Another year, another summer nearly over. I hope everyone enjoyed it. While this summer wasn’t exactly the greatest for movies, I still got out to the theater quite a few times over the past few months; and as I did last year, here’s a ranking of the films that I saw from best to worst.
1. Kubo and the Two Strings
There was really no contest for the top spot, in my opinion. Kubo and the Two Strings is magical in a way that few films are. The art direction, voice acting, mythos, narrative, and (especially) the stop-motion animation are all top notch. This is a picture that adults and children can enjoy equally, and it may very well end up serving as an inspiration for a new generation of animators and filmmakers. The only real flaw in this movie is that the finale is somewhat rushed, but it’s such an isolated and minor blemish on an otherwise stellar and masterful motion picture that I feel bad mentioning it at all. As a side note, it’s still in theaters, so go see it.
2. Captain America: Civil War
While I originally had several reservations about Captain America: Civil War, virtually all of them faded once I saw the finished product. This movie masterfully balances idealized conflict, the introduction of new characters, and thrilling action scenes. Veering away from the silliness that pervades other entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Civil War takes a darker, more serious approach to the subject matter. The ending showdown between Iron Man, Captain America, and the Winter Soldier, in particular, is quite intense and the most emotional moment so far seen in the MCU. I look forward to what the Russo brothers do in Avengers: Infinity War, although I hope that, by the time it comes out, everyone has moved on from their seeming obsession with addressing collateral damage in superhero films.
3. Finding Dory
I’m on record as saying that any sequel to Finding Nemo was going to be unnecessary. But as far as unnecessary sequels go, Finding Dory is pretty good and does manage to justify itself. Not repeating the story beats* of the first film was a smart move, as was turning the narrative into a lesson about disabilities. While not as epic or emotionally cathartic as its predecessor, this is still a very strong, smart picture with a good moral for everyone.
*not too much, anyway.
4. X-Men: Apocalypse
You’re probably thinking: “Gasp! What is Z doing sticking this movie so high on this list. Everyone knows this picture was decidedly lackluster.”
Well, I didn’t think so. While it does have a problem of having too many characters, and the story never feels as monumental as it probably should, I still thought this was a very enjoyable picture. The action was great, the 80s setting is engaging, the choice of music (including the Eurythmics and Metallica) is both fitting and fun, and despite an overabundance of characters, there are some worthwhile character moments on display (please green light a Quicksilver solo movie, Fox). I know I’m virtually alone here, but I thought X-Men: Apocalypse was more than worthwhile, and I look forward to the next installment in this franchise.
This 2016 remake generated more controversy than was really necessary, spawning what seemed like a mini-culture war for a few weeks on the Internet. When you get passed all of that, though, and look at the picture for what it is, you’ll find a decently funny movie with a terrific cast that has a loving respect for its predecessor while also bringing fun new elements to the table. The picture’s two biggest problems are that it follows the structure of the original film a little too closely and some jokes fall flat, but those don’t tank the film in any way. I was a little sad to see that this picture had a somewhat middling box office performance ($144 million was too large a budget, it seems). Perhaps if Blue-Ray/DVD/VOD sales are strong, Sony will see fit to make a sequel. I’d like that to be the case, because I really would appreciate seeing this cast in another movie that takes this franchise in a whole new direction. We can only hope.
6. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: Ultimate Edition
I’m cheating a little bit by putting this one on here, since the theatrical cut of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice came out in March. But consider the following: 1) Batman v Superman: Ultimate Edition did receive an incredibly limited but still existent theatrical release this summer; and 2) I make the rules on this blog.
Anyways, while I did not care for the theatrical cut in the slightest, I actually did appreciate this extended cut. It takes a disorienting mess and actually turns it into something approximating a functioning film, with better pacing, stronger motivations for the characters, and a clearer sense of Zack Snyder’s vision for the film (his work is consistently undermined by studio edits). While there are still too many problems for me to call this movie good in a conventional sense, I can now at least say that it is interesting and entertaining for what it is, and I am intrigued to see what happens now with Justice League.
7. Star Trek: Beyond
The latest installment in J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek reboot series (though he did not direct this one) traded in philosophical depth and literacy for a pop-music action film approach. It didn’t quite work, in my opinion, as despite the high level of excitement and visual thrills, the movie was confusing in too many places and overall felt thematically empty. Still, entertainment is entertainment, and there is something to be said for how this movie does resemble a traditional Star Trek episode in structure and concept more than any other film in the series. It may not be a good Star Trek movie, but it isn’t a bad movie. Like Ghostbusters, this is another example of a film whose budget was too high in relation to gross, but I still hope we’ll get another Star Trek film soon.
8. Suicide Squad
Suicide Squad, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice: Ultimate Edition, and Star Trek: Beyond are effectively a tie in terms of quality if I look at each movie as an island unto itself. For the record, I thought Suicide Squad started out quite rough but did improve as it went along and did eventually become enjoyable. The reason I put it last is due to the knowledge that it was heavily butchered in the editing room at the last minute, and what we know about the movie we were originally going to get suggests it would have been far better and had far richer a story had Warner Bros. not panicked so close to its release. There seems to be a recurring problem here of Warner Bros. messing up their DC movies with poor theatrical edits. I’m hoping that we may eventually get an alternate cut of this film down the line, but for right now we’re left with a merely okay but ultimately non-remarkable picture. Let’s just pray that Wonder Woman is good.
9. Independence Day: Resurgence
There’s no beating around the bush with this one. Independence Day: Resurgence is a bad film, plain and simple. It’s bad in relation to the original, which is far better than most people give it credit for; it’s bad in relation to its competition, which wasn’t exactly strong to begin with; and it’s bad if viewed in a vacuum. Between the horrible editing, awful pacing, mediocre acting, lackluster effects, and convoluted story (not to mention this picture’s unnecessary existence as a sequel and its shoehorned attempt to set up for yet another installment); this movie is the intersection of the worst traits of Hollywood filmmaking as they exist in 2016. The middling box office performance of the film should send a clear and loud message to Fox to let this franchise die.
So there it is, my ranking of the movies I saw this summer. I agree with those who say that this was a weak summer for good movies. Hopefully next year will be better. Until then, enjoy the Fall, Winter, and Spring, and the fact that we can get good movies during those seasons as well.