Cue heroes: It's summer movie season

May 29, 2008 7:50:21 PM PDT
With a cast of characters that includes Iron Man, Batman, the Hulk and Indiana Jones, the 2008 summer movie season is shaping up as a summer of heroes. The summer movie season had a superstart at the beginning of May with the release of "Iron Man," which scored a $100 million opening weekend and has gone on to rack up some $350 million worldwide at the box office.

And it seems Ol' Shellhead, as Iron Man is known among comic book fans, is just getting started. The movie hasn't even been out a month, and there's already talk of a sequel.

Robert Downey Jr. who plays the metal-suited billionaire Tony Stark in the film, told reporters, "We've been talking about the most ass-kicking opening sequence, if we were to do another one."

Next to Iron Man, the two big comic-book icons hitting screens this season are Batman -- in the movie, "The Dark Knight" -- and "The Incredible Hulk."

Wait -- wasn't there already a Hulk movie out just a few years ago? Well, yes, it starred Eric Bana as the Hulk's alter-ego, Dr. Bruce Banner, and was helmed by "Brokeback Mountain" director Ang Lee. However, the folks behind the new Hulk are hoping audiences' memories aren't that long.

Entertainment journalist Eddy Friedfeld, who snarkily refers to Lee's 2003 "Hulk" as "Brokeback Banner," said, "They're just kind of wiping it away. There's just kind of an understanding with the audience: 'Look guys, we made a mistake. If you forget about it, we'll forget about it.'"

The new version stars acclaimed actor Edward Norton, and the plot finds Banner on the verge of a cure for his anger management problem. In addition to the Hulk being green, this time around the entire film is "green," as in environmentally-conscious.

Norton, who drove a hybrid vehicle to the carbon-neutral set of "The Incredible Hulk" each day, feels the big guy's story is something of a metaphor for global warming.

In an exclusive interview with ABC News Radio's David Blaustein, Norton said, "It's sort of like the guy who monkeys with nature, and it blows back in his face. That's kind of like what the world's going through in a way. We've done these things and all of a sudden, we don't even know what's going on."

On a less serious note, Norton admitted that "The Incredible Hulk" isn't one of the comics he grew up reading as a kid. His familiarity with the Hulk came more from the '70s TV series starring Bill Bixby.

As he told ABC News Radio, "The Hulk was not one of the comics I read regularly. I liked Batman a lot. When the graphic novels of Batman came out, like "The Dark Knight," I thought they were really dark and complicated."

Conveniently, "The Dark Knight" is the other huge superhero flick of the summer. But in reality, this film -- the first Batman movie to leave the word "Batman" out of the title -- isn't really about the Caped Crusader at all. It's about the Joker. And more significantly, it's about the man portraying the joker -- the late Heath Ledger.

"Terrifying," "amazing," "iconic" and "fearless" are all words that have been used to describe Ledger's performance. His Joker is reportedly far more twisted and psychopathic than the Joker portrayed by Jack Nicholson in 1989's original "Batman."

"It's going to be sad seeing [Ledger] on-screen, but I think the performance is so powerful -- from the clips that I've seen so far -- that audiences will almost forget that it's Heath Ledger," E! movie critic Ben Lyons said. "That's the sign of a great actor, and that's what he was."

Entertainment journalist Eddy Friedfield agreed.

"That's the nice thing about his short but impressive career," Friedfield said. "He gets to go out on top."

To that end, Lyons added, "You heard it here first. Look for Ledger to get an Oscar nomination for this performance."

Summer's Anti-Heroes

Amid all the heroism on display on our screens this summer, cineplexes will also welcome two men who are decidedly anti-heroes -- a huge, red-horned guy known as Hellboy, and Hancock, a superpowered dude with a big PR problem.

In "Hancock," the "hero," played by Will Smith, has superpowers but feet of clay. He's homeless, he hits the bottle, and everything he does backfires. Hancock is forced to hire a PR rep, played by Justine Batemen, to do some damage control.

On the subject of damage control, can this film about a flawed superbeing draw the crowds Fourth of July weekend? Smith, known as Mr. Fourth of July, is putting his title on the line here.

But film expert Russ Leatherman, also known as Mr. Moviefone, said it shouldn't be a problem, considering "Hancock" is the only major flick coming out that weekend.

"You know what happens when Will Smith does a big blockbuster these days?" Leatherman asked. " People get out of the way."

As for that other anti-hero, Hellboy, he's back in a hotly anticipated sequel called "Hellboy 2: The Golden Army." Ron Perlman returns as Hellboy, and Oscar-winning director Guillermo Del Toro once again takes the helm. This second installment promises to be bigger, badder and, well, more hellish than the original.

As Perlman told ABC News Radio, "We said, 'This is either gonna have to be jacked, or there's no real reason for us to be here doing this.'"

Perlman believes that Hellboy's unconventional approach to heroism is better than that of goody-two-shoes Iron Man and Batman.

"He just a funny dude," said Perlman. "He'd just rather eat a pizza and drink a beer than go out and save the world. But he's badass. I would put my money on him."

Del Toro and Perlman are so optimistic about "Hellboy 2" that they're already thinking about a trilogy.

Said Perlman, "I hope it gets made, because it's too good an idea to sort of fall by the wayside."

ABC News Radio's David Blaustein contributed to this report.