2011 Preview: Part 1

In the first of this two part preview, FILMINK takes a look at Hollywoods biggest films to be released this year and evaluates their likely success...



2012 will be a major year for the American studio system. That year, studios like Warner Bros., Sony, Disney and MGM will rely on a number of proven properties that can be marketed solely on the appeal and strength of their name alone: Christopher Nolan\'s The Dark Knight Rises (Warner Bros.), Zack Snyder\'s Superman: Man of Steel (Warner Bros.), Marc Webb\'s untitled Spider-man reboot (Sony), Barry Sonnenfeld\'s Men in Black 3 (Sony), Peter Jackson\'s The Hobbit: Part 1 (Warner, MGM and New Line), the untitled Star Trek sequel (Paramount), the 23rd James Bond film (MGM and potentially Paramount) and Joss Whedon\'s The Avengers (Marvel and Disney).

2011, however, is much riskier for the studio system, as executives are investing in a series of untested properties that have less audience awareness of their comic book origins. Rather than trust big-budget ventures in entities such as Batman, Superman and Spider-man, the studios will rely on a series of untested properties that may lead to more franchises. (The only \'locks\' for the American summer will be the final Harry Potter film, Michael Bay\'s \'dark\' and nonsensically-titled sequel Transformers: The Dark of the Moon, Todd Phillips\' The Hangover 2 and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, directed by Chicago\'s Rob Marshall). Each year, many potential franchises are looking for support in a market that often favours familiar names and concepts: in 2010, The A-Team, The Prince of Persia, The Sorcerer\'s Apprentice and Robin Hood all failed to earn another entry. Yet - given the upcoming conclusions of some of the highest-grossing franchises - the studios will be looking for less certain properties to capture the audience\'s attention.

DC and Warner Bros. will be looking to achieve Batman-like success with their first Green Lantern film (the second film has already been given the greenlight, which will be written by Contact\'s Michael Rosenberg, who doctored the screenplay for the first film). Not to be confused with Sony\'s The Green Hornet, Green Lantern brings an epic approach to the superhero formula, evoking comparisons with Flash Gordon and Star Wars in its depiction of the feuds and battles between different intergalactic species and military organisations.

In fact, Warner Bros. will be hoping that this new franchise-starter brings in Nolan-like numbers, hopefully replacing the concluding Dark Knight and Harry Potter franchises. Like Nolan\'s Batman Begins (the template for any new American franchise), this 2011 blockbuster features an almost-star in the lead (this time it is the charming Ryan Reynolds, who was the best thing in X-Men Origins: Wolverine) who is supported by an esteemed cast of American - Peter Sarsgaard, Tim Robbins, Angela Bassett - and transatlantic - Mark Strong, Temuera Morrison, Taika Waititi - talent. The contrast is simple, but effective and can be traced back to Richard Donner\'s Superman: the lead can sell stylish one-liners and matinee charm, whilst he is supported by some of the most highly respected actors who lend credibility and weight to many of the exchanges.   

Unlike the Nolan films, however, Green Lantern does not have the benefit of a writer-director, a filmmaker with as clear an eye for action as storytelling and construction. Rather, it is helmed by the skilled former BBC director, Martin Campbell (the BBC and American versions of Edge of Darkness, Casino Royale), whose smooth, intelligent handling of action and capacity to ground both drama and action with clean visual choreography will possibly help this potentially lofty material.

The teaser trailer is big on Tony Stark-like one-liners from Reynolds, retro-futuristic photography from the great Australian cinematographer Dion Beebe (Collateral), intergalactic digital environments and characters which are at least part-CGI (Strong\'s good guy-turned-bad Sinestro) or completely covered with prosthetic effects. Whether or not Campbell can bring levity and human dimension to all the CGI shenanigans remains to be seen, but - given that he helped make Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig legit film stars with his entries into the Bond franchise - perhaps he can do the same with Reynolds, as well.   

Similarly, Marvel and Paramount have gambled on another safe, competent director for Captain America: The First Avenger, Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer, Jumanji). Whether by choice or not, Johnston is one of those Spielberg protégés - such as Joe Dante (Gremlins, Innerspace). Like Dante, Johnston\'s fortunes have risen and fallen since he was supported closely by Spielberg in the \'80s, as he found commercial success and recognition with the Robin Williams-vehicle Jumanji in the mid-\'90s but also stumbled quite badly recently with his ropey remake of The Wolfman.

The handling of Captain America is an unexpected challenge for the director. Unlike, say, the dark, intense character turmoil of The Dark Knight, Jack Kirby and Joe Simon\'s creation demands a directorial approach with a lightness of touch that balances many subtle elements. Firstly, Johnston is required to demonstrate a modern response to the archaic source material so that the film itself does not seem like a boring reproduction of the values of another, earlier era. Secondly, the film also demands that Johnston - whilst modernising the material - must also tap into the patriotic elements of the character, as well, respecting the source material\'s jingoistic depiction of the American soldier. As a result, this Superman-lite property should respect many of the values and the ideology of the character\'s creation, but also acknowledge some of the ways in which the world - and, especially, America\'s place within the world - has changed. Hopefully, script doctor Joss Whedon - the Buffy creator whose versatility as a storyteller is often underrated (he also contributed to the scripts of Toy Story and Speed) - can remedy some of these concerns.

Yet - to the credit of Marvel and Paramount - Johnston seems like a suitable choice. Unlike Dante (a left-leaning \'auteur\' who injects anti-conservative sentiment into even the most overtly commercial projects like Small Soldiers), Johnston favours obvious Americana heroes and traditionally dastardly European (or, in the case of Hidalgo, Middle Eastern) foes for his productions, tapping into \'30s-style matinee thrills - rather than any form of subtext - in films such as The Rocketeer.

Unfortunately, given Captain America\'s future appearance and leadership of The Avengers team initiative in 2012, this leaves the prospect of future Captain America films in the lurch: if Captain America leaves his WW2 setting for the contemporary time-frame of The Avengers, does this mean that Captain America can never return to the past? (Given that Sebastian Stan, who is playing Cap\'s \'40s-era sidekick, is signed up for more films, perhaps this will mean that Captain America will venture back and forth in time for his onscreen adventures).

Check back on Monday for Part 2 of this preview where we\'ll take a look at the upcoming Thor and X-Men: First Class.



cl 02 Jul 2011 05:01

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