It seems kind of like Hollywood has become afraid of actual holidays. In the lucrative holiday movie seasons (both summer and winter) of yore, the big movies often debuted over a long weekend like Thanksgiving or Memorial Day. Thanksgiving, in recent years, has often been given over to niche titles while something from the previous weekend dominates (although last year Tangled made a splash, and, perhaps encouraged by that success, Disney is bringing back the Muppets over Thanksgiving proper this year). Similarly, Memorial Day remains a big moviegoing weekend, but studios seem reluctant to use it as a launching pad: typically your Star Wars or your Pirates sequels will come out the weekend before Memorial Day, and less spectacular (though sometimes even more pre-sold) properties get the actual holiday weekend. For example, last year the big Memorial Day weekend movies were franchise nonstarter Prince of Persia and hastily produced sequel Sex and the City 2. Six dozen Marvel movies, and not one claims Memorial Day?
This year’s big mainstream releases, The Hangover Part II and Kung Fu Panda 2, are more in the vein of Sex Harder, at least for me, in that they are sequels a bunch of people outside my demographic are probably anticipating wildly. As such, I’m not the best person to ask how The Hangover Part II looks, because back in 2009 I was the one complaining about how the hell this movie got such good reviews and that frankly I found Land of the Lost and Year One a lot funnier and less smugly lazy [One of the ones complaining, you were. -Ed.]. But I will nonetheless offer that The Hangover Part II, while attempting to winkingly evoke The Godfather in its titling scheme, looks like one of those comedy sequels where the joke is that a bunch of stuff happens correspondingly roughly to stuff that happened in the original. This probably describes the vast majority of sequels across genres, but comedy sequels are particularly susceptible to this kind of here-we-go-again nonsense.
What I’m saying is that The Hangover Part II, although doubtless featuring higher production values, decent location work, and standard upping the faux-wrongness frat-boy ante, is giving off kind of an 80s-comedy-sequel vibe. This may, in fact, be why most of our better comic filmmakers tend not to do sequels but instead reunite with a similar cast and crew for a different movie all together (call it the Fierce Creatures approach, only imagine that you like Fierce Creatures as much as I do, which is to say: more than the fucking Hangover, at least). I’m also assuming this is one of those sequels where the runaway success of the first movie has convinced everyone involved that said movie had nothing that needed fixing, like how instead of having the well-developed comic mystery its clever premise begs for, The Hangover is wandering and episodic and solves most of its problems by lazy coincidence. But a bunch of critics and audiences told Todd Phillips this was genius, so get ready for more, I assume.
Kung Fu Panda 2 seems like a less dicey proposition in that it is a sequel to a pretty good movie, until you read about how DreamWorks thinks they can do six of these. Six! Unless they display a Fast and the Furious type of learning curve where the fifth one is inexplicably the most awesome of the bunch, this is going to get old before you can say “is that a double-trilogy or a sexology? Okay, probably shouldn’t call it a sexology.” As it turns out, though, Kung Fu Panda 2 is pretty good, if short of the kind of dynamite reason to exist that the Toy Story sequels were able to detonate. It’s pretty much more of the same, but in this case, that same hasn’t nearly been so routine over at Team DreamWorks, which puts out more animated product than Disney Proper and Disney Pixar combined, with a far lower success rate.
Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon have been recent highlights insofar as they do not employ faux-ironic 80s dance parties at movie’s end, and Kung Fu Panda 2 is a worthy addition to that first tier. If your kid is dying to see it, you won’t be dying to leave. Even the 3-D is pretty great! I’m usually opting for 2-D these days unless something is playing the Ziegfeld or screening in mandatory for 3-D for the press, so I haven’t seen the other 3-D DreamWorks cartoons, but this one actually used 3-D to look kind of gorgeous. It would be even better if DreamWorks trusted their gorgeous visuals, but I guess if your bread and butter has been the decidedly un-gorgeous Shrek movies, then you’re a little trigger-happy with the bad-dialogue gun.
The real big gun of the weekend moves into the arthouses: The Tree of Life is pretty much the mini-major movie event of the summer; it’s basically Transformers for effete film-snob types. (And I say this as someone who is pretty damn excited about The Tree of Life, and not just because it supposedly has some dinosaurs in it at some point.) See it so you can talk about it either with your film-nerd friends or, just as likely, angry and/or rapturous people on the internets.