7 Summer Movie Memories: 2012
I can’t believe it’s already happened, but Labor Day has passed and 2012’s Summer movie season is now officially a memory. Let’s take a quick look back at some of the high (and low) points.
Quick Reminder of the 7 Summer Movie Memories Protocol: These movies are picked to represent their Summer movie season as a whole, even if I’ve not seen them, although theatrical viewings do carry more weight as personal experiences. I picked them based on my memory of the Summer, a very subjective criteria to be sure.
Going into the summer, it seemed like this would be the kind of early season fluff that would tide us over until we got June and July’s bigger, more serious event films. After all, this had been Marvel’s strategy with almost all of its major releases. However, as we approached release day, it felt as if anticipation for The Avengers was much higher than expected. Lo and behold, it ended up being the single biggest hit of the summer and a rousing success for its studio. The fact that this was a bit of a surprise can be attributed to the pleasantly low stakes and slight nature of the films feeding into the Avengers narrative. The film ended up being a rousing, cinematic event movie that managed to out-do mega blockbusters like Transformers: Dark of the Moon. The Avengers is quite simply an exhilarating time at the movies; a bright and colorful ride that gives us wonderfully fleshed-out characters in increasingly dire circumstances. It’s a bit of a miracle that it exists in the form that it does.
The only thing I required of this film was for it to be better than the second film in the series. Well, those expectations were surely matched, but that’s really all I can say. Even with that low standard, Men in Black 3 was a disappointment; an unnecessary movie that buckles under the weight of an ugly, unpleasant inciting idea: that being the age and weariness of Tommy Lee Jones’ character. While Josh Brolin’s interpretation of a young Jones is very funny and well-played, the film struggles to justify its own existence, feeling like an out-of-touch and messy bit of studio desperation. The problem with both this film and its predecessor is the conceit that Men in Black functions in a kind of canonic mythology that needs to be examined. This is an absolutely ridiculous approach, because the original film worked as a fun, funny, and stream-lined action comedy with wonderful special effects. That’s what made it memorable, and a lack of these elements caused Men in Black 3 to be entirely forgotten within a matter of weeks.
Another film that hasn’t really resonated in the collective subconscious – beyond a bit of nasty gossip that hit a few weeks ago – Snow White & The Huntsman is a film that could have really been a sleeper success this year. Its central premise is fantastic fodder for a fantasy adventure, and while the finished film stands as a satisfying whole, it clearly shows a messy, unfocused over-indulgence of story. A shoe-horned love triangle is only the most apparent of a series of entirely useless subplots that keep the plot from ever really lingering on any moment for a satisfying amount of time. Gone are the days of elegiac trips into the entirely fantastical worlds of Legend or The Dark Crystal. Here, great genre ideas are tossed out left and right, and completely abandoned within seconds. Again, the central idea – that the aura of a savior princess can bring a dying world back to life – is a time-tested fairy tale plot that could work well on an epic scale, and director Rupert Sanders shows us how well he could visualize an idea like that in several of the film’s sequences, but the script never allows for it. I’d of course be remiss if I didn’t mention the questionable casting of Kristen Stewart as a woman that is more objectively attractive than Charlize Theron, but I suppose the film would never have seen the light of day without Stewart’s attachment.
Ah, the most talked-about movie of the year. With the release of the non-prequel to Alien, the critical consensus of the summer really seemed to hit its thesis: Weak disappointment. Here’s a film that really divided audiences, in that it was regarded as either an abject failure or a flawed masterpiece. Regardless of individual opinion, it’s clear that Prometheus was a cultural disappointment. Should we be surprised, though? Has there ever been a film that has gained broad appeal based on nostalgia? Clearly it didn’t work out for Star Wars or Indiana Jones. It didn’t help Super 8 or Superman Returns. Even mildly well-received throwbacks like Rocky Balboa aren’t very well-remembered. I suppose last year’s The Muppets is about the only example I can muster. Regardless, in hindsight, the Prometheus fiasco seems like it could not have played out any other way, considering the players: A studio that loves tinkering with theatrical edits, a writer renowned for unsatisfactory climaxes, and a director clambering for a return to past glory. In the end, I like the film just fine. It’s not air-tight on a plot level, but it is really reaching for big ideas, and that should be respected. It also works up a nice amount of tension, delivers one of the most horrifying movie scenes in years, and features a viscerally satisfying final few shots.
