Blockbusted?

iron-man-downey-jrWe’ve been hearing reports that the summer blockbuster is on life-support after the last few months served up a number of badly under-performing (box office-wise) flops. We asked the Failed Critics team what they thought of this summer’s releases.

James Diamond – Editor and reluctant cynic

I really do hate to say what I’m about to say. Some of us don’t enjoy being cynical, and I am a lot more comfortable with feelings of pleasure and optimism. That said this has been the Sum-meh of Blockbusters for me.

It all started so promisingly, with Shane Black and Robert Downey Jr giving us the Iron Man film that we all hoped and prayed they would make. It was funny, gripping, and bombastic in all the right places. It set a tone that, unfortunately, the rest of the big budget summer films failed to live up to.

Man of Steel was two and a half hours of Nolan-lite cinema from Zak Snyder that bored the pants off me (worn on the outside of course, unlike this modern Superman), while Star Trek Into Darkness also disappointed with a script full of holes and crowbarred-in references to  far superior films (well, mostly one far superior film). Oblivion looked wonderful, but suffered from similar problems of plotting and dialogue, while the relatively warm reception for World War Z was mainly due to fact that everyone was convinced it was going to be a disaster.  Pacific Rim was an absolutely brilliant film for large sections, but utterly atrocious for others.

Fast 6, GI Joe: Retaliation, and Pain & Gain received mixed reactions, but at least offered something the summer’s other blockbusters were missing; a sense of fun and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Mixed reviews for Kick-Ass 2 and Elysium have severely dented any hopes I had for a upturn before the autumn season begins with its mix of late-season blockbusters, award-seekers, and those awkward films that no one seems to know how to market.

That’s not to say it’s been a poor summer overall though, just that other areas of the film ecosystem have stepped up to the plate. I’ve seen three great mainstream comedies this summer (This is the End, The World’s End, and Alpha Papa), which is three more than last year), and Only God Forgives and Much Ado About Nothing are also likely to find spots in my Best of 2013 list come December.

Owen Hughes – Podcaster and a lover, not a fighter

With still a few more weeks to go yet and the likes of Kick Ass 2, The Lone Ranger and one I’m particularly excited for, Elysium, still to be released, it might be a bit premature to form a judgement yet. Whilst some might say the summer has so far been disappointing, I disagree.

Kicking off the summer was Shane Black’s venture into the Marvel cinematic universe, Iron Man 3, which got us off to a good start. Big budget sci-fi actioners were obviously the order of the day as over the next few months we’ve seen everything from the stunning but shallow Tom Cruise flick Oblivion, to enjoyable films like JJ Abrams’ Lens Flare Into Darkness and Del Toro’s Pacific Rim. Man of Steel was another triumph, although some critics disagree. Even The Wolverine was a fun way to spent a couple of hours.

We’ve also been spoilt with some good drama films this year. The Place Beyond The Pines is my favourite film of 2013, never mind the summer. Soderbergh signed off with his elaborate biopic of Liberace in Behind The Candelabra. The Look Of Love starring Steve Coogan was also enjoyable.

Although Coogan’s biggest success is not only the best comedy of the summer, but probably the best comedy for years, Alpha Papa. How can any summer be considered disappointing when we’re presented with this gift to mankind? Enough to induce tears of laughter, it’s ruddy excellent. Somehow it topped the years other major successful comedy in Pegg, Frost & Wright’s latest ‘The World’s End’.

The biggest ever zombie flick was released to some critical acclaim and much financial success as Brad Pitt adapted Max Brooks novel World War Z. Evil Dead and Dark Skies have also been decent but the years stand out in the genre is James Wan’s The Conjuring. A Field In England gave us something, erm, different too.

Speaking in general terms, I enjoyed the vast majority of this summer’s releases. There have been stinkers (After Earth, Monsters University) and Dwayne Johnson hasn’t quite given us all that we’d hoped for with Fast & Furious 6 and Snitch both being disappointing. Whilst we’ve not had an Avengers Assemble or Dark Knight Rises to wow us either, it’s been a more consistent summer than most.

