Back in May, who would’ve thought the top grossing movie of the summer would be Guardians of the Galaxy? In fact, who knew it would be any good? Audiences turned out in droves for the latest Transformers, despite having never met anyone say they enjoyed it. Sex Tape flopped but The Purge: Anarchy was a real hit. The teaming of Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton in And So It Goes lured very few, but Chef played at the Maui Mall theater for nearly two months. You never know what’s going to be a hit, what stalls out of the gate and, most importantly, which of these Event Movies will be any good.
It wound up being the Summer of Female Empowerment, as proven by Angelina Jolie in Maleficent, Shailene Woodley in the surprise hit The Fault in Our Stars, Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow and Scarlett Johansson in Lucy. Girl power was alive and well (even the much-hated Tammy made some coin, despite audiences finally tiring of Melissa McCarthy). As for the rest:
Maleficent opened in May and played on Maui screens through August. It quietly made over $230 million and is the biggest success of Angelina Jolie’s career. Why? It’s a terrific movie, with more depth, darkness and guts than any live action Disney movie in years. Another big surprise was Luc Besson’s unapologetically crazy and wildly entertaining Lucy, the kind of wacko pulp masterpiece only a French madman like Besson could have made. Indeed, female empowerment was the biggest theme of the summer’s two best, most uncompromised visions.
SEQUELS AND COMIC BOOK FLICKS THAT WORKED
Guardians of the Galaxy was a lot of fun and the summer’s biggest top gun but it lacked the style, class and excitement of the summer’s best comic book adaptation, X-Men: Days of Future Past.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 and 22 Jump Street were rare sequels that improved upon their predecessors (something that can’t be said of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For).
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was a bleak prequel and a stunner of a CGI showcase. Its downbeat themes only gave it more credibility with longtime fans, now salivating over Caesar’s ongoing monkey business with human kind.
UNDER THE RADAR
In a movie that already boasted Sofia Vergara and Scarlett Johansson in the cast, Chef made a grill cheese sandwich look sexy. Foodies beware: if any movie will make you laugh AND crave a hearty meal afterwards, it’s this one. Snowpiercer briefly played at the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center but will likely accumulate cult status in the months to come. The little seen but stunning Chris Evans/Ed Harris sci-fi thriller was better than most of the bigger, louder offerings of the season.
The Expendables 3 provided the delightful sight of Harrison Ford flying a helicopter with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jet Li on board and firing machine guns. The Step Up All In 3D effects made me flinch and the dancing sequences were wonderful. These aren’t great movies but their best moments, isolated from the “plot,” were great fun.
The years worth of trailers for Godzilla made it look like it couldn’t miss. Gareth Edwards’ less-is-more approach admirably aimed for Jaws-like suspense but wound up giving us too many one-note humans, and not enough of The King of Monsters. For all of its admirable qualities, no would-be blockbuster was more disappointing.
Every one of Marvel’s rival studios is trying very hard to make The Avengers and suffering. Take The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which boasted too many villains and a story more busy than interesting. Attempts to set up future installments and build a franchise nearly buried the sweet love story at the film’s center.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was only more tolerable because expectations were so low. Then again, how good can a movie be when audiences whined that it needed Vanilla Ice?
Jon Hamm’s first starring role in a Disney, real-life sports drama sounded like a no-brainer for one of the most charismatic actors on television. Unfortunately, his Million Dollar Arm wasn’t even on par with The Mighty Ducks.
Memo to Warner Brothers: if you’re going to ever attempt musical bios on either Franki Valli or James Brown, don’t A. release them in the summer, against a handful of blockbusters audiences would rather watch instead and B. never have your characters break the fourth wall and speak to us again. We didn’t like it. If Jersey Boys, Get On Up and the trailers for the Christmas releases of Into the Woods and Annie are any indication, then 2014 is a rotten year for musicals.
YIKES, THAT WAS BAD…
A Million Ways to Die in the West was so bad that it might develop a cult following from the kind of inebriated offenders who still insist Freddy Got Fingered was misunderstood.
Earth to Echo tried to be a found footage E.T. but wound up this year’s MAC and Me.
Finally, there’s Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction, proving once again that a lavish marketing campaign can buy success. Perhaps, one day, audiences will avoid a movie they know in advance is going to be terrible.
This was reportedly one of the worst movie summers on record, monetarily speaking. In terms of quality, the great films were few. Summer of 2015 is looking better, with Jurassic World, Terminator: Genisys, Mad Max: Fury Road and Fast and Furious 7 (yes, all are sequels or remakes) scheduled to open. Fingers crossed.
Photo of Maleficent: Movieweb.com