Part 1: March - June, 2017
by Hunter Bush
Which do audiences enjoy more, a fresh idea or something familiar? Someone with a head for box office figures could probably make a decent case either way. Regardless, it seems like every time I go see a major release movie, the majority of trailers are for remakes, adaptations or, more and more frequently, ‘Long Gap’ sequels. This past week I saw The LEGO Batman Movie which had seven trailers preceding it. Two were regular sequels (Cars 3 & Despicable Me 3), two were adaptations (Power Rangers & Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets), two were inspired by some outside phenomena (The LEGO Ninjago Movie / toys & The Emoji Movie / emojis), leaving only one as an apparently original idea. That film? The Boss Baby.
There’s nothing wrong with any of this (in theory). David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986) is both a remake and one of my favorite movies; Psycho, Fight Club, Goodfellas, and Babe are all adaptations and widely regarded as classics in their respective genres; and no one minds when there’s an almost 30 year gap between films in a series if the result is Fury Road. Obviously it’s a case-by-case, movie-by-movie basis. So that’s how I’ll handle it. I’m going to peruse the lists of movies coming up this year (up to the end of June anyway) and when possible, through trailers, BTS featurettes and the like, try to figure out how closely they’re sticking to their source material.
And not for nothing, but The LEGO Batman Movie was great fun in case you were wondering.
Fair warning: There may be some speculative spoilers, or spoilers for the source materials though I swear I’ve tried to avoid that as much as possible. Also I will be using the words ‘presumably’ and ‘apparently’ and ‘seems’ and their like quite a bit, so if you’re looking for a drinking game to accompany this article; there you go (you may also have a problem). Cheers!
Logan (Mar 3): Based on assorted Marvel comics characters and at least partially inspired by the “Old Man Logan” storyline written by Mark Millar, Brian Bendis & Jeff Lemire. This movie seems to be playing fast and loose with its inspirations, which I guess is kind of a thing that bothers some folks, but not me (I am of the “if you like the original thing, you can read / watch / whatever it is any time” camp). From all I can tell the only similarities between the film and the OML storyline is that Logan (Hugh Jackman) is older and has somewhat given up on being Wolverine. The film doesn’t appear to take place in a dystopia like the comics (though we may or may not be living in one now, so really, how would I know?), Logan doesn’t live with his wife and kids, living instead with fellow mutanling Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and while the comic’s plot is an escort mission involving Hawkeye and some drugs, the movie’s plot seems to be all about protecting a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) who has a whole claws-and-violence thing going on similar to Logan himself. (For the nerds: Yeah I know who Laura is, but that would be telling).
The Shack (Mar 3): Based on the novel by William P. Young. This seems to be following the plot of the book pretty closely: four years before the main story, Mack (Sam Worthington) took his family camping and while distracted by saving his son from drowning, loses his youngest daughter. Her bloodied clothes are found in a shack in the woods, but to paraphrase Leadbelly “the body never was found." He receives a letter from God (Octavia Spencer; excellent casting) inviting him back to the shack, which despite it being the snowy heart of winter, is magically a warm beautiful slice of summer. Mack has philosophical discussions with several “people” representing the Holy Trinity, God’s Infinite Wisdom and the like and eventually comes to terms with his daughter’s death. The main deviation I can tell is the movie trailer implies that Mack is living alone and only interacting with a neighbor (Tim McGraw) while in the book, he still lives with his wife and four surviving children. Possibly there will be sort of redemptive catharsis / rebuilding the family subplot? One of ya’ll will have to let me know because I am all but guaranteed to skip this one.
Before I Fall (Mar 3): Based on the novel by Lauren Oliver, BIF looks like Groundhog Day by way of Donnie Darko but if Bill Murray was a Mean Girl (which, let’s face it, he kinda was). The film adaptation seems to follow the basic plot of the novel in which main character Sam (Zoey Deutch) is killed in a car accident leaving a Cupid’s Day party with her MG posse. The novel is apparently structured around Sam going through the five stages of grief during the story, finally arriving at Acceptance and (*SPOILERS*) willing to allow herself to finally die so long as she can help save the life of Juliet (Elena Kampouris) the frequent target of the girls’ bullying. The five stages of grief structure thing is actually pretty clever, and I’m interested to see if the film follows that concept through at all.
