RECAP: How Did Our Most Anticipated Summer Movies Fare?
After a parade of superheroes, spies, dinosaurs, and even anthropomorphized emotions, the summer movie season is winding down. But before we head into film festival season, it’s time to look back at what Jason and I (way back in April) listed as our most anticipated films of the summer.
At the time, we based our picks on whatever information we could get our hands on – from trailers to casting info to industry buzz. We didn’t expect to like all of the films on the list, but simply wanted to list the ones we felt were going to generate the most buzz and maybe become this summer’s biggest hits.
In the end, we loved some and hated some, and unfortunately missed some during their theatrical runs. Since a lot of the same movies ended up on our two separate lists the last time around, we figured we’d combine the recap on our most anticipated list into a single handy post for your reading pleasure.
Behold: your guide to the winners and losers of the summer!
ROBERT: Never got around to seeing this one. Ashamedly, I’m not familiar with much of the series, much to Jason’s frustration, I’m sure. But I hear relatively good things? It definitely made a ludicrous amount of money, and is already moving towards an eighth film.
JASON: Yup, totally holding it against you. Tokyo Drift was an A-plus essay on cultural assimilation, dammit! Not only is an eighth film (Fast 8, 2017) in the works, I hear they’re making 10 of them! I was a little apprehensive toward James Wan taking over the franchise, and even though I think he’s no Justin Lin, there’s no denying the film achieved new over-top-heights and gave Paul Walker a wonderful send-off. Did I mention this film grossed $1.5 billion?! I said this would be the “best action blockbuster” of the summer but I didn’t think it would shatter the box office! I mean, that number is Star Wars and The Avengers territory. That's insane, especially when you think about the differences in target demographics and the scale of merchandising. But really, who doesn’t like a Diesel-Rock-Statham gun (or gong?) show.
ROBERT: This was easily one of my favourite films of the season, if not the year. You can find my full review here, but Ex Machina struck a balance between thought-provoking philosophical questions and down-to-earth dialogue. It’s also many North American viewers first exposure to the magic of Alicia Vikander.
JASON: It didn’t make my list, but, wow, talk about overlooked. I don’t think the film tackles any ideas that haven't already been featured in films featuring artificial intelligence, but it’s beautifully shot and Oscar Isaac is brilliant. The suspense really gets cranked up at the end, and it crams so much detail into 108 minutes that I was still reeling after the shocking final scene and end credits. Hat-tip for spotting Vikander; I agree she’s talented and primed for stardom.
ROBERT: A few weeks away from release, the promises of Child 44 seemed pretty tempting. But the verdict was so sour on the film when it came out that I ended up dodging it. I might find myself watching it on Netflix some night just to understand why its great cast couldn’t save it.
JASON: Likewise, I thought it would be powered by its strong cast, and Tom Hardy’s performance was singled out, but Lionsgate flew it under the radar and it’s easy to see why: it stunk. It was heavily criticized by critics for its poor pacing, lack of suspense and suspicious Russian accents (which probably could’ve been avoided if they, y’know, cast Russian actors to speak Russian), but also by the Russian government for its unfavourable portrayal of Russians, and subsequently pulled it from Russian theatres. For a film about Russians there was certainly a lack of Russian things about it. That being said, I eagerly await this on Netflix to see what the fuss is all about…I just don’t plan on being sober for it.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
JASON: The long story short, I thought this would be a bloated piece of CGI overkill (it was) even though it would make a lot of money (it did). Are we off the Joss Whedon bandwagon yet? I think Joss Whedon is off the Joss Whedon bandwagon.
ROBERT: Ultron was squarely a middle-of-the-road film for me. I sometimes complain that the Avengers team-up films feel like they’re coasting on the energy of the better solo films in the pantheon, and the lack of a compelling villain in this entry really didn’t help matters.
JASON: It didn’t get a wide release so I missed it, but Ahhhnald received some praise for his dramatic acting though Henry Hobson’s directorial debut was criticized for its pacing. That tends to happen for firsts, and I still may give this a viewing once it’s available, but the zombie genre just isn’t my thing. I just thought it’d be interesting to see Ahhhnald go through a minor re-invention like Jean-Claude Van Damme in JCVD.
ROBERT: I hear that Schwarzenegger does some of the better “against-type” acting of his career in this film, though I never got the chance to see it. I don’t jump to see zombie films in theatres, but I’m intrigued enough to check this out when it hits streaming services.
