One of my favorite times of year is now here: the summer movie season. My list of movies to watch this summer is long, and getting longer as more trailers come out. This summer is full of big action-from-comic-book movies, sequels of past blockbusters and a few newcomers. Regardless of your favorite movie genre, I think you are going to find a few things up your alley this summer.

Here is my list of what’s coming out the of summer 2011, giving a brief description followed by my thoughts on how well the film will be. I’ll be updating this list as I watch some films and either give a brief review or a link to a longer review if it deserves it.

Thor

DIRECTOR: Kenneth Branagh
STARRING: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgård, Kat Dennings, Colm Feore, Ray Stevenson, Idris Elba, Rene Russo
RELEASE DATE: May 6

DESCRIPTION: The powerful but arrogant warrior, Thor, is cast out of the fantastic realm of Asgard and sent to live amongst humans on Earth, where he soon becomes one of their finest defenders.

THOUGHTS: The comic book movie craze has been going strong for over 10 years now. This year movie’s success will be used as an indicator for Marvel’s highly anticipated The Avengers movie next summer.

I’ve never heard of this director, and the title role is being played by someone who I only knew from his two minute scene in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek. I’m a big Natalie Portman fan, so I’m hoping her experience can help keep the acting up to par, but I have no delusions; this is a comic book movie. It’s all about the action and special effects.

I’m skeptical about this film. The trailers haven’t blown me away, and I dislike films that put too much emphasis on making the 3D effect, i.e. hammers thrown at the screen, instead of making a quality 2D film.

I hope that I’m wrong since this movie is the herald of the summer season and I hate starting the summer off on the wrong foot.

REVIEW: Thor was a decent summer opener. It was slightly better than anticipated. Chris Helmsworth is a good leading man and I look forward to seeing more of his movies. Natalie Portman did a good job of not stealing any scene, which I believe is a conscious decision for someone of her experience and accomplishments. I really liked the other girl who was with the group, Kat Dennings. I think she should get every role that is thinking of casting Amanda Seyfried. She looks similar, has a good sense of comedic timing and can act. I’m looking forward to seeing more of the God of Thunder in Avengers next year.

Priest

DIRECTOR: Scott Charles Stewart
STARRING: Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q, Lily Collins, Brad Dourif, Stephen Moyer
RELEASE DATE: May 13

DESCRIPTION: A post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller, set in a world ravaged by centuries of war between man and vampires. The story revolves around a legendary Warrior Priest from the last Vampire War who now lives in obscurity among the other downtrodden human inhabitants in walled-in dystopian cities ruled by the Church. When his niece is abducted by a murderous pack of vampires, Priest breaks his sacred vows to venture out on a quest to find her before they turn her into one of them. He is joined on his crusade by his niece’s boyfriend, a trigger-fingered young wasteland sheriff, and a former Warrior Priestess who possesses otherworldly fighting skills. Written by Screen Gems

THOUGHTS: I’m looking forward to this movie mostly because of the mixed-genre world it presents. More bestial vampires, which is going to be refreshing from the latest trend of vampires wearing eye shadow and J. Crew, set in a predominately post-apocalyptic/fantasy world with probably a bit of sci-fi thrown in.

Overall, I doubt the story will be anything but generic, but so long as it doesn’t bring the movie down into a lull, I’m okay with that. I’ve been following Paul Bettany since A Beautiful Mind and A Knights Tale, but have been underwhelmed with his latest films. This is his last chance to prove to me that he can be a leading man, who can pick good leading roles for himself. If this movie is a bust, I don’t see myself giving future Paul Bettany films much attention.

I have mixed feelings towards his supporting cast. Karl Urban is one of the most undervalued actors in recent years. Look at the roles his done and the sheer range of character types he has pulled off, and you start to grasp his talent. He’s the real deal, and could very well steal the film away from Bettany. Cam Gigandet, on the other hand, is pretty much the opposite. No range, no depth. He provides nothing more than dryly quoting a script, usually while shirtless to show off his six-pack abs.

