With Labour Day right around the corner, another movie summer season is officially in the books. So with that in mind, lets take a look back at this summer’s winners and losers at the box office. 2016 was considered a down year for the annual summer spectacle, but among the disappointments and the controversies there were a handful of bright spots.

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Director: Roland Emmerich

Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Liam Hemsworth, Jessie T. Usher, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe, Judd Hirsch, William Fichtner, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Sela Ward, Patrick St. Esprit, Vivica A. Fox and Brent Spiner

Rated: PG

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Running Time: 2 Hrs.

There’s been a pretty strong wave of high priced nostalgia running through Hollywood lately. Last year we got Jurassic World over two decades after the original blockbuster as well as Poltergeist and Point Break remakes. Nostalgia was behind the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles renewal and most likely the culprit behind the new Ghostbusters (which Sony desperately hopes to turn into a lucrative new franchise). The fond childhood memories of an entire generation were the biggest engine to pull the new Star Wars gravy train out of the station. And now we have Independence Day: Resurgence, released almost twenty years to the day that the original Independence Day conquered theatres in 1996.

Video: 20th Century Fox

Resurgence’s story picks up on the eve of the celebration commemorating the twentieth anniversary of Earth’s victory over the invading aliens. The nations of the world have since come together, uniting for the singular purpose of preparing Earth for future alien attacks (there is a strong belief, especially among the survivors of the first invasion, that the aliens will inevitably return). David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) spends his time hopping across the globe and integrating alien technology into powerful new weapons. Former President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) is also on hand for the celebrations, although the retired Commander-in-Chief now wrestles with a variety of psychological problems as a result of his telepathic connection to the aliens twenty years earlier. His daughter Patricia (Maika Monroe) meanwhile is all grown up and an aide to current President Lanford (Sela Ward).

But as the world prepares to celebrate the anniversary (which includes the opening of a new defensive base on the moon), a number of ominous events take place. People who had telepathic contact with the aliens the first time around begin experiencing troubling visions, alien prisoners who have been dormant for twenty years awake in hysterical excitement and there are troubling signs in the distant stars. Before the world can celebrate its victory, it’s plunged into a battle for survival once again, but this time the aliens are bigger, meaner and a little pissed off. Humanity finds itself relying once more on the heroes who saved it two decades ago as well as a generation of new ones.

When Independence Day captured the world’s imagination in the summer of 1996, everyone thought a sequel was inevitable. It broke new ground, not only with the sophistication of its special effects but with the sheer scale of them was well. Independence Day was also key in launching Will Smith, one of the hottest celebrities on the planet for years, into stardom. How could there not be a sequel? So when Resurgence was announced expectations were justifiably high.

Unfortunately, it misses the mark.

Make no mistake, the special effects are still great but other than the final battle scene with the alien queen, there’s not much we haven’t seen before. The first Independence Day didn’t really invest in story telling (aliens invade Earth in really big spaceships and are narrowly beaten by the courage and resourcefulness of our heroes while lots of stuff blows up in the meantime), relying on its mind-blowing special effects and the performance of its cast to carry it. But Resurgence’s story feels recycled and arguably stale (although it resolves itself with a little more intelligence then having a Mac power book bring a near omnipotent space faring civilization to its knees), failing to understand that it’s visual effects can no longer be counted on to carry the entire film.

Jeff Goldblum lacks the same kind of restrained, anxious energy that endeared him to audiences twenty years ago and he sorely misses Will Smith’s presence. He and Smith enjoyed great chemistry in the original, as Smith was the perfect balance for Goldblum’s focused neurosis. But not only is Smith and his charisma absent (a big strike against the film), but director Roland Emmerich and Resurgence’s producers fail to find anyone to pick up that slack and partner opposite Goldblum. While Goldblum and Liam Hemsworth may share a lot of screen time together, they share zero chemistry, denying Resurgence one of the biggest things Independence Day had going for it.

The movie offers little to no insight into it’s new characters, failing to give audiences reason to make any emotional investment and spoiling any attempts to generate tension. You wanted the President’s plane to escape the destruction of Washington D.C. in the original and you were rooting for the heroes to make it back from outer space. Now, you really don’t care. When you saw Independence Day for the first time, you probably had goose bumps; this time around there’s a good chance you might be bored.

Outside of the returning Goldblum, Pullman and Brent Spiner, the golden oldies are either given insultingly tiny nods of acknowledgement or ignored altogether. Vivica A. Fox is given a handful of lines before being shoved aside and while Will Smith is given a single line of dialogue and a portrait of remembrance, at least he is given some sort of acknowledgement. Other important characters from the original are completely forgotten. Randy Quaid and Margaret Colin’s characters, who played significant roles in the original, aren’t even mentioned.

