The first half of the 2013 summer movie season is over, and rather than write up individual reviews, I thought it would be nice to recap my favourite movies so far in one post. I also decided to split the summer into two parts (May–June and July–August) because I want to talk about these movies now, while they’re still relatively fresh in both my and the audience’s memory.
Iron Man 3
The summer season kicked off on a high note with Marvel’s Iron Man 3, their first film since last year’s fantastic The Avengers (read my review of that film here) and the first film in Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As such, there were certain expectations it had to fulfill, and though I didn’t prefer it to The Avengers or even the first Iron Man, I still found it a more enjoyable movie than other four Marvel films.
Iron Man 3 was a very entertaining movie, filled to the brim with fun moments, be it Tony Stark’s trademark wit, his buddy-cop-like dynamic with Rhodey, his interactions with JARVIS and the rest of his equipment and gadgets, the antics of his barely functioning automated suit, or Happy Hogan’s addiction to Downton Abbey. But it wasn’t all fun and games, of course. For instance, I truly loved Tony’s character progression after the events of The Avengers, which left him excessively paranoid and with a minor case of post-traumatic stress. The second act of the film also took an interesting turn and sent Tony on a more subdued, low-tech, intimate journey, which was refreshing and contrasted nicely with the action-driven parts of the film. It also forced Tony into unique scenarios where he had to defend himself without the help of his suit, which allowed for some very creative sequences, such as fighting several henchmen with only one glove and one boot of his Iron Man armour. A true gem of this second act though was Ty Simpkins’s character Harley, who—despite being a kid in a summer action film—managed to be remarkably endearing and shared a humourous yet heartwarming relationship with Stark. Of course, the movie also delivered on the action, with several high-flying sequences and a dazzling final act—one that was, for once in this trilogy, appropriately climactic. Some of my minor complaints revolve around the villain, who was a tad hammy, and whose motivation and end goal were not very well-stated. I do not, however, have any qualms about the apparently controversial way in which they handled the Mandarin, and (without going into any major spoilers) I found the Trevor Slattery character funny and greatly enjoyed the many facets of Sir Ben Kingsley’s performance. I also applaud the decision to not have the villains be people in high-tech armour, yet still make them equally threatening if not more, which is another first for the series.
All in all, this was a very enjoyable summer blockbuster with plenty of charm, and it not only maintains Marvel’s streak of dependable superhero movies but also begins to deliver on the promise that Phase Two will be just as good as Phase One, if not better. And let’s not forget the post-end credits scene, which, though not as plot-relevant as the previous Easter eggs have been, nonetheless is my favourite yet.
Rating: 4/5 (Great)
I honestly did not expect to have Monsters University so high up in my list, but it is easily my second-favourite film of the summer so far. Based on its premise, the previews I’d seen, and the initial critical reaction, I walked into the theater expecting nothing more than good, healthy summer entertainment. Of course, I did get that (emphatically), but I also got much more. While I wouldn’t rank Monsters University among Pixar’s much-revered classics, it is still a wonderful animated movie.
The first two acts of the film consisted of refreshingly lighthearted, solid, and often spectacular entertainment. It was nothing if not absolutely hilarious, with humour that felt effortless and never missed its mark, and I often found myself in stitches. This was evidently Pixar’s twist on the traditional college movie, with brilliant monster versions of archetypal characters (my personal favourite has to be the creepy, monstrous librarian). The animation was pure gorgeous eye candy, with monsters and creatures of every imaginable sort, size, and texture. Elements that would have been an obstacle for Pixar when making the first film—to which, by the way, there are many references in Monsters University—are now achievable in a beautiful way. As someone who appreciates animation, I can perfectly understand why they would want to revisit this universe so many years later. Pixar’s creativity was cranked up and on display. But where the film truly shone and established that Pixar not only was back, but may never have left to begin with, was the third act. Without spoiling much, this part of the movie deviated from the formula that the first two acts were adhering to and delivered key scenes full of genuine heart and depth, capped off with a scare sequence that felt straight out of an honest-to-God horror film.
