BOX OFFICE ROUNDUP: THE SUMMER 0F 2016

FROM BOX OFFICE SURPRISES TO BOX OFFICE BOMBS TO NEW LEVELS OFF ONLINE VITRIOL, THIS SUMMER HAD A LITTLE BIT OF EVERYTHING

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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MOVIE SEASON MADNESS

MY TOP TEN LIST FOR THIS SUMMER MOVIE SEASON

Take a deep breath. Do you smell that? It’s summer movie season, Christmas time for movie fans and buffs. Four months of tent-pole releases, franchise films and blockbusters from every genre. We’re already a few weeks into this year’s summer buffet of movie goodness, and one of the titles on this list has already broken the box office, but these are the ten films I’m looking forward to the most this summer. I spoke about a few of them with Dr. Ted on his podcast a few weeks ago (check it out here) but we ran out of time to touch on all of them. So without further adieu . . .

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  1. Suicide Squad (August 5): Of all the movies on this list, this is the one that makes me the most nervous. I wasn’t a fan of the Suicide Squad comics (never read a single one, in fact) and after the sour taste that Batman Vs. Superman left in my mouth, my confidence in Warner Bros./DC is more then a little shaken. The fact that after the success of Deadpool (or more importantly the comedy in Deadpool), Warner Bros. ordered extensive reshoots for Suicide Squad to make it “lighter” isn’t exactly reassuring (when a movie is doing significant re-shoots six months before its release date, that’s a rarely a good sign). And honestly, is a movie about a team of super villains carrying out near impossible black ops missions in return for having their death sentences commuted the kind of film where you want a laugh a minute? But DC continues to build hype around Squad, there’s buzz that they plan to spin off Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn into her own movie and there’s no shortage of audience anticipation to see Jared Leto’s Joker. Could this be DC’s Guardians of the Galaxy: an obscure property that hits big in the steamy days of August? After the critical and box office disappointment of Batman Vs. Superman, they need it to be.

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  1. Alice Through the Looking Glass (May 27): When Alice in Wonderland hit theatres back in 2010, my niece had just graduated to being a toddler and I was becoming a little desperate looking for strong female role models in current media. I found one in Alice. Returning a teenage Alice to a broken and bleak Neverland as she’s essentially being pimped out to some high society husband so she can spend her days as an obedient, doting wife and mother was a brilliant stroke of storytelling. Making it so she had to overcome her self-doubt as well as her amnesia about the fantastic Wonderland before she could face the evil threatening it was even better. By the end of the movie, Alice was no princess needing rescuing or a damsel in distress; she was a sword-wielding warrior saving an entire world by slaying the ancient and dreaded Jabberwocky in battle. Toss in Johnny Depp’s performance as the Mad Hatter and Tim Burton’s signature visuals and Alice in Wonderland was a solid hit. Here’s hoping the sequel, with Burton producing instead of directing, lives up to the original.

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  1. Warcraft (June 10): Based on the uber popular online game, this Universal release has a reported 160 million dollar production budget. And by the looks of it, it was all invested in the special and visual effects department. Make no mistake, I’m not expecting any brilliant storytelling (the trailers seem to have already given away the plot), but I fully expect this movie to be sold on the basis of its breath taking visuals and the scope of its world design. What other movie are you going to see this year that includes knights, sorcerers, orcs, griffins, monsters and maybe a dragon or two? What it all boils down to is this is the perfect movie to satisfy my inner geek. It should also be interesting to see how Warcaft is received by moviegoers in general; while the game is still popular it’s not the global phenomenon it once was and video game movies have a pretty bad track record in Hollywood (let alone ones that have a 160 million dollar price tag). One thing’s for sure though, the producers of next December’s Assassins Creed will be paying very close attention to Warcraft’s box office performance.

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  1. Jason Bourne (July 29): I was never really a Jason Bourne fan-never read Robert Ludlum’s books and I still haven’t seen the last two movies-and besides, how often does the fifth film in a franchise rise above mediocre on the quality scale? But Jason Bourne looks like a smart, inventive action flick, reminiscent of last summer’s Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (my favourite action movie of 2015) and the fact that Matt Damon was lured back to the property by the script is a pretty good sign as well. It may very well be a dud, but it looks smarter and sharper then the rest of the action fare Hollywood is churning out these days.

