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A Summer of Disappointment

Elysium

Now that we’re in summer’s lame duck session—that period after Labor Day, but before the actual start of Fall—it’s time to reflect on passing of the summer movie season.  I started the Summer with such high hopes:  there was a veritable cornucopia of genre films on deck, and comparably few franchise entries (though quite a number of wannabe franchise kick-offs).  I was looking forward to a whirlwind of novelty (well, by Hollywood standards, anyway) to help me get over franchise fatigue I’ve been feeling, but what I got was a steaming pile of disappointment.

Of course, I’m only going to speak to genre films here—at this point, that’s all I’ll really pay theater prices to see, given how egregious the costs have gotten.  I want spectacle on the big screen (or, more rarely, I want to see a comedy before all the jokes are spoiled around the water cooler).  Everything else can wait until On Demand…

The season started, and quite weakly I’ll add, with Iron Man 3, which was easily the worst movie of the franchise (and likely the worst of the recent Marvel offerings, period).  I think this was the flick that really underscored just how tired I am of franchised content (and judging by the phoned-in performance, just how tired RDJ is of the same).  That tagline, “Tony Stark will Return,” read more like a threat than a promise.  Star Trek Into Darkness didn’t help matters either, as its phony gravitas and flip the script approach to a classic Trek tale was ultimately hindered by an absence of character development and lackluster performances by everyone but Benedict Cumberbatch, who despite being awesome and menacing, wasn’t a very convincing Kahn (then again, neither was Ricardo Montalban…).

Then came After Earth: a Will Smith/M. Night Shyamalan vehicle for Will Smith’s Mini-Me… Next!

Man of Steel was a bit of a bright spot.  A reboot, of course, because after watching the Bradon Routh movie, many fans actually lived that cartoon gif of the guy who smashes his face into his keyboard until it’s a bloody ruin, and then dies.  So even though it told the same old Superman story again, it was just novel enough with cool Krypton sequences and a robust performance by Kevin Costner, that I actually really enjoyed it.  Not to mention that it featured what are easily the best super-human fight sequences since the Matrix movies.

Then we got World War Z.  I’ve had people try to assure me that it had some value, even if it wasn’t a faithful adaptation of the book.  I say to those people: “They’ll never find your bodies!”  A wretched movie, its worst crime is actually that, given Hollywood’s licensing system, it could be years or decades before someone gets a crack at doing the book justice.  Fucking Brad Pitt…

The Lone Ranger I include in this list for its fantastic elements.  It was a bit of a guilty pleasure—I enjoyed it while I was watching it, but afterwards I felt kinda dirty.  All of Depp’s weird ‘red face’ humor aside, even the way it told its story was weird (ostensibly in flashbacks, mostly for comedic effect).   Between the combined floppage of The Lone Ranger, Tron Legacy, and John Carter (the latter two I actually enjoyed), I expect that Disney is probably sick of taking risks on these kinds of flicks (long gone are the days of movies like Black Hole and 20K Leagues).  It terrifies me to imagine what they’ll do to Star Wars, in that light…

Just when all hope was lost to the darkness of Johnny Depp playing yet another obtuse character that was different, yet somehow remarkably indistinguishable from the last obtuse Johnny Depp character, there came a light!  Regular readers may recall my excitement for Guillermo Del Toro’s robot versus kaiju slugfest, and that enthusiasm remained unabated until release day.  My enthusiasm was tempered, however, by the lack luster films that came before it—I expected the worst and hoped for the best.  Fortunately, that hope wasn’t in vain!  This movie met my every expectation and fulfilled its every promise.  I just wish that it had met more commercial success, so that we could expect more risky, Guillermo goodness in the future (spoiler alert: everyone I know is getting Pacific Rim Blu-rays for Xmas).

And really, what was left after that?  R.I.P.D.—a comic adaptation featuring actors I like doing things they should’ve been ashamed of—and the Wolverine, which I skipped, because frankly, my butt hasn’t stopped hurting from the drubbing I got on the last one. (I’ve subsequently been assured that I should watch it, but I’m going to do it in the safety of my home, with my belt securely fastened.  And lots of whiskey.)

Oh yes, I remember what came after that:  Elysium.  I suppose one can’t expect EVERY movie to be District 9 quality, but I think that one CAN expect some modest amount of forethought to go into the world building and the screenwriting, such that the decisions that your characters make have something akin to “logic” and “consistency.”  After a summer of mediocrity (the gloriousness of Pacific Rim aside), I expected this to be a home run, but it was hands down the biggest disappointment of the summer movie season for me.  I’m not one to quibble about plot holes and minor details being overlooked, but it was by the grace of the Elysium’s visual design that I didn’t walk out of this disaster of a film.  No one should see this movie with the sound on.  It will only frustrate you.  Instead, Dark Side of the Moon it, or something: enjoy the visuals, but steer clear of actually consuming the story, because you’ll only be disappointed.

