It was shaping up to be a fantastic summer for movies, so I decided to see as many as I could. In the end, it was a mixed bag, but still mostly enjoyable.
Iron Man 3 2013. Directed by Shane Black
This franchise is all about defying expectations, and after a somewhat weak sequel, Iron Man 3 is back with a vengeance, throwing comedy curve balls and plot-defying twists as fast as its screenwriters can dream them up. One of the complaints about Iron Man 2 was its incredibly CG-y nature—the entire climax was just CG animated suits fighting—and I love how the screenwriters dealt with it this time, inventing a wayward suit that always goes to pieces, placing Robert Downey Junior’s character into countless situations where his precious armor wasn’t an option. It’s good to see Iron Man without his Iron Man armor, and its a testament to the power of the character that it works so well. Robert Downey Junior is Tony Stark, and Tony Stark is Iron Man, regardless of what he’s wearing. The story is crazy and fun, the characters and dialog sparkle, and the action is mostly well choreographed and rendered. A good way to start the summer.
Star Trek Into Darkness 2013. Directed by J. J. Abrams
I loved Abram’s first Star Trek. It was loud and flashy but it had soul and was grounded in character. The same can be said for this film, but not to the same extent. The character development is still central, and the same level of frenetic action plays out, but it just seems to be treading water, rehashing most of the same plot points and action sequences of the first film. The whole thing just goes by in a blur, and just isn’t as fun or engaging as the first. Add to that some painfully awkward moments of fanboy pandering, and a finale that seems way too rushed, and you get the bland mess that is Star Trek Into Darkness. Long story short, I’m starting to worry about Star Wars Episode VII again.
After Earth 2013. Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
M. Night Shyamalan has become a whipping boy for critics. It seems he really strikes a nerve, directing his actors to play so stripped down and low key that they sometimes seem like robots, and shooting slow, long takes. If he made self-proclaimed independent art films, I think he’d get more praise and recognition. The fact is, he makes studio films like After Earth that stand out like sore thumbs. Critics and film-goers alike don’t like that. They want status quo comfort filmmaking, not challenging acting styles and slow pacing. I admit, Shyamalan has been off his game for far too long. Lady In The Water had a lazy script, The Happening was weirdly dull, and The Last Airbender was all over the map in terms of plot and pacing. But Devil, the story he wrote and produced a few years back, was pretty good and I decided to give him another chance and go see After Earth. I wasn’t disappointed. The story centers around a father and son attempting to survive on a bizarre sci-fi world after a deadly crash. It’s paced very slowly and the story is dead simple, but I think it works, and the Smiths–Will and his son Jaden–do an admirable job playing emotionally distant characters who learn to trust and love each other. I’d place it very low on my list of Shyamalan’s films, but it definitely isn’t cringe worthy. It’s a shame he was treated so poorly this time around.
Man of Steel 2013. Directed by Zack Snyder
Any way I look at it, this film is abysmal. I saw Man of Steel three times this summer, and every viewing made me more depressed. The colors alone ruin the film, all muted and muddy, but it gets worse, lots worse. You see, the screenwriter didn’t think that the snide, witty banter of Lois Lane and her friends at the Daily Planet would slide in today’s “bleak” and “realistic” world, so they decided to make them all jaded newshounds, who drink and cuss and get angry and talk about blogs and WikiLeaks. The film also muddies the mythos. Superman is no longer just a refugee from a dead world. He actually represents stolen property, the theft of which played a major part in destroying his people. This helps the plot move along but dosn’t make for a character who’s fun to root for. Also, Superman dosn’t seem to remember that flying is fun, that he likes his job or that his powers should be used to save innocent bystanders while he’s battling the baddies. Instead we get a lot of grim frowns, pity party soul searching, and exploding buildings full of civilians that ‘Supes just lets fall. I haven’t even mentioned the laughable and pointless “death-by-dog” scene, the fact that the film has no idea how tornadoes work, that Superman fights a bunch of flying balls in the pacific ocean while ten blocks of New York are pulverized, or that the Sears and IHOP logos play a major part in multiple scenes. Zack Snyder is a stupid filmmaker who makes stupid films, and I just don’t understand why Warner Brothers decided it was a good idea to give him the keys to such a beloved franchise.Who even knows what Christopher Nolan was doing as producer? He was probably off in a corner somewhere weeping or drinking, probably both. Blech. Just blech.
