The summer movie season unleashes its opening main event with “Captain America: Civil War,” pitting the First Avenger against the Invincible Iron Man.
While “The Avengers” sought to unite the heroes of the Marvel universe, “Civil War” (which opens May 6) promises to turn them on one another.
In the blue corner, weighing 190 pounds, stands the star-spangled everyman, fighting for the right to freely defend the world without interference. Captain America recruits Falcon, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Winter Soldier and Ant-Man (KC’s Paul Rudd) to his side.
In the red corner, weighing 600 pounds, hovers the wealthy scientific genius, who defends the government’s demand for heightened accountability. Iron Man enlists Vision, Black Widow, Black Panther, War Machine (KC’s Don Cheadle) and Spider-Man for his cause.
This grudge match sets the tone for the entire season. Summer is flush with head-to-head competition — especially if you dig a tad deeper to notice the real battles brewing in multiplexes.
Here are a few of the summer’s other key cinematic bouts. Expect some knockouts, split decisions and a few that might need to throw in the towel.
Comedy: “Ghostbusters” vs. “Central Intelligence”
This matchup is a girls vs. boys comedic clash. Doubters feigned a collective coronary when it was announced that the 1984 classic “Ghostbusters” would be remade with female leads. “Yuck, cooties!” The ensuing stir only points out the rampant double standard that comedians such as Amy Schumer frequently cite about how men don’t think women are funny (when they are).
It bodes well that the new “Ghostbusters” partners fan favorite Melissa McCarthy with “SNL” veterans Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones. As does the fact that director Paul Feig reunites with some of his cast from “Bridesmaids,” a hit that persuaded studios to back more estrogen-fueled comedies.
“Ghostbusters” takes on “Central Intelligence,” the most male-centric of the summer’s humorous outings. Dwayne Johnson portrays a former dork who grew up to be a formidable CIA agent. When returning for a high school reunion, he allies with the school’s previous kingpin (Kevin Hart), now a suburban accountant, for a high-speed, globe-saving adventure.
Video games: “Angry Birds” vs. “Warcraft”
The most downloaded “freemium” game of all time faces off against the most popular multiplayer online game ever. Which adaptation will triumph at the box-office?
“Angry Birds” has kid appeal in its favor, with a PG rating and animated subject matter. Flightless birds named Red (KC’s Jason Sudeikis), Chuck (Josh Gad) and Bomb (Danny McBride) must protect their island from invading green swine. Since being introduced in 2009, the game that inspired this 3-D adaptation has notched 3 billion downloads. (Geez, there’s only 7 billion people on the entire planet.)
Meanwhile, “Warcraft” ups the audience maturity to PG-13, with a tale of the realm of Azeroth facing the colonization by orc warriors fleeing their vanishing homeland. Although the plot echoes many others, this fantasy adventure is helmed by Duncan Jones (David Bowie’s son), whose “Moon” and “Source Code” rank among the sturdiest sci-fi efforts of the last decade. Maybe the acronym that gamers use when referring to World of Warcraft will also apply to the WOW factor of the movie.
The other superheroes: “X-Men: Apocalypse” vs. “Suicide Squad”
Hero team vs. villain team. Marvel vs. DC. Quicksilver vs. Harley Quinn. This title card features everything!
Whereas Bryan Singer’s previous mutant mission took place in 1973, “X-Men: Apocalypse” fast-forwards to 1983. Instead of worrying about the assault on Grenada or the final episode of “M*A*S*H” that year, the gang tackles a nearly immortal Egyptian (Oscar Isaac) who intends to radically purify humanity. It’s still not confirmed exactly which new mutants will turn up in this comic book edition. But it’s a good bet Stan Lee earns a cameo.
Since “Suicide Squad” doesn’t appear until August, the movie is now undergoing massive reshoots reportedly to add more humor — even though the Joker (Jared Leto) is already onboard. He’s funny, right? The plot is still hush-hush, but the basics are this: Nasty supervillains get recruited by a shadowy federal agency for perilous missions in exchange for shorter prison times. Stars include Will Smith as Deadshot, Cara Delevingne as Enchantress and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn.
They talk? “The Secret Life of Pets” vs. “Sausage Party”
The “Toy Story” premise worked for toys. Will it work for pets? Or food?
In “The Secret Life of Pets,” Louis C.K. voices the “luckiest dog in New York.” Things change for the pampered pooch when his owner introduces a slobbering mongrel (KC’s Eric Stonestreet) to their household. The Odd Couple mix is only the start of this adventure, which eventually leads to a rabbit (Kevin Hart) who is building an underground army of abandoned animals. C.K., Stonestreet and Hart all make their animated film debuts.
Way less family-friendly and far more disturbing comes “Sausage Party.” Seth Rogen (who also co-wrote the screenplay) plays Frank, a hot dog packaged in a supermarket who finally gets “chosen” by a shopper to be taken home. But his happiness soon turns to horror upon learning what humans really do with food. So with the help of some edible friends (including Paul Rudd), he attempts to escape, return to the store and warn others. Sound dumb? Well, it’s really not any dumber than “Cars.”
