A baffling summer at the movies started strong, until the good choices were too widely dispersed over the course of four months. The bad movies were in such abundance, audiences managed to wisely put their foot down and voted with their pocketbook. Instead of saying, “Oh, why not, I saw the other four….,” filmgoers actually said no to Michael Bay’s Transformers: The Last Knight. It felt like a triumph for good taste, until I discovered that Bumblebee, a spin-off no one asked for, is in the works.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Despicable Me 3 and Cars 3 were also box office under-performers, an indication that audiences won’t pay for sequels no one was begging for. The movies that found adoration were an unpredictable lot: film buffs said yay to Girls Trip and nay to Rough Night. Thumbs up for Mandy Moore getting terrorized by a shark but thumbs down for Will Ferrell and Amy Pohler. Smiley-faced emoji for The Hitman’s Bodyguard but a poop emoji for The Emoji Movie (ah, cruel irony, most fair and true!).
Then there was Baywatch, a seemingly can’t-miss product that was tossed into the ocean without any hope of resuscitation. You know something went horribly wrong when Dwayne Johnson, an ensemble of hotties and 90 minutes of jokes seemingly written by 13-year old boys couldn’t win over a summer movie audience.
Not enough art house-loving filmgoers turned out for Sophia Coppola’s shocking The Beguiled, the acclaimed The Big Sick or The Glass Castle by Maui’s own Destin Daniel Cretton. The upside is, at least we won’t have The Emoji Sequel or a spin-off Poop Emoji’s First Movie anytime soon. Here’s how the rest panned out.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, succeeded by giving audiences what they wanted: planet-sized laughs, eye popping visual effects and lots of Baby Groot. James Gunn’s farce made coming up with a great sequel to the biggest hit of 2014 look easy.
Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant appeared to be giving fans what they wanted: chests bursting, guns blazing and Xenomorphs Gone Wild. Instead, Scott defied expectations and made one of the strangest films of his career. Sci-fi fans will continue to draw lines in the sand over this, which is every bit as crazy, ambitious and rich with ideas as Scott’s divisive Prometheus. Good for him.
Then came War For the Planet of the Apes, the best film of the summer. It pushed the technological breakthroughs and political allegories of the franchise even further. Yet, that latter quality is also the likely culprit why audiences mostly walked away after opening weekend. I guess everyone was tired of hearing “We’re gonna build a wall,” even when it came from Woody Harrelson’s Colonel and not the other guy.
Annabelle: Creation arrived late in the season and was just the horror film audiences were looking for. Those holding out for the torn flesh and tortured screams of Jigsaw had to put up with thick suspense, electrifying frights and old school storytelling. Clearly, The Conjuring universe is worth visiting.
Another nice surprise was Atomic Blonde, one of the year’s most under-appreciated comic book movies. The Dark Tower was a victim of studio-tinkering, but don’t let the 88-minute running time, PG-13 rating and absurdly crammed screenplay fool you. Yes, it’s a mess, but much of it works and Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey keep it lively. Hopefully, a much-longer Director’s Cut will redeem this guilty pleasure later on.
Good but Overrated
Wonder Woman is the biggest hit of the summer, a well-deserved success. Director Patty Jenkins achieved what seemed impossible- making a really good movie about a character who was famously difficult to adapt on film. Over time, we’ll be able to discuss how those last 20 minutes are terrible and that Gal Gadot’s acting abilities are a work in progress. For now, let’s celebrate the win: the movie works.
I fell in love with the filmmaking in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk but the movie itself (with its detached, multi-narrative construction and muted performances) left me cold. Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver started strong, revving its creative engine as exhilarating imagery and a winning mix tape of tunes sped by. Near the end, Wright’s film forgot it was a homage, tried to become a real deal, bloody-violent car chase action movie and got stuck in a speed trap.
Audiences by and large loved Spider-Man: Homecoming but I couldn’t get around star Tom Holland’s shrill, overly-caffeinated and inexperienced performance as the new Spidey. Michael Keaton’s nifty villain and a great, last-minute surprise twist helped but not enough. I miss the personality that filmmaker Sam Raimi and stars Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield brought to the webslinger.
Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is glorious for about 20 minutes then fatally nose dives, even before Rihanna shows up as a mighty-morphin,’ blobby blue alien. Had Besson cast two leads with genuine chemistry, this could have been another Fifth Element.
The too-cool-for-school Logan Lucky was deemed “Ocean’s 7/11” by someone in the movie, which is wishful thinking. It Comes At Night was a would-be art house hit that didn’t live up to its hype as Horror’s Next Big Thing and delivered overly familiar clichés.
Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit, by far the biggest disappointment of the summer, captured the bloodshed of the 1967 riots but offered no insight. Bigelow’s attempt at making a timely, painful examination of police brutality and a legacy of racism felt redundant in light of recent events.
All Eyez On Me turned the remarkable life of Tupac Shakur into a half-baked, TV-movie ready promo for Death Row Records. A bigger surprise was the stench of Snatched, in which an alarmingly unfunny Amy Schumer and a still-funny Goldie Hawn had to carry a premise that wasn’t remotely comedic. Schumer’s Trainwreck was a winner but her latest is a major step backward.
An intended franchise-building failure was Guy Ritchie’s irritating King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. A brawny, aggressive style gave creative juice to Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes but not Camelot. Ritchie’s disaster is this year’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
Tom Cruise has never made anything quite like The Mummy, a shockingly bad attempt to build Universal Studios’ “Dark Universe.” Memo to Hollywood: Rather than worry about franchise-building and mimicking the unmatchable success of Marvel Studios, perhaps rival studios should focus making a single, solitary great movie? Next time, forget about building a “universe” and just make one movie that matters.