Summer 2014: This Time With More Big and Loud

July is fading into August and the movies being released into theaters are noticeably quieter than they have been and it can only mean one thing. Summer is coming to an end. Summer doesn’t really have the same meaning anymore now that I’m a real boy and out of school. It’s just a hotter time of year now, it doesn’t really have the same ties to relaxation and fun that it once had. But one thing I can always count on is that Hollywood will always be trying to outdo itself in theaters and this year didn’t disappoint. Well, actually it really did.

This summer I saw six movies in particular; Transformers: Age of Extinction, The Amazing Spiderman 2,  22 Jump Street, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and Godzilla. I suppose you wouldn’t call this a random sample since I chose to see them all, but it’s a sample of what came out this summer and according to box office numbers it’s probably a similar list to most avid movie-goers from this summer. Overall there was a lot of entertainment to be had here and, for the most part, there was a lot to enjoy. However, looking at some of these movies individually and with a critical eye so many recommend you leave at home during the summer, you can see so many problems and issues that make you really wonder how exactly some of these movies are getting made.

Anyways, here’s a short review of each. They will probably contain spoilers so just, like, be aware of that if you choose to go further.

 

Godzilla

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Godzilla was the first movie I saw to start this shindig. It came out in May, technically a week after Amazing Piderman 2, but I saw Godzilla first. I’ll admit that I was somewhat hopeful that we might get a really great Godzilla movie and it would kick off a great summer. I’ll admit that I, too, was taken by the casting of Bryan Cranston and the breathtaking promo video of the HALO jump. There was a lot to love about the movie before it came out. Unfortunately, it came out.

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I didn’t think Godzilla was a bad movie. I want to say that right now, because what I’m about to say may sound harsh without that prerequisite. I thought it was somewhat disappointing and overall unimpressive and generic. But it wasn’t bad. It’s weird to admit that some of the issues I had with Godzilla centered around its marketing campaign, but part of me thinks I would have been able to enjoy it more if the trailers hadn’t made Cranston seem like the protagonist, using all of his lines from the first 20 minutes of the movie in the trailer. I wasn’t surprised when he died, I just felt cheated. They switched out the actor they hinged the ad campaign on for a different, less interesting, protagonist.

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Aaron Taylor-Johnson is in the midst of some cool upcoming roles which I’m excited for, but him and every other character in this movie fell completely flat. He never had a dissenting opinion from someone else in the movie unlike his more interesting father character. Elizabeth Olsen’s character also had a serious case of “nothing to do in this movie.” I mean, I don’t know whose idea it was to have a character who’s a nurse and never have her help someone or save a life throughout the entirety of a disaster film. Like, seriously? Not even, like, trying to stop someone’s bleeding with a shirt? Something? Whatever. My point is here that almost every second that a human character was on screen nothing was happening. Even Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins seemed to just be running around explaining things to other characters. I could have forgiven these issues if there was sufficient Godzilla on monster action, but the screen time the actual fights got was surprisingly low, though that time was a big highlight of the movie.

 

The Amazing Spiderman 2

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Here’s a franchise that’s a mystery to me. It seems like Sony is trying really hard to cling on to its only profitable comic book franchise as to not be forgotten while comic book movies rule the box office for the next decade or so. As a lot of people know, Sony had to reboot this franchise so quickly or they were in danger of losing the rights. Which is fine, I can look past that, but upon seeing the reboot in 2012 I was pretty disappointed that what we ended up with was seemingly the same story as the original Sam Raimi Spiderman movie with a shiny new cast and a funnier Spiderman. And while there were some things about it I really liked, I couldn’t help but scratch my head and wonder if Sony really thinks we have that short of memories? But in their defense, we probably do.

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Needless to say, I didn’t seek out Amazing Spiderman 2 when it came out. I waited until it was in the dollar theater, if for no other reason than I couldn’t find the time or motivation to go see another god damn comic book movie for theater ticket prices. Much like the first one, there were some things I really liked. I thought Dane DeHaan made a fantastic Harry Osborn. He is a really natural actor and I immensely enjoyed his time on screen. I also found Garfield’s Spiderman to be, once again, thoroughly entertaining. His comedic timing is on point. In fact, almost all of the notable actors were great in this movie. Emma Stone is a great Gwen Stacy and Jaime Foxx was even compelling as Electro. It’s just kind of a shame that these great actors giving solid performances are doing so over poor writing that lacks subtlety and a movie that feels like it could have easily been at least two movies.

