Summer movies are supposed to play like fun carnival rides, taste like cotton candy and feel like exhilarating dreams to escape in. This year, the majority of May-August films were more like broken-down rides, stale candy and cinematic nightmares. The Bummer Summer of 2016 was a collection of letdowns. Here’s a recap:
The genuinely scary The Conjuring 2 was a rarity–it made a lot of money, was popular with audiences and was actually good. In a summer where too many dogs squeaked by or died out of the starting gate, James Wan’s stylish sequel matched the promise of the original. Only slightly less terrifying is the clever, Wan-produced Lights Out, which should lead to a surge in nightlight sales. The old hat but highly enjoyable Star Trek Beyond should satiate Trekkies until they find a genuinely new direction to take. X-Men Apocalypse fell apart in the third act, when a somersaulting, Frederick’s of Hollywood-attired Olivia Munn spun it into pure camp. Until that point, Bryan Singer’s grand, exciting sequel had more than enough to recommend it. The violent, too-hip-for-the-room Ryan Gosling/Russell Crowe comedy The Nice Guys has a cult following awaiting its blu-ray/DVD release. The same fate awaits the less-than-perfect but still hilarious Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, a very of-the-moment satire. The charming Pete’s Dragon was that rare remake that wasn’t a Xerox of the original and was much better.
Will Smith’s skipping out on round two of ID4 wasn’t the problem; the dumb-and-proud-of-it screenplay and Edward Scissorhands editing job on the pace were. Still, it was a lot of fun and the extra-terrestrial school bus chase at the end was one of the best action sequences of the summer. Independence Day: Resurgence won’t become the 4th of July staple the original was but it deserves better than the $5 bin at Target. Sausage Party had its moments, but admitting I laughed at a talking douche isn’t the same thing as actually suggesting you watch the movie.
No one wanted sequels to Alice in Wonderland, Now You See Me, Neighbors, The Mechanic or the 2014 version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, let alone another Purge or a fourth Ice Age. Hollywood executives, take note: making a hit movie is a gamble. When you hit big, walk away a winner and don’t look back. Going back to the table and risking it all on the same game is a stupid bet. The same game was played by Jason Bourne, a crushing summer letdown that worked hard to spin gold from a story that had already concluded perfectly.
Too Much Love
Captain America: Civil War began the summer season. It’s an uneven, patchy, two-and-a-half hour movie of moments that drags whenever Iron Man and Spider-Man aren’t onscreen. The summer’s top grossing monster hit, Finding Dory, had a similar problem. Sure it was beautiful and occasionally funny, but even devoted Pixar parents know it wasn’t as good as the original.
Adults Got Left Behind
To be fair, I’m not convinced there was ever a wide audience awaiting instant flops Free State of Jones, The Infiltrator, Florence Foster Jenkins, Hands of Stone or Money Monster. Still, movies for grown-ups were scarce. Meanwhile, Woody Allen’s Cafe Society and the love-it-or-hate sensation The Neon Demon never came to Maui. The acclaimed Captain Fantastic opened this year’s Maui Film Festival but never got a local theatrical release. Why? Was Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates hogging too many screens?!
Some embraced The Legend of Tarzan but I couldn’t get into the anachronistic dialogue, lifeless performances and gratuitous Samuel L. Jackson. Art movies continue the baffling trend of being made for millions, boasting big name movie stars and finding a wide release, despite being “independent.” A film that should have died on the festival circuit but somehow played for three weeks on Maui was The Lobster, proof that Colin Farrell has made a more insufferable film than Alexander. Then there was Suicide Squad, a jumbled catastrophe that oozed with contempt for its core audience. It made a lot of money, just like The Flintstones, Batman & Robin, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and every other summer hit that initially looked good but wound up an embarrassment. If the best that can be said about a new movie is that its “just okay” or “not bad,” take that as a warning.
Photo from Star Trek Beyond: Movieweb.com