It always pays to be wary of seasonal themes in cinema, since movies are green-lit years before they’re released, at different times and by different studios. But sometimes the tea leaves are there to be read, and summer 2015 looks more than ever like a season for heroes.
Well, every summer is hero time, since that’s when the comic-book blockbusters come out to play. Last Friday saw the first salvo, “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” released so close to April that summer now threatens to take over the entire year. (Hollywood would like that. Come to think of it, so would we.) And in the coming months, we’ll witness the second coming (and third, and fourth, and fifth) of some long-lasting action stalwarts.
Tom Cruise will reprise his role as Ethan Hunt — the only character we’ll accept him as these days — in “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation.” Marvel will try to sell us on a version of “The Fantastic Four” again, this time with Miles Teller (“Whiplash”) as Reed Richards and Kate Mara (“House of Cards”) as Sue Storm. With “Mad Max: Fury Road,” Australia’s George Miller hopes to resurrect the post-apocalyptic savior that made the director’s name 36 years ago. Even the boomer TV classic “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” is being dusted off for the big screen, with Guy Ritchie (“Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels”) directing the elegant mayhem.
But those are just the big guns, those most predicated on spiriting us away from real-world ills. By contrast, “Maggie,” in which Arnold Schwarzenegger tries to save his daughter from a zombie virus, may play into last year’s Ebola fears. “San Andreas,” in which Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson copes with a California falling into the ocean, could be ripped from this month’s nightmares. “Tomorrowland,” starring George Clooney explores fantasy worlds and their nearness to our own flawed universe. “Good Kill” pits Ethan Hawke against the moral conundrums of drone warfare. It’s scary out there.
Which is why we’re lucky the summer’s other dominant theme is comedy, in flavors from elegant to broad as a barn. “Ant-Man,” starring Paul Rudd as a shrinking superhero, is engineered for laughs rather than thrills. Melissa McCarthy goes undercover — or tries to — as a “Spy”; she can’t be any worse than what we’ve got out there. Melissa Rauch in the festival hit “The Bronze,” shows what happens when the Olympic cheers die down, and it ain’t pretty.
Way down at the smaller, more human end of the scale, though, are the life-size heroes of this summer’s counter-programming. The manic-depressive dad (Mark Ruffalo) of “Infinitely Polar Bear.” The cynical suburban teen (Thomas Mann) befriending a sick classmate in the soulful Sundance fave “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” Jason Segel as the late author David Foster Wallace in “The End of the Tour,” cutting through the world’s noise to try to find what’s meaningful and true. The costumed crime-fighters of the summer blockbusters may feed our fantasies, but it’s these guys, walking stoop-shouldered through the world we live in, who may end up looking like the real heroes.
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HOT PURSUIT Flub-a-dub cop Reese Witherspoon has to protect dipsy-doodle druglord widow Sofia Vergara in this crash-of-opposites comedy.
5 FLIGHTS UP Real estate can get real complicated. Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman play a married couple selling the apartment they’ve lived in for four decades. Based on the Jill Ciment novel.
ABOUT ELLY Acclaimed Iranian writer- director Asghar Farhadi made this drama before his Oscar-winning “A Separation.” When something awful happens during a weekend getaway the participants’ efforts at concealment make it worse.
FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD Carey Mulligan stars in this adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel about an independent young woman in Victorian England and her three suitors (Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge, Matthias Schoenaerts).
THE D TRAIN Jack Black and James Marsden play high school classmates, uncool and cool, respectively, who go to a reunion together. Will uncool + cool = lukewarm? Kathryn Hahn and Jeffrey Tambor costar.
GIRLHOOD In French writer-director Céline Sciamma’s coming-of-age story, Marieme (Karidja Touré) turns her life upside down and inside out when she joins in with three freewheeling girlfriends.
MAGGIE Abigail Breslin, as the title character, becomes infected with a virus that slowly zombifies her. Uh-oh for her. Uh-oh for the virus: Arnold Schwarzenegger plays her dad.
NOBLE A biopic about Irish children’s rights campaigner Christina Noble. Deirdre O’Kane plays Noble.
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD Thirty years since his last screen appearance, everyone’s favorite post-apocalyptic hero is back. Tom Hardy takes over for Mel Gibson. George Miller returns as director, and Charlize Theron is along for the ride.
PITCH PERFECT 2 The Barden Bellas take the stage again, this time in an international a cappella competition. Anna Kendrick stars.
I AM BIG BIRD Caroll Spinney, the subject of this documentary, may have the most recognizable voice with the least recognized face of anyone alive. He’s Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, on “Sesame Street.”
IRIS Legendary documentarian Albert Maysles died in March. In his final film, he profiles nonagenarian fashion trendsetter Iris Apfel.
