Wednesday, August 22, 2012

End of the Summer Review: Wading Through a Lackluster 2012 Season

Not that the summer movie season is ever loaded with the highest quality films, but this summer of 2012 felt especially flaccid at the multiplexes.  There are a many number of factors playing into this lackluster year, I believe.  First and foremost, expectations were not met all throughout these summer months.  Then there were the remakes and sequels, falling flat for the most part.  There were maybe two critically-acclaimed entries this season - maybe a few more but we'll get into that in a minute - while everything else suffered through mediocrity.  All in all, I find myself relieved now that the summer season is coming to an end, and I look forward to the fall to get this sour taste out of my mouth.  Let's just hope the promise of this upcoming fall and awards season - and there is a great deal of promise - doesn't turn out the way these hot months did.

EXPECTATIONS


We may as well start with the great expectations leading up to this summer slate.  There are always big, big films audiences are eagerly awaiting, and it seems that every year there are a handful that deliver on the promise of their trailers.  The Avengers got things off on the right foot, and was the most widely accepted big-budget summer flick of the season.  It was a smash success, and a hugely entertaining fanboy dream.  And July brought us the enigmatic and oft-discussed finale to Christopher Nolan's epic Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises.  For all of its collection of minor warts, this will be the most discussed and picked apart film of the entire year.  That speaks volumes to the magnitude and lasting impact of Nolan's final Batman, more so than any type of disappointment may be out there.  For the most part these two films met expectations and they delivered on promises.  But what about everything in between those films?  And what about everything beyond The Dark Knight Rises?

Men in Black III came and went without much fanfare, still bringing in a little dough.  It currently sits at $178 million, and while that is respectable I imagine it was much less than was expected.  Snow White and The Huntsman has more publicity now than it did upon release given the shady on-set romances.  Even Pixar's Brave didn't seem to carry with it the energetic Pixar fanfare the likes of Toy Story or Wall-E or, well, any other Pixar film.  And what about The Amazing Spider Man?  Was it so Amazing?  Sure, it's 73% aggregate score on Rotten Tomatoes is okay, and the $257 million haul seems solid.  Andrew Garfield is a good Peter Parker and The Lizard is fun and yadda yadda yadda... When was the last time you heard anyone discussing this film at all?  I remember seeing the film, then I remember not thinking a single thought about it until, well, right now.  It was entertaining I suppose, but hollow, soulless and ultimately unnecessary.  Just another one of these reboots and remakes and sequels that fell flat - although this new Spidey might have had the loftiest expectations.

REMAKE/REBOOT/SEQUEL STALENESS

These things seem to be getting worse.  Some sequels are inevitable and some audiences cannot wait to see, because they end a trilogy or they have to exist to carry on a franchise in the right way.  But why was this Spider Man reboot necessary five years after Sam Raimi's last film was released?  Beats me.  And then there is Total Recall, a vapid remake of the classic Paul Verhoeven sci-fi romp that was stripped of its humor and style for CGI overload.  While Colin Farrell is a finer actor than Arnold Schwarzenegger, I don't think he fits in a big action film like this.  I know it is chic right now to remake Verhoeven films, but there is a reason they won't work.  The satire of Verhoeven's work cannot translate into a remake.  Which is why I feel less than optimistic for the upcoming Robocop remake.  That is for another segment.

The Bourne Legacy also missed the mark.  While it was still at least an interesting film, something was missing from the picture.  Tony Gilroy and company did some interesting things with plot structure, but the heart and soul of the film and its characters, save for the performance of Rachel Weisz, were lacking.  It just adds up to another lackluster reboot/sequel hybrid that failed to meet lofty expectations.  Then, of course, there was Prometheus.  While I vehemently defend Ridley Scott's return to Alien territory as a thought-provoking spectacle, and while I admire the ambition of the picture, there was not a more divisive and maddening film this summer for fanboys and moviegoers in general.  I will admit there were holes large enough to drive spacecraft through, and some plot threads fell apart, but the effort was enough for me.  There is a beautiful film at the heart of Prometheus, despite the warts.  Nevertheless, one would have to chalk the film up as an overall disappointment.

Then there  is The Expendables 2... I don't have the energy to get into this right now.

ON THE BRIGHTER SIDE...


There were a few smaller-scale films this summer that saved the season for me.  Two of them, Magic Mike and Killer Joe, proved to the world that Matthew McConaughey was ready to show off his range and abilities as a great (yes, great) actor once again.  Most people would label Moonrise Kingdom the best film of the summer, and while I simply could not engage with the film I see why many tag it as Wes Anderson's greatest work in a decade.  But these films have something in common; solid directors.  Look at the two most successful big summer films, directed by true visionaries.  Sure, Scott may have faltered, but Joss Whedon and Chris Nolan showed off their directorial prowess in The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, respectively.  And in these smaller films, it was Steven Soderbergh (Magic Mike), William Friedkin (Killer Joe) and Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom) who were able to pull us through a less than stellar summer movie season.

Unfortunately, Oliver Stone couldn't save his hapless and aimless Savages