Summer. 2016. By now, a distant memory. I challenge anyone to remember anything about it and least of all, the films. They were a damp squib. The most disappointing since..well..2015? No truly stand out hit one can cherish and remember forever. No sudden sleepers, either? The overall feeling was ‘meh’ and that is to put it politely.
So what went wrong? What was missing? The big picture is an absence of a true ‘name’ franchise. Star Wars now rests safely in the Christmas slot. James Bond comes round just every 3 years and he too prefers the Fall. Marvel had shown us their hand with Captain America: Civil War before the true ‘summer’ season. Ditto, Batman V Superman. Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Chris Pratt and Chris Nolan all off duty this year but back soon.
So, in effect, many of the big players, those that defined blockbusters in the first place, were absent or released either too early or too late to truly uplift proceedings with either hype or substance. We were left with a kind of B List / sub bench franchise list to fill out the summer months.
The individual films themselves were just ‘ok’, for the most part. Nothing spectacular. Nothing truly awful. Just dull. Drab. Derivative. Let’s take a closer look, one by one at a selection..
Great action: yes! Thrilled to see Damon /Greengrass back. Atmospherics, visuals, set-pieces all good, esp Athens. The usual catchy score. But none of the youth, innovation, surprise or novelty that made the originals stand out. Re-treads of its own mythology and lazily rehashed tropes from competing franchises. An unnecessary death of one key character. Tommy Lee Jones’ casting: a missed opportunity and arguably superfluous in any event, whilst ignoring some of the more intriguing series regulars. This is not James Bond: Bourne does not lend itself to longevity and reinvention. It had a solid, one off, unique identity. Ironically, the makers seem to have forgotten that, in a series that begins and ends with an amnesiac.
STAR TREK BEYOND
It had heart, soul, wit and warmth. And some decidedly inventive action. #IDRIS! And yet, this felt like the Next Generation movie, Insurrection, done marginally better. IE the stakes were just a little too low and once again the franchise sunk into the trap of recreating the television series but on a bigger scale. Bigger in scale is not enough to engage a cinematic audience, though? The film must stand alone as a compelling premise and equally somehow dip into visual / thematic legacies from the franchise’s dense history, whilst expanding those in a respectful yet original fashion. They’ve done it before: Wrath of Khan, The Voyage home, First Contact and 2009’s reboot. Let’s hope they manage it again for the next film. Or Civilisation as we know it will have to be saved outside cinemas and solely on Netflix with Star Trek: Discovery?
A brave pitch and ambition, mired by studio/director confusion on what the film was meant to actually be? Visually stunning. Moments of emotion and thoughtful exposition, blurred by yet another beam of light from the sky thingie that kind of worked in Spielberg movies circa 1980s but count as lazy filler in any other climactic battle sequence. The tone was all over the place; pace varied and pitch was unclear. The action reflected that muddled mission; with hazy lighting and choreography lacking clarity. It performed well at the Box Office, but the Joker figure arguably propelled that progress and has been deemed misleading by many a disappointed fan.
INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE
Jeff Golblum was funny and it was comforting to watch his return to blockbuster cinema. There were some striking visuals, especially at the start. Sela Ward looked gorgeous. There was some high concept sci-fi (alien tech used by humans). But no Will Smith as President Hiller = big missed opportunity. They managed to get everyone else back, even Brent Spiner. Pointlessly so. Either get your leading man or reinvent / reboot sufficiently? Liam Hemsworth is not as funny as Will Smith. And an alien Queen? Really? That’s the best twist you can manage in explaining /developing the baddies further? Pathetic.
X MEN: APOCALYPSE /GHOSTBUSTERS
X Men = High concept stuff. Great cast. Fassbender and J-law! Prof X finally goes bald! 80s nostalgia! And I enjoyed the film, for what it was. Nothing special per se. But satisfying, satisfactory, even charming in places. GhostBusters = warm, funny, feel good, simple and charming entertainment. Both movies were beset by bad word of mouth from day one. They simply could not defeat the fans’ disappointment at the fact that their beloved visions were getting a new lick of paint.
To X-Men devotees and indeed,the causal film fan, Days of Future Past could not be topped and the depiction of the titular Apocalypse was a bathetic anti-climax rather than the epic conflict that had been promised. To devotees of the 1980s GhostBusters films, an all girl reboot was sacrilege and they vented accordingly.
Whilst neither movie is a failure to my mind, their respective marketing teams failed very basic damage limitation exercises. Never be seen to rise to the Trolls as that simply legitimises the threat posed and flags up the flaws of your film. And timing is everything. Had X Men waited just another year? That would have given greater time to hone those effects and mount the hype and refine the rushed rough edges of script.
Post Mortem Post Script
This summer’s franchise deaths / disappointments were caused by the following common disorders:
Failure to adequately define genre, audience, tone, purpose, demographic, verisimilitude.
Acute attention to the wrong details of what made certain previous movies work and resulting failure to replicate the affections of fans.
Rushing out a sequel too quickly or waiting far too long for it to have any real impact and in both cases failing to either advance or reinvent or truly honour the spirit of the originals in a series.
Studio panic in relation to Internet trolling, in turn brewing resentment among genuine critics who have no wish to be tarnished with the troll brush and yet giving endless publicity to a film’s detractors via YouTube, Twitter et al.
The big guns that usually provide summer entertainment were either taking a year off or had in effect given us ‘summer’ treats several months too early, thereby harming both their Box Office and that of their leftover ‘summer blockbusters of 2016’ counterparts.
Here endeth the lesson. Roll on Fall Movies.