The summer movie season threatens to topple under the weight of superhero antics

The summer’s biggest draw promises to be ‘The Dark Knight Rises,’ opening July 20.

Is Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, opening June 22, the end of something? It’s a ticklish premise. Would Old Abe (Benjamin Walker)—who pulled the fangs of slavery from the necks of the downtrodden—have done any less when dealing with real vamps?

The film is written by Seth Grahame-Smith, who renovated Jane Austen with flesh-eating zombies—and whose (bad) script made Dark Shadows over with bizarre McDonald’s product placement.

Maybe this summer brings with it a superhero-movie glut, as bloggers have been raising the alarm about. I’d worry more about the video game Max Payne 3 getting reviewed on the front page of The New York Times‘ art section, a piece effusive with compliments on the excellent rendering of the bullets hitting the faces.

If there are too many of these capes and masks, it might be worth raising hopes for Christopher Nolan’s well-proven sense of zeitgeist and the politics underneath the superhero tale. The Dark Knight Rises opens July 20. Nolan’s imaginary rendering of terrorist events is diabolical, seen in the previews as a football game transformed into the Civil War’s Battle of the Crater. Poring over the trailer as if it were the Zapruder film, I worry. The film seems unwieldy: a three-way pull among Tom Hardy as the bone-breaking Bane, in his steel lamprey mask and delivering his lines with malty John Huston vocals; Selina Kyle, a.k.a. Catwoman (Anne Hathaway; gorgeous yes, intimidating, well …); and the aging, called-out-of-retirement Batman (Christian Bale), still a wanted criminal after the end of The Dark Knight.

I have a hard time believing that The Amazing Spiderman (July 3) will be quite as provocative as The Dark Knight Rises. The film reprises the origin story, which was done nicely only 10 years ago. The idea this time is to make Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) a brilliant technician instead of the lucky recipient of just the right kind of spider bite. Director Marc Webb, who made (500) Days of Summer, previously showed some skill in handling doomed romance, so perhaps he can make something meaningful out of the troubles between the superpowered geek and his sort-of girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, played here by the always-endearing Emma Stone.

Prometheus (June 8) tells the titanic history of the famous xenomorphs, last seen cringing in despair in 2007’s Alien vs. Predator: Requiem. In deep space in 2085, we learn not just how humanity began but also how we became a favorite vessel for the metal-toothed cephalopods. Voyagers include Michael Fassbender as an anatomically correct android, Charlize Thereon and the ever-violent Noomi Rapace.

Total Recall (Aug. 3) is the remake of one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most likable films about the nature of reality. This one doesn’t go to Mars, unfortunately, though the claim so far is that Total Recall is closer to the source, Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” than the 1990 version. Director Len Wiseman is a local; he was raised in Fremont and spent some time at De Anza College studying film, before embarking on the most reliably inane franchise not actually made by Luc Besson, the Underworld series.

Jon M. Chu, formerly of Palo Alto, directed Step Up 3D, but somehow avoided Step Up Revolution, (which opens July 27). Instead, Chu is directing Channing Tatum in G.I. Joe: Retaliation (June 29). We should expect some lame-brained fun, since the first G.I. Joe was an all-expenses paid trip to Absurdistan. This time around, RZA is cast as “Blind Master”; in addition to Channing’s famous horsemeat, we have the monumental physiques of Duane Johnson and Ray Stevenson together begging the question of the audience, “Do you like gladiator movies”? In charge of the evil organization Cobra: former mummy Arnold Vosloo as the evil “Zartan.”

All of the above probably represent too much ruckus for slightly more mature audiences. I hope they’re ready for a new Woody Allen movie, whether one is needed or not. To Rome With Love (June 29) is Allen’s first repayment of his debt to Italian comedy since the “Why Do Some Women Have Trouble Reaching Orgasm?” section in Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex 40 years ago. Allen, Penelope Cruz and Alec Baldwin combine in various episodes shot in expensive Eternal City–scapes.

Moonrise Kingdom (June 15) is, in a word, adorable. Where you stand on the matter of adorability will determine how much you can stand this Wes Anderson opus, his first since his best film, The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Being Anderson’s, the Moonrise Kingdom boasts a heavyweight soundtrack: Alexandre Desplat, plus lots of tender and obscure Benjamin Britten and heaps of famous Hank Williams.

In September 1965, two runaway gifted 12-year-olds, Sam and Suzy (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) head off to the wilderness of the fictional New England island of New Penzance. A sad policeman (Bruce Willis) and an intrepid “Khaki Scouts” leader (Edward Norton) go looking for them. Keeled as it is by some redoubtable middle-aged regret (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand play the strayed girl’s parents), this toy showboat is something like the Max Fischer Players version of Gun Crazy. Saying that, the violence count is sub-Hunger Games.

Hirokazu Koreeda is just about the most deft kid-wrangler alive; the director of Nobody Knows returns with I Wish (June 1) about a bohemian family split right down the middle and separated to different halves of Japan. In the laid-back, subtropical city of Kagoshima, a little boy waits for the completion of the bullet train line. His elders know this new train will change the slowness of their lives irrevocably.

A brace of literary adaptations are also on the summer slate. Trishna (July 20) stars Freida Pinto in an Jaipur-set take on Thomas Hardy’s novel of the ruining of a country girl, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, with Riz Ahmed as the Angel Clare character. Director Michael Winterbottom has been exploring the rollicking, light-hearted world of Hardy since his 1996 Jude. The highly regarded theatrical directors Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod have combined for the new film version of De Maupassant’s Bel Ami, (June 8), with Twilight‘s Robert Pattinson as the quintessential Parisian scoundrel, and Uma Thurman and Kristin Scott Thomas among those intrigued by him.

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival opens July 12-15. You’d drive that far to see the Giants. Why wouldn’t you drive that far to see something like Dennis James playing the Wurlitzer to Fairbanks’ version of The Mark of Zorro at the Castro Theater July 15? Especially if you missed it at the Stanford Theatre, whose summer program will be the season’s easiest and most inexpensive getaway.

San Jose’s Starlight Cinema program features free classics and cult films, capped by what’s becoming the traditional screening of Shaun of the Dead on Aug. 31 with zombies in attendance from the annual Zombie-O-Rama.

At various downtown San Jose locations on Thursday nights:

June 14: Hook

June 21: Some Like It Hot

June 28: The musical version of Little Shop of Horrors July 19: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

July 26: Rocky Horror Picture Show

Aug. 16: Sixteen Candles

Aug. 23: Singin’ in the Rain

Movies on the Square

Courthouse Square in Redwood City on Thursdays as the sun goes down.

June 7: Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

June 14: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

June 21: The Muppets

June 28: G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra

July 5: We Bought a Zoo

July 12: That Thing You Do

July 19: The Karate Kid

July 26: The Lion King

Aug. 2: Hugo

Aug. 9: The Great Outdoors

Aug. 16: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Aug. 23: The Goonies

Aug. 30: Citizen Kane

Summer Outdoor Movie Nights

Various locations in Mountain View; Fridays, 8:30pm; free

July 13: Kung-Fu Panda 2 at Cuesta Park

July 20: Puss in Boots at Chisman Park

July 27: The Incredibles at Eagle Park

Aug. 3: The Muppets at Stevenson Park

Aug. 10: Cars 2 at Sylvan Park

Aug. 17: Happy Feet 2 at Rengstorff Park

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