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Summer is Remembered for Superheros, Sequels and Several Great Movies

August 29, 2011

By John C.

The summer of 2011 has come to a close.  In many ways, the movies seen over the past few months represented a series of mixed emotions.  Both in terms of box office and critical reactions, there were a number of failures, many of which critics will inevitably dwell upon to entirely dismiss this summer’s movie season.  Of course there was the bombastic noise of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, but on the flipside, I also saw several great films that made me feel something undeniably real and these ones are sure to be remembered at the end of the year.

The summer movie season got into full swing on May 6th, with the thrilling and surprisingly smart Thor.  The Marvel Comics’ adaptation was the first big blockbuster of the coming months as well as the first of four superhero films.  The next two from Marvel, X-Men: First Class and Captain America: The First Avenger, also both provided thoroughly satisfying summer entertainment.

On the other hand, DC Comics’ Green Lantern was an expensive flop at the box office.  Although it consistently provided a bit of mindless entertainment and a charming performance from Ryan Reynolds, the main problem with the film was that it lacked the spark and complexity that made these other superhero films stand out amidst other summer blockbusters.

Some of this year’s films delivered exactly what you would expect.  For example, Cowboys & Aliens thoroughly entertained me on the level that was promised from the blatantly obvious title.  Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides proved that Johnny Depp still has his swagger.  But some of the more entertaining blockbusters of the summer were ones that came as a surprise.  I didn’t expect much from the somewhat awkwardly titled Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but what we got was a piece of refreshingly smart entertainment for mature audiences who wanted a thought-provoking and often complex story to go along with the impressive action.  The recent remake of Fright Night was also a lot more awesome than I thought it would be, as it delivered a suitably scary and sometimes wickedly funny ride.

This summer will also be remembered for the number of big R-rated comedies that were released for adult audiences.  The Hangover Part II was one of the first big disappointments of the summer.  The nasty and mean-spirited film was a pointless and endlessly offensive retread of an excellent original, that ranked among the worst – but sadly highest grossing – comedies in recent memory.  I was pretty much in the critical minority in hating Horrible Bosses, a comedy that squandered a good cast as it delivered an uneven mix of scatological one upmanship and twisted characters that ranged from unlikable to just plain psychopathic.  The disappointing all-star romantic-comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love. had some very good moments, but was ultimately wildly uneven.

On the flipside, not all comedies failed to deliver the laughs.  Bridesmaids was frequently hilarious and suitably heartfelt, with a breakout role from Kristen Wiig who’s comedic brilliance shone through in many scenes.  I also quite enjoyed Friends With Benefits for the sizzling chemistry between Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake, as well as for the often frank depictions of a sexual relationship shared between friends.  But my favourite comedy of the summer had to be Our Idiot Brother.  With strong performances from an ensemble cast and excellent leading work from Paul Rudd turning in one of his best roles, it was a surprisingly smart film with a heart of gold that delivered a lot of big laughs along the way.

The big animated films of the summer were also some of the best.  Kung Fu Panda 2 was a satisfying sequel to the excellent original, upping the action while keeping the same all-star voice cast.  Although brief at only 63-minutes, Disney’s 2D animated Winnie the Pooh worked wonderfully as an endlessly charming nostalgia piece.  Many saw Cars 2 as Pixar’s first flop, but for me it was a welcome addition to their library of great films.  The studio that can do no wrong delivered a summer blockbuster that dazzled with smart humour, a ton of heart and a sophisticated story filled with breathtaking action.

These three films were all ones that proved animation can be pretty much equally embraced by those of any age, sometimes even more so than the ones taking place in the real world.  In terms of live-action family fare, Mr. Popper’s Penguins was a poorly misjudged adaptation of a classic book with a performance from Jim Carrey that was more annoying than funny.  I also have absolutely no idea why those ridiculous Smurfs made so much money at the box office.  Do I even have to mention the stinking Aromascope of the thoroughly unimpressive Spy Kids: All the Time in the World?

But let us close this article on a more upbeat note, shall we?  Woody Allen’s charming Midnight in Paris was one of the first wonderful surprises of the summer.  A week later, I was equally taken by the youthful nostalgic overtones of J.J. Abrams’ excellent sci-fi thriller Super 8.  In August, the adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel The Help endlessly moved me with brilliant performances from an ensemble cast of excellent actresses.  On a completely different note, Terrence Malick’s beautiful The Tree of Life was one of the most spiritually enlightening experiences that I can recall having in a movie theatre, and it remains perhaps the most visually stunning movie of the year.

But in many ways, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 was the best movie this summer to perfectly illustrate what a blockbuster should be about.  Aside from the over a billion dollars that it made at the box office, this was an exhilarating and bittersweet film that provided a spectacular finale to one of the greatest movie franchises of all time.  For better or worse, the emotional and sometimes maddeningly uneven ups and downs of the summer has prepared me for the homestretch of 2011.  But if we get another handful of great films in the coming months, then it could turn out to be a very memorable year indeed.

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