Resurgence fails to understand that the audience has changed since 1996. Twenty years ago a movie could not only succeed as a result of imaginative, groundbreaking special effects, it could rule the box office. But these days, audiences want a compelling story and interesting characters to go with their visual effects. It’s obvious that Resurgence was also hoping to ride that aforementioned wave of Hollywood nostalgia, but it’s own disregard for some of it’s most important past is likely to alienate a sizeable share of its fan base. It’s as underwhelming as it is disappointing. In the end, Independence Day: Resurgence fails to adapt to the present and judging by it’s weak weekend box office, it’s going to be an expensive lesson.

Shayne Kempton






(Originally posted on January 2016)

When 20th Century Fox deputed the trailer for the long awaited Deadpool movie last summer, legions of fan boys circled February 12 on their calendars. Many heralded it as the next big comic book movie blockbuster that would usurp the likes of The Avengers and Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy. It was going to launch a billion dollar franchise and conquer an unsuspecting world. It was going to be the Donald Trump of movies! OK, so that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but to say that it generated a lot of excitement in fan boy circles is the cinematic understatement of the year. And when the Red Band trailer hit the Internet at Christmas, it made almost as much noise (the Internet pretty much belonged to Star Wars at that point). But there are four reasons for genuine concern about both the movie and the character’s silver screen prospects.

The Rating: The Deadpool movie is the result of years of lobbying, badgering, pleading and begging by the fan boy community, and during all the petitions and online dialogues, one of the two things everyone demanded was that the live action version of the Merc with a Mouth was rated R. Everyone wanted to see lots of blood, carnage and unholy violence and absolutely no filter installed to censor Deadpool’s signature manic profanity. Fans wanted headshots, decapitations and F-bombs! And lots of them! Except . . .

An R rating excludes a huge portion of the potential audience-namely teenagers. Sure, you’ll have plenty prepubescent movie goers sneaking in, but for every one who does manage to ninja their way past an uninterested usher, you’ll have one or two who’ll just shrug and either pirate it or wait for it to hit the home and streaming markets. Of the billions grossed by Avengers, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and previous X films, how much of it do you think was the result of teenagers seeing it over and over, unencumbered by any legal obstacles? Now ask yourself how much an R rating could have cost those franchises.

The Release Date: Normally, February is the No Man’s Land of the movie calendar. It’s the month studios move films to after deciding they’d rather see them turn a sliver of a profit instead of getting annihilated during the summer blockbuster smorgasbord (Hollywood’s alternative to actually making good movies all year round). MGM decided against releasing the Robocop remake in the summer of 2013, instead moving it to February of 2014. Warner Bros. did the same thing with Jupiter Ascending, moving it from the summer of 2014 to last February, and both movies were still box office disappointments. The list goes on but you get the idea. Normally a February release alone would be cause for concern, except February of 2016 is looking particularly strong.

If Deadpool is going to be successful it will need to attract plenty of mainstream box office attention. Comic book fans may be worth a few million here and there but they can’t sustain a blockbuster on their own. And ‘Pool is going to face some stiff competition. The Cohen Brothers comedy Hail Caesar! (starring the likes of George Clooney, Scarlett Johnassen, Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes and Josh Brolin) and the horror/comedy Pride, Prejudice and Zombies (starring genre fan faves Matt Smith and Lena Headey) will both be released February 5th, a week before Deadpool. Deadpool itself will be hitting theatres on Valentine’s Day weekend and will not only be facing the romance Learning How To Be Single, but will also be trying to take dollars away from Zoolander 2. Mainstream audiences have been waiting for the second movie starring Ben Stiller’s clueless supermodel just as long as the smaller (and less profitable) comic book audience has been waiting for Deadpool. And if the Poolster somehow navigates that crowded movie shuffle, he’s going to wind up staring down the Christian movie audience a few weeks later when Revival is released February 26th.

The Lead: Remember when we said previously that there were two things fandom demanded during their long years of waiting for Deadpool to hit the big screen? Other then the R rating, fans would only be satisfied as long as it was Ryan Reynolds bringing everyone’s favourite mutant assassin to life. In truth, Reynolds was literally born to play this role, and fans have known it since he appeared as Deadpool in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. But unfortunately, only comic book fans know it.

Reynolds’ recent box office track record has been beyond bad. His brand hasn’t recovered from the enormous bomb that was Green Lantern in 2011. All those movie-bombs may not have been his fault, but mainstream audiences aren’t that understanding. As far as the all-important casual fan goes, Reynolds is more likely to repel dollars then attract them. And the fact that Rob Liefield, a former superstar comic book artist now reviled by a large portion of comic fandom, is involved won’t help either.

