Summer 2015 has proven to be the definition of “mixed bag.” Even in the more positive light of movies like Mad Max: Fury Road – a movie so good and pure I can’t fathom anybody not enjoying it – there was a Pixels hanging just around the corner. Jurassic World polarized audiences, but most found enjoyment in the nostalgia trip. We’re not sure how it made a billion dollars but props to Universal for having multiple movies cross that mark before the year is over.
May knocked down our doors with Avengers: Age of Ultron, a superhero movie interested in what it means to be an Avenger, setting the stage for the upcoming Civil War, though some people felt the film was more interested in setup than its own story (they’re wrong, but it’s worth discussing). Some stinkers stunk in the first days of summer (like Hot Pursuit) and others earned an impressed nod like the reflective Schwarzenegger zombie drama Maggie, which proved the Governator had life left in him (no matter what the rest of the summer suggested). Then it happened. May 15, 2015, the world as we knew it was forever changed. V8, flame guitars, old ladies kicking ass on motorcycles, bad-as-hell women literally ripping off the face of the patriarchy. Mad Max: Fury Road. Mad Max is love, life, death, and the afterlife. Mad Max simply is. In the aftermath of that blissful storm, the final weeks of May brought Tomorrowland, Aloha, and San Andreas to our doorstep with disappointing results. The Human Centipede 3 also happened but I’ll be fired if I do more than mention it.
June brought Spy, the best Feige/McCarthy team up thus far, instilling even more optimism for the new Ghostbusters movie. Jurassic World arrived and decided to break all records, without giving a damn about whether it deserved them or not. Dope flew under the radar but still managed to be a hit for a movie of its size. Inside Out bought Pixar back to full form. Then, we ended the month with Max and Ted 2 back to back. You forgot about them too, didn’t you?
The glory of Magic Mike XXL was bestowed upon us, as a movie so intent on pleasing its audience it willfully ignored narrative tradition and ordinary stakes. Terminator Genisys also happened and failed to hit with audiences in America. China came in at the last minute of summer and saved the movie with a push into profitable territory (this is an act of war). And right under our noses Minions began their plan for world domination. Everything is minions (I had a dream it would end this way). Luckily the cultural genocide that is superhero movies saved the day with Ant-Man, a small scale, small stakes, personal superhero story working as a palette cleanser for the action heavy first half of summer. Trainwreck was positively received, stamping Amy Schumer’s spot in Hollywood and Judd Apatow’s directorial return. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation somehow asserted itself as the best in a franchise that can’t stop improving over its predecessors, but first we had to wade through the first pitch black spot of the summer. Paper Towns, Pixels, and Southpaw were all released on the same day. Paper Towns did fine commercially and critically. Southpaw also did respectably at the box office in spite of how terrible it actually is (none of you would give a damn about this movie if not for Gyllenhaal). The positive to Southpaw is was that it kept some audiences from watching Pixels. Anything is better than Pixels. Pixels was a literal cultural genocide. Just when it appeared Adam Sandler would reign victorious, Pixels hardly made a splash at the box office. It’s not quite a victory, but it’s certainly not a defeat. But there was another dark entity just waiting beyond the hills of August.
August 7, 2015. Location: Everywhere. Fox released a clearly unfinished Fantastic Four movie, dooming the property to the status of “literal cinematic leprosy” and damning Marvel’s first family to even further scorned audiences. The fourth time was anything but a charm. It’s the final nail in the coffin for these characters for at least the next decade. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was more like the Meh from U.N.C.L.E. while Straight Outta Compton became a deserved box office smash. American Ultra bombed hard even for its less than 30 million budget, though it was secretly one of the most romantic movies of the year. Hitman Agent 47 and Sinister 2 managed to steal Ultra’s thunder (we don’t even know how). And the final week saw releases for No Escape and We Are Your Friends. Neither movie has been witnessed by this writer’s eyes, nor does he possess much intent to watch a xenophobic action thriller starring Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, and Pierce Brosnan. However, we should start putting Owen Wilson into more action movies again. Shanghai Dawn anybody?
So was this a summer movie season worth remembering? Yes. Wholeheartedly yes. Even with movies that didn’t win everyone over (Age of Ultron, Trainwreck) and those movies that we can consider catastrophic failures (Pixels, Fantastic Four), there’s enough here to warrant actual discussion about what worked and what went wrong. We could discuss the construction (or lack thereof) of Fantastic Four for hours on end, trying to decipher who or what could be responsible for such a mess. The public is wising up to Adam Sandler’s juvenile man-child power fantasies. People want stronger roles for women in films like Age of Ultron. We want to see all women as diverse and wonderful as they’re portrayed in Mad Max: Fury Road. Agree or disagree, this summer got us talking to each other more than most.