The Pagan Movie Geek: Summer Movie Round-Up 2013

I wear the label of geek with pride. I’m a big fan of comic-books like American Vampire and Fables, and my Wednesday evenings are spent watching Arrow on the CW (surprisingly not horrible). I also still find myself lamenting the demise of Young Justice several months now after its cancellation. I’m a huge lover of sci-fi and fantasy, which means I usually get pretty fired up come summer blockbuster movie season.

I realize that Iron Man 3 is not going to win an Oscar, nor do I care. I watch to be entertained, and to see many of my favorite things from childhood brought to life in huge-eye-popping fashion. Star Trek: Into Darkness is probably not going to be a “Pagan spectacle,” but there are a lot of us in the Pagan Community who enjoy sci-fi and super-heroes. A guy like Superman is a modern archetype, a present day Hercules who taps into that sense of alienation many of us feel, along with being able to fly and having X-Ray vision. Pagan groups like The Church of All Worlds have Science Fiction in their DNA, in the case of CAW it’s Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land.

This isn’t Entertainment Weekly, so I’m not going to get into every movie coming out this summer, but I’m going to try and hit what I hope are the high points. Anticipation for each film is measured in geekgasms, which translates to my own personal excitement level, usually measured by how often I watch a trailer and how many pairs of boxer shorts I own related to a movie franchise. (For the record I have more Batman boxers than anything else.) I’ll be going through the films on my list chronologically, from May 3 through Labor Day.

If you were hoping to run into a great Pagan debate today, you’ve come to the wrong place. “All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals” said the Goddess, and I both love, and find pleasure, at the summer cineplex. Some of my favorite summer evenings have been spent in the company of pre-movie hard cider and good friends excited about seeing Spider-Man II or Batman Begins. Happy Movie Watching this summer, and if I missed anything that might be of interest to Pagans (or geeks) let me know in the comment section.

There’s only really one big release coming out the first weekend in May and that’s Iron Man 3. I’m still kind of in shock as to how Marvel managed to turn a B-list character into such a colossal movie franchise . . . I’m going to give most of the credit to the sharp script of the first installment and the genius who cast Robert Downey Junior in the title role. It’s almost laughable now, but when the first Iron Man movie was released Downey had lost his leading man status, and Marvel sort of went out on a limb with his casting. It’s obviously worked out for both parties, and Downey’s Tony Stark is why The Avengers and Iron Man films work so well.

Throwing Cold Water: While the trailers for this film look fantastic, the plot also looks a little muddied, hurried, and perhaps just a bit too busy. It’ll certainly be cool to see all of the different Iron Man suits blasting things with repulser rays, but that won’t mean much if the story isn’t any good. I can’t imagine that the movie can be any worse than Iron Man II, a giant mess of set-pieces and ridiculousness only made salvageable by the performances of Downey, Gwyneth Paltrow, and the always awesome Sam Rockwell. Even with a bit of worry, I’m still pretty amped up for this movie.

Geekgasms: Four (out of five)

Why not?: No offense to Don Cheadle’s War Machine (James Rhodes), but what I really want is a damn Black Panther movie, and I think Cheadle might be the guy to pull it off. If you haven’t seen the Black Panther cartoon that was on BET a couple of years ago you should really make an effort to do so. Pretty cool stuff, it’s on Nextflix streaming.

The movie I’m most looking forward to this summer is Star Trek Into Darkness. J.J. Abram’s 2009 Star Trek reboot was more than a pleasant surprise it was one of the best movies of that year. It had the feel of classic Trek, but felt a bit more up to date. I do think a bit of Gene Rodenberry’s utopian-future-vision was lost a long the way, but I’d rather see some changes than see Star Trek fade into the dustbin of pop-culture history. The casting in the first film was stellar, and characters like Kirk, Spock, and Bones have become archetypes in their own rite. The idea to start over with those characters was a wise one. Plot details of Into Darkness have been hard to come by, and that’s got me even more amped up for this movie. I’m down with some surprises, I just hope the main baddie is not some version of Khan.

