Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Arts & Culture

Summer Movie Season Roars Back, From Action-Packed Blockbusters To Biopics

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Memorial Day weekend has traditionally kicked off Hollywood's summer blockbuster season. Now, not last year, of course, with the pandemic in full swing, theaters closed. But after a year of streaming and social distancing, our critic Bob Mondello says film studios have lots of enticements to get audiences back in seats. Here's his summer movie preview.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Vin Diesel started making the pitch weeks ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VIN DIESEL: There's nothing like that moment when the lights go down.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROJECTOR ROLLING)

DIESEL: The projector ignites.

(SOUNDBITE OF ENGINE REVVING)

MONDELLO: That's a projector?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DIESEL: And we believe.

MONDELLO: Believe a Jeep can do a flaming backflip with a half twist, that a car can do a swan dive off a cliff.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "F9")

LUDACRIS: (As Tej) Please tell me that's not a Pontiac Fiero strapped to a rocket engine.

JASON TOBIN: (As Earl) Impressive, I know.

LUDACRIS: (As Tej) No, that's not impressive.

MONDELLO: Impressive is in the eye of the beholder, but "F9" will not lack for impressive effects. It's been waiting to show them off since last summer. Also delayed was "Black Widow," who has been waiting to share quality time with her sister.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BLACK WIDOW")

FLORENCE PUGH: (As Yelena) OK, you got a plan, or should I just stay duck and cover?

SCARLETT JOHANSSON: (As Natasha) My plan was to drive us away.

PUGH: (As Yelena) Well, your plan sucks.

MONDELLO: And they'll be sharing the multiplex with other comic book types Harley Quinn and "The Suicide Squad."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE SUICIDE SQUAD")

MARGOT ROBBIE: (As Harley Quinn) What are you guys doing here?

JOEL KINNAMAN: (As Rick Flag) We're here to save you.

ROBBIE: (As Harley Quinn) You were going to save me?

KINNAMAN: (As Rick Flag) It was a really good plan, too.

ROBBIE: (As Harley Quinn) Well, I can go back inside, and you can still do it.

IDRIS ELBA: (As Bloodsport) That's patronizing.

ROBBIE: (As Harley Quinn) I'm so sorry.

MONDELLO: There's also a new superhero from Marvel who can knock out potential assassins on both sides of a subway car...

(SOUNDBITE OF METAL SLAMMING)

MONDELLO: ...With a single kick.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS")

AWKWAFINA: (As Katy) Who are you?

MONDELLO: He's Shang-Chi, Marvel's first Asian superhero. And you don't have to be super to be an action star this summer. Just ask Ryan Reynolds, who's in two action comedies - a sequel to "The Hitman's Bodyguard" called "The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard," in which he's again tormenting Samuel L. Jackson.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE HITMAN'S WIFE'S BODYGUARD")

SAMUEL L JACKSON: (As Darius) What is he doing here? I said get anyone but Michael Bryce.

RYAN REYNOLDS: (As Michael) I believe it's pronounced, thank you.

MONDELLO: And Reynolds is also in "Free Guy" as a guy named Guy who doesn't realize he's in a world populated by avatars until one of them tells him.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FREE GUY")

JODIE COMER: (As Milly) There's no easy way to say this. This world - it's a video game.

MONDELLO: Guy's got other things on his mind.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FREE GUY")

REYNOLDS: (As Guy) I really want to kiss you. Is that weird?

COMER: (As Milly) Listen to me. You're not real.

MONDELLO: But he kisses real. And in the real world, she feels it.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FREE GUY")

JOE KEERY: (As Keys) You let him kiss you.

COMER: (As Milly) Guy.

KEERY: (As Keys) There's not a button for that.

COMER: (As Milly) Oh, he found the button.

MONDELLO: Other action flicks include "Snake Eyes," a G.I. Joe origin story, "The Last Mercenary" with a now-60-year-old Jean-Claude Van Damme - good for the muscles from Brussels, right? - and "Stillwater," in which Matt Damon heads to France on what sounds like a Liam Neeson mission.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STILLWATER")

MATT DAMON: (As Bill) I'm trying to get my little girl out of jail. That's all I give a damn about.

CAMILLE COTTIN: (As Virginie) You sound very American right now.

DAMON: (As Bill) Good; I am.

COTTIN: (As Virginie) Yeah, and you're also a stranger here.

MONDELLO: A fish out of water - well, he shares that with the folks in several summer films; "I Carry You With Me" about a gay man who leaves Mexico for the U.S., "Blue Bayou" about a Korean adoptee who learns in adulthood that he could be deported, and the latest from Pixar, "Luca," about a couple of literal fish out of water - two teen sea monsters who decide to make friends on land.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LUCA")

JACK DYLAN GRAZER: (As Alberto) Everything good is above the surface. walking, air, the sky, clouds, the sun. Whoa, don't look at it. Just kidding; definitely look at it.

MONDELLO: "Luca" is the second Pixar film after "Soul" to go direct to Disney Plus. But other family films will be in theaters, including Disney's theme park ride offshoot "Jungle Cruise," starring The Rock and Emily Blunt...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JUNGLE CRUISE")

EMILY BLUNT: (As Lily) Leave me alone. That was a disaster.

DWAYNE JOHNSON: (As Frank) It didn't go the way I planned.

MONDELLO: ...Also a runaway bunny you'll have heard of.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PETER RABBIT 2: THE RUNAWAY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Are you Peter?

JAMES CORDEN: (As Peter) That depends who's asking.

MONDELLO: "Peter Rabbit 2" meet "Hotel Transylvania 4" in which monsters and humans trade places.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA: TRANSFORMANIA")

ANDY SAMBERG: (As Johnny) You're human, and I'm a monster. It's like "Freaky Friday" but on a Tuesday, though.

