It's officially blockbuster season, and you can expect a multitude of big-budget action and superhero flicks to dominate the box office for the next three months. Not in the mood for a loud and busy theater? We've got you covered with a handful of Netflix picks that fit the summer movie vibe.
To start things out, Netflix added Doctor Strange to its roster a few days ago. We can’t think of a better way to kick off the weekend than to light one up and watch the the highly enjoyable tale of a surgeon-turned-sorcerer who must save the planet from certain doom. Marvel’s Doctor Strange is the first choice in this week’s roundup that's set in the future or in an alternate reality — one in which our world has been radically turned upside down by overpowering forces beyond our control.
Our next selection, the magnificent-looking Japanese anime Blame!, takes place far into the future in a vast and desolate city where humans have become endangered species hunted by robots. And if the robots don’t kill them, the lack of food will.
It’s drugs, not food, that weigh heavily in the French dystopian action-thriller Ares, in which an MMA fighter finds himself forced by a corporation to help develop a powerful performance enhancing drug — even if it means it could kill him in the process.
For some historical perspective, we travel back to the early ‘80s for John Carpenter’s cult classic Escape from New York to see that people have been thinking about how shitty the future is gonna be for a very long time. Kurt Russell stars as an anti-hero on a suicide mission to rescue the President of the United States when Air Force One crash lands in Manhattan, which has been transformed into a hellish ultra-maximum security prison.
Our fifth and final pick this week is an end-of-the-world horror flick called Viral about a nasty epidemic of parasitic worms squirming in and out of people. Viral may not be as gory as other horror flicks, but it will at least make you appreciate our current world — no matter how depressing things have been lately — just a tiny bit more.
Warning: May Contain Spoilers
Doctor Strange (2016)
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen
Director: Scott Derrickson
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Outside of comic book circles, the character Doctor Strange is not as well known as Spider-Man, The Hulk, or other Marvel superheroes. Yet the metaphysical universe he inhabits — full of ancient mysticism, magic spells, and leaps in the space-time continuum — is prime material for a big screen adaptation. Thankfully, this blockbuster delivers big, playing out like a less serious version of Inception, except with sorcerers battling over control of the universe.
There’s nary a dull moment in the intriguing origin story of how the arrogant and gifted neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) got his superpowers and his first big challenge against evil entities. In fact, there’s so many witty remarks and one-liners the film almost classifies as a comedy, as well. The movie does so much right, it’s a shame that it ran into that common Hollywood problem of “whitewashing.” As it stands, Tilda Swinton is a strong presence as the mysterious guru known as The Ancient One, who was originally written as a male Asian character. Controversies aside, this is an otherwise-solid piece of crowd-pleasing entertainment.
Starring: Sora Amamiya, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa
Director: Hiroyuki Seshita
Genre: Anime, Sci-Fi
Out-of-control technology threatening civilization is a common theme in anime. Based on a manga by Tsutomu Nihei, Blame! delves into the story of a futuristic city that has been overrun by the same machines that built it. Due to a malfunction, the city has grown into an endless labyrinthine, and the computer system meant to protect society now sends robots to hunt and kill humans. Possible salvation comes in the form of Killy, a Christ-like wanderer with tremendous fighting skills, and the scientist Cibo, whose superior knowledge comes in handy when combating their complex nemesis.
Blame! is handsomely animated down to the minor details, like the computerized readouts displayed inside the high-tech helmets the humans wear, for example. On the opposite side of the spectrum, viewers will feel immersed in the massive scope of the barren universe the animators have created. And for those who hate subtitles, there’s good news: you can switch the language track and watch in English.
Starring: Ola Rapace, Eva Lallier, Micha Lescot
Director: Jean-Patrick Benes
Genre: Sci-Fi, Action, Drama
It’s just a few years into the future and an economic catastrophe has devastated France, leaving 15 million homeless and without jobs. Corporations pay citizens to submit their bodies to experimental drug testing. Ares, a failed mixed martial arts contender who moonlights as a cop, is one of these human guinea pigs who soon finds himself forced to undergo testing that may have lethal results.
Even without the obvious political commentary, Ares offers a bleak and somewhat believable look at a hopeless future. This is a Paris perpetually under grey skies, one where the masses have taken over the streets, fueled by drug addiction and gambling. And although some of the fight scenes are a little too by-the-numbers, the final explosive confrontations between our hero and corporate henchmen are well-executed, punctuated by some graphic violence. The film also benefits from swift pacing. Director Jean-Patrick Benes has trimmed all the fat, leaving us with a lean, rousing story about standing up to the abusive powers that be.
Escape from New York (1981)
Starring: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Adrienne Barbeau, Isaac Hayes
Director: John Carpenter
Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller, Drama
To fully appreciate Escape from New York, one has to understand how fucked up NYC was back in the day. The Rotten Apple almost went bankrupt in the mid-70s, and boroughs like the Bronx were in serious decay, while the city as a whole experienced a deluge of crime. So by the time John Carpenter’s sci-fi thriller hit theaters in 1981, it didn’t seem that crazy of an idea that by 1997, when the film takes place, that Manhattan could be turned into a maximum security prison of the highest order.
Of course, today’s “Disneyfied” NYC is a far cry from yesteryear, which makes Escape from New York an even more fun watch. Coming off like a cross between Mad Max (1979) and The Warriors (1979), the film stars Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken, a badass who wears an eyepatch like John Wayne in True Grit and talks like Clint Eastwood. On his way to prison, he’s given an offer he can’t refuse: rescue the missing POTUS from the island in less than 24 hours in exchange for his freedom. What comes next is a helluva ride all the way up to the adrenaline-pumping finale.
Starring: Sofia Black-D'Elia, Analeigh Tipton, Travis Tope
Directors: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Genre: Horror, Drama
From the same directors who brought you the fake online identity documentary Catfish (2010) and a few of the Paranormal Activity sequels comes Viral, which has nothing to do with popular internet videos. Rather, the film focuses on a worldwide outbreak of a worm flu, which leaves victims with larva crawling out their eyeballs.
That said, Viral is not as sick as you might expect. There are undeniably some vomit-inducing moments, but this is not a wall-to-wall gorefest. We follow the tale of two teenage sisters who are separated from their parents and trying to avoid infection in their quarantined desert community. The movie has a similar feel to It Follows and a few parts here and there can be seen as metaphors for teen alienation and anxiety (the worms exit the body like popped zits). What really drives the film is the strong acting and a reserved tone that makes for a nice change of pace from the typical horror fare.