Monsters University 2013. Directed by Dan Scanlon’
It didn’t seem like we needed a prequel to Monsters, Inc. and I was worried Disney was just forcing Pixar to cash in on the franchise. Luckily for everyone involved, Monsters University is a good film in its own right and a pretty decent followup/setup to the original film. Great animation, a fun story and well crafted new characters make for a solid entry in Pixar’s cannon. ‘Nuff said.
Pacific Rim 2013. Directed by Guillermo del Toro
I loved this film! It’s a big, dumb throwback to Godzilla movies, but with a good heart, solid character development and great pacing and humor. Cinema history has taught us in recent years that not only can you go wrong with giant robots and monsters, but you can create cinematic trash that’s not worth the film it’s printed on. Transformers 2 and the 1999 Godzilla come to mind. Thankfully, del Toro knows how to tell a good story and when enough CG is enough. Sure, there’s a ton of robot-on-monster combat here, but its just enough, and no more. Not satisfied with CG fight scenes alone, Del Toro also delivers a melodramatic, corny love story that’s still a lot of fun to watch, some good comedic relief and lavish art design that you just want to soak in. This is a real step up from the director’s last film, the rather awkward if beautiful Hellboy 2.
The Marxist Ranger 2013. Directed by Gore Verbinski
The Lone Ranger is a Marxist and a xenophobe. He hates capitalism and white people. Believe it or not, the original goofy kids TV show was way more nuanced. It recognized that there were good and bad white men, and that there were good and bad Native Americans. This film is way more simplistic and polarized. The red man can do no wrong and the white man can do no right. It’s also incredibly Marxist. In a stirring monologue, the Lone Ranger finally realizes that money, not love of money, is really the root of all evil, and that capitalist progress is just thugs murdering everyone. Really subtle stuff. He also has no problem slaughtering US soldiers and in a particularly troubling scene, US soldiers are slaughtered by Native Americans, set to stirring music. When the soldiers fight back, defending themselves, the music gets sad. Wow. Subtle.
The Wolverine 2013. Directed by James Mangold
After so many comic book films that go all out, blasting us with too many action sequences, too much plot and too many characters, it’s nice to take a deep breath, relax, and watch The Wolverine. Of course, this is no picnic—let’s not forget that the main character has knives for hands—but for once this summer we get a film that breathes, with stripped down action that focuses more on the characters and less on the flashy visuals. Wolverine, played by Hugh Jackman with as much pathos and verve as ever, goes to Japan and gets involved with an ancient Samurai family that’s extremely dysfunctional. He has to fight some bad guys, but mostly he hangs out with the lovely granddaughter of an old friend. He’s been tasked to protect her from hordes of ninja, and wouldn’t you know it? They fall in love. But wait! Nothing is as it seems! Wolverine must deal with his invulnerability and in a particularly brilliant move by the writers, his possible lack thereof. The Wolverine is not a great film, and it works better as a commercial for the upcoming and much anticipated X-Men: Days of Future Past , than anything else; but it shows us how a super hero film dosn’t have to be an epic to be good, and it’s definitely a heck of a lot better than it’s predecessor, the awful X-Men Origins: Wolverine (shudder!)
Elysium 2013. Directed by Neil Blomkamp
Elysium posits a world where a readily available device is created to heal all injuries and diseases, and the owners of this device keep it to themselves rather than share it with all. Problem: no reason is ever given for this miserliness. Sure, the villains in question growl and smirk self-righteously, and toss around words like “illegal immigrant” and “national security,” lowering this intentionally socially conscious film to an embarrassing level of liberal childishness, but not once do they explain their evil ways. I guess we’re just left to assume that they’re capitalist monsters? In any case, villains with no motivation are boring, and even a decent performance from Matt Damon can’t keep this film afloat. Add to that a noticeable lack of dialog and an overabundance of action, and you get yet another big dumb summer action film in socially conscious clothing. The effects and art design are nice at any rate.
So that was 2013′s big, dumb summer of movies. It seemed to go by in a flash. I avoided most of the animated films, and stuff like World War Z and Oblivion just weren’t my cup of tea. Here’s hoping for some more thoughtful fare as we enter awards season.