T2 Trainspotting (Mar 3): Long gap sequel to 1996’s Trainspotting which was in turn based on the 1993 Irvine Welsh novel. T2 is apparently also inspired by the follow-up novel Porno from 2002. There appear to be some slight changes to the plot of Porno: Begbie (Robert Carlyle) escapes from prison, rather than being released; they’re opening a “leisure club” above the pub rather than shooting a porno there, etc. T2 looks very self-referential to Trainspotting (the international trailer had more than a handful of visual references that I caught on the first viewing) which in the hands of other filmmakers with other source material could conceivably be irritating, but this is Danny Boyle (and the entire applicable cast is returning as well). I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what to expect when I first heard about this project but after doing this research, I am absolutely interested. And not just to see which one is the Terminator (oh wait, wrong T2).
Kong: Skull Island (Mar 10): Based on primarily the film King Kong (1933), but seeing as this is a Legendary Pictures production and part of their shared universe with 2014’s Godzilla, I imagine we’ll see some crossover there. We all know the original Kong story by now, right? Filmmaker goes to Skull island to capture the never-before seen land on film, finds giant ape, brings ape to New York where he inevitably dies. In the upcoming film, Project Monarch (seen in Godzilla) go to explore Skull Island and find Kong at war with bipedal lizard monsters called ‘skull-crawlers’ by John C.Reilly’s character. I wonder if we’ll even make it to NY because all of the footage in these trailers is island-based and there appears to be no Carl Denham character or filmmaker surrogate suggested in the film. (*SPOILERS*) Legendary has announced a film called Godzilla vs. Kong for 2020, so maybe they’ll hold the climbing-the-Empire-State-building business until then?
Beauty and the Beast (Mar 17): Based on the 1991 Disney animated film. I feel like the word ‘based’ doesn’t even cover it. This is like almost exactly the same movie, as far as I can tell, a fact which fills me with a very specific kind of Uncanny Valley uneasiness. Like, remember The Simpsons Halloween episode where Homer became 3-D? This makes me feel like that. I’m…very conflicted about it. On the one hand I…kinda wanna see it but on the other, why does this need to exist?
Power Rangers (Mar 24): Based on the Saban franchise begun in the US in 1993 as the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers (though it used footage from the Japanese Super Sentai series Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger from 1992). This seems to be walking a very fine line between completely ridiculous and actually…kinda great. It seems to be taking itself just seriously enough that it gives a crap about making some of the sillier aspects of Power Rangers work in a “real world” setting, while not ending up as “grim and gritty Power Rangers," a phrase that just by typing it makes me feel ill. It looks like pretty standard origin story stuff for the most part with five semi-troubled teens stumbling into becoming superheroes who get to talk to Bryan Cranston’s big floating mosaic head, hang out with a robot voiced by Bill Hader and fight space-witchy Elizabeth Banks! Seriously though the casting in this is very fun and the tone seems just self-aware enough to be a blast. A good example of both is that RJ Cyler (who is African American) plays Billy / The Blue Ranger rather than Zack / The Black Ranger (played by Ludi Lin, who is Chinese) which the movie is smart enough to lampshade.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (Mar 24): Based on Arthurian legends dating back to the 12th century (and technically before, but that is, like, a whole ‘nother article entirely). This seems to hit all the bullet points for a King Arthur origin story: You got your Arthur (Charlie Hunnam), you got your sword in a stone, you got knights, you got magic and you got monsters. Despite The Lady of The Lake making an appearance and dialogue about Arthur being ‘the born king’ and all that, I couldn’t put my finger on what stories exactly this plot is tackling. Visually though, the uh…War Elephants (?) made me think of old Conan stories. Full disclosure: the first time I saw this trailer I laughed aloud at the “Raised in the Streets” title card.
Wilson (Mar 24): Based on the 2010 Daniel Clowes (Ghost World) graphic novel of the same name, Wilson was originally published as a complete graphic novel, but is structured as one-page comic strips, sort of like a misanthropic Sunday Funnies section. The film seems to be following the GN plot pretty closely with a lonely Wilson seeking out his ex-wife of nearly two decades after finding out they’d had a daughter together that she’d put up for adoption after their divorce.
The Finest Hours (Mar 24): Based on the book by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman (though the full title is The Finest Hours: The True Story of the Coast Guard’s Most Daring Rescue) (is that a spoiler?). From what I can tell, this follows closely the events that inspired the book: Boatswain’s Mate First Class (BM’s are described as “the most versatile members of a Coast Guard’s operational team”) Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) took a three-man volunteer crew out to rescue the crew of the oil tanker Pendleton which was taking on water because it had split in half! The only dramatizations seem to be giving Webber’s fiancee Miriam (Holliday Grainger) more to do as scenes in the trailer show her bursting into Chatham Station to demand that Bernie and crew be called back because of dangerous weather conditions.
