Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Summer that wasn’t (and was)

The new Stephen “The Mummy” Sommers-directed G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra movie marked the end of the 2009 summer blockbuster season. And what a summer it wasn’t.

In, oh, about April of this year, my brother suggested to me that we had a lot of big movies to look forward to this summer. We’re talking Star Trek, Terminator, Transformers, even G.I. Joe. The first two would be the returns of two mega-franchises, hopefully to glory. The last two brought the supreme favorite toys of every young boy of the 1980s to the big screen. A big summer, for sure.

Until it wasn’t.

I’m not a movie reviewer, but feel free to gander at the hyperlinks above for comprehensive coverage. Rather, I’ll give my short takes in an attempt to understand why on earth I took for granted that this was a summer for the ages, when in fact, it was a summer for ages 4 to 12. (And yes, I know I skipped one or two of your favorites; what can I say, except that I can’t be bothered to see every movie that gets you panting, and even if I did, it probably wasn’t worth my writing about.) There will probably be SPOILERS henceforth.

I thought Star Trek was a great movie, full of emotion and relevance. The summer started big, maybe setting expectations too high for the rest of the cinema season.

Terminator Salvation was about as painful as self-flagellation. Maybe it was the mishmash of bad influences, from Mad Max to War of the Worlds, and I think I even tasted a dash of Red Dawn in there (Patrick Swayze, rest in peace in your great big road house in the sky). Or maybe it was the fact that the only good thing about the movie, Sam Worthington’s Marcus Wright, ended up sacrificing himself (with no logical justification) for the overshadowed and unapproachable Christian Bale’s John Connor at movie’s end.

I could legitimately have expected Terminator to be good. I like Bale, and director McG, unfortunate moniker notwithstanding, did some good work on TV’s The O.C. and my recent favorite show, Chuck, though that in itself should have made me skeptical. He should probably know his place and stick to tales of angsty young males, not somber treatments of tortured middle-aged sci-fi warrior males.

But what the Wreck-gar possessed me to think that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen would be enjoyable? The 2007 Transformers was a real looker, but it was emotionally stillborn, and though the tone of the teaser trailer for the sequel made it seem like a “darker” movie was in the works (maybe following the brooding example set by The Dark Knight for superhero/comics movies), by the time the movie came out, the promotion clearly marked it as more of the same. And yes, it was brutally awful. Between the obnoxious Lebeoufian schlub-stick and the skull-grinding battle sequences, I felt bludgeoned from both sides.

I cannot be one of these Bruckheimer apologists content with deafening explosions, somebody’s daughter in mortal peril, a helicopter, and a scruffy dog leaping to safety just in the nick of time to dodge a firestorm and/or river of lava. No, no, no. Substance is style, though not all audiences agree with me.

G.I. Joe was far better than it had any right to be, and it salvaged a pretty meager summer for me. It wasn’t the G.I. Joe I remembered from my childhood, lacking the mythology in particular, and substituting its own half-baked origin story. But it was fun and breezy, and it made me want a sequel. In short, it was everything that Transformers wasn’t, even if it didn’t necessarily do right by the original cartoon. Memo to the eighties: Stay just the way you were.

Interspersed in the four months of summer were other gems like Harry Potter, the Johnny Depp and Christian Bale-starring Public Enemies, and Pixar’s Up. All dogs. Am I alone in thinking that the shine is wearing off of Pixar’s “can do no wrong” image? And were it not for the assurance of another Batman sequel, I’d be very worried about Bale becoming the next Russell Crowe, intense actor turned misanthropic nutjob. As far as Harry Potter, I didn’t understand half of what they were saying in the movie, so I just kept playing over and over in my head my own fanciful rendition of Harry as a Dickens novel. (Dumbledore dragged the whelp by his ear, saying, “Harry! Harry Potter! Bring me my dinner, Harry! Heed my words, or it’ll be the stables for you tonight!”)

The summer’s best movie stood far outside the blockbuster paradigm (“no duh, Sherlock” you’re probably thinking, but just stay with me here). (500) Days of Summer, starring Joseph “Cobra Commander” Gordon-Levitt and my blue-eyed heaven, Zooey Deschanel, won me over with its charming understanding of that old hand – the “failures of the human heart.” It had moments of flippancy and a few comedic misfires, but throughout, it maintained its focus on the quiet way that love can break your heart.


Henry said...

I read on the Wikipedia that the ending to Terminator Salvation originally had John Connor dying, after which Marcus was to wear his skin and take his identity (so Bale would still be the star in any sequels). Apparently, after the twist got leaked to massive negative response, Warner Bros. scrambled to take things in a different direction.

*sigh* If only the Internet had been around while Stallone was making Rocky IV.

Czardoz said...

Gee, I wonder why people didn't like that whole skin-wearing deal. Oh right, because it's the lousiest perversity I've ever heard of.

The body convulsing - that was the worst part. I wonder if Carl Weathers improvised that. Correction - _this_ was the lousiest perversity.

Deana said...

So, Henry and Robert, what actually happened at the end of the movie?

The only one of these movies that I saw was (500) Days, and that didn't have anything resembling an "As I said to Lady Freeze," barb in it. Thank goodness.

Although I did want to check out JGL as Cobra. Yeow.

Henry said...


During the final battle, John Connor gets stabbed in the process of resuscitating Marcus Wright, the virtuous half-man, half-Terminator. After the fight, the doctor declares Connor's wound mortal, at which point Marcus, alive and well, steps up and says, "Take mine." Nobody objects to this madness, and in the next scene, Bale is shown exhausted but stable.

Czardoz said...

I mean, surely one of the numerous recently slaughtered people on this apocalyptic battlefield would be a perfect heart transplant candidate, but no! That would make too much sense!

Henry said...

To be honest, I initially came out of that movie thinking that "Take mine" meant "Take my Terminator body." I thought the twist was supposed to be that John Connor, eternal enemy of the machines, would cheat death by becoming a Terminator himself. Then you started on about the hearts, and I realized that my reading was entirely preposterous (though eerily similar to the canned ending).