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There were a lot of awkward moments in the writing and, in general, a lot of problems that could have been solved in one line but were seemingly just ignored. For example, when Oscorp security is hunting down Gwen Stacy for trying to find Max Dillon (Electro) in the company directory and she gets away thanks to how hilarious Garfield is. The fact that she was being hunted by security never comes up again. But she works there. Surely they have her address. Surely she didn’t just quit her job at a multi-billion dollar company. Surely there must have been some resolve to that. Right? It could have even been Harry telling security to back off after he has the conversation with her in the elevator, but instead they opted to just cut to the next scene and hope the audience forgets. There was also an awkward moment at the end where Harry, as Green Goblin, misremembered something that happened earlier in the movie. He seemed to forget that Spiderman came to visit him to deny him his blood and thought that Parker delivered the message for him. Seems to me like there were some rewrites and reshoots and everything came out very sloppy. These may seem like oddly specific complaints, but the movie is full of awkward pacing and silly mistakes like that. Which is a shame because in this almost 2.5 hour long test of patience there is probably a 1.5 hour solid Spiderman movie in there. The Gwen and Peter stuff was great due to fantastic chemistry, Electro was a good villain just with shitty motivations, and the bigger things the movie is building to could have been done more subtly over more movies. You can really feel Sony’s lack of confidence in not only their audience, but their ability to create a strong cinematic universe and it’s unfortunate because they have a great cast and a capable director on their hands.

 

22 Jump Street

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By far the most self aware movie of the summer, 22 Jump Street succeeded as a sequel if only because it knew how stupid it was, or perhaps, how stupid it should have been. Reuniting the unexpectedly hilarious duo of Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, 22 Jump Street didn’t try and hide for a second that it would be churning out pretty much the same movie as before but with different one liners.

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There is a difference, though, in how this was done compared to other sequels. 21 Jump Street had a certain amount of meta to it, with Nick Offerman providing a critique on reboots and remakes in the beginning as well as toying with action movie tropes like the exploding oil truck. 22 Jump Street was no different, only this time rather than subverting the action genre and the idea of a reboot, it was mocking itself for being a sequel to a reboot. And it did it really well, so well that the audience is able to instantly forgive the movie for being another rehashed sequel and simply enjoy the pure comedy that the cast has to provide while not worrying about the plot. I criticized The Amazing Spiderman for being so similar to the Sam Raimi Spiderman. And here, 21 Jump Street is doing the same thing even more blatantly. But the fact that it’s aware of it, that it’s making fun of itself for it, and that it still has great qualities outside of that saved it and, in the end, resulted in one of the better comedic sequels out there.

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X-Men: Days of Future Past

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X-Men Days of Future Past was met with a slew of positive reviews and a general consensus that it was the “Avengers” of the X-Men cinematic universe. And that’s not too far off. Fox has been filling the X-Men cast with a lot of talent since they cast Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart in 2000. And although the X-Men Origins: Wolverine work print leaked seemed to set back the franchise a few years after the initial trilogy, they bounced right back and gave us X-Men: First Class which was surprisingly good and, once again, had a great cast.

So when you take two great casts in one of the more sprawling and expansive comic universes you are bound to make a neat movie, and Days of Future Past certainly was that. The societal critiques were still there with the mistreatment of mutants, and the toying with history is becoming a really fun staple of the X-Men franchise. Lawrence, McAvoy, and Fassbender were all great and really own those characters, and even though Stewart and McKellan and Page were not as focused on it was still neat seeing all of them in the same movie. It really brought together the whole franchise as if they’d planned it all along.

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It still suffers from being a comic book movie, and that’s not to say all comic book movies are bad, but because of their status as box office gold they are often forced into compromise and studio interference. Things like Anna Paquin being edited out and the really forced and awkward exposition in the first five minutes of the movie made it feel sloppy, like it was holding itself back. But once we stopped asking why Kitty Pryde has time travel powers now and got into the meat of the story everything got a lot better and, overall, was one of the best comic book movies of the year next to Captain America: Winter Soldier.