And the moral of the story? In true Pixar fashion, it was unconventional but rang just as true. The lesson Mike learned after a full movie of toiling and striving to be a scarer is, “It’s OK to be OK.” Perhaps hidden in this theme was a message from Pixar to their critics who’d been holding them in high regard and have been merciless towards their missteps, but the quality of the film itself contradicts that, as Monsters University was truly Pixar at its usual high standards, and a delightful movie from start to finish.
Rating: 4/5 (Great)
Star Trek Into Darkness
“This is without a doubt the best movie this summer,” I told myself as the end credits rolled on Star Trek Into Darkness. That feeling that has not changed since I saw it. This was a thoroughly entertaining movie and, in my opinion, it exemplifies everything a fun popcorn film should aspire to be.
Like Abrams’s first Star Trek film, the experience of watching Into Darkness can easily be summed up in one word: fun. If 2009’s Star Trek reboot was heavily influenced by the original Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, then Into Darkness without a doubt follows in the footsteps of its sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. It is a darker film than its predecessor, yet not for a second does it lose sight of its entertainment value. It opens with a prologue that from the get-go sums up what the movie will be like: wildly enjoyable, blending light and dark, comedy and emotion, spectacle and intimacy, and pushing the characters to their limits by putting them through their most challenging adventure yet. By the time the title appears onscreen, accompanied by Michael Giacchino’s spectacular main theme, I had the largest smile on my face, knowing I was in for a great ride. Of course, when speaking of the characters and their journey, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Chris Pine and especially Zachary Quinto’s exemplary performances. Better still was the ever-talented Benedict Cumberbatch, who played the dangerous and delightfully menacing villain to perfection. That man’s baritone voice alone could make a vicious lion scamper back to its den.
It seems strange that despite being my favourite film this summer, I have written the least about Star Trek Into Darkness, but that’s only because I risk going into spoiler territory if I say more. It really is in the key scenes that the film truly shines, but I won’t give any of those away. Suffice it to say, if there’s a secret recipe for the perfect popcorn movie, J. J. Abrams has discovered it. As a Star Wars fan, I’m confident that Episode VII could not be in better hands.
Rating: 4/5 (Great)
Not-So-Honourable Mention: Man of Steel
I don’t have much to say about this movie, but considering the hype surrounding its long development and how it was probably the most anticipated film of the summer, it more than has a place on this list. Especially since, in the end, I found it sadly lacking. Although the first hour had a lot of promise and several great character scenes, it all felt inconsequential in light of a too-long, too-loud, heavily action-driven finale.
The first half of the film was quite good. I especially liked Clark’s journey into becoming Superman, the hero, and the events that brought about him accepting his role as humanity’s saviour. This certainly wasn’t a typical “I’m going to put on a suit and fight crime” scenario, and I appreciated that. Which makes me all the more regretful that this first half wasn’t given enough room to breathe. Instead, it was squashed into one hour, so that the second hour could be filled with oppressive action scenes. I understand that one key thing that was missing from previous Superman incarnations (due to the limitations of technology at the time) was a true show of his full, untethered, building-smashing strength, and that this version hoped to remedy that, but this was too much. The climax started too early and lasted so long that I lost focus at several points. Whatever character development and story depth the first half of the movie was aspiring for was all but tossed away in favour of a second hour that might as well have been an alien invasion disaster movie. And that’s a real shame, because the plot itself was quite good. I personally would have extended the first half by thirty minutes and shortened the final act considerably, limiting the climax to the Superman/Zod battle—which itself was a great fight scene, but after an hour-long apocalyptic showdown, it somehow lost its impact.
That being said, I greatly enjoyed the story the film was telling, despite disliking the way it was presented. For that reason, I’m still looking forward to seeing what direction the sequel—and, potentially, a brand new DC Cinematic Universe—will take. The promise is still there, and I do hope Warner Bros. and DC manage to fulfil it.