The Studio: People point to how Fox injected new life into an X-Men movie franchise that had grown stale, and they’re absolutely right. But that means Fox had to inject new life into a movie franchise they allowed to grow stale. And we can also point out the solo Wolverine movies, films that ranged from bad to mediocre. And let’s not forget, Fox was responsible for this summer’s Fantastic Four debacle, a failure of a reboot if there ever was one. In fact, the entire summer of 2015 was a write off for Fox, and when a studio blows the time of year responsible for a sizeable chunk of its revenue, that can’t bode well for future projects under its banner.

There’s no real reason for fans to panic, the movie could very well be a runaway success. But these four reasons should be enough for everyone to temper their enthusiasm with just a little more optimistic caution.

Shayne Kempton

The Martian Is This Year’s First Oscar Bait Blockbuster


Director: Ridley Scott

Starring: Matt Damon, Will Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Kristen Wiig, Sebastian Shaw, Kate Mara and Donald Glover

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Rated: PG

Running Time: 2 Hrs, 21 Mins

Over the next few months, Cineplexes are going to be deluged with seasonal family fare, tent pole releases and a whole lot of “awards” movies, films released with the sole purpose of catching the attention of trendsetters and selection committees. And while it’s a rare film that can combine artistic success and box office power, it definitely looks like The Martian is that film for 2015.

Stranded on Mars after the rest of his crew believes him dead and are forced to abort their mission, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is faced with the beyond daunting task of surviving on the hostile red planet with dwindling supplies. He has to figure out how to grow food, produce water, keep the valuable equipment that’s keeping him alive working, survive the Martian climate and contact NASA to let them know he’s still alive and needing rescue. His days are soon filled with feats of engineering ingenuity and lessons learned through trial and occasionally comical error (“So yeah, I blew myself up.”).

Meanwhile back on Earth, NASA races against time to mount something resembling a rescue while balancing sensitive political concerns. Every choice is painfully scrutinized and not without consequences, particularly how they communicate the discovery of Watney’s survival to his the crew mates who left him behind. NASA soon faces their own enormous setbacks while Watney’s narrow window of survival continues to close.

Based on Andy Weir’s bestselling book of the same name, The Martian injects a heaping, Grand Canyon sized dose of science into the science fiction. At points it borders on daunting for the audience, but director Ridley Scott takes great pains to make sure it doesn’t become intimidating. If you could make it through an episode of Star Trek TNG with all of it’s signature techno-babble, you’ll be fine watching The Martian. It’s refreshing to watch the hero confront and overcome overwhelming odds with his brain and not an AR-17 and while the movie prevents the science from being overwhelming, it doesn’t insult the intelligence of the audience either, trusting the viewer to understand the basic principals.

The Martian boasts an impressive ensemble cast, each actor fleshing out their role no matter how small. Damon’s scenes chew up about half the movie and he performs most with nothing more than a video camera and the Mars landscape as his foils (the camera is to The Martian what the volleyball Wilson was to Tom Hanks in Cast Away). It’s perhaps the furthest we’ve ever seen Damon stretch his acting muscles and it pays off as he’s more then convincing as an astronaut who’s devising ways to survive on an alien planet and even making us laugh from time to time. The film’s remaining screen time is devoted to the rest of the cast, who each make the most of their limited time (particularly Jessica Chastain and Will Daniels) despite the fact that every other actor is a mere satellite for Damon’s performance.

The Martian’s production values are Oscar worthy, simulating space travel, zero gravity and the Martian landscape probably as well as any production currently can. It also provides a realistic glimpse behind NASA’s curtain, showing how the space agency famed for spearheading human exploration and expanding the frontiers of knowledge is now hamstrung by budgetary restrictions and political considerations.

The Martian isn’t an action movie, so if you regularly invest your movie going dollars in explosion-ridded spectacles, you’re going to be disappointed. This is a survival movie, a hybrid of Cast Away and Apollo 13 with plenty of originality thrown in for good measure. The directing is solid, the acting excellent and plenty of special effects, but this is an intelligent science fiction movie with genuine science that doesn’t afford you the luxury of simply switching your brain off. It’s the struggle of one man choosing to survive in the worst kind of environment and the plight of an entire planet trying to help him millions of miles away.

It will be interesting to see how The Martian fares at the box office. Will its length and science heavy theme scare audiences away? Or will they embrace the intelligent, slowly unfolding story? The Martian promises to do for space exploration the same thing that Gravity did, reigniting the public’s imagination, even if only for a few fleeting moments. But one thing’s for sure, no one should be surprised to see The Martian or any of the names involved with its production getting well-deserved Oscar noms next February.

Shayne Kempton