What to Expect When You’re Special-Effecting

This blockbuster season brings manly sequels, vibrating inventions and Channing Tatum’s rippling pecs

The summer movies are stampeding into Las Vegas theaters like drunken, pool party-bound tourists, leaving dollar signs and crushed popcorn in their wake. Over the next three sweltering months you’ll be subject to a nonstop onslaught of 3-D, CGI-stuffed action and spectacle, tempered with a few broad comedy bunts, arthouse indies and the requisite buzzy horror flick (Chernobyl Diaries, out May 25, from Paranormal Activity writer/director Oren Peli). But looking over the season’s roster, it’s hard to miss a few unmistakable patterns:


Seeing Y-chromosome carriers belch and battle to the death isn’t a new phenomenon, but this summer feels especially doused in testosterone.

It kicks off, fittingly, with Mansome (May 18), Morgan “SuperSize Me” Spurlock’s documentary about male grooming habits featuring Jason Bateman, Paul Rudd and Will Arnett; followed by a little movie called Men in Black 3 (May 25). Broadway’s titular Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Benjamin Walker, takes on his first leading screen role in the likely-to-be-bloody-bloody Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (June 22). The Bourne Legacy continues with The Hurt Locker’s Jeremy Renner subbing for Matt Damon (Aug. 3). And Battleship (May 18) finally brings to life that classic ’80s peg game in which you sat across from your cousin being like, “Um… B-8?” and he was all, “Miss!” Presumably this is even more dramatic. Plus it stars Taylor Kitsch (best known as Friday Night Lights’ hunky Tim Riggins, or the shirtless title character of spring’s colossal flop John Carter).

In the ever-popular man-child oeuvre, we’re treated to a new Adam Sandler comedy, That’s My Boy (June 15). How he can improve upon Jack and Jill is anyone’s guess, but he tries by playing the imbecilic father to Andy Samberg’s embarrassed son. Then there’s Ted (July 13), which stars Mark Wahlberg alongside a vulgar CGI teddy bear voiced by Family Guy’s Seth MacFarlane. In the Seth Rogen-penned caper Neighborhood Watch (July 27), Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill are guys pretending to fight crime just to get away from their wives. (Will the Trayvon Martin tragedy hurt its chances? Or will moviegoers have forgotten yesterday’s news by the end of July?) Finally, The Campaign (Aug. 10) stars Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis as bumbling political rivals.

Other men at work this summer are Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a beleaguered bike messenger on the run from a dirty cop in Premium Rush (Aug. 24); Shia LaBoeuf and Tom Hardy as bootlegging brothers in the Prohibition-era crime drama Lawless (Aug. 31); the aforementioned Kitsch and Aaron Johnson as pot dealers facing off with a Mexican drug cartel in Oliver Stone’s Savages (July 6); Tom Cruise, who head-scratchingly headlines the musical Rock of Ages (June 15) as an ’80s hair band frontman; and a few rocks of more advancing ages who costar in The Expendables 2 (Aug. 17): Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger. And then, of course, there’s …


It’s really easy to make fun of Channing Tatum. I mean, he looks like the Donnie Wahlberg NKOTB doll I coveted circa 1989, and he became famous playing what amounts to a gangsta Jennifer Grey in Step Up. But with this year’s weeper The Vow and the hilarious 21 Jump Street, he’s proven that he can be both a romantic and comic leading man. The next logical career move, then, obviously, is stripper. Magic Mike, based in part on the actor’s real-life experiences as a 19-year-old exotic dancer, arrives June 29—the same day that Tatum’s other big summer movie, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, hits theaters. (Too bad he passed on the 3-D Step Up: Revolution (July 27), or we could have a Tatum trifecta!)


The next few months have enough prequels, sequels, three-quels, remakes and movies based on popular toys of the Pre-iPad Age (see above re: Battleship, G.I. Joe) to make you stop and check your Google Calendar to make sure you didn’t accidentally wander into a Delorean bound for 1997.

There’s Men in Black 3. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (June 8). The Expendables 2. And a lot of films with colons in their titles (I think it’s worth noting that in biology, the colon leads directly to the anus).

OK, fine, so some of the season’s sequel-y fare looks good, but I still get the nagging feeling we’re being had. Take The Amazing Spider-Man (July 3)—didn’t I already see that, with Tobey Maguire, in 2002? Granted, Emma Stone comes by Mary Jane Watson’s red hair more honestly than Kirsten Dunst. But is new franchise star Andrew Garfield all that more amazing than Maguire? And then we have The Dark Knight Rises (July 20), which features Catwoman (Anne Hathaway, snapping on the second-skin body suit once filled by Michelle Pfeiffer and Halle Berry). This sounds a lot like Batman Returns, except maybe with fewer creepy penguins. As for the revamped Total Recall (Aug. 3) starring Colin Farrell in the original Ahh-nold role … well, that joke writes itself. Even Hope Springs (Aug. 10), a dramedy starring Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones as a couple seeking counseling from a marriage guru (Steve Carell), fishes its title out of the 2003 dustbin.

Then there’s some less literal recycling, like To Rome With Love (June 22), Woody Allen’s talky paean to a romantic European city; or Moonrise Kingdom (May 25), a typically eccentric Wes Anderson film starring Bill Murray that centers on hopelessly lost grown-ups and misunderstood innocents (in this case, love-struck preteen campers). ParaNorman is a stop-motion animated tale about a precocious kid dealing with unsettling circumstances from Laika Entertainment, which brought us 2009’s similarly themed Coraline. Another filmmaker returning to familiar territory is Alien’s Ridley Scott, who helms Prometheus (June 8), a lost-world expedition thriller originally conceived as a prequel to his sci-fi classic and starring Noomi Rapace in the Ripley-esque female lead role. Speaking of the ladies, let’s not forget …


Last summer’s Bridesmaids shattered the glass ceiling that has prevented women from making poop jokes in mainstream films. While 2012 doesn’t offer another such blockbuster, there are a handful of films by and about women. This is a godsend if you don’t happen to love Tatum, Hasbro figurines and/or bloodlust.

The most obvious lady-baiter is What to Expect When You’re Expecting (May 18)­—based on the bland but best-selling pregnancy primer of the same name—in which Cameron Diaz and Elizabeth Banks waddle around in fake bellies complaining (hilariously, I’m sure) about hormones and hemorrhoids. On the opposite end of the cultural speculum—er, spectrum—is Hysteria (also May 18), a British romantic comedy about the invention of the vibrator in Victorian times starring Maggie Gyllenhaal. Pixar introduces its first female heroine in Brave (June 22), and Sundance Grand Jury prize-winner Beasts of the Southern Wild (June 27) introduces 8-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis. Your Sister’s Sister (June 15), a character-driven dramedy from writer/director Lynn Shelton, stars Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt. Indie darling Greta Gerwig takes the lead in Lola Versus (June 8), which follows a quirkily adorable 30-year-old navigating her newly single life that more or less encapsulates the popular Twitter hashtag #whitegirlproblems.

Another White girl with problems is Snow White as played by Stewart in the dark action fantasy Snow White and the Huntsman (June 1). That is, if you want to call your evil stepmother (Charlize Theron) threatening to eat your heart a problem. I’m still not convinced it’s worse than explosive diarrhea in your wedding dress.

But no matter your gender or your multiplex predilections, get your brawny, brainless big-budget fun in now, before fall rolls in with its Oscar contenders. No offense, Sandler, but I think you can go ahead and make out-of-town plans for next February.

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