The Good, The Bland, And The Ugly: Summer 2012 Movie Roundup
Hello and welcome to The Good, the Bland, and the Ugly, the annual wrap up of the summer movie season. Below you’ll find nine films that comprise the best, the ho-hum blandest movies, and the downright scary-bad movies of the summer. I am but one person, and so this list is in no way comprehensive. I saw a good portion of the movies released this summer, but not everything.
With that being said, this summer… well… it was kind of a bummer. There were a ton of promising genre films that released this summer and there were very few that I would consider anything higher than mediocre. There’s a stereotype in film and television to portray the critic as a jaded and prudish person who is out of touch with the common person. There is, like many stereotypes, a certain hint of truth in that, but it’s simply isn’t the case in my situation. I love film, and I adore the summer film season, and when the summer contains so many movies that are as bland as these… well, it makes me a bit sad. But enough preamble, let’s begin:
Marvel’s The Avengers
Talk about starting with a show stopper. The Avengers is a movie that will be remembered for many, many things outside of its tremendous characterization and action. Nabbing the title of third highest grossing film of all time domestically and breaking record after record on its run to almost $1.5 billion worldwide, The Avengers was the movie to see this summer. How about that Joss Whedon? Hope you like the guy, because he’s going to have a long and prosperous career in Hollywood thanks to The Avengers. For a creator who kept getting bad news after bad news (Angel cancelled, Firefly cancelled, Serenity tanked at the box office, Dollhouse cancelled), this Avengers “win” is a big deal. It’s like Rocky coming back from losing to Apollo Creed to win the title. Sure, Rock was happy he went the distance, but winning the title is still amazing. Whedon had a cult fandom dating back to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but to become Hollywood’s newest “it” director? That’s gotta feel great. And the best part is that this new fame is totally deserved. Whedonites have long known the capabilities of Joss, but Avengers shows him at the top of his game. He’s not a perfect director, his action sequence blocking in the climax is a little hard to follow and some of the CGI is spotty, but his dialog and characterization crackles with energy in a way that few other superhero films can. Whedon had a daunting tightrope walk to craft Avengers, the culmination of Marvel’s “Phase 1″ film cannon. If Avengers was bad it could have toppled all of Marvel’s plans. These plans are going to get even more difficult as the studio moves into Phase 2, but with Whedon at the helm of Avengers 2 (and contracted to help steer the Marvel film canon for several years) I don’t think we have much to worry about.
Is it a perfect film? Nope. But it’s charming as hell. With ghosts, a great sense of humor, and – my favorite – zombies, Paranoman was like a animated feature made expressly for me. Like Burton’s animated features, Paranorman looks terrific and is fun as hell. But, at its core, Paranorman is a story about fitting in and being understood by one’s family. It’s a message that’s just as endearing to children as it should be to some adults. Charming and at times incredibly heartwarming, Paranorman isn’t afraid to be a little spooky (well, for kids at least) and that’s incredibly refreshing for what is ostensibly a childrens’ film. The fact that it doesn’t talk down to kids is what makes it enjoyable for adults. If you overlooked this one because it’s a cartoon or a kids’ movie, you’ve made a mistake. My only disappointments with Paranorman come from the sometimes jerky animation (that may be attributed to the 3D) and the fact that it wasn’t released in October where it could have made a slightly bigger splash. As it stands, Paranorman was one of the best things about this summer’s movies.
Cabin in the Woods
This is a bit of a cheat, seeing as how Cabin in the Woods came out in April, but I’m making an exception considering how downright dire the rest of the summer season was. Delayed, delayed, held for 3D conversion, delayed, 3D conversion scrapped, and finally released in 2012, Cabin in the Woods has had an… er, storied… development. And though he only co-scripted and didn’t direct, Joss Whedon’s involvement with Avengers is probably more than a little responsible for Cabin’s release this year. (Consider how close Lionsgate released Cabin to Avengers, and that both films are releasing on home video only a week apart. I’d bet the Cabin DVDs have stickers all over them promoting it as being from the writer/director of The Avengers.) Cabin isn’t so much a horror movie as it is a love letter to horror fans. A smartly written deconstruction of the entire horror genre, I’d love to see a sequel to Cabin focusing on some of the culturally different horror styles. The script builds these possiblities into the narrative in a way that makes sense. As a fan of horror film, I just love how Cabin codifies all horror movies into this universe. It treats all the myriad horror movies that exist in the world as if they were historical documents instead of scare schlock. In short, it treats the horror genre with a respect and reverence that it rarely receives. It’s a shame that it performed so poorly at the box office, but if I had to guess, Joss Whedon probably has the sway he needs to get a sequel made should he desire it.
The Bourne Legacy
The first three Bourne movies were like a revelation for action movies. Long before Bond was rebooted, Bourne was considered the American Bond. Three movies that, despite a change in director and style (Doug Liman’s Bourne Identity had steadier camera work but less flashy action sequences; whereas Paul Greengrass’s Supremacy and Ultimatum ratcheted the flashiness while relying too much on shaky-cam) all kept a consistant level of quality. Legacy, written and directed by longtime series scribe Tony Gilroy, doesn’t meet those high standards. It’s not so much the change in lead, Jeremy Renner does a servicable job as Aaron Cross, the new supersoldier on the block, but rather the film’s reliance on the previous entries in the series. It turns out that the “legacy” referred to by the title isn’t just for show; Legacy sticks entirely too closely to the Bourne mold. It’s so much like the previous entries in terms of formula that when it reaches the car chase climax you just know it’s over because… well… almost all of the Bourne movies end that way. It doesn’t matter that the film never creates a persona of its own; instead it feels like it’s meant to be a part of Bourne Ultimatum. The film’s closing moments actually pay off Ultimatum’s story more than Legacy’s. Expanding the Bourne universe is a great idea, doing it the way Legacy does it is not. I’m confident that a future Bourne film can recapture the greatness of the series, but Legacy doesn’t do a great job of… well… carrying that legacy forward.
