Summer’s come and gone. And, the big tentpoles are put away until November. We’re in the middle of September dumping grounds, waiting for Gone Girl to launch us into October’s Dark Horse awards season. That is, unless you’re lucky enough to get a theater with Zero Theroem.
So, what were your favorite major summer movie? Or, if you didn’t really have a favorite, what do you wish you could have seen?
My favorite summer movie was Lucy. It’s possibly the messiest, sloppiest, movie of the summer, but it was a helluva lotta fun. On the surface, Lucy is a stupid, stupid, brainless film. Lucy’s a girl who mistakenly ingests a magical drug which allows her to open up her brain in ways previously unknown to mankind. This allows her to manipulate the world, and puts her at the center of a sci-fi kung fu action movie. But, underneath the surface, Lucy is all piss and vinegar. Luc Besson is stylishly pissing on all the “profound” movies that have come before, especially that of The Matrix and The Tree of Life. The final act which rips off and openly mocks both movies with contempt is not soon to be forgotten, but the kicker is the final iteration of Lucy. Her final iteration is a joke so openly bitter and tongue-in-cheek that it throws the movie that came before it into sharp focus.
At the risk of going for the obvious, I had a blast at Guardians of the Galaxy this summer. It was one of the most ambitious and best-realized space operas I’ve seen in some time, with gonzo images like a mining colony in the disembodied head of a dead outer-space giant, and fighters that lock together to create a phalanx-like force field. I also enjoyed the characters, led by Chris Pratt channeling Jack Black. Although I’ve seen almost all the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and could trace their connections to Guardians, I think this works just fine as a free-standing science fantasy epic. For one thing, it wasn’t afraid to get weird.
Between the above two mentioned movies, “fun” seems to be a keyword for the summer. And while usually I love nothing more than a picture that knows when not to be serious, the standout affair of the season for me was Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. A very somber movie, but also a thoughtful one, Apes looks seriously at issues of bigotry, trust, diplomacy, and the awful truth of war while never letting the fact that half of its cast are primates really get in the way of having this thoughtful discussion. Thus the film has a way to have it’s cake of genre silliness like watching an ape civilization flourish or seeing apes wielding machine guns, and eat it too by framing all of this in a very serious context with consequences that wind up becoming very emotionally affecting. Usually I’m against movies that try to “uplift” their genre by adding doom and gloom, but that just made me more delighted by this film wildly succeeding where Star Trek Into Darkness and Man of Steel failed.
I don’t think I laughed harder at any summer movie than I did in 22 Jump Street. More than the quality of any given jokes (and there were some truly inspired gags, most of them involving Ice Cube), I was really impressed with the intricacy of its big meta joke: namely that the entire endeavor was a rehash of the first film. It’s a very intricate joke, and one that takes a couple of viewings (and revisiting the original) to fully appreciate. However, puts the movie over the top and makes it my pick for the summer is its end credits sequence. Lord and Miller flay the concept of franchising alive, giving us quick peaks into increasingly desperate sequels that only tangentially tie in to the original premise, bizarre merchandizing and tie-ins (including a video game and ‘80s style cartoon show), and even some hints at behind-the-scenes drama (“What contract dispute?”). It’s a wonderfully off-the-rails sequence of increasingly absurdist gags that feels rare for comedies in the age of frat boy humor and melancholic dramedy.
Raoul F. Gonzo
I won’t say it was my favorite blockbuster of the summer (that would be either Dawn of the Planet of the Apes or Guardians of the Galaxy, depending on the mood I’m in), but I’ll be the sole voice of support for what was certainly high on my list – Transformers: Age of Extinction. Before wandering into it this past 4th of July, the only Transformers movie I had seen was Transformers: The Movie. It certainly is a mess and it certainly is guilty of most of the things people accuse it of (and I’ll deal with those things in my next Michael Bay and Me entry), but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a blast watching it in 3-D on a ginormous IMAX screen. I think of it like a modern day Godzilla Vs. Hedorah – it’s confounding, incomprehensible mess but it’s a fun ride and one with a desire to do nothing more than entertain.