Oscar Watch: Teen Titans! Go To the Movies

This Friday, Warner Bros animation is out with Teen Titans! Go To the Movies based on the Cartoon Network series. It’s a superhero spoof blending the characters of the show with notable icons from their catalog, including Nicolas Cage voicing Superman and Jimmy Kimmel as the Caped Crusader.

Early reviews are quite encouraging and it currently stands at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. It has the potential to be a summer sleeper that could appeal to kids and their parents. Will  Oscar take note?

That could be a reach. Warner Bros has had a critically acclaimed output recently with their Lego series. However, The Lego Movie, The Lego Batman Movie, and The Lego Ninjago Movie all failed to garner recognition in the Best Animated Feature category.

We can pretty safely say that two 2018 releases are already in for nods: Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs and Pixar’s superhero toon Incredibles 2. And there’s plenty more animated material to come. Despite positive buzz, that could mean Academy voters could fail to remember the Titans in a few months.

Teen Titans Go! To the Movies Box Office Prediction

***Blogger’s Note II (07/26): On the eve of its premiere, I’m bumping my estimate back up from $13.4M to $16.4M

**Blogger’s Note (07/20): My estimate for Titans has dwindled from $17.4M to just $13.4M. That could mean a debut in the lower rungs of the top 5.

Teen Titans Go! To The Movies attempts to be the next animated hit of the summer when it debuts next weekend. This is a big screen version of the Cartoon Network’s series that debuted five years ago focusing on some fresh DC Comics superheroes. The cast of the show is here to voice their characters including Greg Cipes, Scott Menville, Khary Payton, Tara Strong, and Hynden Walch. And we have some familiar faces joining the voice over party including Kristen Bell, Will Arnett, Jimmy Kimmel as Batman, James Corden, Halsey, and Lil Yachty. Nicolas Cage, who was supposed to play the Man of Steel in a scrapped live-action Tim Burton pic nearly two decades ago, finally gets to be Superman.

Fans of the series won’t propel this to the heights of other animated efforts this season like Incredibles 2 or Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation. While Mission: Impossible – Fallout will undoubtedly dominate the charts next weekend, Titans will make a go for the #2 spot over holdovers Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again and The Equalizer 2. 

A mid to high teens gross might be enough to achieve it and that’s the ballpark where I have this landing.

Teens Titans Go! To The Movies opening weekend prediction: $16.4 million

For my Mission: Impossible – Fallout prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/07/17/mission-impossible-fallout-box-office-prediction/

The Dark Knight Legacy: 10 Years Later

Ten years ago tomorrow, The Dark Knight was unleashed into theaters. Looking back at the summer of 2008, you could argue that the two most important superhero pics in recent memory were released in that short time frame. Two months earlier in May of that year, Iron Man kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe which now stands at 20 films strong. Yet it was The Dark Knight that set box office records and brought critical appreciation of the genre to new heights. In a genre that has exploded in the 21st century, many consider this to be the crown jewel. I believe it’s certainly up on the Mount Rushmore.

A decade prior to its release, Batman had run into some trouble at multiplexes with the deservedly derided Batman and Robin. It was a disappointment both commercially and with reviewers. Joel Schumacher’s two run experiment with the iconic character had dissolved into campy non-fun. In the new century, Christopher Nolan was brought in to resurrect the franchise after making Memento and Insomnia. 

2005’s Batman Begins would achieve that goal, but that was not apparent immediately. Despite glowing reviews, Begins started with $48 million at the box office and $206 million overall domestically. Those are solid numbers but some context is needed. That’s nearly $50 million less than 1989’s Batman made 16 years earlier. In other words, it wasn’t obvious that the eventual sequel would turn into a phenomenon.

That’s what happened. The Dark Knight had the advantage of pitting Christian Bale’s Caped Crusader against his most known foe, The Joker. Many questioned whether Heath Ledger (coming off an Oscar nomination for Brokeback Mountain) had the goods to fill Jack Nicholson’s shoes. Early trailers indicated the answer was yes. And he nailed it with an unforgettable performance. As we know, Ledger never got to witness the acclaim. He died six months before the picture’s release and it added a tragic level of publicity leading up to the premiere.

Once Knight was released, expectations were sky-high and it earned $158 million out of the gate. That was an opening weekend record which has since been surpassed by 14 movies including its sequel The Dark Knight Rises and seven other comic book themed experiences.

The Dark Knight still stands as the 10th highest grossing movie of all time and fourth biggest superhero effort behind Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and The Avengers. It received eight Oscar nominations – something previously unheard of for something in its genre. That stands as another portion of its legacy. While Ledger would posthumously win Best Supporting Actor for his work, many figured The Dark Knight should and would nab a Best Picture nomination. It didn’t. And that caused the Academy to expand Best Picture from a finite five nominees to anywhere between five and ten (nine has been the major number most years in the decade following).

While no comic book film has managed a Best Picture nomination since then (Black Panther could change that this year), that rule change has perhaps allowed non-traditional awards material like District 9, Nolan’s own Inception, Gravity, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Mad Max: Fury Road, Arrival, and Get Out to garner nods.

And The Dark Knight, for many moviegoers, proved what comic book lovers had known all along. This material, done right, could truly be a work of art.

Justice League Movie Review

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a bit of a mess and it earned its reputation as such in many ways. However, I found myself seemingly in the minority of those who sort of dug it. Where it failed – it failed significantly. That includes the casting of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor with his manic and bizarre take on the iconic villain. There were some narrative choices that were questionable. Yet when BvS worked, I felt it worked well and that included Ben Affleck succeeding as Batman.

Justice League is less cluttered. Zack Snyder, directing this DC Universe for the third time, captains a tighter ship with a shorter running time than what’s preceded it… and nearly all recent comic book adaptations for that matter. It is, of course, Warner Bros venture into Avengers territory. There’s a somewhat lighter tone that we first saw in the summer’s Wonder Woman stand-alone feature. The inclusion of The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Aquaman (Jason Momoa) contribute to that. So does the fact that the unusually somber Superman (Henry Cavill) who brooded through much of Man of Steel and BvS is absent much of the time.

As you’ll recall, Superman was dead and buried at the BvS conclusion. Justice League opens with the world missing him and crime on the rise. Batman is doing his level best, but he needs a squad. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is still dealing with the loss she experienced in her own movie, but she’s game to help. They recruit the newbies only glimpsed upon in BvS: The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). It is their mission to thwart the Earth dominating plans of Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds), a motion capture evil alien. The League incorporates their powers to do so, but they know they must resurrect the Big S to complete the task.

The Avengers had the advantage of having introduced several of its core characters in separate entries. That doesn’t hold true here for half of the Justice League. Miller provides some decent comic relief, Momoa has a memorable moment or two and Fisher’s backstory is a bit blah. Their inclusion feels a little rushed and a little watered down.

Curiously the villain issue of BvS, while highly disappointing, was at least fascinating to witness in a rather bad way. Here the character of Steppenwolf isn’t really interesting at all. Many of these comic book adaptations have suffered the most from bland baddies and this is another.

League finds time to bring back Alfred (Jeremy Irons), Lois Lane (Amy Adams), and Clark’s mama (Diane Lane) in limited fashion. J.K. Simmons turns up briefly as the previously MIA Commissioner Gordon. It is Gadot who shines brightest, which is no surprise considering her rock solid solo spotlight just months prior.

In essence, Justice League feels ordinary too often. It’s got the same flaws as others in the genre. It has the same bright spots with certain performances. There’s action sequences that impress and others with dodgier CG. Call me crazy, but I admired BvS often for its occasional audacity and untidiness. With Justice, it joins a league of plenty others like it.

**1/2 (out of four)

Justice League Box Office Prediction

The DC Cinematic Universe has reached Marvel Cinematic Universe territory as Justice League debuts next weekend. The reported $300 million production brings many of the company’s comic book creations together as it hopes to have the largest opening of the fourth quarter of 2017 until Star Wars hits next month.

In March of 2016, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice brought Superman (Henry Cavill) and Batman (Ben Affleck) together for the first time. Now they’re joined by Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg (Ray Miller). And, oh yes, there’s Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), who just happened to star in her own summer 2017 pic that surprisingly turned out to the season’s biggest blockbuster ($412 million). Man of Steel and BvS director Zack Snyder is behind the camera once again. Other costars include series returnees Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Jeremy Irons, and the introduction of J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon. Expect some other familiar faces to pop up too.

Batman v Superman opened to a terrific $166 million a year and a half ago. However, poor reviews and mixed word-of-mouth meant a heavily front loaded gross. It ended up with $330 million. If nothing had happened in the interim, it may be a legitimate question as to whether some moviegoers are primed to see these characters again. The fantastic reception earned by Wonder Woman should help (there could be a sizable female audience who go to this simply to see Gadot’s character so quickly again).

That said, I don’t expect League to get close to that BvS number in its first three days. In fact, it could compete for biggest comic book adaptation debut of the month since Thor: Ragnarok posted $122 million this past weekend.

I believe it will just get there and probably post a premiere in line with another DC property – summer 2016’s Suicide Squad, which made $133 million for its start. I’ll put it just a bit under that.

Justice League opening weekend prediction: $128.4 million

For my Wonder prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/11/08/wonder-box-office-prediction/

For my The Star prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/11/08/the-star-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: Wonder Woman

So what’s a superhero movie gotta do to get a Best Picture nomination? That question has yet to be answered. 2008’s The Dark Knight was a gloriously reviewed box office juggernaut that still failed to get attention from the Academy (save for Heath Ledger’s posthumous Best Supporting Actor win). Last year’s Deadpool was a game changer in the genre that started to gain momentum towards the end of award season (including for star Ryan Reynolds). Again – no Oscar love materialized.

This weekend, Wonder Woman took in a fantastic $100 million in its opening weekend. It also garnered some of the best reviews the comic book genre has seen – 93% currently on Rotten Tomatoes. It set the box office record for a picture directed by a female (Patty Jenkins). And Gal Gadot’s portrayal of the title character is drawing many raves.

Could the Academy notice? My gut feeling – doubtful. I wouldn’t be surprised to see lots of chatter in the coming months about its possibility to be the first superhero flick to nab a Best Picture nomination. Yet I feel in 2018 that we’ll still be speculating about what could be the first.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

 

Wonder Woman Movie Review

The small sub genre of female driven superhero movies has unfortunately been a bit of a cinematic litter box with forgettable fare like Supergirl, Catwoman, and Elektra. That changes with Wonder Woman from director Patty Jenkins. It is not only by far the most satisfying comic book adaptation headlined by a woman, it’s the most entertaining DC pic since Christopher Nolan was handling the Batman franchise.

We first saw Gal Gadot’s title character in last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice as a sidekick to those two iconic titans. While it deservedly earned its reputation as a mess, it was also a mess worth watching and Wonder Woman was a bright spot in it. Now we get her origin story. We begin in present day with Diana Prince collaborating with Bruce Wayne. The Caped Crusader’s research has uncovered a photograph of the ageless Wonder from the World War I era (which we first saw in BvS). This causes Diana’s memory to travel way, way back.

Before the events chronicled in that picture come into play, we get Diana as a young girl on the lush and secluded island of Themyscira. It is a land of only women, including her Amazon queen mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and her warrior aunt Antiope (Robin Wright). As a child, she’s told grand stories of the Gods and how Ares the god of war killed Zeus and it all led to this private island paradise. Mother mostly wants this quality of life preserved while Auntie Antiope insists on training Diana into a warrior princess. And it seems even pre teen Diana has a knack for kicking butt.