LOST RIVER Ryan Gosling debuts as both writer and director in this fantastical tale of a single mom (Christina Hendricks) who makes some dark discoveries.
ONE CUT, ONE LIFE Ed Pincus, himself a legendary documentarian, died in 2013. His final film, codirected with Lucia Small, looks at his final months.
TANGERINES During the Georgian civil war of the 1990s, a farmer faces a dilemma when a wounded soldier needs shelter. An Oscar nominee this year for best foreign language feature.
TOMORROWLAND In one of the summer’s most anticipated movies, an inventor played by George Clooney travels through time and space to . . . well, let’s leave it at that. Brad Bird, who directed, co-wrote the screenplay with Damon Lindelof (“Lost”).
POLTERGEIST This summer’s other ’80s throwback. Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt plays parents whose house is invaded by a supernatural spirit. In the 1982 original, the poltergeist came via a television set. Will it be a computer this time?
ALOFT A mother (Jennifer Connelly) reunites with the son (Cillian Murphy) she left two decades earlier. Peruvian writer-director Claudia Llosa makes her English-language feature debut.
BLACK SOULS Three Calabrian brothers run afoul of organized crime in a drama that owes as much to Greek tragedy as it does to gangster pictures.
GOOD KILL Politics and morality collide, as drone pilot Ethan Hawke questions the killing he does for a living.
I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS A widow in her 70s starts dating again. Doesn’t sound promising, does it? Ah, but Blythe Danner plays the widow. Sam Elliott and Martin Starr play her fellas.
SAINT LAURENT If “Yves Saint Laurent,” last year’s biopic about the couturier, wasn’t enough for you, here’s another. It focuses on the years between 1967 and 1976. Gaspard Ulliel has the title role.
ALOHA Could this be writer-director Cameron Crowe’s return to form? A military contractor (Bradley Cooper) reunites with an old flame (Rachel McAdams) while dogged by an Air Force overseer (Emma Stone). Also on hand are Bill Murray, Alec Baldwin, and John Krasinski.
FELIX AND MEIRA An unexpected friendship ensues when a young Jewish Orthodox wife (Hadas Yaron) living in Montreal encounters a man (Martin Dubreuil) mourning the death of his father.
SAN ANDREAS California gets hit with a giant earthquake. Don’t worry, Dwayne Johnson is a rescue-helicopter pilot.
SLOW WEST Michael Fassbender plays a mysterious traveler accompanying an adolescent boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) on a journey through the Wild West. Ben Mendelsohn costars.
SUNSHINE SUPERMAN A documentary about Carl Boenish, the father of the extreme sport of BASE jumping — BASE standing for “building, antenna, span, or Earth.”
ARCHIE’S BETTY Following his 2009 documentary, “For the Love of Movies,” film critic and Suffolk University professor Gerald Peary looks at Haverhill-born cartoonist Bob Montana and his creations Archie, Betty, Veronica, and the gang.
ENTOURAGE Like a male “Sex and the City” (different sex, different city), the HBO series comes to the big screen. Jeremy Piven, Adrien Grenier, and Kevin Connolly reprise their cable roles.
SPY CIA analyst Melissa McCarthy volunteers to go undercover as an operative. Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, and Jude Law are along for the very wild ride.
LOVE & MERCY In this biopic about Beach Boy Brian Wilson, Paul Dano and John Cusack play younger and older versions of the tormented musical legend.
HUNGRY HEARTS Adam Driver and Alba Rohrwacher play a young couple whose chance meeting in New York leads to suspense and danger.
INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 This prequel (shouldn’t it be “Insidious: Chapter Negative 1”?) shows how Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) began using her psychic powers to contact the dead.
THE NIGHTMARE Rodney Ascher, director of “Room 237,” offers this documentary with overtones of horror movie about the phenomenon of sleep paralysis.
TESTAMENT OF YOUTH Georgina Bennett and Colin Morgan star in this adaptation of Vera Brittain’s World War I memoir.
JURASSIC WORLD Two decades later, Jurassic World (the amusement park envisioned in “Jurassic Park”) is up to speed. A new attraction doesn’t exactly work out. Chris Pratt stars.
ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL This adaptation of Jesse Andrews’s novel about a teenager with cancer and a pair of her high school classmates won both the grand jury and audience awards at Sundance this year.
JAUJA In the 1870s, a Danish engineer (Viggo Mortensen) searches Patagonia for his daughter, who has eloped. Lisandro Alonso directed and co-wrote.
INSIDE OUT The first Pixar feature in two years is about five emotions battling for control of a young girl. Pete Docter (“Up”) contributed the story.
DOPE A Sundance favorite, this story of a black teen in a tough Southern California neighborhood who wants to go to Harvard mixes comedy and drama.
