Summer blockbusters: Sizzling cinema

Ben Walsh previews the best reasons to swap the sunscreen for the big screen this summer
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The Independent Culture

X-Men: First Class

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Matthew Vaughn, who did such a splendid job with Kick-Ass, has been recruited to direct this X-Men prequel.

One dearly hopes he can recapture the zest and wit of Bryan Singer's first two X-Men movies, rather than Brett Ratner's desperately disappointing third instalment, The Last Stand, and the dunderheaded spin-off Wolverine. The plot centres on the early days of the X-Men, back when Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) were pals and worked side by side alongside some young mutants to combat a perilous threat. But their struggle opens up a rift between the pair, leading to the conflicts between Magento's brotherhood and Xavier's mutant school. Jennifer Lawrence (excellent in Debra Granik's Winter's Bone), Rose Byrne, January Jones (Betty Draper in Mad Men), Kevin Bacon and Nicholas Hoult also feature in a film scripted by Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass).

Released today

Bobby Fischer Against the World

Director: Liz Garbus

"I regard him as a mythological combination of sorts, a centaur if you will, a synthesis between man and chess," Garry Kasparov said about Bobby Fischer. The wild "centaur" of the chess world, who became the youngest Grandmaster at the age of 14, is examined in Liz Garbus's documentary. It traces Bobby Fischer's journey from child prodigy to Cold War American hero – he memorably defeated the Russian Grandmaster and reigning champion, Boris Spassky, in 1972, in Reykjavík – to controversial recluse and pariah: "Fischer is a law unto himself," fellow chess champion Larry Evans once maintained. This disturbing and cerebral film includes interviews with Fischer and the people who knew him, and features footage and news reports.

Released 15 July

Green Lantern

Director: Martin Campbell

Let's just hope this superhero tale is better than Seth Rogen's woeful The Green Hornet. A pumped-up Ryan Reynolds, who excelled in Rodrigo Cortés's grisly Buried, plays Hal, a cocky test pilot who is bestowed a mystical green ring that grants him otherworldly powers, as well as membership to an intergalactic squadron tasked with keeping peace within the universe. He is assisted by his childhood love, Carol Ferris (Blake Lively, last seen on the big screen in Ben Affleck's thriller The Town), and he's challenged by his nemesis, Mark Strong's really rather green Sinestro. Action-film veteran Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) directs and the always compelling Tim Robbins stars as the father of the villainous Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard).

Released 17 June


Director: Paul Feig

The female equivalent of Todd Phillips's The Hangover (surprisingly good) and The Hangover Part II (unsurprisingly bad) comes in the shape of Paul Feig's rowdy, but also thoughtful Bridesmaids. Saturday Night Live regular Kristen Wiig, who also co-wrote Bridesmaids and is a core member of Judd Apatow's "comedy team", stars as Annie, a former cake expert who is now glumly working at a Milwaukee jewellery shop. Her life appears to be spiralling downwards, with a deeply unsatisfying love life to boot – she's sleeping with a wealthy jerk (Jon Hamm) who doesn't care a jot about her. At least her best pal, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), has just asked her to be maid of honour. Cue hen-party mayhem in Vegas with an oddball group of bridesmaids, including Melissa McCarthy (The Back-up Plan) and Rose Byrne (Damages). Bridesmaids promises to be the hugely talented Wiig's "breakout" role, and there's a romantic lead role for The IT Crowd's Chris O'Dowd, too.

Released 24 June

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II (3D)

Director: David Yates

It's unavoidable, and finally reaching its conclusion; until, of course, J K Rowling decides to pen some George Lucas-style prequels. The Scooby Gang – the one-note Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), the "funny one" Ron (Rupert Grint) and earnest Hermione (Emma Watson) – return to Hogwarts to find and obliterate Voldemort's final horcruxes (dark magical objects that hold a piece of a soul), but when Lord V finds out about their mission, all hell breaks loose. Presumably there won't be any of the jolly-hockey-sticks antics (the wretched quidditch game) here – and thank Dumbledore for that – but there will hopefully be more menace, more bite and, vitally, more Vordermort. As with all good children's adventures, the baddie's the best thing, and Ralph Fiennes has been deliciously impressive as Lord V, with a suitably unhinged Helena Bonham Carter coming a close second as his partner in wickedness, Bellatrix Lestrange. Gary Oldman as Sirius Black, Alan Rickman as Severus Snape, John Hurt and Michael Gambon also star in what – for many fans – will be an emotional final instalment.

Released 15 July

Horrible Bosses

Director: Seth Gordon

Three beleaguered worker bees (Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis) decide that their lives would be a lot sunnier and easier if they disposed of their appalling bosses (Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell). So they plump for whacking them, one at a time. I'm sold. Spacey already has form as a despicable, bullying boss in the underrated Swimming with Sharks (he memorably barked "You are nothing! If you were in my toilet I wouldn't bother flushing it. My bath mat means more to me than you!" at his assistant), and Bateman proved himself an engaging comic actor in the otherwise hopeless The Switch. Aniston desperately needs some redemption after a string of duds (Love Happens, Marley & Me, the unspeakable Just Go with It) – but the Friends star is no comic slouch – see The Good Girl and Office Space for proof.

