And so the summer has come to a close. Kids are back in school, students get back to their studies, and everyone else’s lives continue on as normal. For the film industry, the change in season means the time for expensive popcorn fodder is over and instead we make way for a brief dead period before the Oscar race begins. So now is the perfect time to take a look back at the past few months of cinema and see what rose to the top of entertainment excellence, and what movies tasted as bad as a scoop of ice cream dropped in the sand.
Let’s start by looking over the crud first, shall we? These are the TOP FIVE WORST FILMS OF SUMMER 2014:
5. THE EXPENDABLES 3
The series may finally over after this third installment faced dismal returns at the box office, and to that I say “good riddance.” The Expendables franchise has never been good, with all goodwill towards it coming from the fond nostalgia of its cast’s previous efforts. Even the addition of legends like Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson and Wesley Snipes did little to make this overlong, monotonous and lazily slapdash production watchable. Just let this series die and watch some classic action movies from the 1980s instead; they are better made, more fun and not afraid to go over the top.
Scarlett Johansson has had a pretty good year thanks to the likes of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Under the Skin, but this sci-fi mess from the long-past-his-prime Luc Besson is a blemish on her otherwise fantastic report card this year. Similar to this year’s other dumb-movie-that-thinks-it’s-smart Transcendence, Lucy has some promising ideas that are dashed by disastrous execution and a poor understand of the subject matter. With a protagonist as invincible as Johansson is in this movie, the entire story becomes a stake-less bore as every action sequence is so one-sided and Lucy herself becomes an unrelatable slab of nothing. If you want a movie that takes the whole “10% of the brain” myth and does something interesting with it, go watch the underrated Limitless instead of this self-important dreck.
3. THE ANOMALY
I hate to pick on the little guy here, but The Anomaly is just flat-out bad. Noel Clarke of Doctor Who and Kidulthood fame directs and stars in this wannabe sci-fi thriller with production values that even the most average TV show would laugh at. The plot, whilst having a decent premise, is a poorly structured and over-expositional mess that lacks personality and development. The fight sequences are over-choreographed and uninspired copies of those you could find in a Zack Snyder production, whilst the special effects look unfinished and not much better than what a 14 year old could do whilst messing around with Adobe After Effects.
2. TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION
Welcome back to the world of Michael Bay: a land rich with non-stop explosions but lacking basic resources like a functioning narrative or interesting characters. Swapping Shia LaBoeuf for Marky Mark has done little to improve this franchise, as everything else is just more of the same monotonous destruction and obnoxious humour. Clocking in at nearly three hours, Age of Extinction is the definition of Hollywood excess, throwing out everything of substance and replacing it with cosmetic ugliness and contempt for its audience. Regardless, this stool is currently the highest grossing movie of the year worldwide. Sarcastic yay!
Most movies on this list are here for simply being stupid. Maleficent isn’t a stupid movie, but it is outright incompetent. Whilst it is impressive on a technical level, no amount of Hollywood wizardry can fix the rotten core this film possesses. The plot is a confusing mess stitched together by bad dialogue and unnecessary narration, the decent cast is hampered by poor direction resulting in performances ranging from bland to embarrassing, and the film’s messages about female empowerment and love are horrifyingly mishandled and essentially stolen from Frozen, respectively (if you want more details on that, please read my piece Why Maleficent fails as a feminist film). Angelina Jolie may have been perfect casting as Disney’s most iconic villainess, but this movie makes Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland look…well, not that much better, but better nonetheless.
Now that we’ve got the waste out of the system, let’s move onto the highlights of what has otherwise been a damn good year of cinema so far. Commiserations to Cold in July, 22 Jump Street and Boyhood; they didn’t make the final list, but all are fantastic films you should check out. So now, without further ado, the TOP FIVE BEST FILMS OF SUMMER 2014:
5.X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST
Bryan Singer returns to the franchise he started 14 years ago to deliver the best X-Men movie since he departed. Loosely adapting one of the comics’ most beloved storylines and combining the cast of the original trilogy and First Class, Days of Future Past delivers everything you could want from an X-Men movie: an entertaining story, a multitude of characters old and new, memorable action beats and, most importantly, a good heart. It’s rare to see a film series acknowledge the mistakes of its past and work so hard to try and fix them, but Days of Future Past does that to the best of its ability.
4. EDGE OF TOMORROW
Probably the biggest surprise of the year, Edge of Tomorrow’s troubled production history and mishandled marketing made it look to be a disaster. Though it did end up disappointing at the box office, the film itself is a wonderfully enthralling sci-fi epic. Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt make a fantastic double team, bouncing banter during awesome action sequences and showing sides of themselves we’ve rarely seen. Balancing all of that crazy spectacle with a wonderfully cheeky sense of humour, Edge of Tomorrow is far more than just Aliens meets Groundhog Day.
3. DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
Rise of the Planet of the Apes reignited the long dormant franchise and provided both an interesting sci-fi tale and some of Andy Serkis’ finest work to date. That’s a high barrier for a sequel to cross, but Dawn leaps over that hurdle effortlessly. The film has plenty of entertainment value packed into its action beats, but it’s the quieter moments that make Dawn so special. It balances that fine line that most movies fail to stay steady on by making every character relatable and justifiable in their actions; no obvious heroes and villains here. It paints a dour picture of our future, but one still filled with hope, and in doing so creates one of the best sci-fi dramas since District 9. Apes together strong indeed.
2. HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2
The LEGO Movie may still be the best animated film of the year so far, but coming in close second is this fantastic sequel to one of the finest of the genre. How to Train Your Dragon 2 avoids the typical pitfalls of the sequel and crafts a narrative that moves the story forward in fun, interesting and surprisingly adult ways. There are still plenty of moments of whimsy, but the film takes itself seriously too and in just the right way, making for a movie that anyone can enjoy. It surpasses its predecessor in many facets, and it might be DreamWorks’ finest achievement to date.
1. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
Guardians of the Galaxy is quite possibly the best paid-off gamble in film history. A $170 million sci-fi comedy based on an obscure Marvel comic whose characters include a gun-toting raccoon and a sentient tree? What are the odds of that going well? Yet somehow, in an industry where executives are convinced that sticking to the rules is the only surefire way to guarantee a profit, Guardians not only ended up being a spectacularly awesome piece of cinema but also a financial hit. Playing like a mash-up of Star Wars and Ghostbusters, the film is chock full of irreverent humour, quotable lines, memorable characters, imaginative set pieces, and a rocking soundtrack of 70s and 80s cheeseball classics. It roots itself in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it works perfectly fine as a standalone movie too for those not caught up in the overarching narrative. It’s a film that gives you that childhood feeling of nostalgia but without taking away what you love as an adult. It’s one of Marvel’s finest achievements to date, if not the finest, and it’s wonderful to see James Gunn finally get his big break after years of doing fantastic work that nobody saw. Guardians of the Galaxy: the best film of the summer.
So what do you think, readers? What were your favourites or least favourites this summer? Anything I missed? Think some of the best list should be on the worst or vice versa?