Mad Max: Fury Road
JASON: It was the best movie of the summer and
my wife Charlize Theron kicked a lot of ass. That is all.
ROBERT: There’s a reason some film writers are whispering “Oscar” about Fury Road. Even though it’s not the kind of film the Academy would instinctively go for, George Miller’s film is just that good. It transcends its genre and scenario, and packs in messages without being preachy. Here’s hoping we don’t wait 30 years for another sequel.
Pitch Perfect 2
ROBERT: I’ll admit to watching clips from the first Pitch Perfect on YouTube, but other than the impressively rehearsed a cappella sequences, I can’t say I’m drawn to watching either the first film or its new sequel, which seem to have a basic college-movie structure.
JASON: I thought PP2 would build on the success of the surprisingly good first film (thanks, Rebel Wilson), but that never really materialized and I never had the urge to go check it out in theatres. I mean, yeah, you know what you’re getting from the movie, and you know it’s gonna be good, but there’s really going to be no surprises, right? I generally dislike retreads, remakes and sequels for this reason, but I’m clearly in the minority, since the movie grossed $284 million against a $29 million budget. Yeah, there’s gonna be a sequel. It’s coming July 21, 2017.
ROBERT: This new film by a rookie feature director likely won’t be on many radars. Shot in New Zealand but set in the American West, it ended up being decidedly quirky, dark and funny, but definitely not for everyone. I think it will eventually go down as a welcome remix of the Western genre and a fun waypoint in Michael Fassbender’s career.
JASON: I totally missed this one. But am definitely going to give this a shot because Fassbender.
ROBERT: Shrouded in secrecy for a surprisingly long time, Tomorrowland didn’t really live up to many viewers’ expectations, even me. Yes, the visuals were stunning at points (who doesn’t love a futuristic city reveal sequence?) but the story alternated between feeling overstuffed or far too thin. Looking back, I wonder if it might have been better as a mystery-infused TV show, like Lost or Fringe.
JASON: I’m not surprised that the visual were stunning; this was a Brad Bird film, after all. It drew mixed reviews, but, man, does George Clooney need a hit. That’s two straight summers without a big hit, since The Monuments Men was a huge snooze fest.
JASON: Oh, man, I was really looking forward to this one but I'm glad I avoided it. Sony had a disastrous summer and Aloha was at the bottom of the heap, having dug its own grave after the Sony hack revealed the studio was well aware it was unloading a truckload of garbage on its audiences. Sony needed the movie to be a hit as badly as Cameron Crowe, whose ability to craft really touching dialogue is completely mitigated by his inability to craft a coherent plot, which is a shame, because no one can craft a talky drama like Crowe (or early 2000s Crowe, at least).
ROBERT: It looks like Crowe has truly entered M. Night Shyamalan territory. The goodwill that viewers have for Almost Famous is running out fast, and after I heard the reaction on opening weekend (with some calling it one of the worst films of the year) I just couldn’t drag myself out to pay for it, despite that great cast.
ROBERT: I never watched the show on HBO, and so had very little reason to catch this one. What’s more, the Honest Trailers parody of the show pretty much guaranteed I won’t be circling around for another attempt.
JASON: Yeah, I never was on board with this film, because the show relied on racist and misogynist rants and a few celebrity cameos to survive, which makes for a good idea for a half-hour show but a terrible idea for a feature film. I think I just had this film on my list (along with Terminator Genysis and Hitman: Agent 47) to basically say how bad it’s going to be.
ROBERT: It’s fair to say I liked Jurassic World more than most snarky Internet commenters, but that doesn’t make it a 100% success. Director Colin Trevorrow took one of the best possible concepts for the film – the dino park finally opening to the public – and used it to great effect. However, the film is nearly devoured at points by its less-than-compelling characters and over-reliance on references to earlier films.
JASON: I totally agree it wasn’t as good as Jurassic Park, but Chris Pratt (and his raptor patrol!) solidified himself as A-list like I thought he would. I just didn’t realize Bryce Dallas Howard running in heels would be such a big deal. Cut
my second wife her some slack. You also have to wonder where this franchise goes from here. Dinosaurs gone amok in a park? Done. Dinosaurs gone amok in a city? Done. What’s next, dinosaurs gone amok in space? You can only make those dinos so much bigger and badder before you actually have to keep audiences interested with something else.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
ROBERT: I can’t recommend this film enough. It redefines what we should expect from the “high school movie” and introduces us to a whole crew of fresh new faces who could have a big impact on the next ten years of moviemaking. That, and it just warms my cold, critic bones.
