The summer movie season has begun, and true to form, the anticipated blockbuster “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” topped the box office last weekend. I would like to write that I have nothing against summer blockbusters because in my heart I don’t feel like I am against them. Yet I must confess to being annoyed by the annual onslaught. So I guess what I’m really feeling is exhaustion. I know it’s a frequent sentiment from film critics and movie fans of a certain age. But it’s a legitimate concern when the blockbusters become more and more mindless.
Yes, all movies are a form of escapism. And I love a good fictional explosion as much as the next franchise geek. But what’s wrong with establishing a solid, slightly unpredictable story and vaguely realistic dialogue? I’m not saying abandon all catch phrases, but could more of them contain some real irony or cleverness?
I’m truly not trying to pile on these beleaguered screenwriters who have been force-fed clichés from the time they embarked on their first satellite course. It’s an inevitability, really, this retreading of super hero tropes and high-octane car chases and million-dollar explosions that are bound to be more and more disappointing because we’ve seen it all. Maybe that’s why the demographic for these movies is typically 18- to 25-year-olds – they haven’t seen it all … yet.
I admit there are some franchises that fall into that category that are near and dear to my heart, but that’s because they at least started out with the kind of storytelling, action, suspense and compelling characters the first true “blockbusters” – “Jaws” and “Star Wars” – set the stage for. In fact, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have a pretty unbeatable track records as far as summer blockbusters go – from the Indiana Jones franchise to movies that stood alone like “E.T.” and “Minority Report.”
“Die Hard” comes to mind. It may not seem like a standard-bearer in the aftermath of all its sequels, but it contained an honestly compelling plot, great humor and one of the best movie villains ever (“You ask for miracles, Theo, I give you the FBI.”). “X-Men” had gravitas built into its characters’ struggle for equality, but not so many mutants in the opposing teams that we lost interest in keeping track. They waited for the sequels to do that disservice. “Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight” made Batman a more believable super hero for those of us who didn’t grow up reading the comic books. Tim Burton’s “Batman” was less believable, but still a lot of fun. And there’s nothing mindless about “Alien” or its sequel “Aliens” for that matter. I know I’m in the minority, but I even liked “Alien3.” With those movies you get one of the most legitimately formidable creature-villains ever, the menace of corporate greed and power as an undercurrent, and the rare privilege of seeing a truly heroic woman kick ass for a change.
As for the ones coming up this summer, I am curious about the Mad Max reboot, but that’s mainly because of Tom Hardy (I am so rooting for that man to break through with audiences!) and because “Road Warrior” was so badass. And I will probably always watch the “Mission Impossible” sequels in hopes that one day there will be another sequence as entertaining as the one in the first movie from the time Ethan describes the impossible mission on the train (“Relax, Luther. It’s much worse than you think.”) to the time his team breaks into and back out of CIA headquarters. Of course, that sequence includes the famous scene of Ethan suspended in mid-air in the “impenetrable room fortress.”
So I am not above loving the blockbuster. I was reared on them. This is more about the formulaic bludgeoning we’ve gotten from the repeat offenders clearly out for profits over the genuine attributes of entertainment value, the “more is more” mindset that is going to yield nearly a dozen films over the next four years from the Marvel cinematic universe alone.
I get that it's sometimes necessary to milk the cash cow and pay for all the boutique pictures us film snobs dote on so much but don't have that mass appeal. I’m just making a plea for quality control. You don’t have to be Spielberg or Lucas – and you never will be – but just take a cue from them and start with a great story. Perhaps that’s why I don’t mind the upcoming "Star Wars" sequels so much (Although I do mind them a little for the same reason I don’t think people should write sequels to books they didn’t write originally. I don’t care if the original author says it’s OK. Why tamper with the mythology?!). I am a true movie fan, which means I will rarely be completely happy with anything. But I will continue to look forward to the opportunity to be pleasantly surprised by a deliberate summer blockbuster. And I stand in awe of all those filmmakers who try to get it right for those who care and those who just want to see aliens in car chases with super heroes destroying cities while spies fly spacecraft into the earth’s core to save mutant babies.
My 2015 summer viewing list
Here are the movies I’m looking forward to seeing this summer season. The lack of potential blockbusters is coincidental. The ones I am eagerly awaiting – “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice – will not be summer releases.
“Far from the Maddening Crowd”
Classic English literature, Carey Mulligan as an independent woman trying to choose between three men … Wouldn’t miss it.
“The D Train”
I miss Jack Black.
“Welcome to Me”
Kristen Wiig stars in this comedy about a bipolar woman who wins the lottery and decides to buy her own talk show – an unusual premise to say the least. The trailer looks pretty intriguing, and I like the cast, especially Joan Cusack (I miss her too), Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tim Robbins.
Even though I feel like it’s too late for this to be a movie, I was a fan of the show and definitely want to see what happened to the boys.
“Live from New York!”
Documentary about the not-ready-for-primetime players. I’m in – even though I haven’t regularly watched the show since Will Ferrell and his SNL alumni class left.
Amy Schumer is damn funny. That is all.
Ian McKellen as a retired Sherlock Holmes under the direction of Bill Condon. As a huge fan of the fictional detective, I have to see how well they do.
The latest Woody Allen flick – this time starring Joaquin Phoenix as Woody’s alter ego.
“Straight Outta Compton”
Is the world ready for N.W.A.’s story? Based on the racial issues erupting in the country over the last few years, it is a timely release about the struggles of young marginalized black men who end up beating the odds and finding success.
“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”
I’m an anglophile and a Guy Ritchie fan.
I’m also a Gillian Flynn fan, and she wrote the book this movie is based on. I can’t imagine that it will be as successful as “Gone Girl,” but if director Gilles Paquet-Brenner keeps the suspense of the novel, Charlize Theron, Chloe Grace Moretz and Nicholas Hoult ought to be able to keep it interesting.