If you really love movies, if you truly cherish them as an art form, then holy cow is the summer movie season depressing. For three months — or four, or six (Fast Five’s ad line was “Summer Begins April 29,” which goes to show that posters for Vin Diesel movies are no substitute for calendars) — we’re fed a steady diet of sequels, remakes, “reboots,” comic book adaptations, gross-out comedies, mindless blow-shit-up movies, sequels to remakes, sequels to reboots, sequels to comic book adaptations, sequels to gross-out comedies, and sequels to mindless blow-shit-up movies.
Let’s take a look at some of the big summer blockbusters — you know, the ones that you’ll see on every billboard and TV commercial break and fast-food franchise collector’s cup. We have Cars 2, the sequel to the one Pixar movie that nobody really liked; Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the second crack (after Tim Burton’s 2001 botch job) at resurrecting a series that, to date, has boasted exactly one good film (the first); Zookeeper, another vehicle for the increasingly questionable talents of Kevin James, produced by Adam Sandler’s sludge factory (it’s from the director of Click!); The Hangover Part II, the closest thing to a shot-for-shot remake since Van Sant’s Psycho; and The Smurfs, which capitalizes on a generation’s nostalgic memories of a terrible Saturday morning cartoon by combining live action with creepy CG, a la Yogi Bear, Scooby Doo, and Alvin and the Chipmunks. And then there’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the latest installment of the most insidiously, aggressively stupid franchise in movie history. Most of these will gross giant boatloads of money, and we’ll get more of them, because that’s what we like! Pass the giant sody pop!
But, all that said, there is also a wonderful thing called “counterprogramming,” in which smaller distributors look at this vast, dumb wasteland and say, “Hey, maybe the grown-ups would like to go to the movies this summer too!” And they put their little character-based dramedy or documentary or whatever out the same weekend, in the interest of choice. (At least, for those who live in “select cities.”) And, lest the snobbery becomes too pungent, it is worth noting that on occasion, the folks making those big summer blockbusters decide to use the unlimited resources at their disposal to make a decent popcorn movie with good actors that doesn’t insult the intelligence of their audience (don’t forget, the Bourne movies, the Nolan Batmans, and the last few Pixar titles were all summer releases). So, with that in mind, join us below to look at a dozen summer movies that might not be terrible (or that we’ve seen, and can happily confirm are not).
The Tree of Life (May 27)
Terrence Malick’s Cannes Film Festival winner opens this weekend, opposite The Hangover Part II and Kung Fu Panda 2 — if that’s not counter-programming, we don’t know what is. The meticulous filmmaker’s pictures tend to divide audiences sharply; his devotees are diehard, while casual moviegoers tend to find his poetic mediations on Life, Nature, Death, etc. borderline impenetrable. Look at that trailer, though. Wow.