Summer has always belonged to the children. As a kid, I could spend entire Tuesdays as a pirate exploring the treacherous woods of eastern Kansas. (Don't question it. The fun of those afternoons was more about experience than plot.) Now that I'm older, I find myself a little light on summer escapism. There are no new shows on TV, and with apologies to baseball, America's now senile past-time, there are no good sports to watch either. Where does a 26-year-old child turn to get him through the season? To the most celebrated refuse of fantastical fun — the summer blockbuster.
They came. They were wonderful and horrible. They went. Let's take a moment this Labor Day to reflect on the five biggest successes and the five biggest failures of the yesterday's summer season, and don't quesiton the choices. Summer blockbusters are more about experience than plot.
The Five Big Winners
1. The Avengers
Incredibly, The Avengers accounted for 15% Hollywood's entire box office this summer, but if money was what I cared about most, I wouldn't be an internet blogger. The Avengers was sadly overlooked in Grantland's Sequeltology. It's an ultimate sequel, latching onto our familiarity with a half dozen characters and blending them with cheesy jokes and self-indulgent action. If that doesn't sound like praise, then this should. The Avengers knew exactly what it was, and worked it hard. It stayed in its lane, and staying in your lane is how you get where you need to be.
2. The Amazing Spider-Man
A bit of an unpopular selection here. But this movie did good work as a reboot because it's actually a new film. It didn't try to compete with the same elements that made Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies great (Raimi did only make two Spider-Man movies, right?). I also like it coming out in the same summer as the two most anticipated super hero movies of all time. While we get to watch Batman fight to shape the world to his ideals, we get to see Spider-Man's ideals being shaped by how he fights his world. Peter Parker's a kid who's acting like an ignorant, self-centered jerk for most of the film. That's a good point for a first movie about a character who becomes the moral conscience of the Marvel universe. "Put the mask on. It will make you strong." It's a successful foundation.
3. The Dark Knight Rises
Yep, a third super hero movie. I think we all knew that The Joker would have the last laugh, and he did. This might have been the worst of the Nolan trilogy, but that's like getting a bronze medal when Usain Bolt's in the race. Not bad. Was it long? Like a John Galt monologue. Was there anything missing? Yes, most notably a Rocky Balboa-esque training scene before the second Batman vs. Bane clash. (I'm sure it was tough for Nolan to leave that out.) But the movie tied up the loose ends. Nolan and Bale weren't going to do this forever. It was satisfactory, and when expectations are this high, that's a pretty good blockbuster.
There are not many bankable actors in Hollywood, the kind of guys that you can trust to not star in a crappy movie. Somehow Mark Wahlberg has snuck into this safety zone of managed expectations. Am I buying a Will Smith or a Leonardo DiCaprio level of entertainment? No. Am I going to feel like I wasted my money? No. Wahlberg is like the Domino's Pizza of movie actors. Without much competition, Ted became the best comedy of the summer. Who knew?
5. Magic Mike
How badly did I want to put Expendables 2 here? As badly as I want someone to explain how Liam Hemsworth snuck into that glorious cast. He actually would have been a much better fit in this film, which had a surprising level of success as the first step in a subversive play by men to reverse the gender roles. My biggest question is this: how many women that paid money to go see Magic Mike would refuse to pay money to go to a strip club?
The Five Big Losers
When are big-wig movie producers going to get it? If they want to make Taylor Kitsch a movie star, then they need to give him eight months to grow his hair out and make a movie called Tim Riggins: The Tim Riggins Story. As for Battleship, I agree with movie reviewer Brandon Conyers who wrote, "If you don’t like convoluted story-lines, and you love WWII and Korean War era sailors coming to the rescue, then this is right up your alley. As for me, I didn’t care for any of those things."
2. Rock of Ages
I think one can make a case for Tom Cruise being the greatest movie star of my lifetime, which is different than saying greats actor. He brings it every single time. Too bad he's the only one who brought it in this flop. It reminds me of when Kobe Bryant's best teammates were Smush Parker and Brian Cook. I think hating Tom Cruise enough to watch him suffer through a bad movie might be the only reason to see Rock of Ages.
3. Total Recall
Hard for me to list this. I loved the original Total Recall. I still love Colin Farrell. But how could this ever be good enough to make me happy? Expecting this to be good would be like beginning to date a girl with the expectation that her cooking is going to be better than your mom's. It's just unfair. I blame myself.
4. The Watch
It's 2012 people, the year of the Mayans. That's the only reason I'm not surprised or even saddened that Mark Wahlberg and an animated bear have become a safer comedy lock than Stiller, Vaughn, Hill and a token minority.
5. Snow White and the Huntsman
Kristen Stewart, the Dane Cook of A-list actresses. I found myself conflicted between my unhealthy and sexually confusing obsession with Chris Hemsworth, and my healthy but sexually confusing hatred for Kristen Stewart. Great cinematography, solid performances by Charlize Theron and Hemsworth. This is on you, K-Stew.