Throwing Cold Water: What I haven’t seen a lot of in the early trailers are appearances by Karl Urban’s Dr. Leonard McCoy (Bones). While Kirk and Spock have always tended to steal the spotlight, Bones was the essential “third character” on the original show and in the first Trek films. Plus, Karl Urban’s McCoy was just pitch-perfect. More Simon Pegg as Scotty would be welcome as well, and not just for comic relief. I don’t really have a lot of worries about this movie though. It doesn’t have that “rushed” sort of feel that dooms so many summer tent-poles.

Geekgasms: Five (Out of five, and I would give it a six if I could.)

While The Fast and the Furious 6 and The Hangover Part 3 are going to dominate the Memorial Day box-office, I’m most curious about Epic, a CGI family-movie from the folks who created Ice Age. I’m a sucker for well done animated films, especially when they involve heroines, fantasy-type creatures, and epic battles to save the natural world. An early trailer for this film contains the line “just because you haven’t seen something doesn’t mean it’s not there” a sentiment I completely agree with. Add “leaf men” and “protectors of the forest” and you’ve got a film that the Pagan in me is definitely curious about.

Throwing Cold Water: Have you ever noticed how many animated films contain “stunt casting?” Epic has Stephen Tyler (Aerosmith), Pitbull, and Beyonce (Beyonce-she’s just awesome enough I have to list her twice) in it, and I just can’t help but wonder “are those really the best the three best actors you could have come up with?” Why not Mick Jagger too? Voice acting is not the same as regular acting and a lot of A-list Hollywood types who sign onto these animated films just aren’t good at it. Besides who in their right mind thinks “well, this has the voice of Colin Farrell so I just have to see it?” I was glad to see Aziz Ansari in there though.

Geekgasms: Two (I’m going to check out the reviews before committing to this one.)

Remember when people liked movies by M. Night Shyamalan? It feels like decades ago, and it kind of was since The Sixth Sense was released in 1999. Since then, Shyamalan has continued to release movies to less and less buzz, so it’s not surprising that I didn’t know After Earth was due out this June until looking at a list of movies online. I like Will Smith, and not even his involvement put this one on my radar. I don’t even have to throw cold water on it because Shyamalan’s involvement and the lack of buzz for it are all the cold water that’s needed. A plot description makes this sound less like a Will Smith film and more like “adolescent youth lost.” I want an Independence Day sequel, not this. Perhaps I’ll be pleasantly surprised, but I won’t know until this is on basic cable in a few years.

Geekgasms: One (But just out of respect for Will Smith, I still love I Robot.)

Man of Steel is the latest attempt to reboot Superman, just seven year’s after Bryan Singer’s dreadful Superman Returns. Because of SR my expectations for Man of Steel are pretty low, Warner Bros. execs have already proven they have no idea how to make Superman relevant in the 21st Century. Suits often forget that what works for Batman doesn’t work for the Big Blue Boy Scout. I don’t want a “gritty” Superman, I want a colorful Kryptonian who punches stuff, and I want a movie that doesn’t take its self too seriously. The early trailers for MoS paint a pretty bleak portrait of Kal-El (Supes Kryptonian name), something that doesn’t exactly fill me with great anticipation. On the plus side reviews from early showings have been very positive, with a few commenting that the movie isn’t quite as morose as the trailers have suggested. I quite liked Zack Snynder’s Watchmen and 300, and I get the sense that he likes comic books, that gives me some hope.

Throwing Cold Water: The main baddie in this is General Zod, and we’ve already seen that, way back in Superman II (a great movie that mostly still holds up). Superman has a fantastic rogues gallery, how hard would it be to give as an alien invasion Superman movie with Braniac? Or how about anything that involves Superman punching Darkseid? At least this one is going to be Lex Luthor free. Superman movies shouldn’t be all that hard to write. Superman loves Lois Lane, Superman punches Darkseid in the face and rescues a cat stuck in a tree . . . . With the exception of Batman, everything DC Comics touches on the silver screen comes out poorly.

Thing that has me sad: I understand the need for a clean break from the Superman films of the 70’s and 80’s, but I’m going to miss John Williams’s Superman theme. I’d argue that his score for 1978’s Superman was superior to what he would produce for Star Wars and Indiana Jones. I’m listening to it as I type this and I’m finding myself with the urge to go and (try to) run through a brick wall, or make an attempt at self-propelled flight.

