Summer Movie Preview: Sequels abound

If the movies this summer feel familiar, that's no accident Photo: Warner Bros.

DENVER, May 4, 2011 — What’s a summer movie season without a sequel or two? Or eight, to be precise?

Sequels reflect a film industry frightened of original themes, but they also serve as comfort food for popcorn-loving crowds.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides starring Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” starring Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush.

The Summer 2011 movie season offers sequels of all shapes and sizes. And — we’ll soon know if they’re worthy of their predecessors:

  • The Hangover Part II” (May 26) -The first “Hangover” catapulted Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis to stardom and helped Ed Helms transition to the big screen. It also had that lightning-in-a-bottle energy, the sense that something uniquely warped was going on before our eyes. Can they do it again? The first trailer suggests a resounding “no,” but sometimes R-rated comedies lose their best bits in the film-to-trailer process.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” (May 20) – No Orlando Bloom, no problem. Jack Sparrow is back in the fey form of Johnny Depp, and the actor is joined by Ian McShane and Penelope Cruz in a new sea-faring adventure. The last two “Pirate” sequels epitomized everything that’s wrong with the modern blockbuster. Can a new franchise director (Rob Marshall) change course?
  • Kung Fu Panda 2” (May 26) – Another Jack Black attack, but this time his corpulent frame is replaced once more by that of a soft and fuzzy panda. The first film was a delight, but now the sequel must power on without the can’t-miss formula of a pudgy animal becoming a kung fu maestro. The new film finds Po (Black) squaring off against a new foe out to conquer both China and Kung Fu in toto.
  • Cars 2” (June 24) -The first “Cars” is the only recent Pixar film not dubbed an insta-classic. So, the sequel has its work cut out for it. Pixar isn’t afraid of the sequel challenge – just look at the excellent “Toy Story 2″ and the superior “Toy Story 3.” But can the geniuses at Pixar make Lightning McQueen (voiced again by Owen Wilson) into a character as beloved as Woody or Buzz?
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II” (July 15) – This is it. The “Potter” franchise has promised this clash since the boy wizard first graced the screen. Now, will the Harry vs. Voldemort death match live up to our expectations? Does it matter? “Hallows” will be the biggest movie of the summer, with or without those 3D glasses.
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon” (July 1) – Now that director Michael Bay officially apologized for the second installment in the series, we can settle down and enjoy part 3. Megan Fox is jettisoned, but much of the franchise stars return, including Shia LaBeouf, John Turturro and Josh Duhamel.
  • Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World” (Aug. 19) – Who knew this film franchise was still going? But ringleader Robert Rodriguez knows how to make movies for far less than his peers, so there’s no economic reason not to extend this kid-friendly vehicle for another summer. The inspiration for a fourth “Kid” came from, where else, an overtaxed diaper.
  • Final Destination 5” (Aug. 12) – The last “Destination” almost made me give up movie reviewing. So, the new installment has plenty to apologize for, but the franchise itself never really distinguished itself in the first place.
Christian Toto is a veteran journalist and film critic whose work appears in The Denver Post, The Washington Times and His movie reviews are heard on WTOP radio and “The Dennis Miller Show,” and he blogs on film at What Would Toto Watch? Read more of Christian’s work at Movies in Toto in the Communities at the Washington Times.


-cl- 5/4/11

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Christian Toto

Christian Toto is a freelance entertainment reporter and film critic with more than a decade of experience in daily newspapers, magazines and the Web. He currently reports for The Washington Times,, The Denver Post, Denver Magazine, MovieMaker Magazine,, and Big Hollywood. His radio commentaries can be heard on WTOP in Washington, D.C. and 94.5 Country in Topeka, Kansas. He is the official film critic for “The Dennis Miller Show" heard nationwide on Westwood One stations. He regularly blogs about film at What Would Toto Watch? and the Denver Film Community Examiner site. He is a member of both the Washington, D.C. Area Film Critics Association and the Denver Film Critics Society. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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