A critic friend of mine wrote the other day that she really isn’t looking forward to the rest of Summer 2011. After picking out a couple of potential highlights (Harry Potter, Cowboys and Aliens) and some sound low points (The Smurfs, Rise of the Planet of the Apes), she concluded that the next month and a half will be a major snore/bore/chore. What any fan of film could have told her, sadly, is that, for the most part, the previous two months argue for one of the worst popcorn movie seasons on record. From underperforming tentpoles to a real lack of original alternatives, May through July have been a trial. Of course, good and bad are a matter of opinion and the laws of probability clearly establish that all perspective is a crapshoot, but a quick overview proves the pathetic trappings.
After the surprising fun of Fast Five (which, while released at the end of April, many considered to be the start of Summer 2011), May measured out quite a bit of mediocrity. Thor, while splashy and flashy, definitely suffered from “Origin Story Syndrome” while certified dung like Something Borrowed and Jumping the Broom belied the ongoing, lingering death of the Romantic Comedy. Bridesmaids and The Hangover II succeeded in selling their scatology to both sides of the gender gene pool, big budget action adventures like Priest and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides underperformed. Unless you count the limited releases – Hersher, The Beaver, Tree of Life, or on the opposite end of the indie spectrum, Passion Play – or carefully created kiddie fare (Kung Fu Panda II), the first month of the annual entertainment overload was very little of either.
June was only slightly better, and only because critical hits like Super 8 and X-Men: First Class trumped trash like Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer and Mr. Popper’s Penguins. Even Pixar puked up a piece of pure product when they listened to their bank account and created Cars 2. Elsewhere, Green Lantern showed that DC still has a problem outside Batman and…well, that’s about it, and Bad Teacher tried, and barely succeeded, to sell itself as another in a long line of bad-ass gross out laughers. Again, one had to skirt around the fringes – The Troll Hunter, Buck, Submarine – in order to find something worthwhile. One could argue that Hollywood was simply holding back, saving the best for the time of the year when almost everyone has some free time – and disposable income – to waste, but a quick overview of the rest of Summer suggests otherwise.
It’s safe to say that Transformers: Dark of the Moon will be the season’s biggest success. The previous two installments in the series grossed somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.6 billion combined, and this part seems ‘primed’ to repeat, or even surpass, those numbers. Is it a good film? Hardly. But it’s an eyepopping train wreck that will have adolescent boys screaming “gotta see it” for at least a couple weeks. Trying to stop the Michael Bay juggernaut was/is Tom Hanks and Julie Roberts in Larry Crowne (fail), an all star cast of available voice actors to play off Kevin James’ juvenile joking Zookeeper (EPIC fail), and a dark workplace farce featuring the industry’s least talented A-lister, Jennifer Aniston (Horrible Bosses, which could have easily been retitled Horrible Actress…).
Moving forward, there’s Potter to contemplate (has potential), Captain America to complain about, Crazy Stupid Love to consider (or rename, Lazy Dumb Premise) and Wild Wild West via Jon Farveau. By the time college comes calling again and football season (hopefully) gets going, we’ll get intelligent monkeys in revolt, a post-millennial body switch comedy, more Final Destination, a pious piece of the South circa the ’60s self-righteousness (The Help), and a trio of tired repeats – remakes of Fright Night and Conan the Barbarian, a fourth Spy Kids movie. Of everything coming out in the next seven weeks, only the Guillermo Del Toro produced horror film Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark has any serious buzz, and if it is like any other terror title in wide release, it will get a little lip service from mainstream journalists before slinking off to be ‘discovered’ on home video.
That’s it. That’s the lot. That’s the group that Summer 2011 will be judge by, and so far, the criteria is pretty crappy indeed. True, you can’t really evaluate something you haven’t seen (though that doesn’t stop the studios from pushing product via a sense of forced familiarity) and something could come out of the wordwork – Friends with Benefits, Our Idiot Brother – to turn the tide, but one thing is clear. There is no Inception waiting among these movies. There’s no Star Trek, Inglourious Basterds, District 9, Wall-E, or Sunshine. Perhaps more telling, there is no single title that Tinseltown is looking at and saying to themselves “DAMN…wish we had made that.” Instead of getting a glimpse of the future, Summer 2011 illustrates the brazen backseat driving that passes for creativity in current cinema.
In the past, people have complained about the mindless, mirco-managed product that the studios keep slipping in between cases of sun stroke, pointing to a dearth of ideas and the death of adventurousness as a rationale for retaining their snide, cynical tone. In the case of 2011, the truth truly hurts. Though some might feel frustrated by yet another Ivory Tower twit lamenting the sad state of his (or her) beloved artform, the fact remains that this Summer season – more than any other, perhaps – underlines which is wrong with the current aesthetic business model. Not the financial end or the talent portion. As long as they can make money – and they can – Hollywood will hand us junk and want us to think it’s jewelry. In this case, it’s both fool’s gold, and a fool’s paradise.