The Movie of the Summer

September is on the horizon, which means that summer movie season is over. And what a summer it’s been. Superheroes and sequels were in abundance here (as they usually are), but there were a few notable surprises along the way. There were triumphs as well as flops, hits followed by misses. Still, the summer provided a unique variety of movies that brought us to the theaters time and time again. But what was THE movie of the summer? That is the real question. Before I answer that, let’s take a look back on what this summer had to offer.

May

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 kicked things off to a rather lukewarm start. The hype had been building ever since the 2012 reboot, and the anticipation amped up even further after all the footage that Sony prematurely released. Then came opening weekend and fans were mildly disappointed with the final product. Too many villains, too many subplots, and too many tonal shifts made for a sometimes engaging but inherently frustrating entry in the franchise. Its flaws were eerily reminiscent of Spiderman 3, yet it shared none of that film’s towering success. As a result, it was the lowest grossing Spider-Man film to date. Indeed, it debuted at number one, but word of mouth essentially cut the film’s earnings that much lower in its second weekend.

Neighbors moved in soon after and easily nabbed first place. It had enough star power and raunchy humor to earn its place at the top. Spider-Man bested by a frat comedy? Now that’s something you don’t hear every day. It seems that audiences are fully embracing Seth Rogen’s hard-R brand of humor. Plus, the film also threw in a shirtless Zac Efron for good measure.

Godzilla brought the summer to new, roaring heights. It had the sheer scope and grandeur of last year’s Pacific Rim, but it took a much more reserved approach. Rather than showing us the monsters head on, it exercised an unusual but clever restraint. Director Gareth Edwards was more than aware of Godzilla’s ability to stage one hell of a set piece, so he saved him for the final act. In between then, we catch mere glimpses of these creatures and get the sense that they are, indeed, terrifying forces of nature. Edwards’ approach was very similar to Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, and Godzilla became a better film because of it.

X-Men: Days of Future Past was the movie I was waiting for. Who knew that it would be the franchise’s much needed film. It had an ensemble for the ages, making it all the more impressive that everyone got their due screen time. Back at the helm, director Bryan Singer still has a penchant for delivering the thrills. I almost forgot how exciting his vision is. Sitting in the theater, I got giddy just listening to John Ottman’s score in the opening credits. This film could’ve been a bloated mess, but it moved at a fast pace, capitalized on the spectacle, and retained a firm emotional center. There will be much debate as to whether previous films in the franchise should be tossed away and forgotten. But I think some people are missing the point. In retrospect, we all just forgot how wonderfully entertaining these characters are, and we should be thankful that the franchise is headed in the right direction.

 Days of Future Past

June

Edge of Tomorrow was poised to be the sci-fi mind trip of the summer. So it came as a shock when it fell short of expectations with a soft opening of $20 million. That, and it was beaten out by Fault In Our Stars, which earned $48 million that same weekend. I’m sure Edge of Tomorrow’s marketing campaign did all that it could, but nothing could counter the massive fan-base of John Green’s beloved novel. Looking back on May, it was week after week of action-packed movies. Audiences were undoubtedly fatigued by then and were probably seeking for something more intimate and personal. Fault In Our Stars certainly delivered on that front, and the simplicity of two characters proved to be more appealing than yet another epic thrill ride.

22 Jump Street rode in on that same wave. Yes, it had action, profanity, and Channing Tatum, but when you strip these things down (not literally) you have a movie that’s essentially about two characters rediscovering themselves on the heels of college. College itself is a place of self-discovery, and the film exaggerates this to a hilarious degree where both Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum learn to evolve on their own and become better partners, however you wanna define the term “partner.” The movie is also too self-aware for its own good, which is yet another irresistible trait that I love about it. Its self-referential humor adds a surprising touch of depth and, if you can believe it, maturity to the film as a whole. It is, hands down, the funniest movie I’ve ever seen. Here’s hoping that 23 Jump Street is right around the corner (or across the street as the film cleverly points out).