So that was my depressing summer: another year of Hollywood phoning it in.  I mean, part of it is the audience—if people aren’t going to turn out for flicks like “Pacific Rim,” yet will shower dollars down on mediocre third installments of Transformers and Iron Man, we can basically kiss quality original movies goodbye.  Of course, the other part of the equation is the absurd budgets Hollywood moviemakers are demanding.  Until the industry gets over the 100-million-dollar-budget-plus-half-again-in-marketing mega-movies filling the genre film space, and tries to tell stories with more modest means, we can basically kiss inventive sci-fi flicks goodbye (except in the rare case of the indie quality indie sci-fi movie, of which there are a few notable examples).  I’m not counting on that.

Don’t get me wrong.  I had a lot of fun this summer—just not at the movies.

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This entry was posted by Chris Avery.

8 thoughts on “A Summer of Disappointment

  1. Luckily, “Pacific Rim” did fantastically well in overseas markets, so they’re actually talking sequel. Maybe, given the perils inherent in sequels, “luckily” is a questionable word choice.

    I skipped “Lone Ranger”, and I’m SO glad it failed. I’m sure Hollywood will learn the wrong lesson (people don’t like Westerns) and ignore the obvious (people don’t like bloated, special-effects sizzle reels with an afterthought of characters, including one in redface). Still, as more gargantuan blockbusters fail, Hollywood at some point needs to recognize that budgets are out of control, and should be spent on stories over spectacle.

    • I dunno, there’ve been some successful westerns in the past few years that may save the genre from another 50 years of obscurity. The 3:10 to Yuma remake, the True Grit remake, and Django (not to mention Cowboys vs. Aliens) are all excellent. But Lone Ranger was just… unfortunate… for all involved.

      • Sure there have been successes, but Hollywood tends to look at the short-term results. It’s like the old cliche that a female lead won’t sell tickets. I can think of plenty of movies with female leads that did pretty well, but when something like Catwoman tanks, that’s what gets mentioned. Westerns are a bit different, as they really shouldn’t cost $250 million to make (unless you’re trying to do an old west version of Pirates of the Carribean, of course.) Keep the budget down (thereby eliminating needless special effects sequences), I can see a Western or two being made.

  2. I’ve seen surprisingly few of them this year, where I once attended screenings with the joy of a child on Christmas morning (and I am looking forward to that blu-ray), I now look upon trailers with the exhausted cynicism of a 90’s gen-X’er who doesn’t know how good he had it.

    Of what I did see, Pacific Rim was my favorite as well. I never did get a second showing of it and now I’m beginning to regret it. I largely agree with you on the rest, exempting Iron Man 3 – of which I think I’m the only one of our bunch that enjoyed it.

    And a shout out to Tron Legacy – the best music video I’ve seen in theaters in a long time. (And I mean that in a good way!)

    • Iron Man 3’s biggest problem was 1) the director, Shane Black, who chose to direct Kiss Kiss Bang Bang 2 rather than a Marvel flick, and 2) the total lack of Iron Man in the movie until the (spoiler) carnival of stupid at the end. It was just an extremely disappointing movie for me, but we can agree to disagree. 😉

      As for Tron Legacy, it was definitely a music video (and not the weirdest that Daft Punk has done). Unfortunately, I didn’t care for Daft Punk’s score. I would’ve preferred someone along the lines of Squarepusher. That said, I enjoyed the flick. And Olivia Wilde.

      • Definitely agreeing to disagree, on both counts. I loved that soundtrack.

        I’m actually not much of an Olivia Wilde fan, but damn if she wasn’t cute in that flick.

        I also noticed upstream you mention Cowboys vs. Aliens as a *good* movie? I think it’d fit in well with this year’s dud bunch honestly. Or just as a good Western? I might argue that too. Even the aforementioned Olivia Wilde was largely forgettable there.

        If the timing works out we should do a screening of Pacific Rim during the cabin trip. I’ll look into it.

  3. I loved Iron Man 3, therefore all of your points are invalid! I’m just kidding, I agree with most other stuff, at least about the flicks I’ve seen. It sounds like I was wise to consider Elysium a rental for when it comes out though.

  4. I wanted to love Iron Man 3, I did. It was just a big let down to me, since the first two were my favorite Marvel flicks and I thought there was a wide gulf in tone between 3 and the previous films. That said, I love KKBB–it just wasn’t the right fit for the series.

    And I would agree: Elysium is fine DVD fodder. Definitely watch it. Just turn off your brain or it will annoy you!

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