Variety Editorial

If this sequel-packed movie summer had a title, it would probably be “The Audience Strikes Back.”

Ever since “The Matrix Reloaded” pulled a fast one back in mid-May, there has been a distinct skepticism about razzle-dazzle tentpoles. Lately, the more straight-ahead the better. “Bruce Almighty” and “Finding Nemo” have thrived on comic energy, while the hype over “Hulk” and “Charlie’s Angels: Full-Throttle” has already fizzled.

As a result, summer grosses are lagging behind 2002 levels despite elevated ticket prices.

Could it possibly be that Hollywood has finally eaten too much of the devil’s candy? With their relentless emphasis on effects-driven franchise fare, studios have sucked up so much oxygen that more down-to-earth titles seem like breaths of fresh air.

It says a lot, for example, that all the talk at Monday’s “Terminator 3″ centered on its bracing dose of old-fashioned action. In other words, it may be a $200 million movie but it’s a $200 million movie without a lot of pretense.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more