The Mad Max trilogy has inspired many a filmmaker with its visual style, yet the three films couldn’t be more different. The first installment is basically a cop drama, the second a supercharged nightmare and the third a redemptive fable straight out of Disney. Taken together they cement Mel Gibson’s Max as one of the most iconic characters of all time.
The story begins in a world on the brink of chaos and ends in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, where life is cheap and fuel is priceless. At the heart of the story is Max, who goes from loving husband to grieving widower to pissed-off vigilante to story-time legend. Through everything, series creator George Miller serves up some of the best stunt-driving ever to be put to celluloid. Blood was shed and bones were broken making these movies—there’s not a shred of CGI.
All three films have thrilling moments, but it’s clear which one Miller used as the template for his upcoming summer reboot. Mad Max 2, aka The Road Warrior, is still one of the best action movies ever made. It has everything—perfect pacing, terrifying villains and a plot that allows for maximum action. The movie’s final set piece, a lengthy chase involving a tanker truck, is edge-of-your-seat intense. Whether Miller can match it in Mad Max: Fury Road will be a major question for the summer screen to answer. —Ken Miller
Mad Max: Fury Road (May 15) Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult. Directed by George Miller.
As the director and co-writer behind 1984’s The Terminator and 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, James Cameron established the basics of the series, including Arnold Schwarzenegger as the nigh-unstoppable cyborg from the future and the idea of a war between humans and machines that was all but inevitable. With the fifth installment about to be released, Cameron’s absence is still being felt.
Given how huge a Hollywood juggernaut the series has become, it’s easier to forget that The Terminator was a scrappy B-movie. It’s more horror than sci-fi, at least in its first half, as the implacable killing machine guns down innocent people for reasons that are initially unclear. Cameron creates consistent suspense with a minimum of special effects and explosions.
Judgment Day is full of special effects and explosions, but even the groundbreaking effects work exists in service of an emotionally affecting story, anchored by a fantastic performance from Linda Hamilton as the traumatized but resilient Sarah Connor, now fully committed to avoiding the future war.
Cameron felt that he had said all he had to say after Judgment Day, and 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines does indeed feel a bit redundant. It might recycle the Terminator vs. Terminator plot of the previous movie without most of the emotional resonance, but it’s still an entertaining action movie with a couple of impressive set pieces and a fantastically downbeat ending.
The less said about 2009’s Terminator Salvation, the better. It abandoned the central time-travel premise and made John Connor into a blustering, one-dimensional bore. The upcoming Terminator Genisys at least brings back time travel, and while it’s full of explosions, if the filmmakers are smart they’ll emulate some of Cameron’s ingenuity and emotional connection, too. —Josh Bell
Terminator Genisys (July 1) Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney. Directed by Alan Taylor.
The TV series that ran from 1966 to 1973 was famous for its heroes receiving their missions via recorded tapes, followed by the line, “This tape will self-destruct in five seconds.”
For the 1996 movie Mission: Impossible, nearly everything from the show was abandoned in favor of more advanced technology. New character Ethan Hunt, played throughout the film series by Tom Cruise, was now half spy and half action hero. Only the Jim Phelps character, played by Peter Graves on the show, survived, now played by Jon Voight. Additionally, the famous theme music was also used, but given a thumping, electronic update by members of U2. Director Brian De Palma conjured up some truly dazzling set pieces to bolster the patchwork plot, and the movie introduced Phelps’ daughter Claire (Emmanuelle Béart) as well as fellow agent Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), who returned in the next four films.
Hong Kong action master John Woo directed 2000’s Mission: Impossible II, with screenwriter Robert Towne borrowing heavily from Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious. Woo’s personalized action scenes were highly impressive, and the movie grossed more than its predecessor, but critics were mixed.
J.J. Abrams’ 2006 Mission: Impossible III had a great villain in Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and introduced tech nerd Benji (Simon Pegg), but the movie was ill-paced and overlong.
In 2011, animator Brad Bird made his live-action debut with the crisp, bright Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol and recharged the series. It introduced a new team for Ethan, including Paula Patton’s Jane and Jeremy Renner’s Brandt, along with the returning Benji and Luther. Benji, Brandt and Luther all reappear in the new film, directed by the Oscar-winning screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie, who also directed Cruise in Jack Reacher. —Jeffrey M. Anderson
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (July 31) Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg. Directed by Christopher McQuarrie.
Jurassic World is currently the only major film release scheduled for June 12, with Universal’s rival studios apparently sitting the week out in deference to the power of Steven Spielberg’s 22-year-old franchise. While inaugural outing Jurassic Park continues to be regarded as a great leap forward in terms of combining CGI and animatronics, it was destined to be a blockbuster from the get-go. Late author Michael Crichton conceived the story as a screenplay but wrote it as a novel that Spielberg optioned before publication, giving him a man vs. nature theme to work with that served him so well with Jaws.
Jurassic Park remains inarguably impressive. It drew criticism for taking minor paleontological liberties and thinning out the novel’s characters, but broke box-office records and helped set the pattern for future tent-pole releases. With a few nods toward retroactive continuity Crichton was convinced to write The Lost World: Jurassic Park, with Spielberg still at the helm for the discovery of “Site B.” He would relinquish director’s duties to Joe Johnston (Jumanji) for the Crichton-less third outing Jurassic Park III but remains producer of the franchise.
Both sequels are established with equal implausibility and feel like half-life echoes of their respective predecessors. None of the major characters from the first three films are carried forward into the reboot, and we’re back on the original island with a new super-predator. Writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) worked on the script, so expect increased empathy for the non-human actors—and at least two more sequels. —Matt Kelemen
Jurassic World (June 12) Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jake Johnson. Directed by Colin Trevorrow.
From Avengers: Endgame to Toy Story 4 to Tarantino and beyond.
The event’s 12th edition runs April 28 through May 4 at the Palms and Downtown’s Inspire Theater.
This year’s event features another packed lineup of short films, with more than 120 selections spread over 20-plus thematic programs and four days.
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