Since damn near everything that opens in wide release these is either a sequel or a remake, and since I feel some obligation to at least sample anything that qualifies as a "cultural phenomenon," whether or not I like it, I usually find myself hoping for the best from franchises that haven't much impressed me in the past. One reason for optimism – or at least for less existential dread – about the 2010 release schedule is that a number of thus far middling-to-terrible franchises appear to have been taken over by obviously talented filmmakers who stand a chance of making this year's installments of their respective series at least tolerable. Certainly any doubts I had about whether I was going to watch these latest franchise entries disappeared once I found out who was directing them.
The franchise: Twilight. So far, Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown) and Chris Weitz (About a Boy, The Golden Compass) have delivered two dull-as-nails installments of this wuss-vampire franchise, though Weitz's New Moon did at least appear to pick up some steam as a teen soap opera, if not (at all) as a thriller or a horror flick.
This Year's Great Hope: The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, directed by David Slade. Obviously Slade will have to tone down the gruesome horror stylings he unveiled in Hard Candy and 30 Days of Night. But that's fine. What gives me hope is that Slade has shown a clear mastery of the eerie and the moody, which is exactly what this series needs, badly. If Eclipse can exhibit a fifth of the disquieting tension of the first forty minutes of 30 Days of Night – with Josh Hartnett driving around Barrow, Alaska as the sun sets on the town for the last time – Eclipse may have more to offer than beefcake. In theaters June 30th.
The franchise: Alien/Predator. This century's attempts to resurrect the Alien and Predator franchises have been murky, plodding affairs. Paul Anderson's Alien vs. Predator pretty much forgot the "vs." part and became standard-issue PG-13 horror, while the Strouse Brothers' awkwardly titled Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem got bogged down in an inexplicable 45 minutes of ass-boring set-up.
This Year's Great Hope: Predators, directed by Nimrod Antal. I liked Kontroll, the quirky Hungarian thriller that gave Antal his shot at Hollywood fame and fortune. But it's his two stateside efforts that enthuse me about Predators, the Robert Rodriguez-produced sequel about the ugly aliens hunting down commandos in the jungle. With Vacancy and Armored, Antal has begun to prove himself as an all-too-rare talent: a master of efficient, unpretentious, painstakingly constructed genre films. Those two movies are exactly what a Predator quasi-reboot needs to be – short, fast and fun. In theaters July 9th.
The franchise: The Chronicles of Narnia. With The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian, Shrek director Andrew Adamson displayed absolutely no facility for live-action filmmaking. Wardrobe was tolerable, but Prince Caspian was a total waste: pretty, but bloodless, boring, and weirdly uneventful.
This Year's Great Hope: The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, directed by Michael Apted. Apted doesn't have a perfect track record, but he's an ultra-veteran with a diverse filmography (The World is Not Enough, Coal Miner's Daughter, a number of acclaimed documentaries), who might turn this second sequel into something resembling an entertaining standalone movie.