The Films of Summer 2014
September is here and therefore the summer season of films has pretty much come to an end. The tent poles have been brought down and now begins the season of films vying for Academy Awards early next year.
But lets look back at the summer that’s been. There were a variety of films that were released and although I didn’t get to watch all of them. There were certainly clear winners, losers and talking points to take back from the summer slate.
Marvel laid down their intents early with the release of Captain America: Winter Soldier. I wasn’t a huge fan of the first Captain America film but Winter Soldier in my opinion raised the bar hugely and I would go as far as saying it’s the best Marvel film that isn’t The Avengers.
Marvel had one other film to come. Guardians of the Galaxy. This film had the potential to be a huge hit or a massive failure and it turned out to be the former. It had a lot of heavy lifting introducing a new cast of comic book characters to box office audiences in a world remarkably different from previous Marvel films. But the cast, led by Chris Pratt, did a stellar job. The film was funny and action packed. It struck a chord with audiences while adding to the Marvel cinematic mythology (Oh hey there Josh Brolin!). It’s rightfully led to a sequel and caps off another good summer for Marvel. Expect the same next year when The Avengers: Age Of Ultron and Ant-Man represent the Marvel team.
More super heroes!
It wasn’t just Marvel Studio’s own franchises that had all the fun. The summer saw the release of The Amazing Spider-man 2. Boasting the introduction of Electro, Rhino and Green Goblin. Fans were wondering if it was a case of being too many villains and repeating Spider-man 3. What we got was a film that certainly delivered on the action beats (Well it’s Spider-man, you can’t really mess up his action scenes) but was let down by some distracting flaws. Jamie Foxx hamming it up as a super nerd giving Guy Pearce a run for his money and a clumsily handled backstory to Peter Parker’s father. It seemed to be doing too much. As well as the three villains and the handling the famous Gwen Stacy storyline, it also tried to fit in threads that will later lead to the expanding Spider-man universe in sequels and spinoffs.
On the other hand we had X-Men: Days of Future Past. This seemed to be trying to do the opposite and make it’s world smaller. Bryan Singer returned to the X-Men franchise with two different casts at his disposal. Uniting them both in a fun time travelling romp. Singer’s film did some housekeeping for the franchise setting things up for the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse. Days of Future Past also included one of the standout scenes of the summer wherein we saw Quiksilver’s mutant abilities at work (Beat that Aaron Johnson!).
Scarlett Johansson took a break from any superhero related films this summer to headline her own action film in Luc Besson’s Lucy. While Scarlett Johansson can certainly kick ass, I felt the film was pretty poor and the way I described it at the time was “A Neil Degrasse Tyson documentary with more guns”. Besson seemed intent on trying to ask and answer many philosophical questions but doing it through a ninety minute action film was not right way to go about it. And despite Scarlett Johansson being a likeable actress, it was hard to root for or feel empathy for a walking cypher who seemed to be indestructible and could defeat anybody with a wave of her hand.
I really really wanted to watch 22 Jump Street over the summer, unfortunately, I did not get the chance to go. I had to settle for The Inbetweeners 2 instead. The film saw the guys go off to Australia for a holiday and if you’ve seen the tv series or the first film then you know exactly what you’re getting. Copious amounts of jokes involving bodily fluids. For some reason audiences have not got tired of this and the film made loads of money meaning a final film is likely much to my dismay. However I will say I appreciated any jokes about the upper classes on their ‘gap yaar‘!
Let’s Be Cops was another comedy I was able to watch. It’s an amusing comedy with two likeable actors in Jake Johnson (New Girl) and Damon Wayons Jr (Happy Endings) headlining. It features a nice cameo from Keegan-Michael Key (Key and Peele) and I certainly would not be opposed to a sequel. Let’s Be Gynaecologists?
Finally, one comedy that flew under the radar was They Came Together Starring Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler who retell the story of how they met and fell in love. It plays with and spoofs the conventions of romantic comedies (“You could say New York City is practically another character!”) and features a bunch of great supporting comedic actors in smaller roles.
Some things never die…
They’re never going to stop making Transformers movies. You may as well just resign yourselves to defeat. Transformers 4 did nothing to redeem the franchise. This film dropped Shia Laboeuf and instead went for Mark Wahlberg as the most muscly scientist ever. The film is exactly as you would expect, a bunch of explosions tied loosely together with a flimsy plot aboutt some random macguffin. Like previous films, it features an established actor degrading themselves (Stanley Tucci), casual racism (apparently everybody in China knows martial arts) and a camera lens that’s attracted to the nearest pair of breasts or legs. It also goes on a ridiculously long time. I have never been so relieved to see end credits.
This summer saw the release of the third Expendables film. Stallone et al are back and this time Wesley Snipes is with the gang but it seems there’s only room for one black guy in the team because as soon as he joins the film, the much more reliable Terry Crews is taken out. The third film also saw the introduction of a new bunch of young recruits to the team which is rendered pointless when they’re given almost no characterisation and instead are used as a plot device when they’re captured by Mel Gibson. The one saving grace of The Expendables 3 is a nice little meta joke at the beginning of the film which I’m going to tell you now so that you don’t have to watch the film to see it. After breaking Wesley Snipes’ character out of a heavily fortified prison, he’s asked by one Expendable why he was put in prison in the first place. Snipes’ response: “Tax fraud.”
Familiar Faces Return
After nine years, Robert Rodriguez delivered on his long promised Sin City 2. Any excitement I had for the sequel dissipated long ago. But if you enjoyed the first Sin City, you should be right at home here. Just like the first film, Sin City 2 is abundant with sex and violence. All through the stylised black and white cinematography. Despite it’s brisk 100 minute run time it does seem to drag on too long but one area where I think this film works is actually the 3D. I have long been against 3D but in this film it seems to make the world come alive and gives it a distinctive look.
The sequel to the reboot of Planet of the Apes saw it’s release this summer. Dawn of the Planet Of the Apes dropped James Franco and brought in Jason Clarke (always good), Keri Russell and Gary Oldman. Also returning was Andy Serkis as ape leader, Caesar. This film doesn’t have any new ideas under it’s belt. Everything it offers has been done before. But the way in which the film executes them is pretty damn good. It’s a shame that Keri Russell is given limited things to do. Anybody who has seen her on The Americans, knows she’s capable of great things. Gary Oldman is also given surprisingly little to do. But the real star of the film is Andy Serkis and WETA workshop. Caesar looks absolutely brilliant and every nuance in Serkis’ performance is captured through the digital character. Props should also go to Toby Kebbell and his ape, Koba. In fact all the apes are brilliant in this film. The first twenty minutes is dedicated to them and their society sort of bringing to mind the opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I would have happily watched an entire film about the apes as they communicate with sign language and sparse dialogue.
My Favourite Summer Movie: X-Men: Days of Future Past (although if I could count Captain America 2 (March) as a summer movie I would go with that)
Favourite Performance: Andy Serkis as Caesar. Yes that’s right, a digital ape out-acted everybody.