Expect a unique world, decent special effects and fighting sequences, wrapped in an uninspiring story.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

DIRECTOR: Rob Marshall
STARRING: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, Kevin R. McNally, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Sam Claflin, Geoffrey Rush
RELEASE DATE: May 20

DESCRIPTION: Captain Jack Sparrow crosses paths with a woman from his past, and he’s not sure if it’s love — or if she’s a ruthless con artist who’s using him to find the fabled Fountain of Youth. When she forces him aboard the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the ship of the formidable pirate Blackbeard, Jack finds himself on an unexpected adventure in which he doesn’t know who to fear more: Blackbeard or the woman from his past. Written by Walt Disney Pictures

THOUGHTS: The prospect of getting to see Captain Jack Sparrow again gives even the harshest movie critic a grin. I’m pretty sure Johnny Depp would do this role for free, and it shows in how much he gives to the role.

Even though the past two Pirates haven’t lived up the overwhelming hype, I’m hoping this one, with its longer hiatus between films and its change in casting dynamic by not having Kiera Knightly or Orlando Bloom, will make this Pirates feel almost as new and exciting as the first.

I will miss what Bill Nighy can deliver, but am encouraged by Ian McShane’s entrance. I’ve never been a Penelope Cruz fan, but also haven’t watched enough of her films to consider my opinion worth more than a pile of Confederate money.

I’m expecting this film to fall second in line when people order the Pirates’ films by their favorites, right behind the first.

REVIEW: Stranger Tides stuck to the Pirates playbook pretty well. It didn’t really do anything unexpected. I liked Ian McShane’s Blackbeard and Penelope Cruz wasn’t bad either. Although the length of the movie was similar the other movies, this one felt a bit long. The beginning scenes didn’t flow well mainly because there were too many short scenes next to each other. Some of the side stories seemed to detract a bit from the main story because they felt disjointed.

Story criticisms aside, it is always a treat to watch Johnny Depp portray this character. Jack Sparrow is always a compelling character no matter in what setting and that doesn’t change here. He has a good mix of physical, verbal and dry humor. I believe I’d rank this film as a close third, right behind #1 and #2.

Oh, the fact that I didn’t even remember that Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightly were missing until I thought about the first film, goes to show you how little they were needed to make a Pirate film a Pirate film.

The Hangover Part II

DIRECTOR: Todd Phillips
STARRING: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Ken Jeong
RELEASE DATE: May 26

DESCRIPTION: Phil, Stu, and Alan travel to Bangkok for Stu’s wedding only to find themselves in another post-blackout misadventure.

THOUGHTS: The sequel to the surprise hit comedy from a couple of years ago is here, but this time it has something far bigger to deal with than just a fragmented memory from the night before and Mike Tyson’s tiger: expectations.

The major benefit to the first Hangover was that it got the opportunity to become viral. It was comprised of relatively no-name actors; each of whom you’ve probably seen in something in the past, but didn’t know their name. The movie had a unique plot that keep you interested in the progress of the story while providing good laughs along the way. So, as people saw the movie and their expectations were heartily exceeded, they spread the good word. Hangover Part II will not get that benefit.

With this same story mechanic, higher expectations, and an over-reliance on Zach Galifanakis, who is better suited as a foil than lead, I believe Hangover II will prove to be a disappointment for fans and the box office. Its possible saving grace will be Ken Jeong. He had a standout part in the original and has been used with great success in NBC’s Community. Jeong pushes his characters way over the top, and lately that’s been working just fine.

Kung Fu Panda 2

DIRECTOR: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
STARRING: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, James Hong, Gary Oldman, Michelle Yeoh, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Victor Garber
RELEASE DATE: May 26

DESCRIPTION: Po is now living his dream as The Dragon Warrior, protecting the Valley of Peace alongside his friends and fellow kung fu masters, The Furious Five. But Po’s new life of awesomeness is threatened by the emergence of a formidable villain, who plans to use a secret, unstoppable weapon to conquer China and destroy kung fu.

