Summer’s Pleasant Surprises
For those in the film prognostication business, this summer’s been a bit baffling. Many people assumed Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow would be a bust, and, regardless of it’s box office numbers, the film has been a critical smash. And Emily Blunt, Cruise’s ass-kicking co-star, is perhaps the most unexpected action hero of the summer.
It wasn’t terribly surprising that X-Men: Days of Future Past would be so good, considering they cleverly combined many actors from the rejuvenating cast of 2011's X-Men: First Class (Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy) with the beloved Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and Hugh Jackman, but what about adaptation of the young adult novel The Fault in Our Stars becoming a monster success? Fault rode the perfect wave it had created via social media to blockbuster status on a modest budget. It's also been a summer of successful sequels, with 22 Jump Street, How to Train Your Dragon 2 and tomorrow’s release of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (not technically a sequel considering there's been about a hundred Apes movies, but still) all garnering rave reviews.
While Transformers 4: Age of Extinction did nothing to slow Michael Bay’s juggernaut franchise, South Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s dystopian mini-epic Snowpiercer might be the surprise action film of the summer. Set entirely on a train that carries Earth’s only survivors (an attempt to stop global warming froze the entire planet), the film is a breathless race from the back of the train, where the poor have been kept, surviving off sickening, gelatinous protein bars, to the very front, where the rich dine on sushi and dance in cars outfitted like Studio 54. Also, the film stars Tilda Swinton as ghoulish apparatchik in need of major dental work who works as a mouthpiece for the train's Oz-like godhead, the engineer. We've said it before—any movie with Tilda Swinton is worth seeing.
The summer’s not been all about spectacle and mayhem, however. Steve James’ documentary about Roger Ebert, Life Itself, is a moving tribute to a man who wrote about film for over half the mediums’ history. Richard Linklater’s groundbreaking Boyhood, which opens tomorrow as well, tracks a single Texas family over the course of 12 years—in real time. It’s one of the most moving theater experiences you can have, period.
And summer’s really just begun, and there’s a lot to be excited about in the coming weeks. If Tate Taylor’s James Brown biopic Get On Up, starring Chadwick Boseman as the father of funk, is half as good as it’s trailer, it’ll be worth seeing.
Guardians of the Galaxy has got plenty of people excited, thanks to some very promising trailers, Bradley Cooper voicing a furious raccoon, and characters with names like Drax the Destroyer, Korath the Pursuer, Ronan the Accuser and Nova Prime Rael (played by Glenn Close!) It also doesn’t hurt that Guardians looks to be both an eye-popper and a gut-buster, something the Iron Man franchise understood they could use to their advantage when Robert Downey Jr. was cast as Tony Stark. Chris Pratt gets the leading role here, as Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, a title even he can’t sell, but what he can sell is the leading man with a sense of a humor.
Reigning king of the ferocious heroine, writer/director Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita, The Professional, The Fifth Element) is back with Lucy, starring a seriously dangerous Scarlett Johansson as a woman who's been accidentally transformed into a super being. The conceit is that a drug she's been forced to smuggle inside her body has leaked, and the result is she begins to be able to use a growing percentage of her brain, until she can use all of it, turning her into a goddess of sorts, with Old Testament-level vengeance on her crazy powerful mind.
Lucy embodies a summer that's been big on both brains and brawn. Here's hoping there are more pleasant surprises ahead.
Featured image: Scarlett Johansson is Lucy in Luc Besson's action-thriller. Courtesy Universal Pictures.