The dynamic of life on Themyscira is altered when hunky WWI spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and his plane crash lands there. Diana rescues him and get her first exposure to the male species. She’s also exposed to the news that a massive war is taking place outside her small world and she feels it’s her duty to help. So off she goes with Captain Trevor with the idea that she’ll rid the Earth of Ares, whom she believes is the real culprit behind all the chaos.

Our scenery changes from the bright and shimmering island to gray and drab London where Diana is a major fish out of water. There are scenes of her adjusting to her new surroundings (including having to try on the restrictive clothing of the era) that are quite humorous. The duo soon assemble a rag tag team with tacit approval from a commander played by David Thewlis. Their mission is to stop a German general (Danny Huston) and a deformed scientist (Elena Anaya, who is memorable here) who’s developed a dastardly gas concoction.

While all this intrigue is occurring, Diana and Steve are becoming closer and Gadot and Pine have a romantic and often funny chemistry. Their interactions lead to some charming moments, but also ones that lead to dramatic heft later. Unlike recent DC titles like BvS and Man of Steel, Wonder Woman isn’t afraid to have a degree of silliness that is welcome. After all, our heroine’s “lasso of truth” is present here and it’s difficult to take it very seriously. What’s easy to admire is Gadot’s work in selling her character’s reaction to her new reality off the island. Wonder Woman believes that simply stopping the God she’s heard about for all her life will make everything right. It’s fascinating to watch her realization that the world is a bit more complicated.

The grand action sequences here aren’t much different in style or quality than what we’ve witnessed before in countless other superhero tales. Wonder Woman doesn’t break the mold from the many origin stories that come from comic book pages. Some of the plot points are familiar – we know there will be an additional villain reveal in the third act and there is.

However, Wonder Woman succeeds because it takes time to develop her story. It gives her a partner and romantic interest that we like and care about. The screenplay isn’t solely consumed with loud and fiery battle set pieces. The writers remember that character exploration and humor are assets as well. And, yes, for the first time witness a superhero with “wo” added to the “man” that hits the mark.

*** (out of four)

Wonder Woman Box Office Prediction

The DC Cinematic Universe continues next weekend with the release of Wonder Woman, Warner Bros. spin-off of Gal Gadot’s version of the iconic character that first appeared in last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Patty Jenkins, who hasn’t made a feature since directing Charlize Theron to an Oscar in 2003’s Monster, is the first female director to helm a big-budget comic book adaptation. It’s also the first of its genre to focus on a female protagonist.

In addition to Gadot’s Amazon princess, Chris Pine costars along with Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, David Thewlis, and Danny Huston. DC is looking to replicate the smashing success that Marvel and Disney have accomplished in their series of Avengers flicks and spin-offs. The aforementioned Batman v Superman debuted in March 2016 to $166 million, which accounted for over half of its eventual $330M domestic haul. While that’s certainly a very solid gross, many critics and moviegoers weren’t blown away by what they saw. That said, Gadot’s Wonder Woman was considered to be a highlight among many.

The pic is not expected to approach BvS territory. Early estimates have been all over the map as to how it will open (anywhere from $65 to $115 million). A bright spot: word-of-mouth has been encouraging and reviews have been very strong.

I believe Wonder Woman will make over half of what the Caped Crusader and Man of Steel achieved for its start over a year ago and approach $100 million. Hopefully, fans will like what they see as they’ll only have to wait five and a half months to see the title character again in Justice League. 

Wonder Woman opening weekend prediction: $98.3 million

For my Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/05/25/captain-underpants-the-first-epic-movie-box-office-prediction/

Suicide Squad Movie Review

Suicide Squad is the latest in DC’s attempt to Marvelize its cinematic universe in considerably darker shades. It’s noisy and messy. It’s filled with some top-notch performances and fascinating characters mixed with utterly forgettable ones. In a pic filled with villains, there’s weak ones and strong ones. Yes, it’s what we’ve come to anticipate in a series that continues to follow what Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice started.