 

Transformers: Age of Extinction

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What is there to say about this movie that hasn’t already been said? Even though the elite critic crowd seems to hate Bay and the movies he is making now, he is such an interesting filmmaker that everyone still has a lot to say about this movie, even if it’s mostly just different ways to say “It looked nice but it was a bad movie.” And that’s really what these movies boil down to. They don’t pay a whole lot of attention to the script, the characters, the plot, or trying to find any emotion in any of those things. But they do pay attention to how the shots look, the use of color, the action, and the CGI.

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This turns a lot of people off, and I’m one of them, but in the vein of giving credit where credit is due, yes it was a pretty movie. Beyond that it was emotionally flat, incredibly shallow, and awkward to the point of wondering how someone was getting paid to write it. You could clearly tell Mark Wahlberg was in love with his daughter, but it’s not because that’s part of the movie, it’s because the writing is awkward. You could tell no one sat down and worked out the ins and outs of the plot, and you could tell giving the robots a personality wasn’t the filmmakers prime directive, but these things were covered up by a mask made of Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammar, John Goodman, and some pleasing visuals and neat action sequences. And while it’s somewhat offensive to think that those things could mask such a stupid movie, it’s also not the worst mask I’ve ever seen a movie use. So there’s that.

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Also it was way too fucking long. Plain and simple.

 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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One of the movies I was more excited to see after being surprised by the quality of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Rise had its issues, but overall it was pretty well done and they are doing some really great things with motion capture CGI that are making the apes a lot more relatable. It’s also turning out to be a great prequel, which if you look at the Wikipedia list of prequels you will see that good ones are actually quite rare. Mostly because a fundamental issue with prequels is that the audience automatically knows the jist of where it’s going.

This set of Apes movies are all going to the same place, eventually to the original Charlton Heston movie, but it’s not how far in the past compared to those movies that is saving these movies. Everyone who sees these movies know the Apes will eventually take over. What’s saving them is the new perspective being put on the old idea. Society collapsing, racism, and artificial intelligence are all very real fears people have today and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes definitely has hints of each in it. Even though the actual story is somewhat cliche, the ideas being presented are relevant and interesting and it definitely makes for a better movie, a movie that I can look past some small issues to appreciate the larger picture it’s painting.

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Probably the best part of the movie was watching the apes interact in their own society. Seeing the halfway point between apes in a zoo and the apes in the original Planet of the Apes. There is respect, love, and rebellion alive in the ape society. Father and son relationships took the spotlight in this new movie, with Jason Clarke motivated by protecting his son, Caesar motivated by his two sons, and a pivotal moment in the movie being when Caesar’s son agrees with Koba and takes him on as a father figure. Making that father/son relationship so important in the ape society brought a lot of great emotion into an already interesting story.

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Although the humans do a fine job in this movie, some of them do suffer from lack of characterization in the movie. Gary Oldman and Jason Clarke seem to be the only ones who get any real characterization, although you get hints of what each character lost when the virus took over. But what is most impressive in this movie is how the apes are done. They looks, act, and feel like real apes. They have made even more strides in motion capture CGI since Rise and it’s so apparent. Maurice the Orangutan looks flawless, you almost forget there aren’t real animals on screen sometimes. Even though I think Andy Serkis is a bit of a diva with all of the spotlight he’s been getting the last few years, he is definitely doing interesting things with motion capture and it will be interesting to see what he does with The Jungle Book and any other projects he works on in the future.

You know, there’s still a lot of movies I want to see from this summer. Original movies that aren’t a sequel or a prequel or a remake. Movies like Jon Favreau’s Chef, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer, Edge of Tomorrow, and even the Seth Rogen and Dave Franco movie Neighbors. But I chose to see the above movies for some reason. Sure, some of these movies may have been small release or not as anticipated, but from reading reviews almost all of them are guaranteed to be better than half the ones I did see. But in the end I guess I took the role of the average movie goer and went for the movies with familiar titles and stories, and as the box office shows time and time again, the quality of the movie tends to matter less than the franchise behind it these days. It’s not a good thing, but it’s certainly the state of cinema right now and I’ll be damned if I’m going to miss out on it.

- Boner

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