2015 Summer Blockbuster Retrospective: Action Movies

 

mad-max-fury-road

 

Summer is the season of superheroes and explosions, daring stunts (Did you see Tom Cruise hanging off of an airplane?) and gigantic budgets. It’s not hard to find a good action flick during the summer months, if that’s what you’re into. But, now with the summer winding down, we move on to more dramatic, Oscar worthy fare. (However, the action movie gods, A.K.A. Disney at this point, let’s be honest, have yet to grant us what could very well be the biggest movie of the year, this winter’s Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.) So, in honor of the season’s end, let’s take a look back at the good ol’ popcorn movies that this summer had to offer. I present to you my personal ranking of this year’s best performing action flicks.

 

6.) Jurassic World

Directed by Colin Trevorrow

Box Office: $643.0M

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 71%

 There seems to be little stopping Chris Pratt on his path to stardom at this point. He leads in the biggest film of the summer, which went on to crush records and dominate the global box office. However, the Steven Spielberg produced sequel does little to improve, or even add to, the franchise. It mostly works as fan service, particularly that absurd, yet still awesome, third act. Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard exhibit palpable chemistry, and her character is one of the film’s most entertaining, despite controversy regarding her less than practical footwear. I don’t often care for such criticism, but even I couldn’t help but frown in frustration seeing her sprint in five-inch heels. I digress, even creating a terrifying dinosaur hybrid isn’t enough to reinvigorate a franchise, and Jurassic World suffers from a severe lack of creativity, and, dare I say it, excitement.

 

5.) Avengers: Age of Ultron

Directed by Joss Whedon

Box Office: $457.7M

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 74%

It breaks my heart to place a Joss Whedon scribed and directed film so low on this list, but there is no denying that the Avengers sequel is wrought with problems. Yet, unlike Jurassic World, Age of Ultron still manages to be thoroughly entertaining. It would be an understatement to say that this film is bloated. It is nearly bursting with excess, adding three new heroes to the Avengers’ roster, introducing a new, though not well utilized, villain, and serving as exposition for future films. A tip of the hat to Black Panther is great, and I won’t complain about another glimpse of Thanos, but diverting a sizeable portion of the film’s plot to set up next year’s Captain America: Civil War and the Avengers’ two-part follow up Infinity War is a bit much.

The film’s release wasn’t without its own drama as the standard press tour devolved amid a myriad of unfortunate interviews and early criticism regarding one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best characters, Black Widow. Whedon even expressed frustration with the studio regarding specific scenes, including some of the quieter moments, which the film could have used more of. In the end, it seems that Age of Ultron suffered most from a seemingly insurmountable level of expectation. Perhaps Marvel will learn from its mistakes and return to more character driven stories akin to Iron Man or Guardians of the Galaxy (not to mention a particular ant-sized film), though what we’ve seen thus far from production of the third Captain America installment may suggest otherwise.

 

4.) San Andreas

Directed by Brad Peyton

Box Office: $154.2M

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 50%

I went into the Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson vehicle expecting disappointment and left the theater with a huge grin on my face. Perhaps setting such a low bar allowed me to enjoy San Andreas even more than I wanted to, but there is something to be said for its sheer simplicity. There isn’t even an antagonist. It is the Rock versus Earth, Mother Nature, in all of her destructive glory. Sure, the dialogue is garishly cheesy, and the performances are over the top (A nod to Paul Giamatti for delivering some cringe-worthy dialogue with the dramatic force of an Oscar nominee.), but the film is noticeably self-aware, never taking itself too seriously. Don’t dwell too much on the absurdity, just sit back and savor the CG spectacle, best enjoyed in IMAX 3D.

 

3.) Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie

Box Office: $170.2M

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%

Tom Cruise returns in the fourth installment of the Mission Impossible franchise and in no way disappoints. If you doubted his ability to carry a genuinely exciting action flick, think again. In typical Mission Impossible fashion, the film opens with a jaw dropping stunt, and the action rarely lets up from there. Cruise may be the lead, but Simon Pegg steals the comedic beats, and Rebecca Ferguson runs away with the show as a disavowed British agent. That opera scene had me on the edge of my seat, and the motorcycle chase should go down as one of the best sequences in the entire series. The plot is fairly simple, with some of the attempted twists and turns becoming a bit convoluted, but not once did I feel let down, and Rogue Nation is easily my favorite installment in the respectably solid Mission Impossible franchise.

