Like the reunion epidemic that's hit the concert world (Genesis! The Police! Smashing Pumpkins!), like the trusty Broadway road shows that keep coming back for more (Les Miz! Cats! Rent!), the movies of summer '07 are rife with characters and scenarios that audiences have already gotten to know very, very well.
That wisecracking green ogre from the fairy-tale world of DreamWorks Animation? Check: Shrek the Third is here.
The eye-patched scalawag with the rotten teeth and tricorn chapeau? Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, with Johnny Depp as the prancing rogue Jack Sparrow, is navigating this way.
Danny Ocean's jaunty heisters? That's right, Ocean's Thirteen - the second sequel of a remake of a vintage Rat Pack '60s caper pic - is ready again for more cool-cat riffing.
Bespectacled Brit-boy magician with problem profs? Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, flyin' right at ya - on CG broomsticks. (An alternative title for Vol. 5 in J.K. Rowling's mega-selling kid-lit series: Harry Takes the Fifth.)
Depending on how you look at it, this plethora of franchise follow-ups is either a bounty of box-office cheer (that's how the studios are seeing it, certainly) or a depressing sign of utter non-originality - a dearth of new ideas, or any ideas at all.
It's also a numerologist's nightmare: Shrek the Third, Ocean's Thirteen, Rush Hour 3, Spider-Man 3, The Fantastic Four, not to mention 28 Weeks Later. . ., 1408, Hostel 2, and 2 Days in Paris.
It may be a case of been there, done that for John McClane (Live Free or Die Hard), Jason Bourne (The Bourne Ultimatum), the superhero firm of Richards, Storm, Storm and Grimm (The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer) and Detectives Carter and Lee (Rush Hour 3). But some of these familiars promise, if not innovation, at least consistency.
Paul Greengrass, Oscar-nominated for the chilling 9/11 drama United 93, directs Matt Damon & Co. in the third Bourne adventure. Greengrass steered the second installment, The Bourne Supremacy, one of the rare sequels that was as good as its progenitor, and his return bodes well for No. 3.
The same ace creatives behind Spider-Man (director Sam Raimi) and Pirates (Gore Verbinski) are likewise onboard their respective films. And anyone who's seen the trailer for the latest Fantastic Four - and has been waiting decades for the big-screen debut of one of Marvel Comics' most-revered characters, the Silver Surfer - has a right to hope. The zooming, gliding, whirlwind board-moves of the misunderstood intergalactic superhero look, well, fantastic.
28 Weeks Later. . . (May 11; release dates are included for movies not separately highlighted) revisits the virus-plagued isle of Britain of 2002's sleeper sci-fi scare flick, 28 Days Later. . . . The country is now safe in the hands of a U.S.-led NATO force - or is it? (This dark, creepy, and beautifully shot picture would make a terrifically doom-laden double-bill with Children of Men. Though not quite on that level, its vision of a postapocalyptic U.K. is pretty scary.)
There are other possibilities beyond the rampant sequel-itis and tent-pole tsunamis of 2007. Whether any title will prove to be this year's Bruce Almighty or The 40-Year-Old Virgin - unexpected summer hits, both - remains to be seen. And both of those have spawned competing spin-offs this summer: Evan Almighty stars Virgin Steve Carrell, and Knocked Up comes from Virgin director Judd Apatow, and shows what happens when virgins have sex: namely, pregnancy.
Hairspray - which, like The Producers, is a movie based on a musical based on a movie - brings John Waters' unique Baltimore aesthetic to the big screen. 1408 (July 13), with paranormal debunker John Cusack checking into a haunted hotel suite (and Samuel L. Jackson as the hotel manager), has a vibe like The Shining - not least because it's based on a Stephen King short story.
Pixar, the CG-animation studio that rarely goes wrong, serves up Ratatouille (June 29), a family-friendly romp about a rodent with dreams of being chef de cuisine in a fancy French bistro. Mr. Brooks (June 1) casts Kevin Costner against type as a serial killer egged on by his alter ego (William Hurt), with Demi Moore as the detective on his - or their - trail. In A Mighty Heart (June 22), Angelina Jolie plays Mariane Pearl, widow of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, as she follows the search for her husband, abducted by terrorists in Pakistan.
Becoming Jane sounds like a literary love story in the vein of Shakespeare in Love, with Anne Hathaway starring as a young Jane Austen and The Last King of Scotland's James McAvoy as her suitor. I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (July 20) stars Adam Sandler and Kevin James as decidedly straight firemen who become domestic partners to ensure their pensions - and become gay icons in the process.
Art-house and alternative fare this summer includes Chalk (May 25), a documentary that follows three novice teachers through their academic year; Fay Grim (June), with Parker Posey in the title role of Hal Hartley's Henry Fool follow-up (yes, an indie sequel!); Angel-A (June), French director Luc Besson's con-artist love story; La Vie en Rose (June 15), the remarkable biopic about super-star chanteuse Edith Piaf; The Golden Door (July), a sweeping Italian immigrant saga "presented by" Martin Scorsese, and Rocket Science (August), a Jersey coming-of-age tale and recent Philadelphia Film Festival hit.
And toy collectors and merchandizing tie-in aficionados, despair not: Michael Bay (Bad Boys, The Rock) brings his big-screen acumen to bear on Transformers (July 4), a live-action, FX-crazed, universe-exploding spectacle inspired by those cool Japanese robo-toys. Those creepy, big-headed, fashion-obsessed dolls, the Bratz, get their own feature-length film, aptly titled Bratz (Aug. 10). Despite the obvious casting possibilities, big-headed, fashion-obsessed celebs Mary Kate and Ashley Olson are not involved in the project, nor is Brittany Murphy.
Missed opportunity, to be sure.
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, On Movies Online, at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.