Here’s another example of a Summer trend: a film falling short of critical expectations, quite possibly because of factors entirely external to the film itself. The ousting of director Brenda Chapman, the thirst for negative Pixar publicity, the subversive take on the supposedly tired “Princess” genre, and a set of needlessly coy trailers led to Brave being a bit of an oddly shaped pill to swallow. Despite having a working title that very clearly hinted at the film’s central premise, its main plot was never clearly communicated in trailers. Now, I’ll be the first to beg studios for vague, plot-less trailers, but I prefer they go the whole nine yards if they choose that approach. The trailers for Brave still strongly hinted at story elements that would seem obvious if one has any idea of what might happen to the film’s protagonists. Regardless, the film succeeds despite unfavorable external factors. Again, Pixar manages to subvert a genre, making a colorful and textural adventure film that rewards deeper readings.
Another major trend this Summer seemed to be a proliferation of franchise-building third acts. In just about every major release, aside from the last film on this list, it felt as if producers were working very hard to build entries in a serial, rather than stand-alone films. This was most apparent in The Amazing Spider-Man, an underdog of a film that faced many challenges before its release, the greatest being a massive re-edit that seems to have given the film a more open-ended story for sequels to expound on. The problem is that this supposed re-edit, orchestrated at the eleventh hour, flew directly in the face of the film’s long-standing marketing. In addition to that, The Amazing Spider-Man needed to function as a clean reboot to a beloved film series directed by fan favorite Sam Raimi. Funny enough, director Mark Webb was caught in a kind of Peter Parker situation, with an anxious and meddlesome studio breathing down his neck as hard as a legion of stubborn and hard-to-please fanboys. The thing is, though, that even with its warts and climax quibbles, The Amazing Spider-Man is a fantastic, organic re-telling of the Spider-Man origin, portrayed in a much more character-driven and emotionally complex way than Raimi’s 2002 film. The film is a testament to the fact that with a solid set of performances, well-crafted action scenes, and a strong emotional through-line, a project can transcend a questionable script and troubled production.
Rounding out the Summer was what could easily be called one of the most anticipated films of the past few years, as Christopher Nolan offered up a sequel to one of the most successful movies ever made. There was no way that this film was going to reach the heights of The Dark Knight on any level, and yet Nolan still managed to deliver a film that was surprisingly different from both of its predecessors. I was petrified that this film was even being made, and was very worried that it would sully the legacy of the 2008 blockbuster, and although I was mixed on The Dark Knight Rises upon first viewing, I was relieved that it honored not only the cinematic legacy of Batman, but offered up a refreshing and new perspective on the character. Nolan left a much more personal stamp on Batman than anyone was expecting, and I think that’s more than commendable in an environment where fanboy service is the highest act of altruism. When I saw the film a second time, i was transfixed by its originality and unique approach. It combines tones deftly, delivers a complex and massive plot, keeps a breakneck pace, and still manages to lay out a very small and insular emotional arc for Bruce Wayne.
Top-Grossing (Domestic, As of 9/4/12): The Avengers
Favorite Action Scene: Opening Heist, The Dark Knight Rises
Favorite Single Shot: The Ridiculous Long Take, The Avengers
Favorite Performance: Tom Hardy, The Dark Knight Rises
Favorite Score: Hans Zimmer, The Dark Knight Rises
Favorite Visual Effects: The Avengers
Favorite Design: Prometheus
The critical consensus of The Dark Knight Rises is a perfect encapsulation for the overall feeling of the 2012 Summer movie season. We all had a set of very specific expectations for the season’s major releases, and when those expectations weren’t met, we reacted. I’d still argue that many of the season’s awkward landings were due to our desire to put filmmakers into neat little boxes without allowing for expansion or experimentation, and that us movie nerds have a tendency to refuse subtextual readings of films, but I can’t deny that by the time we were hit with Total Recall and The Bourne Legacy, I was spent. Of course, all of this existential chatter about major blockbuster releases isn’t fair to the smaller releases that were resounding delights. Moonrise Kingdom was one of the great films of the summer, and one of the best of the year so far. I didn’t get to catch up with Magic Mike, but I’ve heard great things and look forward to catching it. Many folks had plenty of kind things to say about Ted, The Expendables 2, and ParaNorman, and I hope to catch up with those eventually, too.
For me, the season was a success. It was a success the moment I walked out of The Avengers, and it was cinched when I felt that The Dark Knight Rises was working for me.
So that’s it! I’ll be back next year, revisiting Summer movie memories of years I didn’t get to cover these past few months. For now, it’s time to buckle down and take a breather before Awards season hits… Don’t look now, but there are some hairy feet and stovepipe hats in our future, folks.
If you saw The Dark Knight Rises, be sure to check out our monster podcast about all the Batman films, featuring Corey Craft, Craig Hamilton, and myself. Also, check out the newest episode of Cinematrimony (about The Campaign) and the victorious return of Aspect Radio!
Thanks for reading!