THOUGHTS: Dreamworks seems to have taken the same basic formula from the original Kung Fu Panda and just incremented each piece a bit. Which is just fine by me. I loved the animation, cinematography and scenery of the original, and this one seems to make each piece better. The shots of feudal China are gorgeous, and I’m hoping this one includes a great 2D animation segment like the first one did.

Expect children of all ages, sizes and shapes to be lining up for this one, and I believe they will go home satisfied afterward. I know I will.

X-MEN: First Class

DIRECTOR: Matthew Vaughn
STARRING: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Oliver Platt, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult
RELEASE DATE: June 3

DESCRIPTION: Before Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr took the names Professor X and Magneto, they were two young men discovering their powers for the first time. Before they were archenemies, they were closest of friends, working together, with other Mutants (some familiar, some new), to stop the greatest threat the world has ever known. In the process, a rift between them opened, which began the eternal war between Magneto’s Brotherhood and Professor X’s X-MEN. Written by Twentieth Century Fox

THOUGHTS: The X-men movies have seen a bumpy road lately, so I’m rooting for this one to get the series set on some sure footing again. I’ve enjoyed all of director Matthew Vaughn’s past work, so I’m eager to see how he does with First Class. This is his first ‘blockbuster’ type film, and I’m not sure how much creative control he loses in a film that costs 10 times more than he is usually allowed to spend.

I like that the cast of this X-men is a group of relative unknowns, with the exception of the villain who is played by Sir Kevin Bacon. The effects in the trailer looked good, so I doubt this film will be close to rivaling Wolverine: Origins for the Worst Special Effects, Like of ALL TIME Award.

My call: you take the number of variables changed for this film, couple it with the disappointment of the previous two X-men films and you’ll get a better than expected experience. It won’t be better than X-men 2, but that accomplishment is nigh impossible anyways.

REVIEW: This film deserves a separate review article, so go read my X-Men: First Class Review.

Super 8

DIRECTOR: J.J. Abrams
STARRING: Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Ron Eldard, Noah Emmerich, Gabriel Basso, Joel Courtney, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills, Amanda Michalka
RELEASE DATE: June 10

DESCRIPTION: In the summer of 1979, a group of friends in a small Ohio town witness a catastrophic train crash while making a super 8 movie and soon suspect that it was not an accident. Shortly after, unusual disappearances and inexplicable events begin to take place in town, and the local Deputy tries to uncover the truth – something more terrifying than any of them could have imagined. Written by Official site

THOUGHTS: If you take what M. Night Shyamalan had –  where people saw a film simply because it was a M. Night Shyamalan film — and instead of wasting that gift over the past 7 years making movies that aren’t complete drivel you make quality films, you’ll have what J.J. Abrams has. Until J.J. does me wrong, I will watch every movie he does without question. The movie title could be “Watching Paint Dry,” and I’ll be there on opening day ready to rock.

For the above enamoring to make more sense, you have to understand two very important things about me. First thing: I am a die-hard Star Wars fan; therefore I loath anything Star Trek. One side of my family are big Trekkies, and so we often banter back and forth at each other. I told them I’d see Abrams’ Star Trek, but only if they paid for my ticket. Second thing: I bought my own copy of the DVD.

I know next to nothing about the actors, but I believe this is supposed to be the breakout role for Dakota Fanning’s younger sister, Elle. Dakota brought more maturity than should be expected of her age to every role she did, so I’m sure Elle will be a standout.

REWIEW: See Super 8 Movie Review

Green Lantern

DIRECTOR: Martin Campbell
STARRING: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Jay O. Sanders, Temuera Morrison, Taika Waititi, Jon Tenney, Angela Bassett, Tim Robbins
RELEASE DATE: June 17

DESCRIPTION: A test pilot is granted a mystical green ring that bestows him with otherworldly powers, as well as membership into an intergalactic squadron tasked with keeping peace within the universe.

THOUGHTS: Where to begin?

