Even before August, a consensus started to form among those of us who go to the movies for a living: This summer kind of sucked. Below, Keith Phipps and Mike Ryan try to figure why this summer movie season seems so much worse than others.
Keith: I’d love for this to be a heated, contentious discussion in which one of us argues this summer has been terrible and the other argues the opposite. But that would be disingenuous. You’re already on record saying this summer movie season has been a letdown for an America in desperate need for escapism. I love big summer movies, but I’ll confess to not loving the big summer movies I’ve seen this year and avoiding others (or at least putting them in the Wait For Home Video pile) because they didn’t look like they’re worth the trouble (and expense) of a big night out.
So here’s a feeble case for what I’ve seen and liked this summer: Star Trek Beyond is pretty good. The Nice Guys is great fun. Central Intelligence is pretty entertaining. Popstar is really funny. Finding Dory has its charms, even if it’s second-tier Pixar, at best, in my books. Ghostbusters is okay. The BFG got a bad rap and I hope kids (and everyone else) catches up with it later. Arthouse-wise, I adore Love & Friendship. The Neon Demon is creepily compelling. The Fits is still making its way around the country, and it’s pretty great. And I know there are movies I still need to catch, like The Shallows and Swiss Army Man, that a lot of people I respect like. Plus, just this month has brought Hell or High Water and Kubo and the Two Strings, both of which I love. And I’m looking forward to seeing Pete’s Dragon this weekend.
And looking at that, it doesn’t seem that feeble. So maybe this summer wasn’t that bad after all. Mike, tell me why I’m wrong.
Mike: Hey, you forgot Captain America: Civil War! That’s a good movie, too. And, you are correct, Pete’s Dragon is wonderful. But you’re wrong because you live in Chicago. And because I live in New York. A good portion of those movies aren’t readily accessible by most human beings living in these United States of America. Only seven of those movies you mentioned had a wide release. And you know, back in, say, 1983, seven good wide release movies for a summer would be doing pretty well! Unfortunately, in 2016, we also have Alice Through the Looking Glass, X-Men: Apocalypse, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Warcraft, Independence Day: Resurgence... You know what? I’m going to stop. I can’t do this to myself again listing all these movies.
My point is, we are spoiled. We have access to the best movies and the best theaters under (because of early screenings for our jobs) the best conditions. We forget that driving down to the local suburban cineplex on a Friday night to fight the crowds, then fight fellow movie goers who are talking and/or on their phone does not make a pleasant experience. It’s not really that much fun to go to the movies anymore, especially when 60 percent of what’s being offered to most people is a bad product. I mean, is it that surprising box office this summer took a hit? I think this might be part of where this weird disconnect between critics and the consumer is coming from.
Keith: Point taken, though I will say that one of my most unpleasant experiences of recent years was at an arthouse when a customer offered an obscene suggestion as to what I could do with (to?) myself because I asked him to maybe stop talking all through Ex Machina.
Nonetheless, I’m trying to figure out why this summer feels so much less inspired than the one we had just a year ago. The temptation is to say it might be a matter of so many films being sequels, but then last summer brought us Mad Max: Fury Road, an instant classic; and Jurassic World, a film I think you like more than I do, but I’ll begrudgingly admit to its dumb charms; and Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, which is also pretty terrific. It also brought more than its fair share of duds and disappointments like Fantastic Four and Tomorrowland, a heartbreakingly forgettable film from a director who should have taken that concept to the stars.
Really, this summer is much in the mold of last summer — lots of sequels and adaptations of pre-existing properties, few original concepts. But the lows feel much lower. And the highs seem to only go so high. Star Trek Beyond isn’t Rogue Nation. Ghostbusters isn’t Spy. And there are fewer intriguing outliers. I know nobody saw Magic Mike XXL in the theaters, but it’s a lot of fun and I think viewers are starting to catch up with it. I’m hoping that will happen to Ricki and the Flash, an underrated movie hampered by terrible marketing. There’s an absence of neat thrillers like The Gift, too.
So, in short, Summer 2016 is just Summer 2015, but not as good. Or am I missing something?