Saturday, August 2, 2014

Revisiting the 2014 Blockbuster Season

With Guardians of the Galaxy (Aug 7) and The Expendables 3 (Aug 14) still to hit screens, we are nearing the end of the 2014 Blockbuster Period.

This year I will begin the season with Noah (March 27) and end it with The Expendables 3, which I won't be seeing.

I feel like I have missed a few of the bigger budget releases along the way - I didn't bother with The Muppets Most Wanted, Divergent, Transcendence, Tranformers 4 or Rio 2 for example - but the season came on strong late with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Guardians of the Galaxy after the disappointment of Captain America and Godzilla and the completely forgettable blandness of the latest X-Men installment. 

Here's how I rank the one I saw:

Excellent (4-4.5) - The Lego Movie, Bad Neighbours, Edge of Tomorrow, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Guardians of the Galaxy.

Decent (3-3.5) - Noah, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Godzilla and How To Train Your Dragon 2

Eh (2-2.5) - The Other Woman, X-Men: Days of Future Past and 22 Jump Street.

Ugly (0.5-1.5) - The Amazing Spider-man 2 and A Million Ways To Die In The West.

Not many people enjoyed the hilariously Seth Rogen/Zac Efron turf wars in Bad Neighbours as much as I, and it seems like X-Men is heavily favoured. So, my rankings will be topsy-turvy for many.

I know there were many out there who felt strongly about Godzilla either way, while I came out straight down the middle. The monster effects are incredible, the catastrophic scale and the effective mounting of dread impressive, but the human story was blundered badly. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is not the guy you want to lead an audience through an unbelievably convenient series of close encounters. I was rarely on the edge of my seat, but remained in constant awe of the colossal spectacle. And yet, a few hours after seeing it, I couldn't summon much enthusiasm. As it turns out, the film's best sequence appeared in that first teaser - the reason it was one of my most-anticipated films of the year.

I absolutely hated The Amazing Spider-man 2, which was as loud and overstuffed as Raimi's Spiderman 3 and was watchable only when Garfield and Stone shared the screen. 22 Jump Street successfully ran a pretty exciting reboot series into the ground with an overload of meta humour that wore out its welcome and barely masked the generic 'college' story, despite winning chemistry (again) from Tatum and Hill.

I had forgotten I had even seen Days of Future Past mere hours after watching it, and what is most angering about it is it's existence as a $200 million clean slate for the franchise. Only McAvoy turns in a performance worth mentioning, despite it sneakily being the best 'Wolverine' film to date.

Noah is the season's strangest blockbuster and for all its failures, it offers plenty that is thought-provoking. Its sensory splendour and consistent intensity demanded the cinema environment. How To Train Your Dragon 2 was a visually spectacular sequel that took a darker turn, failing to match the predecessor's sense of fun.

The Winter Soldier, an anticipated follow-up to one of the better Marvel adventures, had the worst 3D of the season and was unfortunately punishing in it's final act, despite a welcomed return for Black Widow (who deserves her own film).

The Lego Movie was bursting with colourful inventiveness, and wonderful animation, and in addition to being crazy and hilarious it manages to go into surprisingly profound territory about identity and imagination, delivering a potent message about the power of one against corporate conformity, and the limitless creativity present within us all.

Tom Cruise, after the underrated Oblivion last year, is part of another winner in Edge of Tomorrow. Liman knows the ingredients of the summer blockbuster, and his thoughtful film strikes a compelling balance of high-stakes action spectacle, character-driven drama and timely injections of humour to ensure that its clever concept never wears out its welcome. The concept draws from the best of inspirations (Groundhog Day meets Aliens) and it really worked.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an intimate, complex character-driven sci-fi/war hybrid that offers a relentless barrage of intense, unpredictable and deeply affecting moments of moral conflict, and an astounding fusion of visual effects and choreographed battle sequences. Incredibly, the epic Dawn improves upon the surprisingly-excellent Rise in almost every capacity, offering thought-provoking commentary on humanity and the differences that may bring opponents to war – despite the mutual desire for peace – amidst unfathomably consistent tension and aesthetic spectacle.

If Dawn is the most compelling, and powerful of the blockbuster crop, Guardians of the Galaxy is the most fun. I was thoroughly entertained throughout James Gunn's strange and unorthodox MCU refresher. Such a relief that it exists. The chemistry between the core group of misfits is just one of the areas this film excels in, but that was more than enough. And how about Chris Pratt, the central hero of two of this year's most entertaining films. I loved the humor in The Avengers, but this is even funnier.

So, what were your favourites from this year's Blockbuster crop? A few years back we had The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. Last year we had Pacific Rim, Iron Man 3, Oblivion and The World's End. This year might in fact be the strongest. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, especially, has a real shot at making my EOY Top 15.