JASON: I didn’t get to see this one… but “cold, critic bones”? If you’re cold, Rob, I’m the deep freeze.
JASON: I was hoping this would be as good as the other original Pixar films, not like the boring, half-baked sequels that they’ve been releasing to keep us occupied while they work on better things. And they totally delivered. I loved this film.
ROBERT: If you can find me a person who didn’t like Pixar’s new film, I’ll punch him or her in the face and force them to watch it again, because they apparently don’t know how to enjoy things. Once again, Pixar finds a new way to look at the world, and tells a story that might give you new insight into your own mental state – an impressive feat for any piece of art, period.
JASON: I avoided this film like the plague for a reason, if only to ridicule it from afar. No film has ever made a name for itself with a silly title (just ask Gigli) and when I said this entry would either reinvigorate the franchise or mothball it for another 20 years, I was just being nice because it’s clearly the latter. If they do another film, god forbid, what’s gonna happen? Ahhhnald sent back in time as an octogenarian to prevent John Connor from having a mid-life crisis and to tell him to get regular prostate check-ups? Good grief.
ROBERT: There are two film series this summer that released their fifth installments (the other being Mission: Impossible), and this isn’t the one that works. Genisys is a twisted mess of overly-complicated plot and an infuriating dismissal of the films that came before (not just the weak third and fourth films, but the iconic first and second, as well). The Terminator may be unstoppable, but I’m kind of hoping the series isn’t.
ROBERT: After the largely expected thrills of Age of Ultron, I can’t say I was too worked up for Ant-Man, and left it off my list in April. How wrong I was – it ranks up there with Guardians of the Galaxy as one of my favourite Marvel films – a snappy blend of surreal humour and visually inventive action, albeit with another lacklustre Marvel villain.
JASON: Like I said, if you don’t like Paul Rudd then your heart is full of tar. The most likeable actor of his generation made an MCU film that wasn't quite like the other MCU films, because it never took itself too seriously and tried to make everything gigantic in scope. It’s not a perfect film, featuring yet another harmless villain. They also totally underused
my third wife Evangeline Lilly, but I enjoyed this way more than Age of Ultron, minus my fourth wife Elizabeth Olsen.
JASON: I’ve been looking forward to Amy Schumer’s big debut, but just never got around to seeing it. Maybe it’s because it didn’t reach the heights of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, or maybe I'm just getting Schumer fatigue, but upon its release and hearing about Schumer’s good but not great performance, it lost its lustre. And, I hear the star of the film wasn’t even Schumer, it was LeBron James. Go figure.
ROBERT: While I’ve been steadily trying to catch up on Schumer’s TV work in recent months, I couldn’t really work myself up into seeing her standalone film, which sounded like it placed a few too many rom-com restrictions on her. I’ll pass until it starts its run on streaming.
JASON: Everything Antoine Fuqua does is just far too heavy-handed to be taken seriously, and boxing films tend to work better when the drama is a little more subtle. Jake Gyllenhaal is as good as any actor out there today, but boxing films are more drama than action, and furthermore the action often lacks grandiosity, both of which work against it being a summer blockbuster hit.
ROBERT: Hindsight being 20/20, a lot of my excitement for Southpaw was probably due to my lingering thrill from Nightcrawler, and my willingness to see whatever Gyllenhaal did next. And when the trailer gave away several big plot points, it probably should have been another clue. Reviews ranged from “meh” to “bleh” and it warded me away.
ROBERT: Not long after Pixels came out, I overheard a kid in a subway station wondering aloud why a movie about living, 8-bit video games had a mostly adult cast. If I didn’t want to see the film before, this cinched it. Maybe Adam Sandler should run his pitches by children before he graduates to movie executives?
JASON: Sandler doesn't need to pitch to movie execs and movie execs don't need to listen, because no matter what, the end product is going to be poor. But who cares when you’re making tons of money? Pixels grossed over $175 million at the box office and Sandler reportedly made $41 million in 2015. Even children’s movies veteran Christopher Columbus and a star cast couldn’t save this sinking ship. As long as people pay to see his stuff, we’re going to keep getting more Sandler trash. Sandtrash.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
ROBERT: Every so often, I forget about how entertaining Tom Cruise can be, and then he has a way of correcting my mistake. “Entertaining” is a very useful word when it comes to Cruise – I don’t look for deep characters from him, but when he sets out to wow us with action or one-liners, he over-delivers. Rogue Nation is just pure fun, even if you’re dead-set on counting how much of the spy game (or real life) it gets wrong.
