[Here's a fantastic look back at the year that was by Nick Valdez. Specifically, he answers the question, "How good were the summer blockbusters?" Take a look at this month's topic for your opportunity to be on the front page. - Kauza]
If I could describe the films of Summer 2011 in one word, it would be “spectacle”. There were a few films that managed to distinguish themselves through the sea of sequels and remakes as they attempted to become grander in scale in order to surpass their predecessors.
This mindset eventually led to "spectacular" failures and successes. I was conflicted as I watched each explosion as they created a tragic yet beautiful sight. Read on with me as I discuss films that stuck out to me for various reasons.
Who would have known that the fifth time's the charm? The Fast franchise has always been a guilty pleasure of mine. The films created a special kind of reality in which all problems can only be solved through dangerous street races. Fast Five is the pinnacle of the franchise. The stunts are bigger, the street races are bigger, the cast is bigger, the jokes are better (the exchanges between Don Omar and Tego Calderon are divine), and there is a greater sense of finality as the franchise prepares to come to a close. This film helped to jumpstart an amazing summer.
While Fast Five was an amazing start, Sucker Punch failed to take off. Maybe it was the hype before its release, but this film did not impress me. Sure I did not expect much, but I figured it would have at least served as an interesting distraction. It had all of the potential for a “nerdgasm”: it had women in schoolgirl outfits and lingerie, dragons, steampunk Nazis, robots on a train, and giant stone samurais. How did this movie do so poorly? It was most likely a mix between Snyder’s awkward feminist assertions that attempted to combat the film’s overt chauvinism, and the film taking itself far too seriously.
X Men: First Class
Marvel’s film adaptations had a good summer in 2011. For me, First Class was the biggest surprise. It could have gone one of two ways: the film either tanked or was a cult hit. This film managed to avoid both fates, however, as it became the dark horse candidate for best film of the summer. The fourth film of any franchise is normally grasping at straws, so the stories normally suffer for it. Fassbender and McAvoy are great together as they perfectly represent the complicated relationship between Xavier and Magneto while Kevin Bacon finally redeems himself for Hollowman by playing a great villain. The only thing that I still do not understand is when First Class actually takes place within the franchise. Is it a reboot, prequel, or something else entirely? The answer to that question effects how I feel about this film. If it is a reboot, then it’s a great film since the old timeline does not matter. If it is a prequel, it's terrible due to all of the inconsistencies it has with the rest of the franchise. I hope it is a reboot because I want to love this film and my questioning nature is the only thing holding me back.
Captain America: The First Avenger
This film was another surprise. Since Thor was a slight disappointment (despite its awesome Shakespearean take on the hero), I had no idea how great this film was going to be. I have always been a fan of Steve Roger’s WWII past and it was nice to see it represented in film (even if it was the Marvel universe’s version of it). The entire cast shines in their roles as it seemed like they each fully endorsed their characters. Chris Evans comes into his own as Steve Rogers as he transforms from good natured man into superhero. The Howling Commandos are amazing on screen as they are on the page, and Hugo Weaving did not ham it up as Red Skull. I cannot express enough how much I enjoyed this film. I just hope this and First Class are precursors of good things to come from Marvel.
Cowboys & Aliens
Unfortunately, the film adaptation of Cowboys and Aliens was not as well executed as the Marvel properties. Like Sucker Punch, it had the potential to become a great film. It has all the ingredients: cowboys, Native Americans, aliens, Han Solo, Quorra, Aang, the voice of Lex Luthor, Zaphod Beeblebrox, and James Bond. Yet, the film just fell flat. There was no real sense of tension as the main cast just wandered from location to location, the aliens were generically designed, and their overall motivation for invading is seriously laughable. Then again, at least they were not allergic to Earth’s atmosphere. That would have been super lame.
While sequels and supposed prequels reigned supreme, Fright Night managed to revitalize itself. Anton Yelchin and David Tennant complement each other in their shared scenes while Colin Farell becomes the perfect mix of sleaze, “swagger”, and darkness necessary for his role. I would even go as far to say that it was the role he was always meant for. This film perfectly encapsulates everything super about summer films. It does not take itself too seriously, it has explosive set pieces, a non complex central protagonist/antagonist without sacrificing the traditional evolution of the hero, great pacing from scene to scene, and a stellar cast of characters.
Winnie the Pooh
Last, but not least, is Winnie the Pooh. This film should be commended for releasing around the same time as the other films on this list. While the other films were becoming more ridiculous and grandiose, Pooh dared to relax and enjoy itself. I have to admit, I am a sucker for beautiful animation and this film bursts at the seams with it. This film was the short break I needed during the explosive summer, and it was nice to sit back and watch the characters I love. I love Winnie the Pooh’s complex simplicity .There are minute details in the art, and the characters constantly break the fourth wall. All while the characters continue to frolic and revel within their naivete.
The Summer of 2011 was great, but it it had the potential to be greater. I have heard complaints about the amount of sequels plaguing the theater, but I like to look at the glass as half full. The films are more entertaining as they spectacularly succeed or fail. Because of the potential for spectacle I have seen through trailers, the summer of 2012 is looking pretty good right about now.
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