At the end of June we had Transformers: Age of Extinction (my review here). I’ve said enough about this film already so I’ll get right down to it. The movie struck a huge chord with audiences, becoming the biggest opening hit stateside. Though it suffered a massive dip in its second weekend, it still marks an impressive return to box office form, especially since the third film, Dark of the Moon, fell behind the gargantuan expectations set by Revenge of the Fallen. Nevertheless, this fourth film demonstrates that there’s still a keen interest in the franchise, meaning that we’ll be seeing more entries popping up in the foreseeable future. Here’s hoping that this is in fact Michael Bay’s last Transformers film.

 22 Jump Street

July

Dawn of the (Planet of the) Apes was July’s true standout. Rise three years prior was a modest success, making Dawn even more impressive being that it exceeded everyone’s expectations. What made the film a truly stunning feat was that it was yet another film in a long-running franchise. And it is in this generation that it was given a new life to breathe. Director Matt Reeves, and Rupert Wyatt before him, revitalized a franchise that seemed destined to become a thing of the past. Now, they’ve made us even more excited about its future.

Dawn faced some fierce competition with The Purge: Anarchy, a film more in the vein of The Warriors than its own predecessor. The film’s change in style, from a home-invasion thriller to a hard-R action romp, contributed greatly to its success. Shot on a low budget, the film was gonna be a hit either way, at least in terms of numbers.

Lucy and Hercules arrived the following week and no one, not even me, could’ve known that Scarlett Johansson was going to beat The Rock that weekend. Hercules seemed destined to become a hit. It had all the requirements of one: the mythology of a Greek legend, full-scale battles backed by enormous sets, oh and DWAYNE JOHNSON. But it appears that wasn’t enough. Instead, audiences opted for Scarlett Johansson. And who can blame them? Except we’re all blaming ourselves at this point. Lucy was an incoherent mess. It began as a thriller then tried to end as an art film with a profound message, yet nothing really came across. I was expecting this movie to be some kind of unofficial Black Widow prequel, but it turned out to be, well, I’m still not sure what it is. It was an unexpected hit, no doubt, and July needed it. Because once August came around, it delivered the best movie of the summer, one that would shatter every one of these film’s grosses.

 Dawn of the Apes

August

That’s right, I’m crowning Guardians of the Galaxy as the undisputed king of the summer. A late but rare summer delight, Guardians had everything going for it right from the start. Wonderfully offbeat trailers that sold the proper tone of the film, a quirky set of characters played by an immensely talented cast, and the ever-so-popular Marvel brand. The film itself is truly a wonder to behold. We begin with a young Peter Quill who loses his childhood in one pivotal moment. Fast forward to him as an adult, pillaging through a perilous environment for a coveted orb (a classic MacGuffin), yet he still manages to find the time to treat us to a dance number. Thus illustrates polar opposites in tone that the film effortlessly traverses. Director James Gunn is a freaking magician. He can evoke humor and emotion, sometimes within the same space of a scene, and he does so with such style! He was certainly inspired by his characters as every one of them displays a surprising emotional depth and nuance. Imagine my surprise when I started to feel for a talking raccoon, even a damn tree that is essentially a Pokémon. Aside from the emotional context at heart, the film is ridiculously entertaining. It’s the reason why we go to the movies. An escape, a chance to dive into someone else’s world. Guardians literally takes us away from our own. More films should learn from Gunn’s ambition. Does everything have to hinge on the “destruction of all life on Earth” plot device? Can’t we explore the extraterrestrial regions of outer space and have a rollicking good time? James Gunn certainly proved so, and managed to craft a human story out of it. This is, far and away, my personal favorite Marvel film to date.

At the box office, Guardians blew past the competition. It stands as the highest-grossing movie out of all the summer releases. Sure, Transformers 4 had a bigger debut, but Guardians managed to sustain itself in the weeks that followed. It even managed to climb back to the number one spot this past weekend. As we speak, the film is on its way to surpass Captain America 2’s domestic gross. Marvel and Disney had a clever tactic this year. Rather than overload the summer with two big superhero movies, they spaced them out, one at the tip of summer and the other at the end. As a result, Cap 2 and Guardians became massive hits, and both films demonstrated remarkable endurance at the movie theater, proving that it’s not about the sheer number of explosions that will win audiences over, but the quality of the overall product. Films like Guardians of the Galaxy stand as a testament to that. I’ve already seen it three times and I cannot wait to see it again.

What do you think? What was YOUR favorite movie of the summer?

Guardians of the Galaxy

 

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