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  1. Finding Dory (June 17): I was never really that pumped to see Finding Nemo. As much as I love Pixar, a movie about a talking fish searching for his lost son didn’t exactly captivate my imagination (I had the same feelings about Cars and Ratatouille). But when I finally sat down and watched Nemo the whole way through, I spent the entire time smiling like I was in the fifth grade again (and yes, I had similar reactions to Cars and Ratatouille when I took the time to watch and appreciate them). To this day, the mantra of the seagulls (Mine! Mine!) is one of my more favoured catch phrases (it just never gets old). So while the idea of Dory may not excite my imagination the way The Incredibles or Wall-E did, Pixar’s bar of excellence remains the highest in the animated film industry and I’ll walk into the theatre with an open mind and an inner child jumping up and down for joy.

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  1. Independence Day Resurgence (June 24): Hitting theatres almost 20 years to the day that the original Independence Day enthralled movie audiences, Independence Day Resurgence is following the same formula Star Wars: The Force Awakens did with its characters; it mixes some of the golden oldies from the original with a handful of new faces (although hardcore fans are already disappointed with Will Smith’s absence). The original Independence Day broke tonnes of new ground with its mind-blowing special effects and it looks as though the long awaited sequel is following in those same award-winning footsteps. And while I fully expect Warcraft to appeal to my inner fantasy geek, I expect the story of the human race fighting for its collective survival against a second, more pissed off wave of world conquering aliens to do the same for my inner sci-fi nerd. And while I doubt that a Mac power book will save human civilization this time around, I’m kind of hoping we’ll get to see the White House atomized again. Because let’s be honest, twenty years later that’s still everyone’s favourite scene.

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4.  X-Men Apocalypse (May 27): There are plenty of reasons to look forward to the next installment in the X-Men film franchise. When Fox made the prudent decision to erase the reviled X-3 (and possibly the two Wolverine solo films) from continuity with 2014’s Days of Future Past, they made a lot of fans-both of the X-Men comics and movies-very, very happy. After Wolverine’s time hopping in DoFP, many of the original X-Men are back, and we get to see them during their formative teenage years during the 80’s, aka the Decade of Absurd Excess. Storytelling wise, it was a time in the character’s lives when most fans fell in love with them (the ultimate teenage outsiders fighting off one world threatening menace after another) and in real world time, the 80’s were when the X-Men exploded in popularity and became Marvel’s comic cash cow juggernaut. My anticipation for this is also equaled by my curiosity-how do they plan on weaving in that curious Wolverine cameo they’ve been teasing us with? Freed from the cumbersome storytelling baggage of the previous X-Men movies, the special effects in Age of Apocalypse look amazing, you just know Jennifer Lawrence is going to kill it in what could be her final turn as Mystique (whose run the gamut between reluctant hero to villainous sidekick and back to reluctant hero again, with a stop as a world saver in between) and Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of Magneto, skating the tragic line between salvation and villainy, is always worth the price of admission. And Olivia Munn’s Psylocke looks like she could be this movie’s Black Panther or Wonder Woman, a breakout character that steals every scene she’s in.CVvJUtwWoAAO2Z5.jpg-large

  1. Star Trek Beyond (July 22): Hey, did you know that this year is the 50th anniversary of the Star Trek franchise? Did you know there’s a new movie coming out this summer to celebrate it? No? Don’t sweat it, because few people outside outside of Trek’s hardcore fan base or TV aficionados seem to. Up until last weekend, Paramount barely promoted it, dropping a handful of stills and a single trailer before this month’s fan event. You’d think that a summer tent pole release during Trek’s big 5-0 would have the studio bringing out and then breaking all the proverbial stops, but Paramount’s campaign has been the exact opposite so far. I love Star Trek. I don’t speak Klingon or own a classic Trek uniform but I’ve always enjoyed the various versions of Gene Roddenberry’s classic science fiction vision. But there are plenty of red flags about this movie already-Simon Pegg, who co-wrote it in addition to playing everyone’s favourite Scottish starship engineer, reportedly quit a number of times and had to be talked into returning by J.J. Abrahams (who remains with the franchise as a producer). Combine a possibly disgruntled Pegg with persistent rumours that the budget was slashed just before filming began and a head scratching lack of promotion and it could all add up to disaster for one of Hollywood’s greatest entertainment properties. I really hope I’m wrong, or at the very least my affection for Trek can blind me to any warts, no matter how big. Besides, Idris Elba as the big bad? That promises to make everything better.

