This year’s blockbusters? Just more of the same warmed up

imageBlockbuster season is here, and most of the films are relying on familiar formulas, says Tim Robey.

Oscars safely stashed on mantelpieces, it’s that time of year when Hollywood’s thoughts turn from bubbly and backslapping to what really matters: guaranteed bums on seats for the next six months. With this week’s John Carter, blockbuster season 2012 could be said to have sputtered, earlier than ever, into rude life.

What delights does it hold in store? Themes would appear to include superheroes, massive quantities of computer effects, threequels, fourquels, vampires, Jeremy Renner, Chris Hemsworth, and, oh, superheroes.

I know what you’re thinking: again? Yes, again. In fact, there may be no two words closer to the heart of studio philosophy than “Yes, again”.

It’s a struggle, looking at the conveyor belt of blockbuster product before us this year, even to find an Inception: that’s to say, a movie from a proven star and director, with a nine-figure budget, down-the-line name cast and massive marketing potential, based around an idea you could actually call, you know, original?

The O-word is missing in action this year, unless something small, cool and cult-friendly — fingers are very crossed for Joss Whedon’s buzzed-about horror flick The Cabin in the Woods (April 13) — pops up and gives us all a kick in the pants.

What we’re better off hoping for is the familiar dealt with panache, or opportunities for established rollercoasters to bolt on some new twists.

Top of the pack in terms of commercial expectation is Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises (July 20), which hopes to prove beyond doubt that The Dark Knight’s $1 billion worldwide gross wasn’t a case of just playing the Joker. Anticipation for Nolan’s third Batman has been at fever pitch since… well, since the instant many of its built-in fans left the last one, before going back sixteen more times to catch it in IMAX.

The fans’ attitude to The Amazing Spider-Man (July 4) is a little more spiked with scepticism, even though it’s not a sequel to Sam Raimi’s maligned Spider-Man 3 but a “reboot” of the franchise back to its origins, explaining the terrible lab accident which turned Peter Parker into… wait, Spider-Man, again? Didn’t we just do this?

It remains to be seen how a new Spidey (Andrew Garfield), fresh villain (Rhys Ifans’ The Lizard), and a director untested in the field but with a comically apt surname (Marc Webb) succeed in offsetting what many fear could be lavish déjà vu with an effects upgrade.

Meanwhile, other members of Marvel’s costumed vigilante squad are clubbing together, in a high-risk, whopping-budget (rumoured $260 million) ensemble escapade.

It’s called The Avengers, except in this country, where potentially confused Diana Rigg fans have wrought a title change: Marvel Avengers Assemble (April 27) is what we’re stuck with. It’s a huge roll of the dice for all involved, especially since the last two Marvel outings (last summer’s Thor and Captain America) didn’t quite ascend the box office summits of Iron Man, and writer-director Joss (Buffy) Whedon, though a legendary geek-culture hero, is also quite capable of mounting nifty big-screen spin-off adventures that go down well with the core fans but no one else sees (2005’s Serenity).

Jeremy Renner, front and centre in said caped convention as the archer Hawkeye, takes over from Matt Damon in The Bourne Legacy (Aug 17), though not as Jason Bourne, while his Marvel-mate Chris Hemsworth has another headlining role opposite Kristen Stewart in Snow White and the Huntsman (June 1): we hope he’s Snow White.

Vast sums of money have been spent on two other unexpected endeavours — asking us to return for more Men in Black (III is out May 25), and making a huge, explodey, Rihanna-starring tentpole extravaganza out of the board game Battleship (April 11).

Younger viewers won’t be short-changed — along with Aardman’s fairly self-explanatory The Pirates! In An Adventure with Scientists! (March 28) and Pixar’s Scottish-princess adventure Brave (Aug 13), there’s the fourth instalment in the Ice Age series (July 6), the almost-unique franchise which keeps getting better as it goes along.

Hoping to bag this year’s Hangover/Bridesmaids world-conquering comedy slot are alien-invasion romp Neighbourhood Watch (Aug 22), in which our very own Richard Ayoade plays fourth fiddle to Ben Stiller, Jonah Hill and Vince Vaughn, and The Dictator (May 18), in which one-man orchestra Sacha Baron Cohen hopes to make good on his red-carpet Oscar stunt.

If you’ll forgive a bit of personal nailbiting, nothing above fills me with quite such quivering anticipation as Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (June 1), a sort-of-prequel to Alien, with a tantalisingly yes-please cast (Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Noomi Rapace, Guy Pearce, Patrick Wilson, Idris Elba) and a trailer which surpassed all expectations by making it look properly well-designed and downright terrifying.

We haven’t yet heard how hard and dark Scott is aiming to go with it in terms of certificate, but I want very hard, very dark, and at least 15. Try imagining a PG chest-burster scene that’s not ruinously lame, and you’ll have some idea what I’m getting at.

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