School's out, pool's open, and after a long awards season of Very Consequential Films followed by the usual cinematic dead zone known as January, February, and March, the movies are fun again.
Though the summer blockbuster season unofficially started earlier this month with big box-office earners like The Great Gatsby, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Iron Man 3, Memorial Day is when the real festivities begin—and the rest of the season offers some big explosions (Fast & Furious 6, After Earth, and White House Down all arrive in theaters before July), some quieter festival fare (like Fruitvale Station and The Spectacular Now), and a few aftershocks from 2011's female-driven comedy Bridesmaids (like The Heat and Girl Most Likely). And, of course, Superman makes a return to cinemas in Man of Steel, Zack Snyder's ambitious account of the Man of Tomorrow's origins.
So to help you navigate the coming three-month bombardment of sensorial excess (bang-ups and man-boys and space invaders, oh my), here's a week-by-week guide to this summer's promising films. Below are picks for what to see every weekend between Memorial Day and the beginning of September—with a few intriguing alternative options included for when the inevitable June-to-July blockbuster fatigue sets in.
Fast & Furious 6
After a Russian military convoy is attacked, Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) calls on retired criminal Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and enlists his help in bringing the criminals to justice. In exchange, his past crimes will be pardoned—and he'll have help from Hobbs in tracking down his former girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who was presumed dead. [Trailer]
Why you should care
The stylish 12-year-old franchise is about to get a new jolt with the addition of mixed martial artist-turned-actress Gina Carano as Hobbs's partner—whose explosive fight scene with Letty is what her co-star Diesel envisions as a sequel of sorts to his own grand clash with Johnson in Fast 5. And though a sixth installment of the car-smashing series that never really established a name-format rule may seem like a shameless cash grab, critics have praised its "genuinely warm sense of playfulness" and its entertaining "total dedication to badassness."
Or try... Before Midnight
The festival-acclaimed third installment of Richard Linklater's unhurried series—about a couple that first meets on a train and spends one evening together in Vienna in 1995's Before Sunrise then later reunites for one afternoon in Paris in 2004's Before Sunset—finds the pair (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) living together in Paris, 18 years after their first encounter, raising twin daughters and figuring out how to reconcile their past, separate lives with their life together. The Atlantic's Chris Orr writes that the film is "well worth seeing for anyone invested in this particular cinematic relationship."
Now You See Me
"Ladies and gentlemen, for our final trick, we are going to rob a bank," announce the quartet of magicians known as the Four Horsemen in Now You See Me. Directed by French filmmaker Louis Leterrier (of 2008's Edward Norton-starring version of The Incredible Hulk), the fast-paced caper follows a team of super-savvy young illusionists whose act involves robbing banks all over the world and giving the money away to audience members, and international law enforcement's uphill struggle to stop them. [Trailer]
Why you should care
Consider Now You See Me a showcase for both the old and the new generations of Hollywood talent, as its glitzy lineup boasts both heavy-hitting veterans (like Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Woody Harrelson) and some younger actors who have stacked up their résumés impressively in the last half-decade or so (like Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, and the mesmerizing Mélanie Laurent).
Or try... After Earth
Will Smith and Jaden Smith play—surprise—a father and son in this galaxy-trotting sci-fi entry from the onetime Sixth Sense wunderkind M. Night Shyamalan. When their spaceship crash-lands on a mission to a long-abandoned Earth, General Cypher Raige and his son Kitai have to fend for themselves against newly evolved species and a deadly alien monster that escaped the crash—not to mention find their way back home to Mom.
After their analog watch company goes out of business, thirtysomething technophobes Nick and Billy (Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn) must start searching for employment again in a highly competitive digital-age job market they don't recognize anymore. They land unpaid internships at Google, where they compete with the brightest college-age computer whizzes in America for a shot at getting hired. Rose Byrne co-stars as a Google employee, with other supporting cast including John Goodman, Josh Gad, B.J. Novak, and The Daily Show's Aasif Mandvi. [Trailer]
Why you should care
When you add the proven chemistry of Wilson and Vaughn (Wedding Crashers!) to a hyper-topical, almost-too-close-to-home premise (widespread unemployment! Ivy League grads working no-wage temporary stints with no guarantee of future hire!), the result could be comedy catharsis.
Or try... Much Ado About Nothing
After last year's successes The Avengers and Cabin in the Woods, director Joss Whedon looks to keep his streak going—but does an artistic 180 with this text-faithful modern update to Shakespeare's rom-commy 16th-century play. Veteran Whedon collaborators like Nathan Fillion, Alexis Denisof, and Amy Acker star.
Man of Steel
Starring The Tudors' Henry Cavill as the titular red-and-blue-clad hero, Zack Snyder's Man of Steel presents the DC Comics creation myth of how Kal-El of the planet Krypton fell to Earth and became Clark Kent, and how Clark Kent then became Superman. Amy Adams co-stars as Lois Lane, while Diane Lane and Kevin Costner play Clark's adoptive parents and Russell Crowe appears as Jor-El, Kal-El's faraway biological father. [Trailer]
Why you should care
Early trailers hint that producer Christopher Nolan's trademark high-contrast cinematic vision has seeped into Man of Steel's grand, gorgeous aesthetic—and that Michael Shannon, a journeyman actor who's just recently started to get some well-deserved name recognition, could capably disturb your sleep patterns well into July with his performance as the evil General Zod.
Or try... The Bling Ring
Sofia Coppola has turned her gaze on teenage drama a few times before, with varying degrees of success—from 1999's haunting, acclaimed The Virgin Suicides to 2006's insubstantial powdered-sugar spectacle Marie Antoinette. Come for Coppola's stylish, always-affectionate storyteller's take on the real-life Hollywood Hills crime saga involving a group of wealthy teenagers who robbed celebrities' homes in 2008 and 2009—and stay for Emma Watson's Kardashian-inspired Valley Girl accent.
The prequel to 2001's heartwarming Disney/Pixar triumph Monsters, Inc. travels back in time to Mike Wazowski and his buddy Sulley's college years. Both majoring in kid-scaring, Mike and Sulley (voiced again by Billy Crystal and John Goodman) start out as roommates and quickly become rivals, but gradually make friends once they've exhausted all possible methods of antagonizing each other. [Trailer]
Why you should care
Remember when Disney/Pixar was virtually synonymous with oohs and aahs? The studio does. So after two less-than-universally-beloved entries in a row (2011's Cars 2 and 2012's Brave), it'll be fascinating to see whether the decision to return to a formula that worked magic in the past pays off.
It's a female twist on the buddy-cop comedy: A high-strung FBI agent (Sandra Bullock) and a rash, ruthless Boston policewoman (Melissa McCarthy) are forced to work together in an effort to bring down a drug lord. [Trailer]