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  1. Captain America: Civil War (May 6): This one has already dropped (you can read my review here) and it was everything I hoped it would be (which was primarily a much needed palate cleanser after the bleak, steaming mess that was Batman Vs. Superman). The third and final Captain America standalone film was everything BvS wasn’t; fun, bright, exciting, funny and it only needed two weeks to bury DC’s much maligned movie at the box office, beating both it’s domestic and international gross on its third weekend of release. It has also provided plenty of fuel for the online hate wars that have been raging over BvS since it was released last Easter. Seriously, the people who loved watching Batman and Superman beat the snot out of each other for five minutes in a two and a half hour movie need to find lives, get out of the house more and work on their blood pressure.

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  1. Ghostbusters (July 15): This movie started receiving record amounts of hate the second it was announced, most of it due to the fact that it has an all female cast. The haters don’t want to admit it but that’s what all the fuss boils down to. I love the original Ghostbusters and even the (admittedly inferior) sequel too-watch them every Halloween in fact-but unlike the Internet, I was thrilled to hear there was more on the way, female cast or no. It’s been both amusing and saddening watching the logical knots the haters have gone to trying to disguise their woman bashing. “Women can’t be Ghostbusters because the proton packs are too heavy and we all know how much realism we need in our movie about busting ghosts!” Or one of my favourites, “why can’t they leave such a classic alone?!?” Like I said guys, I love me some Ghostbusters, but this is a movie where New York was almost destroyed by a fifty story Stay Puff Marshmallow Man. This ain’t the Godfather, so calm down. Hopefully Ghostbusters is a box office success despite all the venom from the men’s rights idiots, #Gamersgaters and closet misogynists, who can then stick all those dollar bills in their collective pipes and smoke them until they run out of hate tears.

SUMMER MOVIE TIME

My Final Words on Batman Vs. Superman, Why Marvel Is Doing Movies So Much Better Than DC and Why You Should Go See Ghostbusters Despite The Unbelievable Hate

Dr. Ted had me on his podcast last week to talk about some of the big movies coming out this summer season. Included are my (hopefully) final thoughts on Batman Vs. Superman, why the Ghostbusters remake is getting so much hate and why everyone should go see it anyway and a few other observations about some other movies hitting the big screen this summer season. Enjoy.

CIVIL UNREST

Captain America: Civil War Is What A Comic Book Movie Should Look Like

Director: Anthony and Joe Russo

Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johannsen, Sebastien Stan, Anthony Mackie, Chadwick Boseman, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Tom Holland, Martin Freeman, Marissa Tomei, William Hurt and Daniel Bruhl

Studio: Marvel/Disney

Rated: PG

Running Time: 2 Hrs, 28 Mins

I’ve made no secret of my feelings about the bleak, steaming hot mess that was Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I gave it a reluctant five out of ten because I have a huge soft spot for the source material, but the film demonstrated a gross misunderstanding of the characters (particularly Batman and Lex Luthor), was overlong, had scenes shoehorned into it that were commercials for future movies, had other scenes that were completely pointless altogether, wasted two classic villains (Lex Luthor and Doomsday) and the end had no emotional impact because it will be completely undone as soon as DC/Warner Bros. releases its next super hero film (it kind of has to be).

I began my review of BvS by saying that if DC/Warner Bros. wanted to compete with Marvel/Disney, they had a long way to go. Not only does Captain America: Civil War widen that already considerable gap by a few more miles, it may very well be the best movie in Marvel’s growing roster of films.