Ghost in the Shell (Mar 31): Based on the famous manga / anime / TV series from Masamune Shirow. Major Kusanagi (Scarlett Johnson) heads the counter-cyberterrorist task force Section 9 in a futuristic (the manga was originally set in what would now be the very near future) world of cybernetic enhancements and artificial bodies and consciousnesses. Looks amazing, visually, with a lot of nods to famous imagery from the manga / anime, my favorite being Batou (Pilou Asbaek)’s eyes. I do have one problem I need to address (and no it’s not the whitewash casting, because, again, that’s a whole ‘nother ‘nother article). I am sick to death, already, of the movie trailer trope of using a slower tempo cover of a pop song to make things “creeeeepy” or “eeeeeerie”. It’s been happening for while, but I’ve noticed it becoming a go-to move since the trailer for San Andreas in 2015. Just please, no more.
The Zookeeper’s Wife (Mar 31): Based on the book by Diane Ackerman, in turn inspired by the unpublished diary of Antonina Żabiński. This tells the true story of the Żabińskis, Antonina (Jessica Chastain) and her husband Jan (Johan Heldenburgh), their zoo in Warsaw and how they sheltered upwards of 300 Jews there during WWII once it had been semi-destroyed during the invasion of Poland in September 1939.
Going in Style (Apr 7): Remake of a 1979 film starring George Burns, Art Carney, & Lee Strasberg, but with Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, & Alan Arkin playing three senior citizens who attempt to rob a bank in New York. Obviously I can’t tell for certain from the trailer but a lot more of the film seems to focus on the “can they pull it off?” Ocean’s Eleven-y vibe than the original in which (*SPOILERS*) they totally just do it, then go to Vegas, then jail (oh and some of them die). It also looks like their motivations are a bit different. In the ’79 film they were just sort of bored (though they did give Strasberg’s nephew a nice chunk of change to ease his financial troubles) while in the ’17 film the money troubles and “fuck Wall Street” groundwork is laid on pretty thick.
The Lost City Of Z (Apr 21): Based on the 2009 book by David Grann (which expanded on a 2005 article of his) covers the explorer Col. Percival “Percy” Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) and his team’s quest to find the titular lost city (pronounced “Zed”). This appears to be a standard questing upriver story while the book (*SPOILERS*) is really more about how Percy and his son were lost and never returned, speculation at how they may have died and how Z may have been right under their noses the entire time.
The Circle (Apr 28): Based on the 2013 Dave Eggers book. Mae (Emma Watson) gets a job at The Circle, a futuristic, altruistic technology company run in part by Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) as a Steve Jobs type, holding TED talks and whatnot. Hanks’ narration in both trailers suggests that The Circle (or maybe mankind, when guided by The Circle) can do anything: “we can cure any disease and we can end hunger." Things quickly turn toward a dystopian police state with The Circle unveiling tiny real-time cameras all over the globe that watch everyone all the time. The movie seems like it will be following that general “What have I wrought?” direction, with Mae working alongside a mysterious Circle member (John Boyega) to expose The Circle’s true intentions.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 5): Based on the Marvel Comics characters, but not as far as I can tell based on any one specific storyline. The plot seems to center around Star Lord (Chris Pratt) investigating his missing father. Oh, and shooting a lot of things in space. It does feature the character Mantis (Pom Klementieff; what a wonderful name) who has ties to the Infinity Gems, the standard MacGuffins for the Marvel shared universe thus far, not that we didn’t already know it was all heading there or anything…
My Cousin Rachel (May 5): based on the 1951 novel by Daphne du Maurier. Philip (Sam Claflin) receives letters from his older cousin Ambrose detailing how he has met, fallen in love with, then married another cousin of theirs, Rachel (Rachel Weisz). Further letters explain that Ambrose is of ill health and he eventually dies without ever having altered his will to benefit Rachel, thus leaving Philip as the inheritor of the estate. Then, wouldn’t you know it, Rachel comes to town and she and Philip get along like gangbusters until the gossip mill starts turning: Was Rachel responsible for Ambrose’s death? Is she manipulating Philip to get control of the estate that should rightfully be hers? Seems pretty faithful an adaptation. But SERIOUSLY, I hate this slowed down pop songs thing (Wicked Games this time).
Alien: Covenant (May 19): Based on the franchise begun in 1979, the sixth set in that universe but the first to carry the Alien name since 1997. I tried, guys, I really tried to find something to cover plot-wise, but all I can find implies that a spaceship crew think they’ve found a paradise planet but instead: Xenomorphs (or ‘Neomorphs’ if Michael Fassbender is to be believed). This is a direct sequel to 2012’s Prometheus, but chronologically still a prequel to the original ’79 Alien.
