Like any other summer, 2016 has seen its movie theaters packed to the brim with major sequel releases. At least one sequel has been released every weekend since early May. However, unlike any other summer, the vast majority are underperforming both critically and financially. (I’m looking at you, Alice. Through a looking glass.) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Neighbors, and Now You See Me are just a few movies that faced modest-to-underperforming results, a somewhat unprecedented trend from usual box office tendencies.
The most surprising disappointment, perhaps, is Independence Day: Resurgence. The popcorn flick opened modestly on June 24, pulling $41 million its opening weekend, roughly $10 million short of what the original Independence Day earned in 1996. When adjusted for 20 year’s worth of inflation, that’s not an impressive figure, especially considering the movie fills two major box office ingredients: being a sequel to a well-renowned original, and being an early-summer CGI destruction fest.
Now You Don’t
I’m not sure how, but somehow 2013’s underwhelming Now You See Me managed to pull a sequel out of its hat. The ensemble film was the equivalent of asking someone to choose a card and place it on the top of the deck, then immediately pulling it off the top of the deck, dramatically asking ‘is this your card?’ and expecting everyone to be amazed. That is to say, it wasn’t very magical. Which is why it’s surprising that new director Jon M. Chu seemingly waved a wand and made the sequel improve on virtually every aspect of the original. The movie embraced its campiness, resulting in more of a ‘ta-da!’ and less of the first film’s ‘meh.’
This time around, our Horsemen, a group of Robin Hoods who use their ‘magic’ for public good, are tasked with exposing and ultimately stealing a corrupt businessman’s software that can compromise users’ personal information. Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco are joined by Lizzy Caplan, who replaced Isla Fisher as the token Horsewoman. Also on the roster is Mark Ruffalo’s Agent Dylan Rhodes, an FBI agent who serves as the group’s mole and the story’s emotional cornerstone. They’re locked in a battle of wits with Daniel Radcliffe’s Walter Mabry, who, disappointingly, does not make a single reference to his previous foray with magic.
Everything they built will fall
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: X-Men is one of the most unnecessary modern franchises in theaters. 2016 isn’t even halfway over, and Apocalypse is the fourth major superhero release of the year. It’s also a disappointment. After predecessor Days of Future Past reinvigorated the dying series, the ninth installment demotes its mutants to nothing more than a CGI spectacle riding the current superhero trend. The series only survived this long in the increasingly crowded genre due to the surprising quality of its predecessors. A step back like Apocalypse could spell out doom for the series.
Bryan Singer is ambitious to a fault this time around. This is his fourth time directing an X-Men movie, and he’s throwing too much at the screen to continue raising the stakes. The movie attempts to continue the saga that started 16(!) years ago while introducing new mutants and stories. The series has already rebooted itself in its previous installment, so that many of the characters in this film are just new versions of characters in the original trilogy. The end result is a mess of plot lines following old, new, and “new” characters, too much exposition, and too little action.
There’s nothing else, and there never has been, anything quite like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Since Iron Man’s release in 2008, audiences have spent 8 years watching a wide cast of heroes and villains duke it out for the fate of the world, and a bunch of other worlds too. Captain America: Civil War is a culmination of that universe Marvel has meticulously built. After 8 years, Civil War delivers a turning point for the interconnected universe we didn’t know we spent almost a decade waiting for.
There’s a lot going on in this movie. It’s simultaneously a sequel to Winter Soldier, Age of Ultron, and, arguably, Iron Man 3. It’s also an origin story for two new (well, ‘new’) heroes. It introduces a story arc that will most likely impact Marvel movies for at least the next few years. Each of its 10(!) returning heroes get much-needed character development and time to shine in combat. Yes, there’s a ton of stuff going on, and for the first 30 minutes or so, it seems the movie’s extensive scope might throw it off the rails. But when everything pulls together not too long into the movie, audiences will enjoy what is probably one of the best comic book superhero movies ever created. Beyond that, returning fans will also see 8 years’ worth of universe-building finally come into fruition.
Disney is king of the jungle this year. Between its animated joy Zootopia, the live action reimagining of The Jungle Book, and the upcoming Captain America/Avengers foray, the company has/will stampede critics and the box office in 2016. As unnecessary as I personally believe they are, live action adaptions of classic animated tales seem here to stay – we’ve already seen Oz, Wonderland and Cinderella’s slipper in 3D, among others. However, while it can’t be denied The Jungle Book is a triumph of CGI, the film can’t find solid ground between its classic cartoonish predecessor and the more serious tone it strives for. Ultimately, this version of Bare Necessities is barely necessary.
