Summer Movies Retrospective 2014
BY CHRISTOPHER HEIM and GREG CAPELLI
Chris: I’m going to get this out of the way, I LOVE Godzilla!! I’ve loved the Big G ever since I rented the camp-tastic “Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla” from my local video store when I was just at knee-high. So needless to say, I’ve been stoked to see this movie ever since it was first announced and my anticipation only grew after seeing the masterfully ominous teasers. Having director and self-proclaimed Big G fan Gareth Edwards, who previously directed the low-budget gem “Monsters”, helm the project only added to my confidence that the latest entry in the long-running franchise was going to be so much better than the 1998 Roland Emmerich train-wreck that was a Godzilla movie in name only.
. . . And it was! Okay, fanboyisms aside, it’s far from a masterpiece but it sure delivered on the good old-fashion monster-mash fun of the classic G-films while sufficiently updating the jolly green lizard’s origin story for modern times. That alone puts Edwards’ film way above the 1998 crap-stain.
Edwards does a fantastic job of re-creating the feel of a slow-burn Japanese monster flick with its emphasis on Jaws-like suspense tactic of rarely showing the monsters in full view until halfway through. It’s refreshing to see a film in this modern blockbuster environment (constant explosions and immediate visual spectacle) that showcases restraint to build anticipation. The final confrontation between Godzilla and the MUTOs is the stuff of dreams, a much better showcase of modern CGI-fueled giant monster fights than the dark, incomprehensibly-choreographed, claustrophobically shot, and rain/snow/sleet-heavy brawls of the previous summer’s “Pacific Rim” (Not that I didn’t enjoy that film to a degree but could anybody follow the fights in that film?).
Godzilla is allowed to be both a force of nature and a hero while the MUTO’s make for very good opponent monsters. The human cast on the other hand could use some improving. Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad” fame was featured heavily in the trailers even though he is not in the movie for very long. Despite this, Cranston was fantastic as always while Ken Watanabe (“Inception”) is very solid playing the weary Dr. Serizawa. However, the center of attention in the narrative is the army dude Ford Brody, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson (“Kick-Ass”). While I don’t think his performance was as bad as people make it out to be (He’s solid), making his character the main focus was a slight misstep on the part of the screenwriters. I would have much preferred a straight ensemble piece, which I hope will be the case in the inevitable 2018 sequel (Rodan! Mothra! King Ghidorah!!!)
This was the movie I’ve been waiting for all my life and I finally got it in time for my birthday!
Greg: Wow. Just, wow. “Godzilla” had me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end. It had all the huge monster fights I hoped for and just enough Brian Cranston to give me “Breaking Bad” nostalgia. The story was perfect: giant monsters attacks civilization and humans cannot stop it so Godzilla rolls in and beats down the monsters. The CGI was perfect, not too “in your face” like in “Transformer” movies, but more balanced and realistic. Godzilla actually makes his first real appearance in the third act of the movie, allowing the mystery and suspense of the giant god to build anticipation in the audience. It was extremely entertaining and not overly thought provoking, just like how good summer blockbusters are intended to be.
X-men: Days of Future Past:
Chris: Just when the continuity of the X-men wasn’t already a huge mind-screw, this movie added TIME TRAVEL to the mix! Anyway, this sequel to 2006’s “X-men: The Last Stand” (aka. The one directed by the under-qualified Brett Ratner) and 2011’s “X-men: First Class” is by far the most fun X-men entry since “X2: X-men United”. Inspired from the acclaimed 1981 comic-arc of the same name; this flick produced two of the most memorable action sequences of the summer.
1) The high body count opening sequence set in the dystopian future depicting the slaughtering of the newcomer mutants such as Blink, Sunspot, Warpath, and Bishop. A great variety of powers are displayed in the desperate fight against the nearly invincible robots from hell (Wall-E, they are not). My favorite little moment is when Blink creates a series of portals that initially cause a Sentinel to fall somewhere else. But just when she thought she was safe, the Sentinel simply forms a blade-arm and fatally stabs Blink through one of her own portals that failed to close in time.
2) The slow-motion sequence involving the mind-blowingly fast Quicksilver (played masterfully by “American Horror Story”’s Evan Peters) taking down a couple of Pentagon guards that are about to execute our heroes (aka. the scene that made you wish the highly-entertaining character was in the movie more). The bullet-time effects are the most gorgeous I’ve ever seen since the original Matrix, and the choice of music (a slice of 70s folk rock “Time in a Bottle” by Jim Croce) was a stroke of genius.
I’m not quite sure this is my favorite X-men film (X2 still takes that spot although it’s been awhile since I’ve watched it), but it certainly boasts a terrific ensemble cast, fantastic set-designs both in the 1970s of the past and the frighteningly dark future, and dazzling special effects (I love that we finally got to see the Sentinels after X3 infamously teased it in their opening fight-simulator sequence).
Four things prevent me from loving it:
1) I thought Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) was underused as the mad military scientist Boliver Trask.
2) The climax dragged on bit, especially with the tiring overkill of having Magneto lift an entire baseball stadium.
3) Since when could Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) teleport people’s consciousness to the past? Last time I checked, she was shown to only walk through walls
4) How is it that Wolverine has his metal claws in the future when at the end of “The Wolverine” he reverted back to his original bone claws?
