At the end of “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” (in theaters), Nicolas Cage, playing himself, and Neil Patrick Harris, playing his agent, get up after a successful screening of a new Nicolas Cage blockbuster. Cage says, “We’re back,” and in a reference to an earlier line, Patrick Harris replies, “Not that we ever went anywhere.”
It’s a reference to Cage’s strange and voluminous career, but coming in April 2022, it’s an apt foreshadowing for the summer ahead. With mask mandates lifted here and most places, studios are hoping that, after years of low ticket sales (2021 saw an 80% jump from 2020, which still left it at half of 2019 numbers), the coronavirus’s variants don’t keep people from indoor theaters.
To that end they’re trotting out a series of sequels and spinoffs, some of which — like “Top Gun: Maverick” — were set to come out when COVID-19 hit two years ago. Last summer was fairly anemic for big-budget tentpoles, with the highest-grossing movies coming out later in the year for the most part.
So the movies are back. Not that they ever went anywhere. Here are eight I’m looking forward to. (Dates listed are the opening dates as of this writing and are subject to change.)
“Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” (May 4): As the Marvel movie machine gets more intricate and insular, it’s harder to get excited for new installments. For instance, this movie is a sequel to 2016’s “Doctor Strange,” which brought Benedict Cumberbatch into the superhero fold, but it’s also sort of a sequel to last year’s “WandaVision” show on Disney+, and features the return of Elizabeth Olsen. And actually, it’s also sort of a sequel to story lines in, um, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and the show “Loki” — maybe?
But I am excited for this sequel, because it’s beloved director Sam Raimi’s first return to superhero movies in 15 years. Raimi’s first two “Spider-Man” movies are among the best in the genre. Let’s just hope this sequel doesn’t fall prey to the same issues (namely: too many villains, too many story lines, too much jazz) we saw in “Spider-Man 3.”
“Men” (May 20): Alex Garland started his career with one of the best 21st-century sci-fi movies, “Ex Machina,” and followed it up with the unappetizing but weirdly iconic “Annihilation.” This appears to be his first journey away from science fiction — he describes it as a “folk horror” — and it stars Jessie Buckley, a really talented up-and-comer fresh off her first Oscar nomination for last year’s “The Lost Daughter.” Nearly all the men in the film are actually played by one man, Rory Kinnear, who you may recognize from HBO’s “Our Flag Means Death” or the Bond movies, but whom I will never be able to associate with any role other than the prime minister in the debut episode of “Black Mirror” (yes, the one with the pig).
“Emergency” (tentatively May 20; on Amazon Prime May 27): A college party comedy with a racial twist? I’m in. Up-and-coming indie director Carey Williams’ movie features a pair of Black college roommates (RJ Cyler and Donald Elise Watkins) who are planning to end college with the night of their lives when they come home to find a white girl passed out in their dorm. Worried about calling 911, the two instead try to return the woman to wherever she came from.
“Fire Island” (June 3): Thirteen words are all you need to know: “Pride and Prejudice” as a gay rom-com starring “Saturday Night Live’s” Bowen Yang.
“Jurassic World Dominion” (June 10): I didn’t really want to watch another “Jurassic Park” movie after 2018’s largely redundant “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” but Universal Pictures really pulled out all the stops for this one, which is the sixth “Jurassic Park” movie and the end of the “Jurassic World” trilogy starring Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard. The trio from Steven Spielberg’s original “Jurassic Park,” Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum are all back, and cloned dinosaurs are now out in the world at large. I can’t remember how that happened in the last movie, but I hardly think it matters. Now, we have dinosaurs in the snow, dinosaurs terrorizing ships in the sea, dinosaurs in — Italy? Malta? Who cares: This looks like the iconic end of “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” stretched into a whole movie.
“Lightyear” (June 17): I wouldn’t have expected Disney/Pixar’s first spinoff movie to inspire such a range of emotions, but the reveal of “Lightyear” last year did. Along with many others, I struggled to keep a straight face at the studio’s insistence that this movie is not about the toy Buzz Lightyear but the man behind the toy. I fought shock at seeing a Buzz with a full head of hair (if he had such great hair why did he cover it up, I complained to my friends; it was never part of the Space Ranger uniform, according to the now-unstreamable apocryphal cartoon “Buzz Lightyear of Star Command”).
But since then I’ve learned to stop worrying and love the Buzz Lightyear with hair. Or at least give the movie, which will see Portlander and “Finding Dory” co-director Angus MacLane in his first solo directorial debut, a chance.
“Thor: Love and Thunder” (July 8). Superhero franchises rarely get to a fourth movie, and before Marvel the only fourth installments in franchises were famously bad (who could forget George Clooney’s bat-nipples in “Batman and Robin” or Christopher Reeve fighting Nuclear Man on the moon from “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace”?). Chris Hemsworth’s Thor seems an unlikely Marvel hero to be the first to get a stand-alone fourth movie, considering his first two are among the worst-reviewed and least-loved in the entire franchise.
But New Zealander director and comedian Taika Waititi injected more silliness and space operatics to the franchise with the third movie, 2017’s “Thor: Ragnarok,” and he’s returning as director and as fan-favorite rock-bodied revolutionary Korg. “Love and Thunder” looks fully armed to ward off the fall of the fourth movie: the Guardians of the Galaxy are here, Natalie Portman is back and now wielding Thor’s hammer, and Christian Bale is the likely villain as the ominously named “Gorr the God Butcher.”
“NOPE” (July 22): Jordan Peele, the comedian-turned-director who changed American horror forever with 2017’s “Get Out,” is returning to the genre a third time. Daniel Kaluuya is back for his second team-up with Peele and joins Keke Palmer (“Hustlers”) and Steven Yeun (“Minari”). With the trailer’s movie-ranch aesthetics and Lynchian cutaways, this film about — an evil twister? A black hole balloon? — a “bad miracle” terrorizing a small California town looks like it blends Peele’s one-of-a-kind aesthetic sensibility with some genuine scares. I’m personally hoping for something a little less opaque than his last movie, “Us,” which gave us similar iconicity and perhaps the best Lupita Nyong’o performance that exists (besides her reaction to Will Smith’s slap at the Oscars), but failed to fully come together in the way “Get Out” did.