by Eric Paolini
With the release of Oblivion a few weeks ago the movie industry is moving into the summer season. If we weren't there with the latest Tom Cruise vehicle, we are certainly there now with the release of the latest installment in the Iron Man franchise. While it isn't actually summer yet, the summer movie season has been stretched earlier that the more appropriate title should be the blockbuster season.
Every summer is dominated by blockbusters that cost upwards of $100 million and are usually reboots, sequels, or adaptations. (Even though I didn't love Inception I do appreciate that it was an original idea. Original summer blockbusters are unfortunately rare.) The makeup of this year's slate consists of more superhero movies (Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, and Thor: The Dark World), science fiction (Star Trek Into Darkness, Pacific Rim, and R.I.P.D.), and so many apocalyptic movies (After Earth, This is the End, World War Z, Elysium, and The World's End -granted two of those are comedies).
If your tastes fall into one of those categories, then this summer will be a paradise. But even when faced with little options, I still won't go see Iron Man 3. I will see The Place Beyond the Pines or Mud again before Iron Man 3, although I might do that anyway truth be told. Why Iron Man 3 is so successful right now is beyond me. Is it because people really love Tony Stark/Iron Man? The third installment has made $76 million and $46 million more on opening weekend than Iron Man and Iron Man 2, respectively. Is it because the third movie is better? The first movie has the highest score on Rotten Tomatoes (general audience and critics) so that can't be it. Or is it carry over from the incredible success of The Avengers where Iron Man is integral?
Or is it simply because people love blockbusters? In my film snobby cynicism, I can't believe that 100% of the people flocking to theaters for the latest Iron Man, or when they do for Star Trek, Superman, or whatever apocalyptic movie is currently showing, because they love the characters or the filmmaking. I can't help but analyze these movies close to the same way I would the aforementioned The Place Beyond the Pines and Mud. Those movies have rich characters, acting, directing, and storytelling. I'm sure Iron Man 3 beats them in arial shots and explosions. But is that really a win? I don't think so.
Maybe The Avengers worked its way to $623 million domestic because that many people read the comic books or love those characters teaming up so much. Maybe Iron Man 3 has worked its way to $185 million thus far because people love Tony Stark so much. But I can't help but believe much of its success is due to its place in the current zeitgeist. Extremely large studios spend hundreds of millions of dollars making these movies. They spend millions more advertising them. People see them because of personal interest, it's the predominant movie at the local theater, and to be a part of the conversation. A circle of life is created where the movie is made, its large stature dictates a high audience opening weekend because it's the movie they are aware of, which causes more people to see it because so many others are, its box office success is talked about in the media now causing more to see it to join the conversation, and the success causes a sequel or a similar film to be made causing the cycle to occur once more.
Maybe people really do appreciate the obvious CGI and have no problem suspending incredible amounts of disbelief. Maybe people love arial shots, bad exposition, and little dynamic filmmaking in scenes that are not action. But I don't. And this why I won't be upset when the blockbuster season is over.
That is not to say there is nothing this summer that interests me. Nicolas Winding Refn's follow up to Drive, Only God Forgives, is being released sometime this summer (if IMDB is to be believed). Sofia Coppola's young adult sociopath film, The Bling Ring, looks promising. Even if only for its spastic directing style and for more Emma Watson. Steven Soderbergh's second film of the year, Behind the Candelabra starring Matt Damon and Michael Douglas about Liberace will be released at the end of the month. Now You See Me may be worth a look only because of an impeccable cast despite a visual style that concerns me from what we've seen in trailers. The Kings of Summer and The Way, Way Back are two coming of age, independent comedies that look worthy of seeing. And finally rounding the "worthy of checkout" list is Neil Blomkamp's follow to District 9, Elysium, simply because District 9 was good enough to warrant a view on Blomkamp's next film and Matt Damon is in mostly good films.
While this summer isn't full of avoidable films, the ones that will be dominating conversations I have no interest in. Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy's The Heat, as well as The Hangover Part III, will be the summer comedies talked about because they have the biggest names and the broadest comedy. The Kings of Summer and The Way, Way Back have the chance to remembered in five to ten years as solid indie comedies. They also have the chance to be mediocre, unimaginative indie comedies as well, but what are the chances The Heat is a modern comedic masterpiece?
The first trimester of every calendar year has become the dumping ground for studio trash. (It doesn't need to be this way, but that's the way the studios operate.) Thus far, we have had a few pretty good to very good films be released (Side Effects, Spring Breakers, The Place Beyond the Pines, and Mud). But mostly we've been stuck with such gems like Oz the Great and Powerful, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, and Jack the Giant Slayer. Summer is the when the quality of films picks up at the theaters. However, these films look better than they actually are when compared to some of the dreck from the months previous. I, however, don't suffer from this shortsightedness.
While people are getting overexcited about the latest superhero fodder (except for Christopher Nolan's Batman. That's not fodder but brilliance) I'm looking forward to Steve McQueen's new film to open (Twelve Years a Slave - possibly pushed to early '14), the sequel to the only Robert Rodriguez film I like (Sin City: A Dame to Kill For), Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut (!!!!), Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street (it's Scorsese, what else needs to be said?), Ridley Scott's team up with Brad Pitt (The Counselor), and David O. Russell's American Hustle.
Maybe it's simply just this: some people get excited to see known characters and maybe some explosions on the screen and I want to see what some great filmmakers put on the screen. Whatever the case, I'm able to look past the monstrosities that are summer blockbusters. Their bloated budgets, reliance on CGI, and plans for just entertainment don't do much for me.
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