5) The ending left open way too many questions
Greg: I believed with all of my heart that “Days of Future Past” would right every wrong of “X-Men: The Last Stand,” and return the film franchise to glory. Sadly, I was immensely disappointed with this turd of a movie that I paid money to watch over the summer. The storyline turned these superhuman badasses into weaklings, and replaced sweet fight scenes between mutants with . . . wait for it . . . talking. The grand boss fight finale, which pit Magneto against basically everyone else, was settled not by the usual “X-Men” team up fight routine, but instead by arguing between Mystique and Professor X over the shot and immobilized super villain Magneto. Then, instead of capturing the bad guy, or killing him, or literally doing anything, the X Men set Magneto free, because all movie franchises need future antagonists. Even worse, the movie centers around insane time travel premises, which allowed the movie to erase every other “X-Men” movie to date by finishing the story re introducing previously killed characters like Jean Grey and Scott Somers. Also, if the X-Men are supposed “good guys,” then why haven’t they gone back in time to kill Hitler before the Holocaust or stopped many other heinous acts? What a bunch of jerks.
22 Jump Street:
Chris: Probably the most meta summer movie ever made. The follow-up to the surprise 2012 hit “21 Jump Street”, this is awesomely good-natured comedy romp that is hyper-aware that it’s a cash-grab sequel and runs with this gag to fantastic results. More consistently funny than the original, the bromantic chemistry between Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum never falters in delivering goofy laugh-out-loud laughs and quotable one-liners (“SOMETHING COOL!!!”). Along with this year’s sublime “The Lego Movie,” directing duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are so far consistently delivering some of the cleverest, playful, and aggressively entertaining movies to come out of Hollywood. Keep up the good work!!
Greg: While I would argue that the majority of comedy sequels fall flat on their faces, it is hard to say the same about “22 Jump Street.” In fact, the movie actually acknowledges the repetitiveness of the sequel, using it for jokes instead of for sighs, avoiding what “Hangover Part II” could not. Using the same comedy style as the original, “22” injects new story, new bromance, and new insanity into the dynamic duo led by Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. I laughed like a little kid who is unhealthily ticklish. While few sequels beat the original film in a franchise, “22” flawlessly mimics the tone of the original while freeing itself from any overly repetitive storylines and jokes. The film even goes as far as making the entire premise of a sequel a punchline in the ending credits, where it shows clips of the future of Jump Street. From medical school to culinary school to seminary school, the closing credits mock the idea of future sequels, all while making the audience laugh uncontrollably. Overall, this move was very much worth the theater viewing, but ultimately must take second place to the original.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes:
Chris: When a movie about talking apes managed to be taken seriously by an audience of diverse age groups without a single giggle throughout its two hour runtime, that’s a great sign. This sequel to 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” improves upon the original like “The Dark Knight” did to “Batman Begins” and features some of the best motion-capture performances since “Avatar.”
Somebody should sincerely give Andy Serkis (Golem from the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” movies) an Oscar because he demonstrates through his rivetingly dynamic performance as the ape leader Caesar that motion capture acting is every bit as real as traditional acting. The CGI that brings the apes to life are an improvement on the original and the story is much more engaging, ambitious, and emotionally resonate.
While the human characters are still a weak-point just like in Rise (Gary Oldman was way under-utilized), the ape characters remain just as wildly interesting, especially Caeser’s treacherous and human hating second in command Koba. There is also a constant river of tension throughout the film as Caeser and the human cast try to prevent an all-out war. My favorite action sequence is by far the ape assault on the San Francisco human compound that easily tops the Golden-Gate Bridge sequence from the original (The part involving Koba acquiring a moving assault vehicle displayed impressive single-take cinematography).
Not much more to say outside of that Dawn is probably one of the more emotionally satisfying summer movie experiences that managed to be fantastically thought-provoking social commentary.
Greg: “Dawn,” was the rare example of where a sequel exceeds expectations set by the original film. The CGI apes were flawless, the characters diverse and complex, and the plot twisted and turned. A comment on tribal society and violence as a whole, “Dawn” questions the role of territorialism in society by displaying multiple points of view from both human and ape sides. Caesar the ape is peace loving, forbidding murder while simultaneously allowing humans to enter ape territory to find a power source (an abandoned dam) while his rival Koba, a former medical test subject, attempts to wipe out human resistance. Opposite, we have the humans Malcom and Dreyfus. Malcom believes apes and humans can co-exist while Dreyfus blames apes for his family’s death and wishes to wipe out ape life. These clashes create an excellent story about family and belief systems. In the end, “Dawn,” was thought provoking and startlingly realistic and easily the best drama of the summer.
Guardians of the Galaxy:
Chris: I am Groot! (Translation: It was a huge relief that I wasn’t the only one seeing the talking raccoon. By far the funniest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Probably my third favorite of the MCU behind “The Avengers” and “Captain America: The Winter Solider.”)
Greg: Somehow, someway, this movie about a ragtag gang of outlaws ended up being both an amazing movie and a blockbuster hit. It was the perfect summer movie, pitting comical anti-heroes against simple bad guy villains. Every character seemed to fit his or her role perfectly, the story was excellent, but most of all, “Guardians” was 100% a fun movie and the best Marvel title to date. It displayed serious situations and symbolism using aliens and superhumans all while remaining entirely true to its characters. It was difficult to find anything I did not enjoy about the movie. Funny, original, with excellent acting, interesting and unique characters, “Guardians” had everything that creates an enjoyable movie. The tone was fun, yet serious, and capitalized on the acting and comedic chops of Chris Pratt as Starlord, the leader of the Guardians. Pratt gave Starlord the attitude of a 10-year-old and an Indiana Jones-like persona. The soundtrack was a surprising twist to the film, using 1970s pop songs to further humanize Starlord and other characters while also adding to the tone of the film. “Guardians” was the perfect example of what a summer movie should be, and has raised the standard for comic films of the future.