THREE COMIC-INSPIRED SEQUELS & TWO NEW ADAPTATIONS
As we get to the mid-point of summer, fatigue starts to set in and while Comic-Con in San Diego is a great time to get comic fans excited about movies based on their favorite graphic novels, of the three straight comic book sequels released this summer, at least two of them bode the question “Why bother?” and of the third, a prequel to the biggest of the three movies being sequelized, there just doesn’t seem to be much interest without the primary cast returning.
Let’s talk about the comic book talent behind these movies first: Frank Miller, Mark Millar and Warren Ellis. These are three of the top names in comics, actually of two generations, and they’ve successfully transferred their distinctive style of comic book storytelling into something that can be turned into mainstream studio movies.
Miller has had the most success at the movies, first by bringing his graphic novel Sin City to the screen with Robert Rodriguez and then with Zack Snyder’s take on his ancient Greek war epic 300, which opened with $70.9 million in early March 2007 and grossed $210 million domestically. When you have those kinds of numbers you gotta figure out how to monetize it, and while it quickly made Snyder a go-to director who Warners could trust with Superman, the movie also ended with (spoiler!) the entire cast dead. Not too easy to make a sequel to that, huh?
And that’s why this summer we’re getting 300: Rise of an Empire (Warner Bros. – August 2), which takes the battle to sea with Eva Green leading ships against Rodrigo Santoro’s power-mad Persian king Xerxes, who returns from the first movie. With the unconventional directing choice of Noam Murro, who previously only directed the dramedy Smart People, this one is going to rely solely on having a trailer that makes the movie look cool and so far, we’ve seen NADA. Is anyone smelling another Wrath of the Titans where the sequel does nowhere near as well as the original? Yup. This one will probably kick off August with an opening in the mid-$30 millions as it takes on The Smurfs and another movie loosely based on a graphic novel that might be one of the surprise hits of the summer. (see below)
Before we even get to August, we start getting the ridiculous action sequels as Bruce Willis continues to try to save his career with RED 2 (Summit – July 19), which reunites him with Helen Mirren, John Malkovich and Mary-Louise Parker from the surprise action hit of 2010 based on Warren Ellis’ mini-series. The concept was simple. Hire beloved veteran actors as retired CIA spies, give them guns and let the fun begin and it worked to the tune of $90 million. Noticeably missing this time is Morgan Freeman, replaced by Anthony Hopkins and Brian Cox aka Dueling Hannibal Lecters, and they also bring in Catherine Zeta-Jones as Frank’s ex-wife as they’re all facing G.I. Joe: Retaliation‘s Byung Hun Lee. It mostly takes place in Moscow, same as Bruce’s failed attempt to keep the “Die Hard” franchise alive earlier this year, and oh, yeah and it’s directed by Dean Parisot of Galaxy Quest and Fun with Dick and Jane. This looks even worse than the first movie, kind of like The Whole Ten Yards to its predecessor – and we don’t see this one hitting $70 million. They should have released this in the fall like the previous movie.
In 2010, director Matthew Vaughn took Mark Millar’s edgy vigilante comic book Kick-Ass and spent his own money adapting it to the screen. It was bought by Lionsgate for $45 million hoping for a big hit, but it opened just South of $20 million and topped out at $48 million. Lionsgate didn’t bother with the sequel and neither did Vaughn who moved onto other things to leave Jeff Wadlow to write and direct Kick-Ass 2 (Universal August 16). And along comes sweet and innocent Universal trying to save a comic book franchise ala Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy and they just don’t know what they’re in for. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz and Christopher Mintz-Plasse are all back, this time joined by Jim Carrey rather than Nicolas Cage. It won’t make a difference. Opening so late in the summer is never a smart move as we’ve seen with plenty of other potential hits that just couldn’t find an audience. It might equal the opening of the original movie barely but its audience will see it opening weekend and be gone, just like the first movie and we’ll never EVER see a Kick-Ass 3 except in the comics.
Another lesser known comic adaptation opening the same weekend as 300: Rise of an Empire is 2 Guns (Universal – August 2), based on the Boom Studios graphic novel by Steven Grant and Mat Santolouco. It’s a crime action comedy pairing Denzel Washington with Mark Wahlberg and Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormakur, who helmed Wahlberg’s hit Contraband. With two big name stars and a simpler action premise than Michael Bay’s recent Pain & Gain, we could see this doing big business, opening north of $30 million and possibly taking even more wind out of the sails of the 300: Rise of an Empire. How well it holds up will depend on whether or not word-of-mouth allows this to stay strong over the rest of August, but it should end up in the same $85 to $100 million range of Denzel hits.
That just leaves the summer’s other acronym R.I.P.D. (Universal July 19), a movie about zombie policemen as depicted in the little known Dark Horse mini-series of the same name by Peter Lenkov. Like 2 Guns it has formidable star power in Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges, is produced by Neal Moritz, one of the more successful producers in Hollywood, and it’s directed by Robert Schwentke, who helmed the original RED and it has a very cool premise ala the original Men in Black which was also based on a comic. So why on earth are they trying to open it against RED 2, The Conjuring and Turbo featuring the voice of Ryan Reynolds? Like with RED 2, moving this to the fall isn’t an option and it just doesn’t look like this one is going to interest anyone. Those last three are all Universal releases and their smartest move is to focus on 2 Guns to bring in the urban audience and ignore the other two.