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Heists, history and heroes: 16 summer movies you'll want to see

(L to R) Blair (Zoe Kravitz), Alice (Jillian Bell), Jess (Scarlett Johansson), Frankie (Illana Grazer) and Pippa (Kate McKinnon) in Columbia Pictures' "Rough Night."

By COLIN COVERT | Star Tribune (Minneapolis) | Published: May 5, 2017

Hollywood, we have a problem. Somehow the summer blockbuster season has arrived without a 007 sequel, a Shrek threequel or a spinoff of the Hangover franchise. What's up?

Sure, there's a bunch of smaller releases, but few tentpole titles supporting preexisting properties. Slipshod programming, I must say, worse than the Oscars fiasco. This could lead to creativity, diversity and eccentric ideas impeding the industry goal of continuous repeat business. We don't even have "A Madea Independence Day"! My sharply worded burn letter is on its way to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

With that said, here's a collection of picks and predictions for the coming months' offerings.

SHOTS FIRED

After more than a decade in development hell, "The Dark Tower" (July 28), Stephen King's fantasy mash-up of triggermen and magic, promises a big, bad duel. Idris Elba (the Gunslinger) is the tough-as-leather Eastwood-ian hero. Matthew McConaughey (the Man in Black) is the mysterious villain. Since this is the first installment in King's eight-book series, they may be around for a while.

"Atomic Blonde" (July 28), directed by "John Wick's" David Leitch, casts Charlize Theron as a bodacious, butt-kicking British spy. If the bone-cracking, bodice-ripping, red-band trailers are to be believed, she makes James Bond look like a sexually inhibited pacifist.

The focus turns to robbers and cops, autos and guns in "Baby Driver" (June 28) from writer/director Edgar Wright ("Shaun of the Dead"). Ansel Elgort plays a young getaway wheelman who drives like Spider-Man swings. He's working beside top-shelf bad guys Kevin Spacey, John Hamm and Jamie Foxx. If that's not enough, it's also a romance (with Lily James) and a musical. Essentially, a high-caliber, high-octane "La La Land."

I'm assuming there's some sort of gunplay in "Logan Lucky" (Aug. 18), but I'd see this comedy about a heist during a NASCAR race even if it featured only water pistols. It's directed by Steven Soderbergh and stars his "Magic Mike" pal Channing Tatum, Adam Driver and Daniel Craig. That's four home runs for me right there.

HISTORY LESSONS

Get ready for a pair of highly pedigreed true-life Oscar contenders, potentially the biggest non-franchise movies of the summer. In "Dunkirk" (July 21), Christopher Nolan takes his Imax cameras back to 1940 for an epic restaging of the Allied military evacuation from the beaches of France. It's an epic cast as well, headlined by Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy and One Direction heartthrob (and Taylor Swift ex) Harry Styles.

Having become the first female director to receive an Academy Award for her political action-thriller "The Hurt Locker," Kathryn Bigleow again hews close to history in "Detroit" (Aug. 4). The film dramatizes a confrontation during the city's bloody 1967 riots. A young black man fired a starter's pistol that was interpreted as a real gunshot, triggering a police raid that left three unarmed people dead and several others, including women, beaten.

WOMEN'S MARCH

I'm not sold on the idea of Israeli beauty queen Gal Gadot starring in "Wonder Woman" (June 2); I'm not excited about seeing another superhero origin story, and I'll need to be persuaded that a story set during World War I is the best background for her magical bullet-defying bracelets and lasso. But the film promises a lighter tone than the bleak Warner Bros. DC lineup so far, so I'll go in hopes that Amazonian kindness, love and justice can save the day.

"Rough Night" (June 16) is a female ensemble comedy about an age-old problem: Isn't it awkward when college friends (Scarlett Johansson, Zoe Kravitz and -- yay!!! -- Kate Mc­Kinnon) reunite for a bachelorette party and accidentally kill a male stripper? Written and directed by "Broad City" writer Lucia Aniello.

The women-only boardinghouse at the center of the Civil War Gothic "The Beguiled" (June 23) looks like a good place for a Union soldier to take shelter and recover from his wounds. Especially if he's played by a handsome devil like Colin Farrell. But living among Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning and Nicole Kidman turns out to be ... complicated. I'm intrigued to see how director Sofia Coppola interprets Clint Eastwood's weird 1971 original.

KIDS' STUFF

Looking for a PG romp to keep the children occupied? They love repetition almost as much as studios do, so win-win. In "Cars 3" (June 16), Owen Wilson reprises his voice role as fast-revving hot rod Lightning McQueen in Pixar's automotive action comedy. The original film had loads of charm, and the second felt like a kids'-meal toy of a movie. But between the two, they made Pixar and its corporate parent Disney over $1 billion in ticket revenue, videos and brand merchandise, so a third is inescapable.

And while we're thinking in triplicate, "Despicable Me 3" (June 30) follows an even bigger pair of cash magnets, vocally reuniting Steve Carell and Kristen Wiig with 900 wide-eyed, pill-shaped yellow minions. Parental advisory: Once one of these little creatures utters a line like "Whaaa!?" your offspring will repeat it until at least New Year's.

HERE WE GO AGAIN

There are a few old favorites returning. "Spider-Man: Homecoming" (July 17) brings the character to Marvel Studios, which treated him remarkably well with a large cameo in the last Avengers movie. The newest Spider-Man, Tom Holland, is coming off a strong performance in "The Lost City of Z," and Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man Tony Stark and Jon Favreau as his aide Happy Hogan are always good fun.

Andy Serkis' motion-captured performances have been some of the most fascinating acting work in decades. His simian Caesar goes up against Woody Harrelson's Colonel, evil leader of the humans, in "War for the Planet of the Apes" (July 14). It's been a great series so far, intelligent, brutal and nuanced, so why not give it a try?

His private concerns and box office power have been a little shaky lately, but I'll take a chance on Johnny Depp in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" (May 26). The ever-impressive Javier Bardem plays his funny/evil nemesis, and co-directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg did a splendid job on 2012's "Kon Tiki."

"Alien: Covenant" (May 19) takes master visualist Ridley Scott back to extraterrestrial horror. Katherine Waterston seems to be a junior varsity Ripley, but it'll also feature Michael Fassbender as that vaguely suspicious android who always makes me think something bad is brewing.

I have to admit, the first one had me laugh-snorting soda up my nose, so "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" (May 5) is high on my must-see list. This time the agreeably warped writer/director James Gunn has Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) searching for his alien father (Kurt Russell). Cute little Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and a killer mix tape are going to be there, too.

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(c) 2017 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Idris Elba as Roland Deschain in Columbia Pictures' "The Dark Tower."
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