 

2.) Ant-Man­­

Directed by Peyton Reed

Box Office: $169.2M

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79%

Ant-Man is Marvel’s little movie that could, pun intended. Early speculation didn’t look good for the film. It was one of the first titles Marvel Studios began developing, even before Iron Man, under the stewardship of Edgar Wright, who boasts a cult following for his popular Cornetto Trilogy. However, it took nearly a decade for the film to actually arrive in theaters, and without Wright at the helm. Peyton Reed stepped in to direct after Wright left the project during pre-production due to creative differences. Fans immediately wrote Ant-Man off as a failure even before production began.

Boasting an all-star cast, including Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll, and Michael Peña, Ant-Man opened to moderate success, for a typical film. But, this is a Marvel movie and, as noted above, the expectation is higher due to past success and a typically high standard of quality. The film’s marketing made it seem as if the studio had little faith in Ant-Man, and it saw the lowest turnout of any Marvel movie to date. Yet, it is, in my humble opinion, one of Marvel Studios’ best films, ranking amongst the likes of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Avengers, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Ant-Man succeeds in many of the ways that Age of Ultron failed. It is for the most part self-contained with few references to the Marvel Cinematic Universe at large. The references that are made serve as Easter eggs, rather than blatant set-up for future films.

It is also a character story, with much of the focus on the relationships, paternal relationships in particular. Recently released from prison, Rudd’s Scott Lang wants desperately to be a part of his young daughter’s life. Douglas’ Hank Pym seeks forgiveness from his own daughter, Hope, portrayed by Lilly, while Stoll’s villainous Darren Cross desires the approval of his estranged mentor, Pym. The film’s story thrives on these relationships and adds an element to Ant-Man missing from previous Marvel films. Rudd is loveable as the hero seeking redemption, and Peña provides much of the film’s comedy with impeccable delivery and timing. If you haven’t seen Ant-Man yet, whether because of Wright’s departure or its seemingly absurd premise, go ahead and give it a shot. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

 

1.) Mad Max: Fury Road

Directed by George Miller

Box Office: $153.0M

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%

I don’t think there was any question as to which of this year’s summer action movies would take the top spot, on this list or, most likely, anyone else’s. George Miller’s long awaited return to the Mad Max franchise was met with high praise from critics and moviegoers alike. This is the standard to which summer action movies should be held. CGI is used to enhance the images, rather than as a crutch. Tom Hardy gives an undeniably fantastic performance as Max, despite having few words to actually say. But, it is to Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa that much of the praise has been directed. Two of the six films noted in this list found themselves mired in controversy surrounding the portrayal of their female characters. It’s debatable if such criticism is deserved, but Fury Road shows how to showcase genuinely awesome, strong female characters. Furiosa is a warrior who rebels against the patriarchal post-apocalyptic society and liberates a group of women who are essentially being held captive as slaves to bear children. The film’s plot revolves around their escape and quest for freedom, pursued by Immortan Joe and his loyal followers.

The opening sequence, in which Hardy’s Max is captured, feels like a punch to the gut, with a relentless chase sequence, both by car and foot. And, that is even before the opening title. The action rarely lets up from there, and the film feels almost like an assault on the senses, in a good way. On top of it all, Fury Road is a gorgeous film, playing with color and lighting in imaginative and exciting ways that feel truly unique, something of a rarity in contemporary cinema. Director of Photography, John Seale, and editor, Margaret Sixel, both deserve exceptional praise for their work on the film. Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road could find itself in the company of awards nominees this winter, a rarity for a summer action flick. But, whether it gets such coveted recognition from the Academy or not, Fury Road is deservedly an instant classic.

 

Do you agree or disagree? Are there any movies I’ve left out that you think should be included? Let us know in the comments section below!

 

Founded in 1998, the BlueCat Screenplay Competition seeks to develop and discover unknown screenwriters. For 2016 BlueCat Screenplay Competition submission information, click here.

 

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