Released 22 July

Super 8

Director: J J Abrams

J J Abram's Star Trek prequel was deliriously enjoyable for geeky Trekkie fans (like me), so much is expected of his latest sci-fi adventure, which he has written and directed, and which has been produced by Steven Spielberg. Super 8, which promises to be as furtive and creepy as Abrams's Lost and Cloverfield, is set in the summer of 1979 in a fictional Ohio town, where a group of teenagers (including Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney) are making a film with a Super 8 camera when they witness a train crash. They quickly suspect it was no accident and start noticing unusual happenings around their once sleepy town. Kyle Chandler's local deputy investigates the causes of the events, leading to the discovery of something "alien". Super 8, a production shrouded in quite a bit of secrecy, looks like it's channelling the likes of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Scooby-Doo and The X-Files.

Released 5 August

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Director: Rupert Wyatt

Does the world really need another Planet of the Apes adventure? Apparently so. This is the seventh Ape tale and, as is the way of things in current-day Hollywood, it's a prequel. It is set in present-day San Francisco where a bunch of cockamamie experiments, involving genetic engineering, lead to the development of intelligence in apes and the onset of a war for supremacy. Rupert Wyatt, who made the glum but proficient British prison thriller The Escapist directs and the cast includes James Franco as the foolish geneticist, Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) as a genetics sceptic and "method actor" Andy Serkis (a force of nature as Ian Dury in Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll) as the film's lead ape, Caesar.

Released 12 August

Cowboys & Aliens

Director: Jon Favreau

You can just imagine how tickled the film executive who came up with this film title was. Throw James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) into the mix and how can Jon Favreau's Cowboys & Aliens possibly fail to make loads of dough? Well, Ford hasn't had a hit since his fourth Indiana Jones outing in 2008 and he's becoming increasingly grouchy and unintelligible with every film he stars in. And Craig – apart from his Bond forays – is usually better in arthouse fare like The Mother. However, this gun-toting actioner still looks like a whole lot of fun. It's 1873 and a Wild West Arizonian town has to face down alien abductors hell-bent on taking over the world. Olivia Wilde (Tron: Legacy), Sam Rockwell (excellent in Moon) and Paul Dano (the glum teen in Little Miss Sunshine) also feature in this Steven Spielberg-produced Western. Really, how can it fail?

Released 19 August

One Day

Director: Lone Scherfig

David Nicholls adapts his wildly successful novel, One Day, for the big screen. Anne Hathaway (outstanding in Rachel Getting Married) plays the spiky, working-class Yorkshire girl Emma Morley who hooks up with womanising, arrogant Dexter Mayhew (Jim Sturgess, last spotted in Peter Weir's The Way Back) on the night of their graduation from Edinburgh University – on 15 July, St Swithin's Day. Thereafter, we check up on Emma and Dex's lives every subsequent 15 July; it's reminiscent of the Alan Alda drama Same Time, Next Year (1978). Dexter forges a television career, which quickly collapses, while Emma becomes a bestselling author of teen fiction. One Day, directed by Lone Scherfig (An Education), promises to be droll and emotional, and features Patricia Clarkson (excellent in everything she's in, from The Station Agent to Good Night, and Good Luck), Romola Garai, Jodie Whittaker, Ken Stott and Rafe Spall in a very strong cast.

Released 26 August

Crazy, Stupid, Love

Directors: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa

Ryan Gosling stars in comedy shocker. Gosling, who famously tucks into meaty roles such as the drug-addled teacher in Half Nelson, the sozzled loser in Blue Valentine and the inflatable-doll-loving oddball in Lars and the Real Girl, decides to lighten up in this Steve Carell comedy. He plays a thirtysomething playboy, Jacob, who helps a staid fortysomething Cal (Carell) navigate his way through the dating scene. Cal's life has unravelled since discovering that his wife (Julianne Moore) has had an affair and wants a divorce. Expect a more subversive type of comedy from Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the directors of the challenging I Love You Phillip Morris and the writers of the gleefully mischievous Bad Santa. Emma Stone, who proved a winning comic talent in Easy A, plays the quick-witted Hannah, who proves more than a match for Gosling's lothario.

Released 2 September

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Director: Lynne Ramsay

The auteur Lynne Ramsay directs Lionel Shriver's harrowing novel about a mother trying to make sense of her son's involvement in a Columbine-style massacre. Ramsay, who inexplicably vanished from film-making after her superb Morvern Callar in 2002 (before that she directed the highly original Ratcatcher) returns with this demanding, controversial subject matter. Tilda Swinton plays the unhappy, unloving mother, Eva Khatchadourian, who quickly twigs that her son's not the full ticket; John C Reilly is the less clued-up father, Franklyn, and Ezra Miller is their psychotic son, Kevin.

Released 2 September