The summer’s action movies kick off with a conclusion—George Lucas’s long-awaited wrap-up of the Star Wars saga, Revenge of the Sith (May 19). But the season’s most hotly anticipated popcorn flick is a prologue: Batman Begins (June 15). Fanboys are no doubt fidgeting as the release date draws near, wondering if Christopher Nolan, the director of the relatively small-scale movies Memento and Insomnia, is up to restoring full glory to the Caped Crusader after his last, less-then-dignified outing with Joel Schumacher, where he got more attention for the aroused nipples on his Bat-suit than for his rousing derring-do.
But when you consider the bigger Bat-picture, there are plenty of reasons to remain calm. Nolan’s knack for dramatizing fractured interior states seems perfect for this most brooding of superheroes (he is called the Dark Knight, right?). The choice of Christian Bale for the lead is tantalizing—if Batman didn’t use his powers for good, he’d be considered an American Psycho, wouldn’t he? And going back to the origins of the character (parents murdered; vow to fight evil; revival of obscure but excellent villain the Scarecrow) should deliver even the most ardent Batman purist into a relative comfort zone.
Steven Spielberg is reaching further back in the pop-culture past in his reworking of H. G. Wells’s 1898 Mars-attacks novel, The War of the Worlds (June 29). Spielberg’s translation of the tale into the present day was a good idea, since no one wants to see hero Tom Cruise in turn-of-the-twentieth-century fopwear (à la Samurai) when we can see him as a classic Spielberg protagonist: a flawed father (to Justin Chatwin and Dakota Fanning) who has to summon up untapped strength and virtue to save his kids. This could be Close Encounters With Collateral E.T., which would be just fine with us.
Even finer would be the discovery that The Fantastic Four (July 8) are, in fact, fantastic. It’s tough to create a live-action movie about a guy who stretches (Ioan Gruffudd), a woman who can be invisible (Jessica Alba), a wiseacre who can turn himself into a human torch (Chris Evans), and another guy who looks like he was built out of a pile of rocks left over from a Connecticut-stone-fence project and whose catchphrase is “It’s clobberin’ time!” But if anyone can pull off that costume and that bellowed phrase, it’s probably Michael Chiklis, who’s playing the Thing. After all, Chiklis has made a career of transformation, playing a Wired John Belushi, a pudgy Commish, and a buff cop on The Shield.
There’s also Stealth (July 29), XXX director Rob Cohen’s wowser co-starring Jamie Foxx and a CGI-loaded computerized jet with an evil brain; Kurt Russell’s superhero spoof Sky High (July 29); and Wes Craven’s Red Eye (August 19), in which a young woman is kidnapped mid-flight. Combine the solid talent and some tantalizing premises, and it looks like a better-than-usual summer, so let’s dare to imagine the best-case scenario: tension and heroism, yes, but also moments of human recognition amid all the techno-marvels.