Summer 2015 is basically over, folks. I’m sorry, but it’s true. I hope you all enjoyed it; I know I did; and regular trips to the movies were a big part of that enjoyment. I saw a good number of films these past few months; and given that a lot of critics like to discuss the summer season apart from other times of the year, I figured I’d toss my hat in the ring with some sort of recap. So without further ado–and noting that this is clearly comparing apples to oranges and therefore shouldn’t be taken too seriously*– here is my best-to-worst ranking of the flicks I saw this summer.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Director George Miller brought his ‘Mad Max’ series back after a 30-year-hiatus with a mighty roar. This film was pure cinematic spectacle. Its action is amazing and non-stop; the world it builds is mythic and captivating; and the characters Miller fills it with are remarkable and surprisingly three-dimensional for this genre of movies (God bless Furiosa). The result is the greatest action film since ‘Die Hard.’ May we not have to wait another 30 years for the next installment in this franchise.
Like ‘Mad Max: Fury Road,’ we had to wait quite a while for this film to get out of development hell, but that wait was well worth it in my opinion. ‘Jurassic World’ is a big, silly, fun, dinosaur flick; the first of the ‘Jurassic Park’ sequels to actually feel like a sequel to the original. And while it doesn’t do everything right (some would say it does very little right, but they’re just being negative), the moments where it works really do work. That and it’s always great to see raptors and T-rexes on the big screen. Also, Chris Pratt basically proved he could do Indiana Jones in the inevitable franchise reboot. Make it happen, Hollywood.
Please don’t hate me for putting ‘Jurassic World,’ ahead of this one. I admit I wasn’t as blown away by this film as everyone else was (I don’t think it is quite at the level of ‘Toy Story’ or ‘Finding Nemo,’ although it is worlds ahead of ‘Cars’ and ‘Brave’). Still, this was a well-made, creative, thoughtful, and very emotional (pun totally intended) movie; and it has the added bonus of helping younger viewers understand the complexity of their feelings. I have a hunch this one will be well watched on home video in family households for quite some time.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
While the film has gotten more mixed reactions from critics as a whole, I personally really enjoyed this throwback spy film. Its 1960s atmosphere is very nostalgic and entertaining; and its 1960s level-stakes and scope are a refreshing less-is-more approach for these kind of movies, and I hope more spy flicks go for period pieces in their settings. Plus, Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer absolutely nail their roles as spies on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain, and it was a real joy to see them play off each other.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
This movie was released almost four months ago (May 1st), which is long enough for me that it’s a little weird thinking of this as a summer film. But the summer cinema season begins in May so the shoe fits. Anyways, there was a lot of anticipation for this movie; and it mostly delivered on it. It’s great to see Marvel’s various heroes interact with each other, and the action scenes are very fun to watch. That said, I do have my criticisms: Ultron wasn’t well written; the sudden hyper awareness of collateral damage that the Avengers have developed (likely to avoid any of ‘Man of Steel’s’ (dubious) criticism) was too on-the-nose and distracting; and the need to set up later entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe started to encroach on the story telling for this film. That all said, I would be lying if I told you it wasn’t thrilling to see this many superheroes on screen.
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Admittedly, I wasn’t all that impressed by this latest entry in the ‘Mission Impossible’ franchise. It wasn’t as exciting as 2011’s ‘Ghost Protocol,’ nor did I feel it brought much new to the table overall. Still, it was competently made and had its share of entertaining if not awe inspiring moments. If this is Cruise’s last, it’s an adequate finale.
It’s difficult to be too hard on ‘Ant-Man,’ as it is very good natured and entertaining, and was all but officially intended as a light hearted detour on the way to bigger and better things in the MCU. Still, it was a little too silly for my taste, and the plot felt like too much of a rip-off of ‘Iron Man’ (and/or ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’** now that I think of it). It is also impossible to ignore the issues in this film’s development–namely that original writer/director Edgar Wright, the brilliant auteur behind ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,’ was forced off the project– and what it possibly says about Marvel/Disney’s willingness (or lack their of) to allow genuine filmmakers to work on their movies.
