Summer has been a bummer. At least at the movies. It feels as if we say this every year — we literally said this last year — but it’s freshly disappointing each time. It’s not that there haven’t been excellent movies released in 2017; Jordan Peele, James Gray, Hugh Jackman’s "nutritionist," and Jake Johnson’s gambling addiction all beg to differ. But as we speed into the blockbuster months, something feels … off. Fate of the Furious was bloated and beset by the Rock-Diesel feud, if we’re being honest. I enjoyed Alien: Covenant and King Arthur (I have bad taste in movies), but most people did not. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was a headache, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales was a migraine. It’s been a rough spring at the box office, too: Baywatch, Snatched, and King Arthur were all unqualified flops, and Alien and Pirates will be lucky to make back their marketing budgets. Perhaps Wonder Woman will bring sweet critical and monetary relief this weekend; perhaps not even real-life superhero Gal Gadot can breathe life into the DC universe.
But all is not lost. Many more movies will be released this summer. Many of them will be awful! But a large handful will be interesting, a smaller handful will be surprising, an even smaller handful will be genuinely good, and two or three might even tease greatness. Some of them will even be released in theaters, which sounds crazy, I know. These are the films that will save summer movie season.
The Big Flippin’ Blockbusters
Summertime means one thing: extremely large movies with extremely large budgets, bludgeoning soundtracks, and high-grade Hollywood talent. And only some of them are based on preexisting IP!
Start with one word, spoken in Mark Rylance’s finest Spielberg-befriending, Globe Theater–trodding brogue: Dunkirk (July 21). Christopher Nolan’s latest epic gives a large dose of reality to a summer-movie slate full of inflated CGI’d vistas. Nolan is a director who understands scale, and noise, and weight. His gunshots sound meaner; his landscapes look harsher. This looks like a shitty, war-torn beach, you know?
The whole Nolan gang is here, from repertory players like Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy to behind-the-scenes folks like cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema and composer Hans Zimmer. The only way I’ll be disappointed is if the good guys win World War II thanks to a last-minute assist from the transcendental power of love. (Odds of this happening: disconcertingly high.)
From Nolan’s reality-based, aggressively grounded spectacle, we turn to Michael Bay’s Amphetamine Emporium. Yes, Transformers: The Last Knight (June 21) is on a list about good summer movies. But stay with me. This movie has a lot going for it, if you’re willing to suspend your snobbery: Anthony Hopkins thinking he’s still on Westworld; Mark Wahlberg playing a guy named Cade Yeager (!) whose job is "inventor" (!!); robots fighting Nazis; and these medieval Transformers, just broing down with some cold ones at the literal Round Table:
I can’t stop giggling.
On the subject of aggressive CGI: It’s time to welcome the apes back into our lives. War for the Planet of the Apes (July 14) is the third entry in this latest reboot of a deeply silly series — which, as I’ve argued in this space before, is also maybe the best action franchise going. If War gives us a moment like this one—
—the apes keep the belt.
The Pedigreed Indies
Summer isn’t just for blockbusters. There’s plenty of room (OK, not that much room, but some room: a small, well-appointed room that Sofia Coppola would hang out in) for smaller, stranger pictures. To wit:
Coppola back! The patron saint of Hollywood ennui takes her gorgeous boredom south with The Beguiled (June 23). Clint Eastwood starred in a previous adaptation of the Thomas P. Cullinan novel Coppola’s working from; I’m guessing that her version — starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell — will be a little weirder, a lot sexier, and take place in a house that’s approximately 37 times as attractive.
Director David Lowery, fresh off a well-loved Pete’s Dragon, is back to similarly eerie ground with A Ghost Story (July 7). Casey Affleck plays a man who dies and becomes a ghost (who looks like a Halloween ghost, with the sheet), and Rooney Mara plays that man’s widow, who copes by eating a pie. Time is transcended; things get weird. This does not scream "summer movie," but Lowery has made magic with Affleck and Mara before.
On slightly cheerier turf, the Judd Apatow Summertime Star-Making Machine is back and operating at full capacity. This time, the subject is Kumail Nanjiani, starring in The Big Sick (June 23). Nanjiani wrote the mostly autbiographical movie with his wife, Emily Gordon, after an illness fast-tracked their relationship. It looks extremely sweet, and rather sad, and like the starring vehicle Nanjiani richly deserves.
Two fast and mean ones here.
Atomic Blonde (July 28) has been lovingly referred to as Jane Wick since it screened at SXSW, and I can think of no actress better for the ass-kicking role than Charlize Theron. Bonus points, too, for being an unnecessary period movie. Did this need to be set in pre-fall East Germany? Probably not! But I can smell the set from here.
Taylor Sheridan is best known as the writer of miserly, grimy crime movies like Sicario and Hell or High Water. He directed Wind River (August 4), which looks like it’s taking the "Jeremy Renner in a wintry cabin" section of The Bourne Legacy (the best part of that movie) and turning it into its own feature film. Snow, sniper rifles, Elizabeth Olsen: time to paddle down Wind River.
The Scary One
The best way to make original features in Hollywood? Make ’em scary. Get Out isn’t part of a multi-tentacled universe. I’m told Don’t Breathe, Hush, and The Witch were all quite good and unique; I can’t say, because I was hiding under my bed with a flashlight. The point remains: Horror is the area where auteurs can pull off some seriously weird and interesting stuff, much of it enabled by the wizards at production and distribution houses like Blumhouse and A24. The latter brings us It Comes at Night (June 9), Trey Edward Shults’s actual-horror follow-up to his just-felt-like-horror reunion drama Krisha. Joel Edgerton, Riley Keough, and Christopher Abbott are all dope actors, and I am terrified to see what happens to them.
The Zany Capers
This, friends, is the good stuff. This is what summer is for: tone-minded, set-piece-loving, joke-having, expertly directed crime movies.
You’ve likely heard plenty about Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver (June 28), about a kid who’s a getaway driver and not a baby and also Ansel Elgort. Expect a phenomenal soundtrack, some great chase scenes, and so much scenery-chewing from the likes of expert scenery-chewers Jon Hamm, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, and personal favorite Jon Bernthal.
But this is all preamble, because — for my money — there is exactly one movie this summer I’m prepared to camp out for right now. And that’s Logan Lucky (August 18), Steven Soderbergh’s first movie since 2013’s Side Effects. He’s been busy revolutionizing TV with The Knick and The Girlfriend Experience, but now he’s back where he belongs: at the helm of a NASCAR-set heist film starring Channing Tatum, one-armed Adam Driver, and bottle-blond, southern-drawling Daniel Craig. Here, enjoy this extremely fun trailer:
Like I said: This is the ticket. Humor, crime, impeccable camerawork: Steven Soderbergh has returned from the wilderness to save our movie summer.