Geekgasms: Three and a half (It’s Superman and I know I’m going to end up seeing this no matter how bad the reviews are.)

If I had children I’d probably go see Monsters University on June 21, but I don’t so if I hit the theatre that weekend it will probably be for zombies and World War Z. If you’ve followed the gestation period for Brad Pitt’s undead thriller you’ve undoubtedly read that an early cut completely bombed with test audiences resulting in a reshoot and some script rewrites. That doesn’t give me a lot of confidence in the film, but the CGI-zombie army set pieces look pretty amazingly cool. I was reading something the other day about how the producers wanted to get their zombie hordes to sort of swarm like insect colonies, which I think is kind of interesting. At least there’s a shred of an original idea there.

Throwing Cold Water: World War Z the book was written as a series of reports/vignettes and lacked an all crusading lead character. A movie based on the book was crying out to be made as a faux-documentary and absent a main protagonist outside of the zombies. I have a feeling that this is going to be so watered down as to not resemble the book in anyway, just so Brad Pitt gets another star turn. Also, zombies are starting to feel like a cliche at this point.

Geekgasms: Two (I do like the idea of CGI zombies, but if word of mouth is bad I’ll stay away like the plague.)

Johnny Depp as Tonto? That’s in Disney’s upcoming The Lone Ranger, apparently an attempt to take cultural misappropriation to an entirely different level. Growing up I was a huge fan of the Lone Ranger, and the five year old inside of me should be excited about this movie, but the adult in me is rather nauseated by the whole thing. It just feels dishonest, not to mention completely unjustifiable. There wasn’t an actual Native American actor capable of playing Tonto? Whatever.

Geekgasms: Negative One

Giant robots, deep sea creatures from an other-worldly-dimenson a la Cthulhu, and it’s all directed by Guillermo del Toro!?! Sign me up for Pacific Rim please! To me del Toro is a name like Spielberg, and I love just about anything he attaches his name to. Obviously I loved Pan’s Labyrinth (not that it really had Pan in it), but his Hellboy films were a lot of fun too (if sadly overlooked). He’s a lot like Peter Jackson in that he can do the big CGI movie and do it well while not overlooking the story or the actors involved. No matter how silly robots versus monsters sounds on first glance I’ve got some faith that del Toro will do it justice.

Throwing Cold Water: Nobody is talking about this movie, maybe it’s just because July is so far away, or maybe the studio is overlooking this film, I’ve got no idea. That makes me a bit nervous, but I’ve got faith. Hopefully Pacific Rim won’t be overshadowed by Grown Ups 2, but I have less and less faith in humanity these days.

Geekgasms: Four (and I’m very surprised by it)

The original Red was a movie that snuck up on me. When it was originally released I didn’t pay much attention, and then I caught it on HBO a few months later and was blown away. Perhaps it speaks to my age, but I just don’t think you can go wrong with the combination of Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich(!), and the always great Helen Mirren. The original Red was the perfect mixture of action, story, and comedy. It didn’t take its self too seriously, and it was obvious that all of the principles involved were having a good time with it. Red 2 is not the type of film that’s going to demand my presence on opening night, but it should make for an enjoyable date night when I get back from summer festivaling.

I’m curious about: I’m going to admit to wanting to see The Conjuring, a ghost-movie based on the exploits of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. (Apparently this particular story comes from their case files, or is at least “based on” their case files.) I’m a sucker for movies about demonic possession and dark hauntings, and the trailer was pretty fun. I’m not thrilled about the title due to actual conjure not being related to ghosts, but Hollywood always screws up things with occult themes. That same weekend there’s another paranormal influenced film being released, R.I.P.D., involving Ryan Reynolds and a ghost police force battling evil spirits. Yay? It seems to have Netflix written all over it, and that’s being generous.

Geekgasms: 3 for Red 2 and two for The Conjuring.

