We don’t ask for much from our summer blockbuster movies (for this ramble summer covers any film released between May and Aug), some cool action, fun characters and a story that sustains a no more than 2 hr runtime. Occasionally we get something more elevated than that, a Dark Knight or a Mad Max Fury Road, but if we can get something big and entertaining then it’s worth avoiding the brief British summertime in order to spend a few hours in the dark. Marvel have honed these type of films down to a fine art. Crowdpleasers of the highest order. Winter films are for the drama, the high emotions, and the directorial craft. Summer is where cinema should hark back to those halcyon days of the travelling sideshow, all thrills and chills. Or at least that is what it should be. Summer 2016 decided instead to be the opposite of thrilling, instead it was mind numbing, tedious and boring.
The signs were not good. One glance at the schedule and you couldn’t help but furrow your brow at all the sequels, remakes and that dreaded phrase the reboot! However we’ve had all these before and for all the crap ones we’ve also had some brilliant examples. Your Star Treks, your Godzillas and the incessant new iterations of comic book heroes. Even this year we had the majestically beautiful Jungle Book live action redux. This summer, though, something was different. The films we were getting all had one thing in common; we didn’t want them!!
Who asked for an Alice through the Looking Glass? Who demanded a Now you See Me 2? Who petitioned for a Ghostbusters reboot? (In that instance there were many actual petitions to not make that film, but for other more troubling reasons) Then there was the Warcraft movie, did anyone really think with its long winded and utterly baffling mythology that it would make a good film; especially bad when said film takes itself so damn seriously, some laughs may have helped the cause.This is a systematic issue with Hollywood that has become more noticeable this year. Studios commissioning films based on box office alone. Sure the originals of these films took big $, but if they had listened to word of mouth they would have discovered the truth. No one actually liked them. Alice in Wonderland may have taken over $1 billion but find me someone who actually likes it. Now in some instances it works, Transformers somehow makes more money with each mind numbingly awful instalment. Although big robots hitting each other does speak to the child in all of us. Studios can keep churning this stuff out, but we will soon get wise to their game, and judging by the awful B.O performance of some of these sequels we are starting to do just that. The general public has so much choice for quality entertainment now, VOD, video games et al, that cinema has to stand apart.
The sequels that actually had a decent chance also struggled to make a mark. Jason Bourne was good and tapped into what made the first three great, but could not escape the fact that Ultimatum had a perfect circular ending. Despite the bone crunching action and high speed chases it all felt rather hollow.
X-Men Apocalypse suffered similarly too, Bryan Singer was at the helm it could be nothing less than great. Immediately though, once the marketing dropped, it was evident that the franchise had sacrificed what had made it previously stand apart. The social commentary and fine character work balanced with big action was now replaced with OTT end of the world numbness. Singer had spoken of the desire to make this a disaster epic, but had managed to get those words the wrong way round. As the skilled Oscar Issac tried with all his might to bring nuance to the silly costume it was clear he was failing miserably.
Then there was Finding Dory, another unasked for sequel; although one in which the first was universally loved but importantly never designed to lead into a sequel. It just about justified its existence with a lovely, funny, solid effort. But it all felt like lesser Pixar. Repeating patterns from the first and coming off as a little bit forgettable. And in a world where Pixar churns out something forgettable that is indeed troubling.
So we’ve had sequels, reboots and one video game adaptation, but there was some hope at the arse end of the summer. Suicide Squad!! Taking Guardians of the Galaxy’s release spot, and delivering trailer after trailer of unique exciting visuals, the signs were good. Instead what we actually got was messy, poorly scripted and even worse, dull. How do you make something called Suicide Squad boring?! Many articles have been written of the behind the scenes trouble, the numerous cuts, the frequent test screenings and the intrusion of a studio desperate for a franchise. I don’t care about that, just give me a decent film. But these franchise overlords do not seem to be concerned with quality, just a series of easy quick orgasms posing as trailer shots.
In all of this dullness some rays of light shone through. Star Trek Beyond was fun and exciting, nothing more but it’s summer that’s all we want. Conjuring 2 managed to continue the finely crafted horror of the original. The Nice Guys was small fry but the only heavily advertised original product that was genuinely entertaining. (We aren’t going to include the small independent films in this ramble as they are not part of the big summer push and for the most part were brilliant films) Pete’s Dragon was probably the best of the Summer, an unexpected treat, being a remake didn’t matter as it was of a film that very little spoke highly of. I’d also argue that it was a success due to an indie sensibility and a studio that was not angling for a future franchise. It helps that Disney seems to seek out talent and leave that person to make the film they want to make. David Lowery has said that the only notes Disney gave him were “no decapitations, no impalement’s and no smoking”, quite an easy thing to achieve with a film called Pete’s Dragon.
Thankfully there is hope that the blockbusters to come this year all look solid, and next year has already got more films that people actually want to see, well plus Transformers 5 or is it 6 I forget how many we are up to. And yet I think this blockbuster season should teach some valuable lessons to Hollywood:
- Less reboots, remakes or re-whatever you wanna call them
- Sequels are all well and good but make them to films that audiences actually liked.
- Less interfering. Trust your directors. Do not chase the franchise. Concentrate on making the first as good as can be, the rest will follow.
- Let the trailers speak for the film, do not turn your film into a trailer (I’m looking at you here Suicide Squad)
Summer 2016 will not go down in the history books, or even make a footnote. But if life has taught me anything it’s that when you get knocked down, you get back up, dust yourself off and move on. Or in movie vernacular, you put the Rogue One trailer on again and remind yourself that things will be OK, after all it’s only a movie.