INFINITELY POLAR BEAR Screenwriter Maya Forbes makes her directing debut in this comedy drama about a mentally unstable dad (Mark Ruffalo) who tries to reconcile with his wife (Zoe Saldana).
MANGLEHORN Al Pacino stars as the title character, a man trying to come to terms with a dark event in his past. Holly Hunter and Chris Messina costar.
THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED Ed Skrein assumes the Jason Statham role in this action series about a man who’s very good at delivering packages that there are laws against delivering.
THE WOLFPACK Crystal Moselle’s directorial debut concerns four brothers whose parents never let them out of their New York apartment, where they watch films on television. Winner of the documentary grand jury prize at Sundance this year.
TED 2 Everyone’s favorite foul-mouthed teddy bear returns — as does star Mark Wahlberg and Amanda Seyfried. Watch for a Tom Brady cameo.
THE OVERNIGHT Night-time playdates are not a good idea. Just how not-good this comedy starring Taylor Schilling, Jason Schwartzman, and Adam Scott demonstrates.
BIG GAME When Air Force One is shot down in the wilderness, a teenage camper tries to rescue the president. The best part? Samuel L. Jackson as the president.
BATKID BEGINS: THE WISH HEARD AROUND THE WORLD A documentary about a 5-year-old cancer patient getting a special wish.
DIFRET This drama, a winner of the audience award for world cinema at Sundance this year, tells the story of a young Ethiopian woman on trial for resisting abduction.
EDEN It’s the ’90s, in Paris, and a DJ popularizes the “French house” version of electronica. Mia Hansen-Love directed and co-wrote with her brother, who drew on his experiences on the Parisian music scene.
HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT A young couple in New York (Eleonore Hendricks and Ron Braunstein) battle addiction while they have an intense love affair.
MAX When a service dog’s Marine handler is killed in Afghanistan, the handler’s family back in the United States adopts him. Thomas Haden Church and Lauren Graham star.
THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT Billy Crudup plays the supervising professor in this based-on-fact story of a psychology experiment with shocking results.
MAGIC MIKE XXL In sequels, at least, size clearly matters. Channing Tatum returns as the title character male stripper.
TERMINATOR GENISYS Ah-nuld’s back for this latest go-round in the series. Also on hand are J.K. Simmons, as a cop, “Game of Thrones” star Emilia Clarke (as Sarah Connor), and Jason Clarke (as John Connor).
DARK STAR: H.R. GIGER’S WORLD A documentary about the visionary Swiss artist-designer who died last year. The Oscar winner’s best-known design? The creature in “Alien.”
MINIONS In this “Despicable Me” prequel/spinoff, a trio of the lovable yellow guys find themselves embroiled in a plot to rule the world. Voice talent in the animated feature include Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, and Steve Coogan.
SELF/LESS Ben Kingsley plays a terminally ill tycoon. He pays to have his mind relocated in Ryan Reynolds’s body. Things take a sinister turn when he begins to investigate where the body came from.
10,000 KM Natalia Tena and David Verdaguer star in this romance that poses the question: Can love endure at a distance of 10,000 kilometers? That’s how far Los Angeles is from Barcelona, where each lives.
THE BRONZE A not especially pleasant former Olympic gymnast (she came in third, hence the title) finds she has to deal with the rise of a younger competitor. Melissa Rauch, who co-wrote the script, stars.
DO I SOUND GAY? David Thorpe’s documentary looks at stereotypes about gay men’s speech. Talking heads include Dan Savage, George Takei, David Sedaris, and Margaret Cho.
THE GALLOWS The 20th anniversary of a deadly accident at a high school inspires even darker doings in this horror film from writer-directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing.
TANGERINE Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, who boasts the summer’s best name, makes her screen debut in this comedy drama as a prostitute searching for her pimp in Hollywood on Christmas Eve.
ANT-MAN Let’s get small! Paul Rudd plays the Marvel superhero who grows in strength as he shrinks in size. Evangeline Lilly (“Lost”), Hayley Atwell (“Captain America”), and Michael Douglas costar.
MR. HOLMES Yes, that Holmes: the one in the deerstalker cap. Only now he’s retired. Ian McKellen plays the legendary detective, Colin Starkey is Dr. Watson, and Laura Linney is a woman of mystery.
TRAINWRECK Comedian Amy Schumer has her first starring role in a movie. She wrote the script, about a woman uninterested in monogamy — until Bill Hader shows up. Judd Apatow directed.
IRRATIONAL MAN In Woody Allen’s latest, a college professor (Joaquin Phoenix) enters into a romantic relationship with a student (Emma Stone). Parker Posey is among the onlookers.
PAPER TOWNS Nat Wolff (“The Fault in Our Stars”) is one of a group of young friends who go in search of a missing neighbor (Cara Delevingne). Adapted from the John Green novel.
PIXELS A comedy about aliens using video games to attack Earth. If you thought Samuel L. Jackson as president was a stretch (see “Big Game”), here’s Kevin James in the Oval Office.
SOUTHPAW Jake Gyllenhaal packs a mean left hook, hence the title, in this boxing drama. Rachel McAdams is his love interest. Antoine Fuqua directed.
VACATION Now it’s the turn of the next generation of Griswolds to visit Walley World. Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo are back as senior Griswolds. Ed Helms is their son, Rusty. Further complicating things are Chris Hemsworth, Leslie Mann, and Charlie Day.
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION Christopher McQuarrie directed this fifth big-screen go-round for the IMF force. Back in harness are Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, and Ving Rhames. Heading the CIA is none other than Alec Baldwin.
THE GIFT A thriller in which Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall star as a married couple who find that it’s definitely better to give than receive.
GRIMSBY This comedy about an espionage agent who spies on her soccer-hooligan brother features a rather mind-bending cast: Rebel Wilson, Isla Fisher, Penélope Cruz, Ian McShane, Gabourey Sidibe, and Sacha Baron Cohen (who helped write the script).
FANTASTIC FOUR Marvel’s original superhero squad reboots. Miles Teller is Mr. Fantastic, Kate Mara is the Invisible Woman, Jamie Bell is the Thing, and Michael B. Jordan lights things up as the Human Torch.
BEST ENEMIES Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville (“Twenty Feet From Stardom”) co-directed this documentary about the very nasty — and highly entertaining — feud between authors William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal.
MASTERMINDS An armored car company needs a lot of protection — and sense of humor — when Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, and Zach Galifianakis are in the vicinity.
THE END OF THE TOUR You’ve read the author, now see him played in a movie. Jason Segel is David Foster Wallace, and Jesse Eisenberg is a journalist interviewing him during a book tour.
RICKI AND THE FLASH It’s an impressive lineup. Jonathan Demme directed, Diablo Cody scripted, and Meryl Streep stars in this story of a musician who returns to her family after a long estrangement.
SHAUN THE SHEEP The popular animated character, a spinoff from the “Wallace and Gromit” series, won a best animated short Oscar, in 1996, with “A Close Shave.” Now he goes the feature route.
THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. Napoleon (Henry Cavill), meet Ilya (Armie Hammer). Ilya, meet Napoleon. Oh, and that’s Mr. Waverly (Hugh Grant) over there. Guy Ritchie directed.
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON It’s acronym-face-off week at the movies, with the men from U.N.C.L.E. vs. those pioneering rappers, N.W.A, in this music biopic.
UNDERDOGS Foosball and fantasy, soccer and a boy’s dreams come together in this Argentine animated feature.
AMERICAN ULTRA Doper Jesse Eisenberg’s happy life with girlfriend Kristen Stewart gets complicated, with comic consequences, when the government goes after him. Topher Grace, Bill Pullman, and Connie Britton costar.
LEARNING TO DRIVE A middle-age divorcee (Patricia Clarkson) decides to learn how to drive. Her Sikh driving instructor (Ben Kingsley) is on the verge of an arranged marriage. Turn signals aren’t needed to see where this might be going.
SINISTER 2 You’re a young mother. You have young twins. You move to a creepy house in the middle of nowhere. In horror, as in real estate, it’s location, location, location.
SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE When bad boy Jake (Jason Sudeikis) and sort-of bad girl Lainey (Alison Brie) become pals there’s no need for turn signals, either.
HITMAN: AGENT 47 Rupert Friend (“Homeland”) plays the title character, an assassin assigned to rescue a young woman and help find her father. Based on the popular video game.
REGRESSION Accused of having sexually abused his daughter (Emma Watson), a father claims no memory of doing so. Does that mean he didn’t do it — or that he’s lying?
A WALK IN THE WOODS Robert Redford plays Bill Bryson in this adaptation of the humorist’s much-loved account of hiking the Appalachian Trail in middle age.
NO ESCAPE Americans abroad Owen Wilson and Lake Bell find themselves caught up in a coup. Their one hope? Mysterious US operative Pierce Brosnan.
BREAK POINT Two brothers (Jeremy Sisto, Adam DeVine) do not get along. They try to patch things up by putting on a tennis tournament together. It’s a comedy.
JANE GOT A GUN In the summer’s other western (see “Slow West” in May) Natalie Portman’s title character hires ex-beau Ewan McGregor for protection — and revenge — after her husband (Noah Emmerich) gets left for dead by bandits.
KITCHEN SINK Vanessa Hudgens and Bob Odenkirk star in this horror-movie sendup set in a small town where humans, vampires, and zombies coexist —until extraterrestrials arrive on the scene.
Correction: An earlier version incorrectly referred to the author of “5 Flights Up.” The author is Jill Ciment.