Especially when it comes to big-budget genre blockbusters, hype has become an inseparable part of movie culture. Trailers, teasers and teasers for trailers, along with a steady drip-feed of news, rumors and inside reports, all these are well-handled tools in Hollywood’s ever-increasing mastery of getting you primed and ready to slap down your money. Add the fact that more and more Hollywood blockbusters are based off beloved properties or tied to ongoing series and yearly top-ten lists of the most anticipated blockbusters or summer movies of the year can tend to look a bit samey. Oh really, you’re excited for Star Wars Episode 7? Well of course you are, it’s Star Wars Episode 7. Saying you’re excited to see it is like saying you enjoy oxygen or puppydog kisses.
Most of the most anticipated movies of the year, quite frankly, don’t need any more hype than they already have. You’re probably reading this very article nestled in your Avengers: Age of Ultron officially silenced snuggy (“there are no loose threads on meeee…”) or standing in the obsidian-dark shadow of a three-story Jurassic World banner ad. So in the name of shedding more light on those 2015 cinematic hopefuls that don’t have marketing budgets so well funded that they could stage a coup in a small Latin-American country, we’re taking a look at some of 2015’s lesser-hyped blockbusters.
Have you heard this one? A normal, average, somewhat withdrawn young adult is unexpectedly thrown into a high-stakes adventure in which they find that they are possessed of a great, important destiny. Along the way, they meet a beautiful love interest, overcome an evil empire, and discover an inner strength they never knew they had. This is a formula so frequently used in fiction, be it film, tv, comics, novels or IKEA furniture instructions that it’s a wonder it isn’t packaged and sold in stores. And yet, we keep coming back. Why?
Jupiter Ascending, the new film by the Wachowski siblings, looks to be sticking to the formula as stringently as they stuck to the old “Hero’s Journey” structure for the first Matrix film, using the latest effects and attractive young people to tell a story as old as the hills’ old uncle Bob. And yet, it looks like it could be really good. If nothing else, the effects and mechanical designs look interesting and unique, Channing Tatum is apparently playing some kind of space dog person, and the villains are, for all intents and purposes, the Gorns from Star Trek. There’s nothing we’ve been shown yet that indicates that Jupiter Ascending will be the next transcendent, genre-redefining paradigm shift in sci-fi cinema, but it’s an original property and with so few of those in the marketplace these days, that alone warrants some attention.
Brad Bird’s new film, which purports to be about a girl who goes to a science-centric wonderland to do something involving George Clooney and who knows what else. Details about the films plot are scarce, and there has thus far been only one trailer, one which withholds any spectacular visuals or glimpses at what the film has to offer besides one (delightfully understated) special effect, a brief glimpse at the titular Tomorrowland, and the guy who voiced Optimus Primal on Beast Wars. It is, so far, a mystery. But it’s a mystery directed by the guy who made The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, and when he plays something close to the vest, it could be a very good sign indeed.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Some movies, like Tomorrowland, choose to create interest and hype by creating a mystery. Others, like the upcoming new installment in the venerated Mad Max series, choose instead to present their audience with something that looks so impossibly, ridiculously awesome that the need to see the full movie becomes impossible to deny. If the few scant minutes of footage we’ve seen of Fury Road reliably represents the rest of the film, series creator George Miller looks to have created something akin to the first Raid movie, but for car chases and explosions instead of martial arts. He describes the film as a hundred and ten minute car chase, and he doesn’t look to be exaggerating. Fury Road‘s trailers paint a picture of a movie forged in a demented mind, fueled by speed cut with motor oil and with a constant track of speed metal playing in the background. It looks like the kind of movie that could take someone’s eyebrows off if they aren’t careful.
Of course, this creates a problem in that what movie could possibly live up the anticipation built by those trailers and Miller’s own hyperbole….unless it isn’t hyperbole, and Fury Road really does erupt on screens like a volcano made of car parts and damnation.
Disctrict 9 was so good, wasn’t it? It was original, it was fresh, it had great visuals, an interestingly flawed lead, and a big why-the-heck-not mech battle at the end. Everyone who got out of that theatre in ’09 left with one question on their mind: what would this Blomkamp guy do next? The answer, unfortunately, was not what we hoped for. While Blomkamp’s follow-up, Elysium, was certainly pretty, with his trademark mechanical designs and social critique in spades, it was also considerably shallower than its predecessor, with a more simplistic “evil rich vs noble poor” storyline.
But maybe it was merely a misstep, and Blomkamp’s next film, Chappie, will return the former golden boy to glory…..is what many people were hoping before that second trailer dropped and confidence started to wain. Chappie does still look like an exciting, action-packed sci-fi adventure, but while the first trailer presented the film as less action-oriented and more focused on the life of its titular robot and the existential implications of artificial intelligence. Trailer 2, on the other hand, focuses more on the action side of things, making the film look like an odd mashup of Short Circuit, Bicentennial Man and the Robocop remake. Nevertheless, there’s still hope. Blomkamp can still pull this through, delivering a more layered and thoughtful story than the “angelically innocent robot vs evil anti-AI alarmists” parable that trailer 2 promises.
Kingsman: The Secret Service
Since Casino Royale violently re-invented the Bond franchise and brought it more in line with the more Bourne style gritty realism of modern spy thrillers, it seems the classic spy caper has been an endangered species. Gone are the over-the-top villains, gentlemen spies, gadgets galore and henchmen with disfigurements that double as murder weapons. Kingsman, directed by Matthew Vaughn and loosely adapted from the graphic novel by Mark Millar, looks to be trying to change that. And because it represents a move toward a more retro style, embracing everything modern spy thrillers have spent the last decade-and-change trying desperately to shake off, it could either end up a campy, anachronistic nightmare or a welcome change of pace from the current style.
Given Vaughn’s pedigree, it could go either way. This is, after all, the man who gave us Stardust and Kick-Ass, two films that spent most of their run time nervously flirting with over-the-top silliness, and Layer Cake, a gritty crime flick with more of his mentor, Guy Ritchie, in it than Vaughn himself. Kingsman certainly has enough star power behind it to draw crowds, featuring Colin Firth, Sam Jackson, Michael Caine, Mark Strong, and even Mark Hamill, but will the return to a style not in step with the current norm for espionage thrillers work, or just feel like a chintzy throwback?