Let me just say this up front: I love, love, love, love, love, lurve Borat. It’s been some time since I’ve re-visited that film, so I can’t speak to how well it’s held up. Sometimes, especially with comedies, I’ll watch a movie so much that it just loses that initial humor. For instance, I watched Anchorman so many times that I can’t really revisit it any longer. But I hold Borat in fairly high esteem. Because of that, I’ll give Sacha Baron Cohen a shot in nearly anything. Sometimes that serves me well (he was fantastic in Hugo), and sometimes it doesn’t quite work out. The Dictator is an example of when it doesn’t quite work out. It’s not a terrible film, just not terribly funny. And sadly, The Dictator (much like its titular namesake) is a tone deaf mess that doesn’t realize when a joke has worn out its welcome. Some comedies throw a lot of jokes at the screen and continue at a breakneck pace so that you don’t have to worry if something doesn’t land. The Dictator more often than not hammers at the same joke three or four times in a row, even if the joke is terribly unfunny. Jokes land with a thud more often than not, and for a comedy that’s just bad. I debated whether this film or The Watch should fill this slot but ultimately The Watch’s superior cast and better ratio of good jokes kept it off this list.
The Dark Knight Rises
Hey, I know I’m in the minority here, but Dark Knight Rises? Kinda bad. Like, really bad. If I had to use a word to describe TDKR it would be bloated. At nearly three hours, TDKR shows Christopher Nolan at his very worst: a director who doesn’t have any studio executives to say “no” to him. The film veers wildly for almost two hours, building up to the most convoluted and downright stupid plan concocted by a villain until it arrives at its admittedly awesome finale. Nolan spends too much time introducing new characters and subplots while ignoring the things we really care about. Let me state this again: Batman is in costume as Batman only three times in the entire film. I don’t know about you, but I paid to see a goddamn Batman movie, not Batman’s shitty friends take on the new villain, Dumb Looking And Even Dumber Sounding Guy – er, I mean Bane. A lifeless mess, a blight on the otherwise spectacular Nolan-Batman franchise, TDKR infuriates me because I know that Nolan is so much better than this. I’m sorry, people, you can love this movie all you want, but you’ll never be able to convince me that it’s anything more than the absolute mess that it is. You might be wondering why I didn’t place this on the “ugly” list. Well, I really did enjoy the climax. I kinda feel like this flick is too good for “ugly” and too bad for “bland”, but I didn’t want to make this list “The Good, The Bland, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Ugly.”
Tim Burton at his most Tim Burton. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Tim Burton directs Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter in a gothic-style film, and Depp has a silly accent and terrible makeup. That’s… like… almost all of Burton’s catalog minus a few. Instead of his usual self-serious gothic directorial touch, Burton makes this Dark Shadows film reboot into a silly comedy. The real bitch of it is that Dark Shadows would have actually benefitted from Burton’s usual take on these kind of films. The Dark Shadows source material is at this point dated and a little cheesy, but could have easily been interpreted into a decent drama-horror hybrid. Instead, Burton goes for slapstick humor and terrible cliches along with horrible makeup effects and dreadful lighting. It really feels like the 90s Brady Bunch revival movie. Dark Shadows covers several of the series plots (like the Brady Bunch), stars a bunch of people wearing garb similar to the television outfits (Brady Bunch had the cast living in the 90s, but still wearing their period garb. Not exact, but similar), and takes the original series tropes and pokes fun at it (the only trick Brady Bunch knew). With The Brady Bunch these kinds of jokes worked because The Brady Bunch is HUGE, but Dark Shadows? Who the hell remembers Dark Shadows? Not many, so making in-jokes based on old episodes of the series is lost on huge swaths of the audience. Well, it would have been lost if there was an audience. This stinker cost $150 million to produce and only grossed $79.7 million in the United States.
Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter
Horrible script (brought to us by the author of the original book AND the scribe behind Dark Shadows!), dreadful acting, downright laughable action sequences (literally laughable, as we laughed our asses off at moments that were meant to be deadly serious) that ape The Matrix about ten years too late. Add all that up and you’re left with an awful flick, one that is currently the standard bearer for how my group of friends rank bad films. “It’s a bad movie.” “Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter bad?” “Well, no…”
And my pick for worst film of the summer goes to Prometheus. Congrats, Prometheus, you’ve managed to make me forever distrust Ridley Scott. A richly beautiful film, with fine performances from Michael Fassbender (as the perhaps villainous android, David), Idris Elba, and Noomi Rapace, Prometheus flounders about with a silly and inane script that changes genres with almost the same frequency as the number of unanswered questions left at the end. That script, worked on extensively by Lost co-creator Damon Lindeloff (at the insistence of Scott), could have been an engaging and thought-provoking side trip into the Alien universe. Instead it was a muddled and confusing mess that barely clung to the Alien lineage while introducing nonsense plot threads, dumb characters, sci-fi concepts that change to fit whatever need the screenwriter had at the time (the film’s black ooze literally changes characteristics each time its shown on screen), and then ending before anything is resolved. The final moments are aspirational and poignent IF you plan on sticking around for a sequel (should it even be made). But as its own film, the final moments are frustrating, vague, and silly. Plenty has been said of Prometheus’ faults, and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a film squander so much good will post-release – perhaps not since The Phantom Menace – but even if it’s hard to consider Prometheus as bad as Phantom Menace, it was, perhaps, just as disappointing to me.