A long summer of big movies, great and terrible, is officially winding down and before we officially usher ourselves into the fall awards season, we at mxdwn Movies would like to take a look back at what the notorious blockbuster season had to offer us in 2017.
Parker: It’s been an interesting summer movie season this year, a bit top-heavy in my opinion with heavy hitters like Wonder Woman and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 starting us off in May and June, leading into mostly smaller-scale releases in recent weeks. I figure we might as well start off by digging into the Hollywood blockbusters that we were given this year before moving into the unique indie fare we’ve had. How does everyone feel about the large-scale releases in May, June and early July. It seems to have been a fairly superhero-centric period, though I’ll admit I found Guardians, Wonder Woman, and Spider-Man: Homecoming to all be quite satisfying and admirable for their own reasons. Wonder Woman really stands out of course, considering it’s been a very long time coming and it quite wholeheartedly lived up to and even surpassed most people’s expectations (especially considering DC’s cinematic track record).
Ben: I’d say that 2017 and this summer, for the most part, feels like a make up for the majority of disappointments last year. And the superhero genre was definitely a highlight. Guardians Vol. 2, while not as good as the first in my opinion via surprise factor, still did a great job at further developing its characters. It didn’t just make things bigger and assume audiences would be satisfied with that. Wonder Woman was definitely the big break that DC needed after three divisive films and it actually makes me somewhat hopeful for Justice League in the fall. And Homecoming managed to tie in Spider-Man within the context of the MCU, as well as give the franchise one of its best villains in Michael Keaton’s Vulture. Even though the film kind of dumps us into Peter Parker’s story without establishing a starting point for his development.
Zack: I thought this summer was a big step-up from the last one. Although I did see several big and small movies from this season that I honestly thought were terrible such as Alien: Covenant and The Glass Castle, most of the movies that came out were able to satisfy as many people as possible. Instead of featuring terrible summer blockbusters that no one will ever want to see again such as Ghostbusters (2016) and Independence Day: Resurgence, this season had plenty of enjoyable big movies such as Dunkirk, War for the Planet of the Apes, and of course Wonder Woman. Additionally, this summer served as a big deal for smaller mid-budget movies such as Baby Driver, Atomic Blonde, and Detroit.
Parker: Yeah, I was really interested in a lot of the larger films based on original concepts/non-franchise films. Baby Driver may not have been Edgar Wright’s best or edgiest film, but it was a solidly entertaining action flick that really stood out due to its visuals and soundtrack. And Dunkirk was an intensely experiential war film that really served as an interesting entry in Nolan’s work. I was really satisfied with the movie, and I felt like it was worth seeing in IMAX, which is a statement I don’t usually make.
Rick: Dunkirk was a good-looking film, but for me it felt largely empty. Sure, the battle sequences were well-made and I felt as if I was at the battlefield, but as for a war picture, I felt this film is more of a thriller than a war film. This film was boring to me because I wanted to invest time in some of the characters and with the fact that there is very little character development, I was disappointed. Nolan did a good job with filming, but the script didn’t feel complete. It’s difficult because I can’t help but compare Dunkirk to other war films and on that level, Dunkirk sinks. It looks good but feels empty. ‘
Ben: I’ll counter your statement on Dunkirk in that, while I understand that point about the characters, I think that it works here. Yes these characters don’t really have much character-driven development to them, with only the Sea storyline having the most physical interactions. However, where most war films are about characters in a war film, Dunkirk makes the event itself the central focus. The soldiers, the Englishmen, and the pilot are simply vehicles to drive the tension and anxiety that was going on during these sequences. I guess the non-linear narrative can make these stories feel convoluted, but I liked how they all tied together within separate time-spans. But where other films like Saving Private Ryan and Apocalypse Now focus on what its soldiers are experiencing, this film tries to capture the event as an experience first.
Zack: I agree more with Ben regarding Dunkirk. While I haven’t seen too many Saving Private Ryan-esque war movies that focus more on the consequences of war, Dunkirk is more about the war and therefore we as an audience should feel what the characters are feeling rather than just invest in them.
Rick: I can forgive the film for the lack of character development, but the thing that i didn’t like was the non-linear narrative direction of the war itself. Black Hawk Down didn’t have much character development either but with that film I felt the tension and terrifying ordeal of the soldiers than Dunkirk did. Dunkirk looked amazing from the previews and once i saw the film, I didn’t feel as if I learned anything about the event. It was surprising at how short the film was, but it just seemed to drag. One thing that was odd was when the Germans were attacking and we never saw them. I always wondered why. Even the Captain on the dock didn’t feel that convincing to me. It was a decent film but i thought it was disappointing. Sure, the blood and gore was nice to not see, but it some ways the battle scenes didn’t keep me in fear or on the edge of my seat.