Oh, the horror: “Lights Out” vs. “The Conjuring 2”
Hauntings duke it out in this collision of new and proven horror projects.
For “Lights Out,” David F. Sandberg adapts his terrifying 2013 short of the same name to feature length. Teresa Palmer (“The Choice”) portrays one of the victims plagued by a bony woman who only appears when the lights are turned off — moving closer a la “It Follows” each time the switch is flipped. If the freaky trailer provides any indication, Sandberg’s got a lucrative franchise in the making.
After “The Conjuring” became an international hit and its pseudo-sequel “Annabelle” earned $84 million on a $6.5 million investment, there was scant doubt “The Conjuring 2” would emerge. This time paranormal investigators Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) journey to London to help a single mother cope with the possession of her daughter.
Both films are produced by New Line and distributed by Warner Bros., so there’s bound to be some internal studio competition as well.
Blasts from the past: “Independence Day: Resurgence” vs. “Finding Dory”
Plenty of sequels litter the schedule this summer, including “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising,” “Star Trek Beyond,” “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” “Mechanic: Resurrection” and “The Purge: Election Year.” But these are follow-ups to fairly recent endeavors. “Independence Day: Resurgence” and “Finding Dory” share the distinction of being sequels to originals released more than a dozen years ago. The question lingers whether audiences will care.
That’s got to be weighing heavily on “Resurgence,” which dedicates a $200 million budget to the crowded pantheon of alien attack movies. Director Roland Emmerich reunites with actors Jeff Goldblum, Vivica A. Fox and Bill Pullman. But the man responsible for the 1996 hit’s biggest catchphrase — “Welcome to Earth!” — remains AWOL. Will Smith’s character was cut after the actor demanded a $50 million payday.
Less risky is “Finding Dory,” which somehow took 13 years for Pixar to bring to the screen after “Finding Nemo.” (“Cars 2” took only five years.) Ellen DeGeneres returns as the flaky blue tang fish — apparently DeGeneres didn’t demand $50 million — who undertakes a quest to find her own family, accompanied by clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) and his son Nemo (Hayden Rolence).
Starring Ryan Gosling: “The Nice Guys” vs. “La La Land”
When it comes to Ryan Gosling vs. Ryan Gosling, everyone’s a winner.
First up for the Oscar-nominated actor is “The Nice Guys,” filmmaker Shane Black’s (“Iron Man 3”) ode to buddy-cop crime noir. Gosling stars as a low-level private investigator in 1977 Los Angeles who runs afoul of a strong-arm intimidator (Russell Crowe). They ultimately join forces to find the daughter (Margaret Qualley) of a Justice Department worker (Kim Basinger, reuniting with her “L.A. Confidential” squeeze Crowe). Decked out in a sleazy mustache and enduring constant abuse by Crowe, Gosling slips into one of his wormier roles.
Also set in L.A. — thus the title — “La La Land” reteams Gosling for the third time with charming Emma Stone. He plays a dreamy jazz pianist who woos her wannabe actress, and together they explore how artistic ambitions often run counter to day-to-day reality. The project marks the first written and directed by Damien Chazelle since his Oscar nomination for the “Whiplash” screenplay.
Well, that’s different: “The Lobster” vs. “Swiss Army Man”
Any aspiring screenwriters who reject an idea because they think it could never be made into a movie should take encouragement from these two eccentric efforts.
Colin Farrell stars in “The Lobster,” a dystopian film where single people are ordered to find romantic partners during a government-sanctioned hotel stay. Otherwise, they are metamorphosed into different types of animals and set free in the woods. “The Lobster” has quite the pedigree, racking up dozens of awards, including honors from Cannes and the British Independent Film Awards. And it’s actually got a release date.
On the flip side comes the awesomely titled “Swiss Army Man.” The feature won a directing award at Sundance — even though the screening made headlines by prompting massive viewer walkouts. Paul Dano plays Hank, a man stranded on an island who befriends a flatulent, washed-up corpse. (It’s Daniel Radcliffe!) Through their “relationship,” Hank draws the strength to find a way home.
Somehow these flicks took less time to green light than “Finding Dory.”
Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”
Summer movie schedule
Opening dates are subject to change at the whim of the studios.
“Captain America: Civil War”
“Last Days in the Desert”
“The Angry Birds Movie”
“Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising”
“The Nice Guys”
“Alice Through the Looking Glass”
“Love & Friendship”
“Me Before You”
“Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping”
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”
“The Conjuring 2”
“Now You See Me 2”
“The Free State of Jones”
“Independence Day: Resurgence”
“The Legend of Tarzan”
“The Purge: Election Year”
“Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates”
“The Secret Life of Pets”
“La La Land”
“Ice Age: Collision Course”
“Star Trek Beyond”
“Florence Foster Jenkins”
“The Space Between Us”
“Hands of Stone”
“Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie”
“A Bigger Splash”
“Into the Forest”
“Swiss Army Man”