-strings full of dollar bills.

The “Terminator” reboot is far harder to pin down stylistically. Is it truly a reboot or a sequel or something else entirely? But let’s be honest, none of those questions may matter, if director Alan Taylor (“Game of Thrones” and “Thor: The Dark World”) is able to recapture the magic of the two James Cameron originals – a task that every other installment has failed to achieve, but you know you’ve got a “Terminator” film when Arnold Schwarzenegger appears and the Govenator is on hand once again.

I don’t know about you, but I’m guessing that movies will burn up lots of disposable income.