That’s not to say the movie is completely without merit. Directed by Jon Favreau, the movie follows the animated classic’s tale and adds believable CGI and gorgeous cinematography to the checklist. Almost every character and setting is digitally rendered, but it didn’t matter because the screen is consistently packed with beautiful details. Favreau highlights the natural beauty of this highly unnatural jungle, laying forth the movie’s central argument for its place in the Disney lineup.
First person, second rate
If you thought found footage movies could be dizzying to watch, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Hardcore Henry, as frantic an action movie as the genre gets, was filmed from a first person perspective. Director Ilya Naishuller strapped a GoPro Hero 3 camera to our mute, nameless lead stuntman’s head so that we see all the explosions, car flips and gunfire from an up close and personal perspective. As a gimmick, it mostly works. Some scenes made my stomach flip flop, and in others I barely noticed the novelty. But a 96-minute runtime cannot be sustained by one cool idea alone, and the endless action scenes supported by absolutely no story or character development result in hardcore monotony.
Henry (played by two arms that swing from the corner of the screen) is awoken by his wife Estelle (Haley Bennett) screwing robotic limbs back into his body. He can’t remember anything, can’t speak, and is being chased by a bunch of gun-wielding thugs. Their boss is Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), whose bad white wig and unexplained telekinetic powers are perhaps his greatest crimes, because I have no idea why he’s hunting Henry or why he’s the bad guy. He just is.
Batman v Superman isn’t a movie. It doesn’t tell us a story. It’s a conglomeration of product placements, advertisements for future installments in the DC Extended Universe, and mind-numbing CGI. Director Zack Snyder, who also lead 2013’s Man of Steel, hoped to create an entire cinematic universe as big as Marvel’s 12-parter in one fell swoop. He failed. Someone shine the bat signal – Snyder is DC’s greatest super villain since The Joker.
The thing about Snyder (who also directed 300, Sucker Punch, and Watchmen) is that he is not a good storyteller. Whatever he prioritizes instead, I’m not exactly sure, but it’s certainly not telling a story. Unless you’re a fan of actual DC comic books, which I’m not, much of the film will not make sense. To understand Ben Affleck’s Batman, for instance, you’ve almost had to have seen Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Very little context is provided as to who this Bruce Wayne is in this separated universe.
Taking Center Stage
There isn’t a good or bad time to release a film like Spotlight. Journalism shapes the issues discussed at a societal level, and, under the massively ambiguous term “the media,” seems to be largely blamed for many nationwide issues. Tom McCarthy’s film covers The Boston Globe’s investigative reporting of the Massachusetts Catholic Church sex abuse scandal, remaining as objective about its source material as a journalist ideally should. A film like Spotlight could and should (and in this case, does) highlight the utmost importance journalism (and more importantly, the handling of journalism) wields. A film like this is important.
In the early 2000s, Boston’s Globes investigative team Spotlight began digging for leads in a child sexual abuse case from a Catholic church. The team (here portrayed by Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery and Brian d’Arcy James) uncovered evidence for almost 90 child abuse charges in Boston alone. They had to dig deep for that number – any prior documentation was swept under the rug by legal or journalistic powers to prevent any knowledge of the scandal.
There aren’t many things more difficult than breaking into an underwater computer security system. Leaving the movie theater knowing exactly what happened in the fifth Mission Impossible is one of them. For every genuine thrill the movie has, it packs a cringe-worthy cliché or plot twist into its overlong script. The movie excels when Tom Cruise pulls off one of his many mind-bending stunts. But when anything else is happening, mission abort.
The film blasts off the runway with one of its best scenes – Cruise hanging on for dear life outside of a plane as it takes off. Director Christopher McQuarrie knows this is the meat and bones of Mission Impossible movies. The scene is as exhilarating for the audience as it must have been for Cruise – the camera angle and roaring sound effects had me clenching my fists in my seat. There is, after all, a reason Mission Impossible is so well known.
For anyone who experienced mood swings in their youth, we now have an explanation – there was a tiny, Tinkerbell-looking Amy Poehler in your head. Either that or you were watching Inside Out, a movie meticulously designed to make the audience feel all emotions, from joy to sadness, within its short run time. Handling the delicate issue of an 11-year-old girl experiencing depression after moving from her childhood home, Pixar juggles its most serious premise yet with grace and imagination. If Monsters University and Cars 2 were sadness, then Inside Out is joy.
Though it never explicitly drops the d-word, Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) falls into depression after a move for her father’s work. Little does she know, the depression is actually caused by the 5 brightly-colored, fuzzy-looking monsters in her head representing core emotions Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust.