Theatrical Releases

May 02, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

This is the weekend of Iron Man. Anything else is pretty much inconsequential. This opening has been awaited for a long time by a wide variety of people. Web publishers who operate movie-related sites have been holding out for May 2 because increased interest in movies represents more traffic, which translates into a greater number of clicks on advertisements and more revenue. Hollywood is in desperate need of good news; there hasn't been much since January. And the average movie-goer has been waiting for something worthwhile to abandon the sofa and head for the multiplex. It's not much of an exaggeration to label Iron Man as cinema's 2008 savior - provided it meets expectations. If it fails to come close to what's being projected, we may be in for a bleak summer.

What's encouraging about Iron Man is that not only is it highly anticipated but it's also best summer-opening blockbuster in years. When all is said and done, 2007's Spider-Man 3 will still rule the roost (with an opening weekend grab of $151 million) but, in terms of quality and general audience appeal, Iron Man trumps his older and better-known sibling. The future of the Spider-Man franchise is in question but, barring an unforeseen and unimaginable box-office disaster, Iron Man should be back with its creative team intact in another two or three summers. If the superhero movie trend holds true and the second film is the strongest of the series (as has been the case with Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and X-Men, that means there's something to look forward to. Meanwhile, Iron Man is this week's uncontested, projected Box Office Champion as well as the Pick of the Week.

Common wisdom dictates that Iron Man is aimed at a primarily male audience, although the film has a broad enough appeal to cross age and gender lines. Nevertheless, Columbia has decided to counterprogram with the feeble romantic comedy Made of Honor. The mediocre quality of the movie is irrelevant; some people will see it because it isn't Iron Man or because they can't get into Iron Man and don't want to wait around for the next showing for which tickets are available. The film's main draw is Patrick Dempsey; there really isn't anything else worth mentioning. The script and lack of chemistry between the protagonists are major downsides.

There are three movies opening in various stages of limited release. Fugitive Pieces was the 2007 Toronto Film Festival's Opening Night feature, but its lukewarm reception with critics and film-goers north of the border resulted in it being passed by the major distributors. It opens this weekend in very limited release and probably won't go wider. For those who are intrigued by the premise, DVD availability should be just around the corner. The other two limited releases will be going wider in the next few weeks, and both should expand to enough theaters that anyone with a desire will be able to see them. The first, Son of Rambow, is an endearing, if a little unsurprising, coming-of-age story that arrives with Sylvester Stallone's official "Rambo" seal of approval. The second, Redbelt, has David Mamet dabbling in Mixed Martial Arts. This may not be a marriage made in heaven but the idea alone is almost worth a trip to a theater. The concept isn't bungled but it's not an unqualified success.

Ultimately, however, all these secondary films are footnotes. This weekend is all about Iron Man. Perhaps the more interesting question is not how much Marvel's newest superhero grosses this weekend, but what it does next weekend. Conventional wisdom indicates that Speed Racer is the Big Event for May 9, but the advance buzz is tepid and there are early indications it may underperform. (The Wachowskis have long since lost their Midas Touch.) If that happens, it could open the door for Iron Man to take the top spot for two consecutive weeks - something almost unprecedented when the competition is this hot.