Without ever seeing a trailer, photos, or anything, this film was going to have to work extra hard to keep me from being a cynic because of the actor they chose for the lead role. Not just because I am not a fan of Reynolds — who isn’t nearly as good of an actor as people make him out to be — but mainly because I view his taking this role as an insult. I’m not a big comic person guy, but it is just anathema to me for actors to take multiple roles for superheroes. I’m giving you the stink eye too, Chris Evans.

Reynolds played a quasi-major role for a character in the Marvel universe, Deadpool, with talks of making his character into a standalone film, only to switch sides and helm a DC hero role. I’m not sure if switching universes is better or worse; at least you don’t have to worry about Deadpool and Green Lantern ever being in the same scene. I have a feeling that Johnny Storm is going to be conveniently in the restroom every time Captain America comes to visit the Fantastic Four.

Get past the above issues I have, then show me a forgettable trailer wrapped in bad CG, and you can understand why I’ve already planned on getting a bag of Reese’s Pieces to watch during this movie so I can exit the theater knowing that it wasn’t a complete waste of my time.

Cars 2

DIRECTOR: John Lasseter
STARRING: Owen Wilson, Larry The Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Bonnie Hunt, Tony Shalhoub, Cheech Marin, Jason Isaacs, Joe Mantegna, Paul Dooley, John Ratzenberger, John Turturro, Franco Nero, Vanessa Redgrave, Eddie Izzard, Bruce Campbell
RELEASE DATE: June 24

DESCRIPTION: Racing star Lightning McQueen teams up with his best friend Mater for an international adventure as they go up against the world’s fastest cars.

THOUGHTS: I never completely saw the original Cars, but from what I’ve gathered it is one of the least favorite Pixar films. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it was a bad film. From a studio that produced Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Wall-e and UP, somebody had to draw the short straw.

A bad Pixar film is better than most other studio’s masterpieces. I’m sure kids will enjoy it and the visual will be done to the high quality that Pixar produces. With a studio that has produced great original stories, I’d be comforted to know that they chose to take the time and resources away from doing one of the hundred new stories in their file folders and make this sequel.

That’s gotta mean something, right?

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

DIRECTOR: Michael Bay
STARRING: Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, John Malkovich, Patrick Dempsey, Ken Jeong, John Turturro, Frances McDormand, Peter Cullen, Tyrese Gibson
RELEASE DATE: July 1

DESCRIPTION: The Autobots learn of a Cybertronian spacecraft hidden on the Moon, and race against the Decepticons to reach it and learn its secrets, which could turn the tide in the Transformers’ final battle.

THOUGHTS: no, no, No, No, No, NO, NO, NO, NO

I have no good way of breaking down what should be one of this summer’s biggest films, other than looking at the past two films, comparing the differences in them, and making assumptions on the 3rd film.

Transformers 1: Good effects, compelling story with a tight arc, easy to follow, and didn’t get distracted. Good use of comedy from secondary characters. Reliance on Deus Ex Machina to propel story. Shia was tolerable. Fox was tolerable, barely.

Transformers 2: Obviously rushed effects. Cheap ploys to finish film i.e. flag in front of Optimus while rising. Convoluted story that was far too perverted to be humorous. Comedy failed on most fronts. Shia was below tolerable. Fox made me feel like I was contracting a STD when she was onscreen.

Transformers 3: Bay is a special effects guy, and if he realized he tried to do too much with #2, and will shorten #3 down so that he can finish his effects, this film will be 100x better than the 2nd. Fox got kicked to the curb, which is good, but the only thing I ever heard about the girl replacing her was that she was a Victoria Secret model. That tells me that the focus was more on sheen than substance for the role, so I’m not sure if anything will be gained by the replacement. Following the Shia trend, he will be far below tolerable this time. On the comedy from secondary characters front, Ken Jeong is becoming one of my favorites for this, and Turtorro can be hilarious when he isn’t over used like in #2.

