Preview of 2012 – Blockbusters

by Ron Swanson

Any preview of 2012, (or at least one that wants to rouse the collective interest of ‘the Internet’, should probably start with Christopher Nolan’s the Dark Knight Rises. The UK’s cinematic summer slate will be more crowded than ever, with studios running away from two sporting events – the European Football Championships and London 2012. We’ll see a lot of movies congested into a squeezed window of opportunity.

The Dark Knight Rises, released on 20 July, is the only major release to have committed to going head-to-head with the Olympics, and given the franchise’s strength, you can understand the confidence (the Dark Knight took three times the money in the UK as Batman Begins, and is far and away the biggest comic book movie of all time, while the trailer for the Dark Knight Rises received more attention than most full releases).

Nolan’s films are hugely popular, and there’s no denying that he has managed to carve out a niche and be perceived as the director of intelligent blockbusters (Inception took £35m in a very competitive market). The Dark Knight Rises sees Nolan include three of his Inception cast in key roles – Tom Hardy plays brutish villain Bane, Joseph Gordon Levitt as a young Gotham beat cop and Marion Cotillard (swoon) as a possible romantic interest for Batman (played once more as the growliest of dangerous, psychopathic vigilantes by Christian Bale). It will, undoubtedly, be one of the event movies of 2012, but not, by any means, the only one…

Skyfall is the 23rd adventure of James Bond, and will hit cinema screens at the end of October. We don’t know much, but Daniel Craig returns in the lead role, and will be supported by Ralph Fiennes, Javier Bardem (as the bad guy, probably a risky career move?), Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Albert Finney and the returning Judi Dench. Sam Mendes directs, and the film will NOT be in 3D.

Right at the end of 2012, we will be invited to return to Middle Earth by filmmaker Peter Jackson for the Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey. Coming nine years after the Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King, the trailer debuted online just before Christmas to largely positive reviews. Whether audiences have moved on beyond Jackson’s storytelling style remains to be seen, but it should be one of the year’s biggest films.

Those who like their films to have a fairy-tale feel won’t have much to quibble about in 2012, with two different Snow White films, one of which: Mirror, Mirror is a fairly straightforward family adaptation of the myth, while the other, Snow White and the Huntsman seems like more of an attempt to cash in on the Twilight audience, even if we ignore the casting of K-Stew in one of the title roles. Puny weakling Chris Hemsworth is the other lead.

Also hoping that 2011’s Red Riding Hood wasn’t a true test of audiences’ interest is Bryan Singer’s Jack the Giant Killer, which riffs on the beanstalk fairy tale. Nicholas Hoult and Ewan McGregor play the lead roles in a film that follows Snow White and the Huntsman’s more mature aesthetic.

There are lots of returning franchises for families to enjoy. These include Ice Age 4 and Madagascar 3. After a year where computer animation suffered box-office decline more noticeably than any other genre (only Tangled and Arthur Christmas passed £20m in the UK, and both just barely, while franchises such as Kung Fu Panda and Cars saw disappointing returns much lower than their first instalments), it would be reasonable to suggest that families are searching elsewhere for their entertainment, but we are only 18 months away from a time when Toy Story 3 became the second biggest film of all time in the UK, and both Ice Age and Madagascar have been phenomenally popular in the past. Ice Age 4: Continental Drift arrives in the summer, while Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted hits cinemas in the October half-term slot.

There are some new offerings for families too, with a new Pixar film, the first with a Disney Princess, seemingly the pick of them. Arriving in August, Brave sees the company attempt to regroup after their first real setback. Cars 2 saw them receive their worst reviews, and the film was a financial disappointment. You would normally back Pixar at any odds, but Brave hasn’t quite charmed me yet. I must admit to being more excited about The Pirates! In An Adventure with Scientists, the new film from Aardman, flush from Arthur Christmas’s success. This sees the company go back to their claymation roots, and looks to be a witty and intricately designed family comedy, with strong vocal performances from Salma Hayek and Hugh Grant.

The family film that most excites me, though, is The Muppets. Leaving aside my strong love for the characters, I’m very much a fan of Jason Segel and Amy Adams, who play the main human characters. Reviews and box-office performance in the US, where it was released last November, were very strong.

Those with slightly older children may wish to size up two ostensibly similar films, StreetDanceTwo arrives at the end of March, while Step Up 4, which your correspondent has seen some footage from (it looks freaking awesome, of course), will be with us in August. The two franchises will re-enact their box-office battle of 2010. StreetDance won that year, my money is on Step Up this time around.

Other sequels include Wrath of the Titans (putative tagline – Titans! Will! (Have) Wrath!), the fifth and final Twilight film and inexplicably a second GI Joe film (they’re asking for trouble by calling it Retaliation, surely?) AND a second Ghost Rider film, which at least co-stars Idris Elba (don’t call him Stringer Bell). I can’t be alone in dreading Men in Black 3, can I?

Not sequels, but reboots and spin-offs, the Avengers and the Amazing Spider-Man will have lots of expectation and money invested in them by their respective studios. It’s only been 10 years since Tobey Maguire played Spider-Man for the first time, and it may be asking a lot of audiences to sit through a slightly tweaked origin story once more, so soon. There are positives: Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are great casting, as is the illustrious Martin Sheen. Early footage looks really good, but I’d question the suitability of (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb to hold this together.

As for the Avengers, it’s hard to see how it can significantly increase the audience from, say, Iron Man 2 – I’m not sure there are many people who didn’t see that picture because it didn’t have Thor or Captain America in, but there will be some pleasure in seeing Zodiac co-stars Robert Downey Jr and Mark Ruffalo (playing The Hulk) back on screen together, and I’m a big enough fan of Joss Whedon for this to be high on my must-see list.

That leaves me with just one film to discuss, Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. No matter how much the filmmaker and studio have tried to deny it, there can be no doubt now that Prometheus is a prequel to Alien. Scott’s earlier film is one of my favourites of all time, so I have lots of worries that this could tarnish it somehow (worries not abated by Scott’s recent work, unfortunately). He’s assembled a really good cast, though, with none-more-hot-than Michael Fassbender playing (I’m guessing) the prototype to Ian Holm’s Bishop from the first film, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba, Noomi Rapace and Patrick Wilson.

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