JASON: Totally. Cruise is a film star (and a decent actor) through and through; he’s still got the twinkle in his eye and the balls to do some really crazy stunts. Do you know that he’s insisting on doing his own stunts for Top Gun 2? He’s friggin’ 53 years old! I think the film suffered a little when Brad Bird left the project because the film’s visual gags and physical stunts didn’t quite live up to Ghost Protocol, but we got a good dose of
my fifth wife the wonderful Rebecca Ferguson. By the way, if you haven’t seen The White Queen, it’s worth checking out.
ROBERT: I toyed with seeing Fantastic Four recently, but I just couldn’t drive myself to share in everyone else’s misery quite yet. Ultimately, I’m just sad that the promising Josh Trank (who broke out with Chronicle in 2011) couldn’t survive his first brush with studio filmmaking.
JASON: Chronicle was indeed enjoyable, but I just couldn’t resist to check out what all the negative buzz was all about. Truthfully, it wasn’t a terrible film, though it was certainly underwhelming and confusing. You could see the potential, but other than Bryan Singer’s X-Men series, Fox has bungled just about every single comic book movie they make. It’s a good thing that this film won’t tank the careers of the very promising Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan, but continuing discussion of studio interference vs. director autonomy (not exactly news) will always overshadow this film.
Straight Outta Compton
ROBERT: At the risk of sounding completely uncool, I can’t say I’m familiar with or really drawn to the origin story of N.W.A. I decided to give it a pass in theatres, but Jason may well convince me to see it.
JASON: I always thought this would be a documentary, but hey, who am I to complain when there’s a feature film about the greatest hip-hop group of all-time?! I mean, if you’re into discussions about socioeconomics, rap culture and how race relations in the U.S. are where they are today, it’s difficult not to include N.W.A. While I wish the film didn't pull back any punches, it was the first real look at this iconic group. Hip-hop heads will love it, but it doesn't quite hold the same weight as Boyz in the Hood or Menace 2 Society.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
ROBERT: Some of the critiques about the occasionally slow pacing and less-than-original story in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. may be true, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t have a great time at this movie. The exaggerated 1960s style and the deadpan jokes were easily worth paying for in theatres, and I’d heartily support a sequel or even a TV adaptation with the same cast (if the production company can afford Henry Cavill’s fee and his schedule). Plus: more Alicia Vikander! How do you go wrong?!
JASON: I’ve been intrigued by Armie Hammer’s career so far, an actor who seems to try really hard but never quite manages to nail the big hit. It’s unfortunate that U.N.C.L.E. was overshadowed by the surprising success of Compton, because a bigger opening would’ve greenlit a sequel, but that doesn’t mean this film didn’t have its problems, especially with its “what the hell just happened” third act and Guy Ritchie’s aggravating editing. I love films set before the 80’s, and the set design was spectacular. And, yes, what a summer for
my sixth wife Vikander!
Hitman: Agent 47
ROBERT: There may be a lot of secret agents at the movies this summer, but no one was really asking for this one. I’ve never really understood what the original Hitman games offered that other series didn’t, and the same goes for the movie adaptations, which feel like something Uwe Boll would make if people still gave him money. My only consolation is that the actors concerned, Rupert Friend and Zachary Quinto, will fill their wallets and move on to better projects.
JASON: *Gasp*! The Hitman games were the epitome of stealth video games! At least on this side of the ocean since Metal Gear Solid, anyway. I put this on my list for my own amusement, to poke fun at a ticking bomb. I saw the previous film and it was downright trash, yet they brought back the same writer, made everything blow up a little more loudly and called it a day. I’d like to point out that aside from X-Men: Days of Future Past and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, both released in 2014 and both sequels to successful films, Fox hasn’t had a major domestic box office hit since Avatar in 2009, and even the most delusional Avatar fans must agree that it’s no longer held in the same regard.
That does it for our summer wrap-up! What did you think about the films we saw and the ones we avoided? Did we slight a film that you really liked? Join the discussion in the comments section, and if you liked this post, share it with your friends and followers!