MONDELLO: It's called "Transformania." And speaking of transformations...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY")

LEBRON JAMES: (As himself, yelling).

MONDELLO: Twenty-five years after Michael Jordan helped the Looney Tunes crowd fend off aliens, LeBron James takes the plunge in "Space Jam: A New Legacy."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY")

JAMES: (As himself) What is this? I'm a cartoon.

JEFF BERGMAN: (As Bugs Bunny) What's up, Doc?

MONDELLO: Clearly a family friendly reboot, but definitely not for kids is the reboot of a slightly older classic, the 1992 horror film "Candyman." The new one's also called...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CANDYMAN")

YAHYA ABDUL-MATEEN II: (As Anthony) Candyman - the urban legend is if you say his name five times while looking in the mirror, he appears in the reflection and kills you.

TEYONAH PARRIS: (As Brianna) Who would do that?

MONDELLO: Teenagers.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CANDYMAN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters) Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Well, we're still alive.

MONDELLO: For the moment - the original focused on race and social class and with "Get Out's" Jordan Peele producing the new version, that will likely still be the case. Meanwhile, "Sixth Sense" trickster M. Night Shyamalan will be turning fountain of youth notions on their head in "Old."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "OLD")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) My swimsuit is hurting.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) They do look small.

Have you seen my children?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character) Mom, I'm right here.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) He was 6 years old this morning.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character) Oh, no.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #6: (As character) Mom, I'm scared.

MONDELLO: Horror this summer is otherwise all about sequels - conjurings, purges, escape rooms - delivering exactly what audiences expect, whereas films about teenagers are uniformly eccentric. Troubled teen boys are central in the seriously offbeat indie "John And The Hole" and the enigmatic French drama "Summer Of 85," in which even the main character can't figure out what's going on.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SUMMER OF 85")

FELIX LEFEBVRE: (As Alexis, speaking in French).

MONDELLO: Resourceful teenage girls are featured in the feminist coming-of-age story "Holler"...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HOLLER")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #7: (As character) You just got into college.

MONDELLO: ...And in "Zola," which is based on an infamous Twitter thread...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ZOLA")

TAYLOUR PAIGE: (As Zola) Hey. Last month, I went dancing at this cute spot in Florida.

MONDELLO: ...And in this year's Sundance winner of both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award, "CODA," which stands for child of deaf adults. The leading lady in "CODA" discovers she's a pretty good singer, landing her squarely in the center of the summer's big theme, music. It's everywhere, from two separate documentaries about whale song...

(SOUNDBITE OF WHALE CALLING)

MONDELLO: ..."Fathom" and "The Loneliest Whale" to "In The Heights" about a barrio called Washington Heights, where...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "IN THE HEIGHTS")

ANTHONY RAMOS: (As Usnavi) The streets were made of music. (Rapping) I am Usnavi, yeah. You probably never heard my name.

MONDELLO: This is the hit Broadway musical Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote before he wrote "Hamilton," steeped in Latino pride and social consciousness.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "IN THE HEIGHTS")

GREGORY DIAZ IV: (As Sonny) They're talking about kicking out all the DREAMers.

MONDELLO: And it's matched by stories from real life that are similarly charged, from the revelations in the documentary "Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It"...

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "RITA MORENO: JUST A GIRL WHO DECIDED TO GO FOR IT")

RITA MORENO: I really was very often treated like a sex object.

MONDELLO: ...To "Summer Of Soul" about the stunning African American festival that got sidelined and almost erased by Woodstock in 1969.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "SUMMER OF SOUL")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Welcome to the Harlem Cultural Festival.

MONDELLO: Also filmed that year but never seen - 60 hours of footage from Beatles' recording sessions.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "THE BEATLES: GET BACK")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: And now your hosts for this evening - the bottles (ph).

MONDELLO: "Lord Of The Rings" director Peter Jackson has turned them into "The Beatles: Get Back."

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "THE BEATLES: GET BACK")

PAUL MCCARTNEY: (Singing) Jojo was a man who...

A bit faster, do you think? A bit faster.

MONDELLO: Then there's a documentary about every band's favorite band, "The Sparks Brothers."

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "THE SPARKS BROTHERS")

JACK ANTONOFF: All pop music is rearranged Sparks. That's the truth. There are throwaway riffs that other bands have built whole careers out of.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS TOWN AIN'T BIG ENOUGH FOR BOTH OF US")

SPARKS: (Singing) This town ain't big enough for the both of us.

GIORGIO MORODER: It was the sound of the future.

MONDELLO: The future, indeed - there's a musical called "Annette" coming out this summer, written by The Sparks Brothers.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ANNETTE")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) And if you want us to kill two, we may agree.

MONDELLO: And in the year's most awaited biopic...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "RESPECT")

JENNIFER HUDSON: (As Aretha Franklin, singing) What you want...

MONDELLO: ...Jennifer Hudson...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "RESPECT")

HUDSON: (As Aretha Franklin, singing) ...Baby, I got.

MONDELLO: ...Recreates...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "RESPECT")

HUDSON: (As Aretha Franklin, singing) What you need...

MONDELLO: ...The queen of soul.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "RESPECT")

HUDSON: (As Aretha Franklin, singing) You know I got it.

MONDELLO: Reason enough to go back to a movie theater...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "RESPECT")

HUDSON: (As Aretha Franklin, singing) ...All I'm asking...

MONDELLO: Hollywood's banking on it.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "RESPECT")

HUDSON: (As Aretha Franklin, singing) ...Is for a little respect.

MONDELLO: I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "RESPECT")

HUDSON: (As Aretha Franklin, singing) R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.