The safe call on this one is to wait a couple of weeks after it’s out and ask your friends for their opinions.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

DIRECTOR: David Yates
STARRING: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Jim Broadbent, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Tom Felton, Ralph Fiennes, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith
RELEASE DATE: July 15

DESCRIPTION: The end begins as Harry, Ron, and Hermione go back to Hogwarts to find and destroy Voldemort’s final horcruxes, but when Voldemort finds out about their mission, the biggest battle begins and life as they know it will never be the same again. Written by Jordan

THOUGHTS: The conclusion to the story about “the boy who lived…” is finally here, and it’s hard to be anything but excited about it. The trailer looks great; lots of actions and beautiful special effects. I don’t have to worry about the story since I already know it from the books. The acting is surprisingly good, considering how long ago and how young the main cast was when this whole thing started.

I know my opinion will not sway anyone on this movie. If you’ve seen the first 7, you’ll see this one. My only real commentary on this film is this: the Deathly Hallows, as a book, was one of my least favorite in the series, mainly because it took us away from places and people we knew and loved. I thought the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 movie was an improvement, because the visuals helped to fill in some of the slower parts of the story, and the overtly dark tones that come through early really helped to set the mind frame for the rest of the film.

Although the second half of the story has more action — so the film won’t be able to improve over the first half’s lacking — I’m encouraged to know that film makers are aware of their distinct advantages to the books and execute that advantage well.

Captain America: The First Avenger

DIRECTOR: Joe Johnston
STARRING: Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Toby Jones, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, Stanley Tucci
RELEASE DATE: July 22

DESCRIPTION: After being deemed unfit for military service, Steve Rogers volunteers for a top secret research project that turns him into Captain America, a superhero dedicated to defending America’s ideals.

THOUGHTS: Despite all of my rantings about Ryan Reynolds and actors taking on multiple superhero roles (see Green Lantern Opinions), I am looking forward to this film.

I’m excited about the upcoming Avengers films next year by Joss Whedon, and this film helps to set that story up. As long as Captain America isn’t so bad as to negatively affect the Avengers, I’m good with that.

There appears to be a good amount of emphasis on the character’s origin story. This is a good thing, since Captain America’s super powers aren’t as visually stunning as other superheros, so a better understanding of his motivations and core values will be important to audiences connecting with the film.

Don’t expect box office records with this film, but don’t expect it to get dogged too much by movie goers. Luckily for the Cap, it gets to follow the Green Lantern, which probably won’t have recovered from its bruises by the time Captain America comes out.

Cowboys and Aliens

DIRECTOR: Jon Favreau
STARRING: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell
RELEASE DATE: July 29

DESCRIPTION: The Old West.. where a lone cowboy leads an uprising against a terror from beyond our world. 1873. Arizona Territory. A stranger with no memory of his past stumbles into the hard desert town of Absolution. The only hint to his history is a mysterious shackle that encircles one wrist. What he discovers is that the people of Absolution don’t welcome strangers, and nobody makes a move on its streets unless ordered to do so by the iron-fisted Colonel Dolarhyde. It’s a town that lives in fear. But Absolution is about to experience fear it can scarcely comprehend as the desolate city is attacked by marauders from the sky. Screaming down with breathtaking velocity and blinding lights to abduct the helpless one by one, these monsters challenge everything the residents have ever known. Now, the stranger they rejected is their only hope for salvation. As this gunslinger slowly starts to remember who he is and where he’s been… Written by Universal Pictures

THOUGHTS: Ever since I first saw Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale, I can only see him as James Bond. When I first saw the trailer for Cowboys & Aliens, I thought of it as “James Bond does a western.” And that makes me happy.

Beyond that fact, I’m really excited for this film. I love the cast. The director is still riding the highs from Iron Man’s success. I love the film’s setting and concept.

I can’t really think of anything that would make me not see this film. I’m expecting a refreshing story told in unique mixed-genre setting (sci-fi and western). I’m not worried about the acting. I’m not worried about the effects. So long as the story isn’t veiled in some kind of social commentary, i.e. the aliens represent evil American corporations, then I don’t think it will adversely affect this film too much.