The world has grown increasingly wary of its superheroes as the collateral damage from their battles has grown too severe to ignore. Entire cities have been reduced to smoldering ruins and too often untold civilians pay the price with their lives. After another Avengers operation goes sideways, resulting in more civilian death and suffering, the governments of the world come together to demand change. They want the Avengers supervised, their actions sanctioned and approved by the United Nations and the heroes are given a very clear choice; accept the new Sakovia Accords (named after the city that was destroyed in Avengers: Age of Ultron) or retire. If they continue to operate without official sanction they’ll become outlaws and hunted as criminals. Captain America (Chris Evans) opposes the accords while Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) champions them and the other heroes are forced to choose sides. The Avengers are soon split into opposing camps and find themselves staring each other down.

Complicating matters further is Cap’s long time friend turned brainwashed super assassin Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastien Stan). He’s still on the loose and may have been up to his old murderous hijinks, further ratcheting up the political heat on Cap and the other heroes. And to top it all off, a sinister presence is subtly pulling strings in the background, taking advantage of the heroes divide and orchestrating events to serve it’s own agenda. Long buried secrets are revealed, friendships are strained, alliances tested and broken, faith lost and new players are added to the game. And it’s all told amidst a brilliant spectacle.

The Russo Brothers (who also directed 2014’s Captain America: Winter Soldier) have crafted a masterpiece. They keep the accelerator going at all times, affording some down time to tell the story in between boundary pushing, logic defying action sequences. They let their key personalities breathe a little in between punch ups while not shoving the other characters to the side, affording everyone in this considerable ensemble cast more then just a few moments in the spot light. Civil War stars the most ambitious cast of heroes yet, collecting just about every hero we’ve seen in a Marvel movie save Thor and the Hulk. But they couldn’t go without adding a few new faces and we get to see Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) as well as Spider-Man’s long awaited debut in the Marvel cinematic universe (played by Tom Holland).

Enough can’t be said about the action. The Russo’s took the already ridiculous yet not absurd levels of action in Winter Soldier and turned it up a dozen notches. All of the actors deserve special recognition for the training they underwent, stunt doubles or no. Not only did Boseman own the physical demands of his role as Prince T’Challa/Black Panther, but he also learned the African language of Xhosa for some of his dialogue and the role of Panther appears to be in very safe hands moving forward (his solo movie is scheduled for February 2018). Tom Holland meanwhile looks like he could be the best Peter Parker/Spider-Man yet and his appearance has already generated huge demand for next year’s Spider-Man reboot (co-produced by Marvel and current rights holder Sony). When was the last time moviegoers were looking forward to the a Spider-Man movie? Go ahead, I’ll give you a moment to dig up a calendar.

Robert Downey Jr. continues to bring the affable Tony Stark to life better then any other performer could, but here he gets to show off some acting chops as the brilliant yet smug egotist Stark is confronted with the consequences of his actions and wrestles with the steep price of his attempted amends. Evans compliments him perfectly as Captain America, who is forced to oppose and battle friends and former allies while he tries to do what he thinks is right even while he doubts his own actions.

And did I mention the action? Because it all culminates into one incredible super hero battle royal where every one gets to show off their super powers and skills. Laced with plenty of rapid-fire jokes, it is pretty much the best action scene of the year so far (and will probably be impossible to beat). This scene alone proves how brilliant a decision it was by Marvel to hand control of the Avengers franchise over to the Russo Brothers. Imagining what they can do with even more characters on a cosmic scale boggles even the most vivid imagination.

In the end, this is what a comic book movie should look like. High octane, eyeball rupturing action injected with plenty of humour that tells a straight forward yet entertaining story at just the right speed. It has enough emotional gravity to keep it grounded (after all, you have to care about the characters), never takes itself too seriously (after all, it is a comic book movie) while, and this is most important part, being fun to watch. The true secret of this film’s success won’t be it’s enormous box office (Marvel may have yet another billion dollar blockbuster on its hands when everything is said and done) but that it has also electrified appetite for future Marvel movies (including next year’s Spider-Man). What more can a movie do?

DC, Warner Brothers and Zack Snyder should all be paying very close attention.

Shayne Kempton