A Summer of Disappointing Blockbusters

Star Trek 2, Iron Man 3, and Man of Steel Logos

POSSIBLE SPOILERS FOR STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, IRON MAN 3, AND MAN OF STEEL BELOW.  READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Summer is winding down and except for a couple of big budget releases late in the year (Thor 2, Hunger Games 2, The Hobbit 2), most of the year’s major blockbusters have been released.  And, wow, have they been underwhelming.

I try to get out and see most of the big releases of the year, but as a college student with limited funds I still have to pick and choose what I see.  So I haven’t seen Pacific Rim or The Wolverine yet, but to be honest, despite being directed by Guillermo Del Toro, Pacific Rim never really caught my interest and The Wolverine has had a mild reception from both critics and comic fans, so while I won’t judge it, I can say that I’m okay with waiting to see it.

The big three blockbusters of the summer as I see it have been Star Trek Into Darkness, Iron Man 3, and Man of Steel.

Star Trek Into Darkness – Short digression: Why don’t modern action movies have stakes anymore?  I mean, they pretend to.  “Oh no, there’s a gun pointed to the hero’s head!  There’s no way they’ll escape!”  But then the hero does escape and we all go, “Well obviously they wouldn’t kill the hero.”  But why not?  I want to see a blockbuster movie kill off it’s lead.  I don’t even care if they bring them back for the sequel through science, or voodoo, or whatever.  Just follow through on your threats, screenwriters, because their starting to appear pretty hollow at this point.

Anyway, Star Trek Into Darkness is like Star Trek (2009) except that this time it came out in 2013.  It’s pretty much the same trip we took last time, and it gets pretty dull.  All the character’s basically have the same arcs as they had in the first one, and none of the action scenes are all that unique or interesting, except for the ship-to-ship space flight and even that still felt like a missed opportunity.  Plus, the title is stupid.

But the movie did make me realize one thing:  J.J. Abrams has got to stop with his “mystery box” crap.  For those of you who don’t know, Abrams quite often uses a technique in his movies that he refers to as the “mystery box”.  The mystery box is the big unknown in a movie that keeps the audience curious and interested in the movie, and he likes to use it a lot.  What’s up with the island on Lost?  What is the Cloverfield monster?  Who is Benedict Cumberbatch in Star Trek 2?  The problem is that the time and attention devoted to these mysteries is often not worth the eventual payoff, making the movies feel pointless or empty once you figure out the answer.  J.J., you don’t need a mystery in every single one of your movies to keep people interested in the movie, the characters and story should do that.  (By the way, the answers to the questions above are: “Who knows?” “Just some monster” and “Khan.  Everybody called it the second we saw the trailer.”)

Iron Man 3 – I never did like Robert Downey Jr’s too-cool-for-school, sarcastic-but-likable jerk persona as much as most people seem to, and considering how much the Iron Man films depend on him to pull their weight, they’ve never been my favorite of the Marvel movies (Captain America is the best, by the way).  Don’t get me wrong, I always enjoyed them, but they never really blew me away or stuck with me, and the same can be said for Iron Man 3.  It has about one legitimately good action sequence, and everything else in the movie is just sub-par.  Except for the Mandarin, none of the characters are that interesting, and the mystery surrounding Extremis, Guy Pearce, the Mandarin, and the vice president is unnecessarily convoluted.  There aren’t enough action scenes with the Iron Man suit, and the climactic battle makes them appear as sturdy and indispensable as a shopping cart.  And to all the people who would argue, “The whole point is that he doesn’t need the suit!”  I say, “I don’t care.  The suit is badass and I want to see it in action.”  A solid but ultimately uninteresting action flick.

Also, props for putting in the wise-beyond-their-years precocious kid ally stock character and not having it completely destroy the movie.  I still have trouble watching Jurassic Park because I hate those kids so much.

Man of Steel – Superman being Dark Knight-ified has pretty well split the fan reaction to the movie in two.  Some people like the darker tone, while others see it as a total misreading of the character.  I fall into the “hate it” camp, and not because it doesn’t do the character justice.  I’ve only read one Superman book and I didn’t like it so I couldn’t care less if they change the character or story, I just want a good movie.  Unfortunately, that’s not what we got.  The movie drags pretty much the whole way through.  The editing in the movie is strangely bad.  None of the scenes build any sort of emotion or tension.  The trailer was better cut than the actual movie.  Henry Cavill could be a good Superman, but he isn’t ever given anything interesting to work with.  Supes and Lois’s relationship was rushed and unconvincing.  I swear, the spent a total of twenty minutes together throughout the whole movie.  What annoys me most about the movie isn’t that they changed the character, it’s that some executives at Warner Brothers looked at The Dark Knight trilogy and went “Do that but with Superman.”  The whole concept behind the movie just feels so cynically derived.  Kevin Costner’s Pa Kent is well-acted but his character’s thought process and motivation are confusing, and his death scene is absolutely ridiculous.  My favorite part of the movie was the Zod/Superman fight at the end, but even that begins to bore after the first dozen or so buildings crumble.  The second worst movie I’ve seen all year (I saw The Host.  You know.  The alien Twilight movie.  We try not to talk about it).

Side note: Writing this has made me realize that there hasn’t been any really great action scenes this year.  Where’s this year’s Helicarrier, or Candieland shootout or Golden Grate Bridge ape fight?  I don’t think any movie this year has legitimately gotten my heart thumping like those did.

So summer wasn’t that great for blockbusters, but there’s still a reason to be optimistic for the rest of the year.  Nerd movies to be excited for:

Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to District 9, Elysium

Alfonso Cuaron’s guaranteed-to-be-deeply-unsettling astronauts stranded in space movie Gravity

Guilty pleasure of the year contender Riddick,

Hopefully better than the first one, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

– Cam

Be a pessimistic cynical snob with me in the comments!  And come back every Tuesday for more!

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