We live in the golden age of super hero movies. There’s the connected Marvel Universe of Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, and the Avengers, and of course there’s Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, with the second movie being especially great. Lost in there are the X-Men films, which range from great (X2, X-Men First Class), to good (the first film), to really horrible (X-Men: The Last Stand). Also really horrible and set in the same X Universe was 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a giant turd of a film that nearly destroyed the X-Men franchise. I really like Hugh Jackman, and his casting as Wolverine has been one of the best things to happen to super hero movies. Sure, it’s a more cleaned-up version of the character, but that was bound to happen in nearly any big screen translation. I’ve always gotten the feeling that Jackman is at least trying to make a quality product, even when script and directors are conspiring against him. X-Men Origins was so awful it managed to not only take Wolverine down with it, it ruined all it touched, most notably the characters of Deadpool and Gambit; don’t look for them to turn up in the X Universe anytime soon. All I really remember about the last Wolverine film was a lot of characters just running at each other, not cool.

Even with my overwhelming dislike of X-Men Origins I’ll still be lined up to see The Wolverine when it’s released. I’m a glutton for punishment, I saw all three Star Wars prequels in the theatre too.

Throwing Cold Water: The last Wolverine movie was awful, why should this be any different? There’s a part of me saying “it can’t be worse than the last one right!?” (I say that a lot when it comes to super hero films.) I just don’t see how they can flush the franchise any further down the toilet. A friend of mine and I decided once that we were nearly obligated to go to all of these super hero movies just so they would keep making them. The thought was that if we ever wanted to get to that long overdue Captain Marvel (SHAZAM!) film we’d have to see all the turkeys, no matter how much they might be begging to be put out of their misery.

Geekgasms: One (It’s hard to be excited about this after the last installment. I almost feel like I’m going to visit my great Aunt Gertrude, it’s more of an obligation than a joy.)

Just in time for Lammas, dead Spartans shall rise and return as zombies in 300: Rise of An Empire! OK, that’s not really true, and Rise of An Empire is actually a prequel to 2007’s 300, but I can’t be the only one who has at least entertained that idea. Rise of An Empire is supposed to focus on Greek general Themistokles and the sea-battles he engaged in against Xerxes and the Persians. If there’s a true “pagan” film this summer, this is probably it, maybe the release date is not a coincidence after all. I have to expect that this film’s stylings will be similar to 2009’s installment, so get ready for lots of blood and violence, but this time on a boat!

Throwing Cold Water: Not everything Zack Snyder has touched is gold (cough cough Suckerpunch), but his absence will be notable in this film. The original 300 wasn’t just cool because it was an adaptation of a comic book based on real history, it was cool because none of us had ever seen visuals quite like it. Snyder’s vision was unique, and is new director Noam Murro simply going to ape it, or will he come up with something new that takes away the sequel’s connection to the original film? I’ll probably be happy if Xerxes is twelve feet tall again, I don’t ask for much.

Geekgasms: Two (With the exception of Batman, nothing is ever as cool the second time around.)

Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books, are my favorite “young adult” novels of the past twenty years. Yup, I like them more than Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, or whatever else you might want to throw at me. In a lot of ways, the books deal with real Pagan themes, and I love author Rick Riordan’s modern take on the Greek gods. His version of the gods aren’t all sunshine and roses, and often act in ways I would expect them to act in 2013. (Some of his reflections on Pan are especially poignant.) I also loved that his novels didn’t take the cheap and easy way out and simply turn Hades into the bad guy, the bad guys were the Titans, which is how it’s supposed to be.

Sadly, the first Percy Jackson movie took the easy way out and ruined much of what made the books so special. I hadn’t been that disappointed with a book adaptation since the The Mists of Avalon debacle back in 2001. I’m hoping that a hunt for the Golden Fleece in Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters will improve things a bit this time around, and the absence of original director Chris Columbus should help too. This movie should be an easy sell to the wife since Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Castle) stars as Hermes and Anthony Head (Buffy, Merlin) will be showing up as Charon. Whether this movie is good or not will all come down to the script, and whether or not they actually adapt Riordan’s book properly.