David Ayers directs this tale of super villains who are charged with saving the world. This is an idea hatched by government official Amanda Waller (a typically solid Viola Davis) and the team she assembles is an unknown one unless you’re an avid comic book reader. It includes master marksman Deadshot (Will Smith), loony tunes temptress Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), flame thrower with a fiery temper El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Aussie Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), disfigured Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje) and sword expert Katana (Karen Fukuhara).

We get back stories on them all – some more detailed and worthy of screen time than others. Will Smith gives a decent performance, even though his subplot of being a bad hit man who’s also a really dedicated dad (!) is as stale as it sounds. Still he acquits himself well, even if he’s done the dour anti-hero thing before in Hancock. The El Diablo story is helped by Hernandez’s work, even though his flashback info is a bit too serious for everything else happening here. Quite frankly, many of the others aren’t even worth mentioning.

The other that is? That would be Ms. Quinn, played with gusto and a Stockard Channing like Grease accent from Robbie. Her wise cracks land more often than not. She’s the highlight here and her road to villainy involves her romance with the granddaddy baddie of them all, The Joker (Jared Leto). Their story is one that works well, partly due to Leto hitting his mark in a role that’s obviously been well-played before. His screen time is limited (probably wisely) and I look with anticipation to seeing him again.

Where Squad fails majorly is with a dull main villain and that’s Enchantress (Carla Delevingne),  an archeologist turned witchy woman with world domination on her mind. In a movie filled with bad guys, the one they’re chasing shouldn’t be a bore. She is and so is her soldier boyfriend – Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) – from her pre-spell life.

The action sequences are a mixed bag, especially when Ayers films them in such darkness that it’s hard to tell what’s happening. This is an issue that has pervaded other DC adaptations. We expect CG to look pretty decent in everything now and that holds true here, though nothing really stands out.

For the first half or so, Suicide Squad is a bit of depraved fun. A lot of that is Robbie’s doing with some credit to Smith. After about the halfway mark, the feeling sets in that we aren’t terribly invested in what’s occurring and that the Squad goals of taking down the witch seem inconsequential. Batman v Superman was a bit of a mess as well (its main villain issues – aka Jesse Eisenberg – were also there). Yet I somehow left that experience ready to see the Justice League formed. Here – I’m indifferent to Squad seconds. Now if Harley wants to join her main man to battle Superman, Batman, and the others – that’s cool.

**1/2 (out of four)

Suicide Squad Box Office Prediction

One of the most eagerly awaited titles of 2016 arrives next Friday when the Suicide Squad invades theaters and looks to set some records along the way. The Warner. Bros comic book adaptation has been the beneficiary of positive buzz and terrific trailers. David Ayers writes and directs this tale of DC supervillains that are banded together to try and do some good. The cast includes Will Smith, Margot Robbie (generating her own considerable buzz in her role as Harley Quinn), Joel Kinnaman, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Viola Davis, and Jared Leto as The Joker (not to mention an apparent Ben Affleck appearance as Batman). 

My sense is that Suicide Squad is poised for a massive debut. There are a couple of records that it should have no problem accomplishing. Will Smith’s largest opening is I Am Legend at $77 million. The current August record is Guardians of the Galaxy at $94 million. Consider those records toast.

Recent stories have put the expected opening weekend at $125 million. That is beginning to look like a low bar to this prognosticator. This seems to have at least an equal amount of anticipation and buzz as another harder edged comic book flick from earlier this year, Deadpool. That pic was expected to earn in the mid 60s or so for its roll out and ended up making $132 million out of the gate. Additionally, Deadpool was rated R while this Squad is PG-13 (which could even bring in more eyeballs).

Add all that up and my estimate puts Suicide Squad at the 15th highest domestic opening of all time – right between Furious 7 at $147.1 million and The Twilight Saga: New Moon at $142.8 million for what looks to be a major new franchise.

Suicide Squad opening weekend prediction: $144.3 million

For my Nine Lives prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/07/26/nine-lives-box-office-prediction/