I admit that I don’t hate this movie the way others did: there is a basic level that ‘Terminator Genisys’ works on, at least as far as science fiction action goes, and Arnold Schwarzenegger on the big screen in the role that made him famous is always a treat. But beyond that, this film is pretty underwhelming. The story is a convoluted mess, the other leads (Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney) are unconvincing and boring, the action is so-so, and the constant homages to past ‘Terminator’ films only serve to remind you how much this one suffers by comparison. Supposedly there will be a sequel to ‘Genisys’ in a few years, given how well it has done outside the US (it bombed here). We can only hope the filmmakers try a little harder next time, and that they’ll pick a less asinine title.
I got the idea, watching ‘Ted 2,’ that writer/director Seth MacFarlane had exactly one average-to-good film about a foul-mouthed, unscrupulous, anthropomorphic teddy bear in him. This sequel, on the other hand, feels like a leftover bag of material that wasn’t funny enough to go into the original ‘Ted,’ (whose jokes, while adequate, weren’t exactly top-notch to begin with). There are a handful of amusing gags and interesting references to other films in the movie; but I can’t say I actually laughed at all during any of it. Admittedly, MacFarlane does show hints of ambition by making the narrative something of an allegory for the gay rights movement; but any subtle nuance or appreciation in that allegory is undermined by lackluster storytelling and the fact that Ted himself spells out the metaphorical meaning of the plot for us through a very lame and offensive joke in the middle of the movie. Perhaps it’s time MacFarlane moved on to more mature kinds of pictures, particularly if he wants to allude to relevant social issues.
This year’s ‘Fantastic Four,’ starts out alright; but in the back half of the movie it begins to play out like the absolute worst aspects of superhero filmmaking and Hollywood filmmaking at large coming together: the desire to reboot everything and keep franchises alive at all costs; making a comic book/fantasy/science fiction property dark-and-gritty-and-serious regardless of whether or not it makes any sense; trying to turn every comic book/fantasy/science fiction property into an expanded universe; in-over-their-head directors being impossible to work with; studios tampering with films and not allowing auteurs to tell their stories; and hack-job editing that utterly derails the story. The result is that the film falls from decent entertainment to an unqualified disaster very abruptly; with incredibly contrived plotting, way-too-horrific imagery, and some of the worst pacing I have ever seen in a movie. On top of that, it’s neither exciting enough for typical comic book fans nor deep enough for higher-brow science fiction aficionados, such that no intended audience will find things to appreciate in the lieu of the bad narrative. And whatever chances of seeing any more of the The Fantastic Four on screen in the near future are more than likely lost with the film’s dismissal box office. Maybe someday we’ll get a mythical director’s cut that makes sense out of what footage was shot, but until then, it’s a fascinatingly awful picture.
Best guesses on where other summer films that I didn’t see might fit in this ranking.
‘Pitch Perfect’: Between ‘Ted 2’ and ‘Ant-Man’
‘Spy’: Between ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ and ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’
‘San Andreas’: Between ‘Ted 2 and ‘Ant-Man’ (probably ahead of ‘Pitch Perfect 2’)
‘Straight Outta Compton’: Between ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ and ‘Inside Out.’ (It’s supposed to be really good.)
‘Paper Towns’: Between ‘Ant-Man’ and ‘Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’
‘Minions’: Between ‘Ant-Man’ and ‘Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.’ (Not sure how it stacks up against ‘Paper Towns.’)
‘Trainwreck’: Between ‘Inside Out’ and ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ (It’s also supposed to be very good.)
*Again, these are very different movies, with very different goals, so please don’t take this ranking too seriously at all. It’s just for fun.
**Broad stroke summary that can apply to ‘Ant-Man,’ ‘Iron Man,’ and ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’: 1) Main character gets/creates super powers based on new technology. 2) Bad guys want to steal technology. 3) Bad guys steal technology and corrupt it; main character masters technology in amusing ways. 4) Bad guy and main character face off using same technology. 5) Main character wins because they have heart. 6) Foreshadow sequels and expanded universes.