Summer movie recap: a quality paradox

September 15, 2017

Now that Labor Day is in the rear-view mirror, it’s time we talk about the 2017 summer movie season. The 2017 summer box office is a bit of a paradox. You’ve probably heard by now that this was the worst summer for Hollywood in the past decade, in terms of the cumulative total amount of money made by all movies released from the first weekend in May until Labor Day. And yet, Hollywood easily released more ‘good’ movies this summer than it did in either of the previous two summers, along with the obligatory quality indie releases that sneak out during peak popcorn season.

Summer 2016 may have been more lucrative than this past summer, but that’s because, although movies like “Suicide Squad” and “X-Men: Apocalypse” were both garbage, they made a ton of money on their opening weekends. By contrast, this summer’s bad movies were huge commercial flops. Take “King Arthur,” “The Mummy” or “Transformers: The Last Knight,” all of which were awful and didn’t get their studios much of a profit. The failure of the latter two is especially interesting, as both came equipped with name recognition, “franchise potential” and big stars. It feels like 2017 was the first summer in recent memory where the top grossing movies were all pretty good, and audiences really rejected the movies that sucked.

Four of the five most successful movies caught my attention—sorry, “Despicable Me 3.” The biggest movie of the summer ended up being Patty Jenkins’s “Wonder Woman,” which is amazing. It’s great to finally see a female superhero on screen, it’s great that it ended up being way more successful than anyone in the industry expected and it’s a downright awesome, crowd pleasing film. Furthermore, it gave me some hope for the DC Cinematic Universe, as it turns out that fourth time’s the charm. The secret to the success of movies like “Deadpool” and “Logan,” two somewhat risky superhero movies, was repeated in “Wonder Woman”; when you give passionate, creative people who understand the source material control of a recognizable character, you’ll make a very good movie, and you’ll make a lot of money.

Coming in at numbers two and three are “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” and “Spider-Man Homecoming,” the latter of which I greatly prefer. “Guardians 2,” meanwhile, feels a bit trite, a sequel that’s nowhere near as good as the original. It has some striking visuals, and when all of the titular Guardians are on screen together, it’s a blast. But overall, it’s a movie I wanted to love and ended up only liking. “Homecoming,” on the other hand, was spectacular. Somehow even after three reboots in the Spider-Man franchise there are still fresh, new ideas. It just might be the best Spider-Man movie ever—or perhaps that title still belongs to Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2.” But in my mind, the Tobey Maguire movies of the 00’s always felt a little campy, while “Homecoming” requests the audience take the movie as seriously as one would take a John Hughes movie. It’s a tonal shift that absolutely works, and I can’t recommend “Homecoming” enough.

Rounding out the top five is Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk,” a true return to form for one of Hollywood’s best working directors. While light on plot and characters, “Dunkirk” succeeds in capturing the terror of the Second World War and the bravery of those who did the right thing when their survival was at stake. Nolan has made some of my favorite movies of all time, but after the disappointments of “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Interstellar,” I started to lose faith in the filmmaker. However, thanks to “Dunkirk,” that faith has been restored. The Oscars should take notice, finally handing this prolific Brit that Best Director statue.

But my favorite movie of the summer, which I think is just barely better than “Dunkirk,” and which just barely didn’t make the top ten highest grossing movies of the summer list, is “Baby Driver.” Directed by certifiable genius Edgar Wright, this movie is so well edited and so entertaining that I think I had a smile on my face throughout the entire runtime. It’s a blast, with an incredible soundtrack, becoming this sort of lovechild of “Drive” and “La-La-Land.” It’s a bit of a pastiche of nineties action movies, a bit of a musical, and just a whole lot of fun.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention some of those obligatory indies that snuck out this summer. “The Big Sick” was an absolute triumph, and it’s available to rent this Friday, so check that out if you missed it in theaters. Also from the indie scene, Taylor Sheridan’s “Wind River” ended his frontier justice trilogy with success (as he also wrote “Sicario” and last year’s “Hell or High Water”).

So to recap for you, the great movies of this summer were “Wonder Woman,” “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” “Dunkirk,” “The Big Sick” and, last but not least, “Baby Driver.” Furthermore, the superhero genre proved that it still produces success, while just about every other big blockbuster flopped because they weren’t very good. It’s an exciting time in the movie industry, and I’m glad the quality of summer films trended upward this year. We’ll see if this trend continues.

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