Baywatch (May 19): Based on the pop culture phenomenon TV series that ran from 1989-1999. They seem to be following the 21 Jump Street formula of action comedy bromances, this time with Dwayne Johnson & Zac Efron, so expect to see a lot of well-meaning idiots (and I mean that in the best possible way). As far as it being a faithful adaptation, it has a running in slow motion gag, those little red plastic floaty things that look like a toy rocket and… it takes place on a beach, so I think they’re nailing all the culturally significant bits here.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (May 19): Based on the 2014 book by Jeff Kinney, part of the series that began in 2007 and has produced a book a year (two in 2009!) since. I couldn’t find an actual trailer for this (Editor's note: a trailer was just recently released) but did find some BTS footage that showed everything from the book description I could find: road trip (check), county fair (check), pet pig (oh, double check).
Wonder Woman (June 2): Based on the DC comics character. It seems like it’s sticking to Wonder Woman (Gal Godot)’s classic introduction having her rescue downed WWI pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and bringing him to her home on the all-female island of Themyscira. The Amazonian residents of the island are unaware of the war until it lands at their proverbial doorstep (literally beach), prompting Wonder Woman to leave the island and join the outside world under the assumed name Diana Prince. There’s an interesting thing happening here in that by setting Wonder Woman’s first movie during one of the World Wars and what with her carrying a shield and being a superhuman in a human world, DC are kind of making Wonder Woman into their Captain America. Which is cool.
The Mummy (June 9): Based on the Universal Pictures franchise begun in 1932 which starred Boris Karloff as The Mummy. This film jumpstarts Universal’s shared universe of classic monsters by having Tom Cruise star as Nick Morton, presumably some kind of military archeologist (?) who survives (or does he?) a plane crash while transporting the sarcophagus of the titular Mummy (Sofia Boutella) from Egypt to England. And can I get a Hell Yeah for a lady mummy? The Venn diagram of Scary and Sexy is one of my favorite Venn diagrams and I hope Ms. Boutella’s Mummy rests comfortably in the overlap. Also I got to type the word ‘sarcophagus’ which is one of my favorite words (fun fact)!
Kingsman: The Golden Circle (June 16): Sequel to the 2014 film Kingsman: The Secret Service directed by Matthew Vaughn (itself based on the 2012 comic book series by Mark Millar & Dave Gibbons). This time, low-level hood turned espionage agent extraordinaire “Eggsy” (Taron Egerton) and his handler and mentor Merlin (Mark Strong) and the rest of The Kingsmen must team up with their American counterparts The Statesmen (feat. Halle Barry, Channing Tatum, Pedro Pascal, & led by Jeff Bridges!) to battle a new villain played by Julianne Moore (!!).
Transformers: The Last Knight (June 23): Fifth in the Michael Bay-led film series begun in 2007, in turn based on the juggernaut toy line / animated series combo that dominated our minds and our toy aisles from the early 80’s into the 90’s (and beyond, once you include Beast Wars and whatnot). Mark Wahlberg & Stanley Tucci will return from the previous film and Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, & John Turturro will return, having been absent since the first three. The plot seems to involve an unknown planet attempting to absorb / destroy Earth. This could either be Cybertron the Transformers’ homeworld or possibly Unicron, a planet-sized Transformer that destroys planets (and was voiced by Orson Welles in the 1986 animated film of which I can probably quote every line). There also seems to be some in-fighting as we see Optimus Prime returning from space and battling the long-time DJ Jazzy Jeff to his Fresh Prince, Bumblebee, who has been acting as leader of the Autobots in his absence.
The Beguiled (June 23): Based on film of the same name from 1971, which was based on the 1966 novel by Thomas P. Cullinan. John McBurney (Colin Farrell) is a wounded soldier in the Civil War taken in and nursed back to health by the women of the elaborately named Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies. But the formerly sexless household becomes a viper’s nest of jealousy and tension when the various ladies (Elle Fanning, Kirsten Dunst, & Nicole Kidman, chief among them) all begin to lust after John (played by Clint Eastwood in the '71 film co-starring Geraldine Page, Elizabeth Hartman, & Jo Ann Harris among others). The trailer ends with Farrell yelling about the women being “vengeful bitches” in a way that (to me) recalls the great Nicolas Cage in The Wicker Man (itself a remake) proclaiming, “You bitches! This won’t bring back your goddamn honey!”