The Man Of Steel (June 14)

The Movie: Suddenly franchise-strapped Warner Bros. goes for the Hail Mary pass, putting two of genre film's hottest talents - producer Christopher Nolan and director Zack Snyder - in charge of belatedly bringing the ultimate superhero into the 21st century.

The Problem: Is this too big a job, even for Superman?

Superman has been a tough nut to crack, cinematically, for decades now. Bryan Singer's odd but well-intentioned Superman Returns didn't turn into the franchise-reviving smash it wanted to be, and tales of disastrous doings in the production of Superman movies are numerous enough to fill a whole book. If nothing else, this one ought to look spectacular, since Snyder has a nigh-supernatural skill for transposing comic book panels into live action tableaus.

Unfortunately, the rest of the project still seems to be laboring under weighty expectations. Warner has been chronically unable to make anything usable out of their DC comics stable other than Nolan's Batman, and whether or not that particular approach is going to work for Superman is anybody's guess. And that's to say nothing of the fact that WB is placing the future of its entire prospective comic book movie universe onto this film's shoulders. It's widely speculated that Man of Steel is being positioned to launch the Justice League franchise ... and with it the entire next generation of DC superhero movies.

Pacific Rim (July 12)

The Movie: In the near future, a team of specially-trained warriors pilot gigantic humanoid robots into battle against an army of giant monsters invading Earth via an interdimensional portal in the Pacific Ocean.

The Problem: Is anyone going to see this?

Guillermo Del Toro is present-day Hollywood's great iconoclast; celebrated as much for his Spanish language arthouse hits as he is for his mainstream genre flicks along with being beloved by both fanboys and critics in equal measure. What he's never really had is an unqualified mega-success to call his own - at the end of the day, even his popular Hellboy movies were only modest hits.

By now, he was supposed to have hit paydirt: He was Peter Jackson and company's original choice to helm The Hobbit, but bowed out during a nightmare period of studio shakeups. He was supposed to turn H.P. Lovecraft's At The Mountains of Madness into a Tom Cruise-starring horror blockbuster ... but then the studio got cold feet. Supposedly, Rim has its bankrollers so excited that they're already clamoring to back a sequel, but the fact is a movie of this size based on a wholly original idea (i.e. there's no built-in "franchise" audience here) is a rarity for a reason these days.

If this one hits big, it could change the course of a blockbuster landscape currently dominated by licensed adaptations and sequels - and maybe even reshape the career of its creator in the process. If it doesn't ... well, that won't be good for anyone involved, to put it mildly.

Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you've heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.

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