It’s a superhero smackdown!
From that old-school adventurer Indiana Jones to the New Age burnout Hancock, this summer the multiplex will look a lot like the muscleplex. Batman, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man and Speed Racer are each in the fight to dominate evil - and the box office.
The superheroines of summer? Nowhere to be found. The summer movies divide between the guy individualists out to save the world and gal collectives there to save each other.
In the sisterhood of “Sex and the City: The Movie” and that of the “Traveling Pants,” female friendship rules. Other girls of summer include the prospective bride of “Mamma Mia!,” looking for her father, and the prospective journalist “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl,” looking for work during the Depression era.
It may be that Pixar’s robot WALLE and his girlfriend EVE will prove that humans - even superheroic ones - are so last century.
Here now a baker’s dozen of offerings for summer, which, at least in Hollywood, begins Friday:
“Iron Man”: In the summer movie sweepstakes, the best comes first with “Iron Man,” Jon Favreau’s fast, funny and furiously entertaining tale of Marvel’s armored superhero. In the title role, Robert Downey Jr., who is in every third film this summer, outbonds James Bond and outjoneses Indy Jones. Gwyneth Paltrow is piquant as his assistant, Pepper Potts. (Friday) _Carrie Rickey
“Speed Racer”: “Into the Wild’s” Emile Hirsch segues from old-style road movie to newfangled CGI in the Wachowski brothers’ homage to the Japanese TV `toon series about a boy driven to obsession - to drive his car. John Goodman and Susan Sarandon play Speed’s parents, and Christina Ricci is Trixie, Speed’s gal. (May 9) - Steven Rea
“What Happens in Vegas”: The rakishly charming Ashton Kutcher and the glamorously goofy Cameron Diaz learn the truth of the proverb “Marry in haste, repent at leisure” when they wed under the influence and an annulment judge sentences them to six months of marriage counseling. (May 9) - C.R.
“The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian”: “You may find Narnia a more savage place than you remember,” somebody growls in the trailer for the first sequel in the “Narnia” franchise. It’s only been a year for the four Pevensie kids, but it’s 1,300 years later in the land behind the Wardrobe. What mysteries, and what “Lord of the Rings”-like battle scenes, await? (May 16) - S.R.
“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”: It’s 1957, and the Cold War is heating up. America’s beloved whip-cracker (Harrison Ford’s Indy Jones) and his whippersnapper sidekick (Shia LaBeouf as Mutt) battle a sultry Soviet agent (Cate Blanchett) for possession of quartz relics from South America, arguably as holy as the ark and Grail of prior installments. (May 22) - C.R.
“Sex and the City: The Movie” The fashionista foursome of the HBO phenom reunite for this feature-length dramedy dress-travaganza. While the plot is as closely guarded as Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts, the scuttlebutt is that the movie serves up the whole life cycle: birth, death, marriage and divorce. If the Manolo fits ... (May 30) - C.R.
“Kung Fu Panda”: DreamWorks’ Animation looks to capture the pint-size martial-arts fan base, and their parents, too, with this CGI cartoon about a slacker panda who joins forces with a legendary troop of kung fu masters. It’s a classic battle of good versus evil, “Crouching Tiger” meets “The Lion King,” and the box office dollars could be too much to bear. (June 6) - S.R.
“The Happening”: Terrorism? Global war? Eco-disaster on an epic scale? Nah, it’s just M. Night Shyamalan, delivering another mystery thriller in which weird stuff happens, and everybody looks to the skies in awe. With Mark Wahlberg as a high school teacher upset that the bees have disappeared. (June 13) - S.R.
“WALLE”: This summer’s entry from Pixar (“The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille”) follows the exploits of a 28th-century robot assigned to clean up the uninhabited, environmentally ruined planet Earth. Space travel, robotic romance, and an earnest ecological message ensue. (June 27) - S.R.
“Hancock”: He was legend. Now, Will Smith is back as a fallen superhero who hires a PR guru (Jason Bateman) to fix his broken reputation and burnish it a little so he can get back in the public’s good graces. Sounds like a comedy based on the travails of Tom Cruise and flackmeister Howard Rubenstein. (July 2) - C.R.
“The Dark Knight”: Heath Ledger’s ghost haunts this follow-up to “Batman Begins,” with Christian Bale’s Cowled Crusader facing off against the demonic, paint-smeared mug of the late actor, in the role of the psycho criminal the Joker. Directed by Christopher Nolan, “The Dark Knight” looks very dark indeed. (July 18) - S.R.
“Mamma Mia!”: The Abba songbook is the basis of this musical mystery centered on Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), an 18-year-old bride who invites the many ex-suitors of her mother, Donna (Meryl Streep), to the wedding in order to figure out who’s her daddy. Is it Stellan Skarsgård? Colin Firth? Pierce Brosnan? Oh, Papa! (July 18) - C.R.
“Tropic Thunder”: Ben Stiller’s gonzo war-movie parody is getting great buzz, and Robert Downey Jr.‘s blackface routine looks incendiary - and incendiarily funny. With guest cameos from Tom Cruise, Tobey Maguire and Matthew McConaughey. (Aug. 15) - S.R.