Parker: I can understand your point. The film was in a sense about the events at Dunkirk much more so than the characters, but it wasn’t about the specific occurrences as much as the general atmosphere of the experience. I enjoyed that, but I can see how others might find that boring. In terms of other bigger recent releases this summer, how are we feeling about War for the Planet of the Apes? As a third film in a series, it was surprisingly well-received by most.
Rick: Being that I had not seen the other two films prior to War, I wasn’t expecting much. I got to attend the trilogy in theaters when they played Rise and Dawn and finally War back-to-back. I loved the original Apes from 1968 and didn’t appreciate the Tim Burton version, so I didn’t have any interest in the rebooted franchise. I decided to take a chance and see the entire trilogy in one go. To my surprise, this trilogy blew me away. It tells the story from the Apes point of view and with War it’s a film that will shock you. I think people were expecting a big action spectacle from this one because people in the theater were disappointed after War ended. The story is very good and Serkis delivers an Oscar worthy performance as Caesar. War took the horror of what has happen to people and put that on the apes. I haven’t seen a film that concerns animals in way that this film did. War feels different from the others and focus’ on the cruel reality of war instead of going for the gun-blazing spectacle that Dawn had near the ending. This is one of the best trilogies in recent years.
Ben: I definitely agree that the Apes trilogy has been one of the best trilogies in recent memory. We rarely get perfect trilogies because the third entry is usually where ideas tend to die out. Prior to this we’ve had LotR, Bourne, Toy Story and, in my opinion, The Dark Knight trilogy but Apes works alongside them because it actually furthers the development of Caesar. There was really one or two bits where the film delved into exposition but for the most part, it tells a narrative through visuals and interactions alone. We see humanity delve into its most animalistic nature as uber-military figures while the apes become increasingly human. It’s no surprise that Woody Harrelson’s character is simply named the Colonel: he’s human nature pushed into its most primal survival nature. Meanwhile Caesar is torn between his desire to be a worthy ape who fights for his people or an individual who succumbs to human nature in vengeance. So taken together as a trilogy, this is fitting conclusion to Caesar’s growth as a character since Rise.
Zack: I agree with a lot of what you both said. I didn’t love War for the Planet of the Apes as much as many other people but I certainly enjoyed the film and would consider it my favorite of the new trilogy because of how fresh and inventive it felt for a big summer tentpole. I loved how Matt Reeves and company focused more on the apes this time and as a result, we as an audience saw a terrifying and empathetic villain with Woody Harrelson’s colonel character and as someone who hasn’t seen any of the original movies, I’m still hoping that Fox keeps this new reboot series as a trilogy and decide to officially connect it with the original Charlton Heston movie.
Parker: I haven’t yet seen War for the Planet of the Apes, but I was really intrigued by the first two movies in the rebooted series, and I enjoyed the way in which they seemed to be building toward a boiling point. Based on what you have all said, coupled with the fact that I’ve recently been watching Woody Harrelson in the first season of True Detective, I’m definitely going to have to catch the third movie in the trilogy. To scale things back a bit, there were a lot of smaller, indie offerings this summer. I particularly loved The Big Sick, which stood out to me because of its unusual mix of sharp, honest comedy and a relevant story of cultures clashing. I think that Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s script was wonderfully fresh and authentic, while Holly Hunter and Ray Romano delivered surprisingly touching performances. What did everyone think of the smaller films they caught this summer?
Ben: I also really enjoyed The Big Sick because, compared to other romantic comedies, this one had a sense of heart to it. Despite the strange premise it’s actually authentic, based on the real life story of how Kumail Nanjiani met his wife and was forced to spend time with her parents after she fell into a coma. There’s more effort put into making the relationship between him and Emily feel believable so it genuinely impacts the audience when she ends up in the hospital. The relationship between Kumail and Emily’s parents also works because it builds more connections between their characters, all the while displaying the internal conflict Kumail faces. He loves Emily but also worries that their relationship will hurt the one between him and his own family. So this definitely felt like a breath of fresh air after so many romance films where the tropes came across as ungodly predictable.
Zack: Unfortunately, I have not yet seen The Big Sick but I did see several other smaller indie movies including an amazing one that went above and beyond my expectations called Ingrid Goes West starring Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen. Without going into too much detail, it’s a beautifully directed feature with an Oscar worthy script and a truly fantastic performance from Aubrey Plaza who also served as a producer. I cannot recommend the film enough especially for those who want to see it in the theater.
Parker: That’s definitely a glowing review, I’m a huge Aubrey Plaza fan so I’ll have to be sure to catch that one. Now I think we can move onto the big question. What would be your favorite and least favorite film of the summer? Personally, I’d have to say that The Big Sick was probably my favorite, surprisingly, because it caught me off guard and felt probably the most authentically human, though as a superhero fan I’d say that Wonder Woman and Spider-Man: Homecoming come in tied at a close second. For my least favorite film, I’d definitely say Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. This movie actually surpassed my expectations for how awful I thought it was going to be. Johnny Depp’s performance as Jack Sparrow crossed over from laughably drunk to illogically and frustratingly incoherent, the meandering plot seemed to have been thought up in an afternoon, and Javier Bardem was completely wasted in a role that barely offered him a chance to say anything meaningful. The movie was a disastrous money grab and little else, in my opinion. Even an attempt to tie in fan favorite characters Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann fell flat and felt tacked-on. It was as if the filmmakers were desperately grabbing at anything they thought people had enjoyed in the franchise’s previous films and throwing it all together in the hope that it would form a coherent whole. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t. What are your picks for the best and worst of the summer?
Ben: From a technical standpoint, I’d have to say Dunkirk was my favorite film for all the reasons we discussed above. From a narrative/entertainment perspective, however, it’s between Wonder Woman and Baby Driver. The first because it marks a return for DC in their cinema talent, complete with a great performance from Gal Gadot, some impressive action sequences and a story that feels genuinely hopeful and uplifting. Baby Driver surprised me with its use of music to literally drive all of the film’s core moments, not just within the chase and action scenes but in defining Baby’s character as well. Both I think suffer from a few third act issues (WW for going noticeably CGI and BD for being a few minutes longer than necessary) but overall they were amazing to watch. Worst for me has to be Transformers 5: The Last Knight, which, while not at the level of awful seen in Transformers 2 and 4, was still really bad. The film jumped between scenes with little cohesion, disrupted its own cinematic continuity multiple times and felt simultaneously boring and desperate to be humourous. I think Mark Wahlberg might have been trying with his lines, and Anthony Hopkins seemed to be having a shred of fun, but nothing about the film felt impactful. There was little reason to keep going back to these films as part of a narrative, instead of an obvious cash grab by means of Bayisms. In all honesty, I go more emotional investment watching The Fate of the Furious compared to this movie.
Zack: My favorite movie of the summer so far is of course Ingrid Goes West with Detroit and Dunkirk following closely after. However, my least favorite of the summer since I haven’t seen many bad ones is probably Alien: Covenant. As for most disappointing, I would say that’s The Glass Castle because I went into that one with higher expectations especially after seeing Room not long before.
Rick: For the most part, 2017 has been better for Summer movies especially since last year. Detroit and Baby Driver are two films that stand out the most this Summer. Baby Driver took a common storyline and put a fresh twist combined with a kick ass soundtrack, memorable characters and just that sense of Summer fun. Edgar Wright was on the top of his game with this film. It’s funny, fast moving and a surprise that’s worth seeing more than once. Detroit is a must-see film. While it’s not an enjoyable film, it’s an important one. Bigelow has crafted a cruel look at the Detroit Riots and the horror that the young kids faced at the Algiers. This is one of scariest films of the year due to how real everything feels. It’s tough to sit through, will fill you emotion that you won’t be able to shake off and an early contender for major awards. As it’s no surprise, Transformers The Last Knight is the worst of the Summer if not the year. We shouldn’t have been surprised since the franchise has tanked over the years but this film is no excuse. It completely ignores the movies prior to it and even kills off a character that feels as if you’re getting slapped across the face for even investing your time with earlier entries. Michael Bay is known for awesome action sequences and this film has nothing memorable or cool. The story is forgettable and poor Sir Anthony Hopkins appears to be the only one enjoying himself in this film. It’s boring, nonsensical and a complete waste of time. It proves that even the audience has given up being that it’s the lowest performing of the franchise and critics themselves slammed the film. Two more Transformers are on the way and since Michael Bay is stepping down hopefully someone can exert some energy and fun into the future of Transformers.