It's bigger. It's brasher. It's coming to Britain this summer. (Oh, and it's not the Olympics.)
The all-action Hollywood blockbuster is back. Cinemas across the country are gearing up for what some predict will be the biggest resurgence of action films since the turn of the century. Following hard on the heels of Ridley Scott's Prometheus and Avengers Assemble, released in April and at £1bn the highest-grossing film this year, comes a series of films designed to thrill viewers with their mixture of special effects, comic-book superheroes and cartoon villains.
Such is the scrum to get their films out and maximise the box-office take, studio bosses are carefully jockeying with each other for the most propitious time to launch. In particular they are anxious to avoid their investment being overshadowed by rivals. The most recent example saw the latest movie in the successful Bourne franchise, albeit stripped of its star Matt Damon, delay its release for a week in the United States to avoid going up against The Dark Knight Rises and Total Recall. Those poised to explode on to UK cinema screens include Christopher Nolan's latest Batman film; the return of James Bond after a four-year slumber, and The Expendables 2, which features the tried and tested titans of action pictures Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, among others.
Such manoeuvring is understandable given that a summer blockbuster can make or break a studio – they have spent more than £1.5bn producing the latest crop of action films. And with outside competition from the Olympics this year, getting the release date right is more important than ever.
Helen O'Hara, of Empire magazine, says that the growing appeal of action films is fuelled by both our appetite for nostalgia, the superheroes being reassuringly familiar, and technologically advanced special effects that are making the experience more real than ever. "We're going through a golden age of CGI at the moment. Films like Avatar and Transformers have set that bar so high that now film-makers are dialling up the thrill factor even further. While others, knowing they can't compete in special effects, are compensating with even bolder plotlines."
As Britain gears up for a summer of action, we preview the biggest hitters.
Karl Urban, who played Bones in the last Star Trek movie, is the lead as the law-enforcer in a violent, futuristic city in the summer's last big comic-book film set for release in early September. The script is by Alex Garland, of The Beach fame. After being dogged by rumours of production disagreements, the makers had only just released a trailer as we went to press. Most expect it to have an edgier vibe than the 1995 film, Judge Dredd, which starred Sylvester Stallone: one exec described it as "Dirty Harry meets District 9".
Set in a dystopian future, this remake of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger hit is based on the Philip K Dick story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale". Colin Farrell has a seemingly normal life with a loving wife (Kate Beckinsale). But a visit to Rekall, a service that implants pleasurable memories, backfires and unlocks secrets that have been buried in his brain for years. Unlike the 1990 version which was set on Mars, Farrell stays on Earth and joins the resistance rebels fighting a government that is trying to take over the world. Len Wiseman has shied away from 3D effects for fear of his film looking "overtly futuristic". Described as "mind-messing" nonetheless. Out on 29 August.
Sam Mendes, hailed for films as varied as American Beauty, Revolutionary Road and Road to Perdition, has a new challenge: Bond, James Bond. Mendes directs a star-studded cast including Daniel Craig, Helen McCrory, Javier Bardem and Ralph Fiennes. In the film the agent's loyalty to M, played by Judi Dench, is put under strain as she becomes haunted by her past and gripped by paranoia. Hollywood executives will be hoping that Bond has found his swagger again, as his last outing, Quantum of Solace, failed to live up to the expectations set by Casino Royale. Ringing acclaim, not to mention box office tills, will be crucial given that Craig's three-year contract is up for renewal and the next instalment, Bond 24, is already in production. Out on 26 October.
The Dark Knight Rises
When Christian Bale swiped the cape from George Clooney in 2005 he injected Batman with a tortured soul that had hitherto been missing from celluloid superheroes. The formula worked and, three years after Batman Returns, The Dark Knight was another hit. The third and final instalment in Christopher Nolan's trilogy promises a bigger budget and even greater special effects. Eight years have passed in Gotham City and Batman is wanted for crimes he did not
commit. He returns to face an intellectual steroid-fuelled brute, Bane (the British actor Tom Hardy). The cast includes Marion Cotillard and Anne Hathaway. But will the caped crusader survive for another outing? His prospects aren't promising: one trailer shows a shattered bat mask and a smug Bane wandering off. All will be revealed on 20 July.
The Expendables 2
Ignore the hype surrounding Avengers Assemble. Instead meet the grandfathers from action movies that we all thought had been consigned to history. This summer (13 August), it seems, they are back. Sylvester Stallone leads a cast that includes Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Jean-Claude Van Damme. They are among a crack squad of mercenaries whose mission takes a tortuous turn when one of their number is killed by an opposing group. Hell-bent on retaliation, the crew wreaks havoc as they try to thwart the threat of five tons of weapons-grade plutonium; enough to shift the balance of power on earth. No small plot.
The Amazing Spider-Man
"With great power comes great responsibility," the awkward anti-hero Peter Parker uttered in the first Spider-Man film more than a decade ago. Now Andrew Garfield inherits the role, harbouring a burning quest to understand the truth behind his parents' disappearance. It leads him to the lab of Dr Curt Connors; played by Rhys Ifans. Faced with a series of life-altering choices that will shape his destiny, Garfield acts alongside his real-life girlfriend Emma Stone, who plays Gwen Stacey. Set on the skyscrapers of Manhattan, and peppered with vertigo-inducing aerial photography shot in 3D, 2D and Imax formats, this is one of the most hotly anticipated blockbusters of the summer.
The most light-hearted of this summer's action films. Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade are a group of dads who form a neighbourhood watch group as a ruse to get away from their families. However, when they accidentally uncover an alien plot that threatens the world, they are forced into action. The film changed its name from Neighbourhood Watch in May following the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida by Neighbourhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman. It's expected to be released here in August.
The Bourne Legacy
Usually by the time a blockbuster reaches its fourth instalment, it seems to be running out of steam. The latest Bourne film has lost Matt Damon but bagged Tony Gilroy, the screenwriter behind the original film. Picking up where Damon left off is Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker), who plays Aaron Cross, the CIA operative with all of Jason Bourne's skills and less of his heart. Other stars include Edward Norton and Rachel Weisz. Question marks over its fate have already arisen after its release date was put back a week in August to avoid clashing with rivals.