Gerry McAuley – El Northern Podcaster

Alpha Papa delivered, as did Pacific Rim, two of the main ‘could be shit but I really hope it’s great’ films for me. Kick Ass 2, Pain & Gain, and Elysium are all yet to come (some of my most eagerly anticipated films of the year) so it may well be too early to tell. The awesomeness of Despicable Me 2 is a personal highlight, particularly as it did so well at the box office. Man of Steel and Monsters University were good without being great which was a slight disappointment but otherwise I think it’s been just that as a summer: good, but not particularly great. Given the amazing quality of 2012 though, it was always going to struggle to match such standards.

Matt Lambourne – Contributor exiled in a cultural black hole

My hopes for summer were somewhat ‘constrained’ as there was little there to wet my appetite with the exception of Pacific Rim which did an excellent job of re-igniting the Kaiju fan laying dormant for many years. So much in fact I went and watched the latest Godzilla Millennium series in tribute, but needless to say Pacific Rim takes the tried and tested formula and does it much better. It’s easily been my stand out movie of the summer.

Another highlight for me was Fast 6. Needless to say, I’ve found limited appeal in the series (Jordana Brewster provided much of that appeal) prior to Fast 6, and whilst this latest addition to the series won’t win much on technical merit, my goodness did it ever deliver on entertainment! Another film falling into that category is Hangover PT III. I’m a massive fan of the original and have a significant aversion for the 2nd, but I really found part III going back to utter silliness that made the 1st so likeable and when you watch it in a good crowd at the cinema, as with any good comedy movie, you really get a great sense of communal satisfaction.

Then comes the lowlights… Oblivion was adequate distraction if nothing else although is a very crisp and attractive looking piece, but the big downer for me was ‘The Wolverine’. I’m a huge fan of the character, from comics, to animated television and for the most part all of Jackman’s outings as Weapon X to date, but this really bombed for me. It was certainly the lamest Wolverine incarnation to date, I was furious that the Silver Samurai turns out to be a robot (of sorts) and that Logan has become far to hospitable in general. I hope that the next X-Men movie really gets him back on track, but can’t help but think that Jackman has become too big of a star to be cast as the ultra-aggressive and socially incapable anti-hero type depicted in early Marvel writing.

Mike Shawcross – On first-name terms with the ushers at Cineworld

What a fantastic time I’ve had at the cinema this summer with most of the films I’ve seen so far. I’ve seen cities brought to rubble by starships, giant robots fighting giant aliens, and of course a couple of super strong aliens slugging it out in my favourite film of the summer so far; Man of Steel. I’ve seen a car chase with a tank and an aeroplane; car’s racing around London with stunts to gasp at, all in the 6th film of the Fast and Furious franchise. Star Trek Into Darkness was superb as was Iron Man 3, while World War Z was a great zombie action flick. Pacific Rim was visually stunning but I was dismayed by the woeful script and acting, and Wolverine wasn’t the train wreck I expected.

Looking past the big hitters, and Stuck in love and Mud were both excellent. Behind the Candelabra was also very good. Now ou See Me had me guessing to the end, Populaire a film about speed typing was a joy, while Before Midnight was a fitting end to a great Trilogy. James Franco’s party to end all parties was a great laugh but Pegg’s pub crawl was a little flat. 2 Guns and Stand up Guys were great fun yet Alan Partridge made my belly ache. I had fun with The Heat, along with the antics of Mike and Sully at Monster’s University. I’ll finish on a couple of excellent horror films Byzantium and The Conjuring. There may be more to come as well with Kick-Ass 2, The Lone Ranger and Elysium left for me to see.

What do you think about this summer’s offerings? Have the good films outweighed the bad? Are we focusing too much on a few big budget films at the expense of some great films made for peanuts? Let us know…

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