When director Steven Soderbergh delivered the keynote address at the San Francisco International Film Festival in April, he identified the culprit behind what he sees as the dismal state of cinema: audiences’ thirst for carnage and studios’ zeal to quench it. To illustrate the point, he shared an anecdote about being seated next to a “white guy in his mid-30s” on cross-country flight. The seatmate opens his iPad. Curious to see what he’s watching (and perhaps hopeful it would be Magic Mike or Contagion), the auteur finds that his seatmate’s iPad has “loaded in half a dozen action sort of extravaganzas and he’s watching each of the action sequences; he’s skipping over the dialogue and narrative.”
“This guy’s flight is going to be five and a half hours of just mayhem porn,” Soderbergh said.
If you’re like Soderbergh’s neighbor, this summer’s lineup will not disappoint. But a notable underlying theme among this year’s summer crop is that, while Earth is being destroyed, the villains are not an external alien threat. We, ordinary citizens of Earth, are the cause of our own demise. But that doesn’t mean that we won’t revel in our own undoing.
You can always count on director Roland Emmerich to provide images of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in various stages of distress, like getting blown up by an alien spaceship in his 1996 Independence Day. This summer, Roland and Co. are back in DC with White House Down (June 28). But unlike its extraterrestrial predecessor, White House Down stars Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx fighting against good ol’ human terrorism. Emmerich suggests, with Abraham Lincoln’s ominous epigraph “we destroyed ourselves,” that America’s demise comes from within.
Summer isn’t summer without Johnny Depp in eyeliner. Having directed Depp in all of the Pirates of the Caribbean films and as the voice of the hapless desert lizard Rango, Gore Verbinski works again with his muse in The Lone Ranger (July 3). But within the great unfurling of a Disney Western, a strident tone of distrust of authority reigns. In the Old West, power is concentrated into the hands of a few men who “control the railroad, the cavalry, everything,” laments Lone Ranger Armie Hammer. “If these men represent the law, I’d rather be an outlaw.”
Grown men who wear masks and work outside of grown-up rules aren’t just a fixation the summer action-thriller set. In comedies, too, themes of regression and shunning the bummer adult world abound. And no duo better recede back into their fraternity days than Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in The Internship (June 7). With their company closing, Vaughn and Wilson do the only logical thing: score an internship at Google. It’s hard not to imagine that in a few years the storied technological amenities of the Googleplex — ping-pong table, burrito buffets, cars that drive themselves — will look as kitschily retro as the keypad door entry in 1992’s computer heist Sneakers.
In Grown Ups 2 (July 11) — which should be subtitled “Not Grown Up Yet!” — crack team Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, and Kevin James are simultaneously thrilled and confounded by the adolescents they seek to emulate. What’s up with those Situation-like abs on the younger bucks? As with the first Grown Ups installment, wives are still nags and offspring still require too much attention. But this time a moose urinates on Sandler. Who wants to grow up in a world where the bodily functions of large mammals are not the source of hilarity?