It’s been a long while since the last time I’ve written one of these, and I haven’t wanted to jinx it, but… doesn’t it seem like the movies are kind of back? Enough so that one can talk about what movies are coming out and it’s not just a spirit-deadening exercise in rifling through VOD titles and whatever crud Netflix has in store for us? And maybe some of it even looks appealing? Perfect timing, too, since the class I’m teaching is just about wrapped up, and then I’ll be able to review things more often than this terribly erratic schedule of the last few weeks. I’ll beg your pardon as I try stretching out these muscles once again, and let’s see what the next few months have in store.
A true sign that the world is healing: Independence Weekend means another film in the tedious grind of the Purge franchise, which looked for a beautiful moment like it might be turning in an interesting direction way back in 2014, when The Purge: Anarchy shifted things towards promising garish iconography, before simply stalling out. This fifth entry in the series, The Forever Purge, boldly asks us to imagine what the series would look like if it got rid of the only gimmick that made it unique, but kept the high school poli-sci nerd level of “satire” that these movies care so hard about, despite being uniformly bad at them. The other big studio release of the weekend is DreamWorks Animation’s The Boss Baby: Family Business, which I should in theory be looking forward to as one of the only people in North America who thought The Boss Baby was pretty great, but it’s also pretty obvious that this one will include little or none of what I actually defended about the original.
Just barely making the wide-release cut-off is Summer of Soul (or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), which has the unmistakable look of one of those music documentaries with fantastic footage that has been roughly and uninterestingly lashed into a film-like shape – so just like Woodstock, which took place during the same summer of 1968 – but it was quite the celebrated success at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which has never once been a bad sign.
After a blissful 739 days banished to the ether, the theatrical feature arm of the Marvel Cinematic Universe returns with Black Widow. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic had very few positive aspects, I’m sure we all agree, but for me, one of them was that we went a whole entire calendar year without a single MCU film to remind me of how culture is dying and movies are bad. Ah well, back to the salt mines.
2019’s Escape Room was surprisingly delightful and creative for a PG-13 horror film released in January. Just about the only thing that really ruined it was a sequel hook that relied on some utterly absurd worldbuilding mythology to get there. And now those seeds are sprouting into Escape Room: Tournament of Champions, which feels like it cannot conceivably be as good, since it’s starting from the point where the first film shot itself in the foot. Still, if the setpieces have the gusto they need, I can see it working; I will, at a minimum, be in theaters to watch it opening weekend, which isn’t probably true of anything else I’ve named to this point.
The latest “wide in theaters but also on HBO Max” release, a strategy that’s looking worse and worse with every release that isn’t The Conjuring 3, is the long-awaited by some people, I am sure, Space Jam: A New Legacy, with which Warner Bros. has achieved something truly extraordinary: releasing a branding exercise so shameless in how hungrily it flogs the flesh right from the living bones of its various intellectual properties that it makes me admire Disney’s taste and restraint as a corporation.
So, G.I. Joe Origins. Really? Does anyone like G.I. Joe enough for that to make sense? Are there any G.I. Joe heroes distinctive enough as personalities and characters enough to sell that (or even any villains)? I guess Snake Eyes maybe comes as close as anybody they’ve got, but his thing is still mostly “this is an ’80s legacy franchise, and in the ’80s they were obsessed with ninjas”. He’s not, as far as I am aware, interesting. Yet here we are, with Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, and somebody really needs to step in and talk to Paramount about how they’re spending money.
But then we have one of the most promising-looking films of the month, the new M. Night Shyamalan picture (how odd for “promising” and “Shyamalan” to occupy the same sentence, but he’s had a good few years), Old. It’s about a beach where people age very fast and die, which sounds kind of silly and flat, but I am not immune to films that have Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps in the headline roles.
Last and unquestionably least, The Comeback Trail is the latest in the durable genre of “movies starring old male actors we all love doing undemanding light comedy, and neither you nor anybody you know will ever come even close to seeing it”. This particular edition stars Robert De Niro, Tommy Lee Jones, and Morgan Freeman, which is certainly a good mix of actors, good enough that I might even vaguely plan to catch it on streaming before forgetting entirely that it exists. See, we ARE getting back to normal.,
A long-delayed film that has the unmistakable whiff of “they just want to get it off their books”, Disney finally dumps out Jungle Cruise, the first new theme-park-ride-to-movie adaptation they’ve done in a terribly long time, now that the Pirates of the Carribean series seems fully dead and in the grave. More than any other delayed release this month, this one feels like being pushed from 2020 hurt it; I don’t know what happened or if it’s just my bubble, but it feels like we as a society turned away from Dwayne Johnson in the last year, and so a Johnson-led rip-off of his own Jumanji films feels like a peculiar relic from a different age.
Much, much more promising is David Lowery’s new blend of genre and atmospheric art film for A24 (he is, at this point, the last A24-associated figure that I still care about, for that matter), The Green Knight; the trailers are suggesting a melancholy, slightly nightmare-tinged fantasy, and that’s not maybe the most obvious way to adapt a King Arthur legend, but it’s one that I’m hugely curious about. Last up is Stillwater, with Tom McCarthy directing Matt Damon as a dad just trying to help his daughter clear her name in the baroque French legal system, and if there was even a molecule of hope that this was going to be more than passably decent, it would be getting an Oscar-friendly release schedule. So, no.