Throwing Cold Water: The first film of a movie franchise often sets the tone for all the sequels, and if that’s the case with Sea of Monsters Hollywood will be 0 for 2 with Riordan adaptations. The more I think about Nathan Fillion as Hermes though, the more I kind of get excited about this movie. We just love Nathan Fillion at my house. If they are going to make more films with this cast they had better hurry up, all of the “kids” are getting a bit too old.

Geekgasms: Three (Mostly for Nathan Fillion and Grover the satyr.)

Has it really been four years since District 9? You remember District 9 right? It was the alien movie set in South Africa full of cat-food eating prawns. It was also one of the best sci-fi movies of the last thirty years, and now director Neill Blomkamp is back with Elysium, starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster. Sadly the movie’s description (“In the year 2159 two classes of people exist: the very wealthy who live on a pristine man-made space station called Elysium, and the rest, who live on an overpopulated, ruined Earth . .”) just feels overly familiar right now. There’s a Tom Cruise movie coming out this weekend that sounds similar, and wasn’t Justin Timberlake in something like this two years ago? Nothing about this feels dynamic or fresh, so my expectations are a bit dampened.

I am kind of excited to see Blomkamp with a budget, and he’s got a lot of A-list acting folks this time around, but is that a hinderance or a help? When studios sink 100 million dollars into a film they sometimes get a little overly involved, and movies become more a series of marketing ideas and often stray far afield from the vision of the screenwriter(s) and director. I hope that doesn’t happen with Blomkamp because District 9 was a remarkable little film.

One of the most imaginative comic-books of the last ten years has been Kick-Ass. If super-heroes were actually real they would end up near death in the hospital a lot more often, something that Kick-Ass has done a good job of expressing. Real life heroes also wouldn’t always “get the girl,” unless of course you put them in a movie, which is sort of what happened in Kick-Ass the film. The comic is much darker than the big screen adaptation, sometimes disturbingly so, and unlike the celluloid version doesn’t have a happy ending.

Kick-Ass the movie is probably best remembered for the star-making performance of Chloe Moretz. Her Hit-Girl was a profane cuss-cab of a vigilante, but what made Moretz so memorable was that none of the shocking language sounded forced. She somehow managed to pull off all of the profanity; usually when a very young actress is forced to say those kind of lines they come out sounding inauthentic. Her performance was so good she ended up stealing the entire film. Aaron Johnsons’s portrayal of the title character was one of the more boring parts of the movie, and he’s probably likely to be over-shadowed again this time around in Kick-Ass 2. Not only will Moretz steal any scene she’s in, but Christopher Mintz-Plasse is back as Red Mist, and Jim Carrey joins the cast in the role of The Colonel. That’s a lot of over-the-top star power there.

Throwing Cold Water: If you are a fan of the comic books, you know that the second chapter in the Kick-Ass saga ends on a true cliff hanger. Will they go that route in the film (setting up the third installment), or try for a cleaner ending in an effort to go for more of a “feel good” type of thing like they did with the first film? My lack of enthusiasm for the title character aside, my curiosity as to how it all plays out has me even more amped up about this film.

Geekgasms: Four (After Iron Man and Star Trek this is probably the film I most want to see.)

With just a few exceptions, the majority of “fantasy” that gets turned into feature films by Hollywood tends to be on the “young adult” side. It’s hard to argue with that given the success of Harry Potter and Twilight, but I still find it disappointing. Would it be that hard to turn Raymond Feist’s Magician into a big-budget movie? So instead of the Codex Alera making it to the screen we get more young-adult-urban-fantasy, like this summer’s The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.

I’m sure someone out there is excited for City of Bones, it’s just not me. I have no idea what the appeal is supposed to be, and hearing that the title character is “half-angel” and destined to be a demon hunter has me even more unexcited. Will this be full of Christian imagery that I’m just not into? Is this something my wife has secretly read, meaning I’m going to be forced to go? I guess we’ll find out in August.

And with City of Bones the summer movie season comes to an abrupt end. Despite my rather negative outlook, I’m hopeful that there will be at least a little entertainment to be found on the big screen this summer. Due to all of the pictures and research involved this took bloody forever to put together. If you found even a small bit of enjoyment while reading it, please share it via social media. Happy Movie Watching!

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