Did the Dark Knight rise high enough? Was Spider-Man really that amazing? It's time to look back on one of the biggest summers ever CraveOnline's look at The Best (and Worst) Films of Summer 2012, and just for the hell of it, we're throwing in the most overlooked movies of the summer season, the ones you probably missed during the blockbuster glut. It's been a hell of a summer. Let's find out just how hellish it was.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
It wasn’t the blockbuster that Timur Bekmambetov hoped it would be, but that doesn’t mean that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter wasn’t a bloody good time. The director of Nightwatch and Wanted finally exercised a bit of subtlety when telling the real-life story of The Great Emancipator, which made the outlandish action sequences (and indeed, the film’s very concept) that much funnier in contrast. The action was amazing, the biographical elements were actually somewhat respectful, and the lead performance by newcomer Benjamin Walker could give Spielberg’s upcoming Lincoln biography a run for its money.
Oh wait, Spielberg’s got Daniel Day-Lewis? Never mind. Walker’s still great though.
Seth MacFarlane’s live-action directorial debut looked, on the surface, like his usual schtick: a man-child (Mark Wahlberg) avoiding responsibility by engaging in wacky antics with a talking symbol of childhood fantasy, in this case a teddy bear voiced by MacFarlane himself. But thanks to warm performances and a story that took itself a little seriously, Ted turned out to be one of the best comedies of the year. Non-stop laughs and a little bit of a point, along with one of the funniest cameos around courtesy of one of the great b-movie icons, made Ted a trashy, cuddly treat.
The Dark Knight Rises
Christopher Nolan’s third Batman movie was one of the most anticipated movies of all time, and while the opening weekend was marred by the tragic shooting in Aurora, CO, The Dark Knight Rises itself was accepted as a fitting, if somewhat unwieldy conclusion to the franchise that helped revolutionize the superhero movie genre. The sprawling narrative dared to condemn the very existence of Batman, leading to an unexpected series of events that challenged the Dark Knight and the citizens of Gotham to deal with pointed social issues that affect us all. What’s more, Nolan’s 70mm footage wound up looking more three-dimensional than 3D usually does, celebrating old-fashioned filmmaking over empty flash.
There were several great independent films this summer, like Compliance and Red Hook Summer, but the clear winner – and one of the best films of the year so far – was Wes Anderson’s affable comedy-drama about a pair of adolescent lovers who run away, sending their 1960s island community into a tailspin. Moonrise Kingdom is a funny, bittersweet tale of young passion and adult misgivings, and one of the best, most mature films of Anderson’s career.
The wait was worth it. Joss Whedon’s adaptation of the Marvel comic book series brought all the cinematic superheroes together in a single film, and while the story was a little simplistic, the bravura action sequences and perfectly constructed character interactions provided all the thrills and fan-service we could ever want in a single film. There’s a reason The Avengers is one of the top grossing films of all time. For once, it’s because the movie is just that good.
The Amazing Spider-Man
It wasn't the worst film of the summer, and might not be one of the worst films of the year, but The Amazing Spider-Man was a disappointment anyway. Marc Webb's reboot of Sony's flagship franchise caught a lot of flack for reinterpreting the world's most neurotic hero as a generic, vengeful twerp who ignores his newly widowed Aunt May, breaks important promises and takes no responsibility for his uncle's demise, but even if you enjoyed the quippy, science-obsessed version of the character you can still tell that the film is full of plot holes, saved too much for the sequel and made the whole Spider-Man universe more drab than was absolutely necessary.
Snow White and the Huntsman
A fun idea – Snow White and the Huntsman team up to stop the evil queen in a revisionist female empowerment fantasy – wound up being a boring, awkwardly written and arguably sexist movie that sidelined the milquetoast heroine up until the end, when she finally gets to lead an army against her enemy. And even then, her love interest specifically says, “You look fetching in mail,” reducing her to superficial femininity while simultaneously praising her for being more masculine. Ugh. Only Charlize Theron’s beyond-campy performance managed to make Snow White and the Huntsman even slightly enjoyable.
That’s My Boy
Adam Sandler’s latest comedy had a few laughs here and there, but it’s an ugly film that celebrates child abuse and condemns the victim for not being cool enough to go with the flow. Sandler’s latest product placement-fest finds him the victim of statutory rape, and then neglecting the product of his illegal union until the child grows up into a neurotic mess. When Sandler arrives to scam his son (Andy Samberg) out of his legitimate earnings, we’re supposed to cheer because the “stuffed shirt” is going to be more like his alcoholic dad. The outlandish final twist might churn a few stomachs, but it was the only way to make any character in That’s My Boy seem worse than Sandler.
The Bourne Legacy
The Bourne Legacy was an enormous disappointment, despite the presence of rising star Jeremy Renner and the elevation of the franchise’s screenwriter, Tony Gilroy, to the director’s chair. Somehow they managed to not only devise a boring movie of no particular consequence, they also sullied the previous, grounded films in the franchise by revealing that the whole conspiracy revolved around super-soldier pills. The hero has no motivation beyond getting his precious drugs back because without them he’s mentally handicapped, but we never see the consequences of losing them, so the entire storyline feels like a waste of time. Full of plot holes and misused talent, The Bourne Legacy was almost the worst film of the summer.
Rock of Ages
One of the most painful movies in years, Rock of Ages is a non-stop assault of inferior auto-tuned covers that make the often-maligned hair metal genre look worse than ever before. Tom Cruise isn’t bad as the broad rock god caricature Stacee Jaxx, but everyone else is either boring or completely wasted in a tired storyline that can’t even get going because the wall-to-wall music stops the movie cold every two minutes, and never pushes the movie forward. It’s like a television series that stops for a commercial break in the middle of every scene, and it wasn’t even a good series to begin with. Rock of Ages isn’t just the worst film of the summer, it’s a strong contender for the worst film of the year.
The Most Overlooked:
Despite strong reviews, a great premise and spectacular animation, Paranorman never took off with moviegoers. They missed something special. We were a little critical of the film’s execution – it drags a bit towards the end, and there’s a plot hole in there – but this celebration of lighthearted creepiness deserved to find a bigger audience. Paranorman is exactly the kind of dark, intelligent family movie that many people complain doesn’t get made anymore. Well, guess what? They made it, and you didn’t go.
Step Up Revolution
If you can ignore the bizarre, ironic and face-palm worthy ending, Step Up Revolution was one of the best films in the unfairly maligned franchise. Some folks wrote it off completely, since Step Up Revolution looks like a brutally sincere celebration of dance at the expense of wit and self-awareness. But that was the whole selling point: Scott Speer’s film married old school clichés with a modern heist mentality that energized the genre without abandoning the simplicity that made it work in the first place. Some of the dance scenes are unforgettable, just like the painful ending, but even that can’t ruin the pleasure of sitting through the first 99.9% of the movie.
The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate
Eked out at the end of the summer with no fanfare to speak of, Tsui Hark’s kung fu spectacle turned out to be the best IMAX experience this side of The Dark Knight Rises. Jet Li stars as the leader of a Chinese rebellion who becomes embroiled in a strange plot at the mysterious Dragon Gate, which will see all manner of action sequences before a giant tornado is scheduled to rip it asunder, and reveal its secrets. The plot’s a little hard to describe, but the gorgeous widescreen imagery and impressive 3D effects make The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate an impressive ride that, well, nobody saw. We’d tell you to catch it on DVD and Blu-ray, and you should, but it won’t be the same.
Tim Burton’s adaptation of the cult classic soap opera “Dark Shadows” was heavily promoted at the start of the summer, but disappeared under the weight of The Avengers and mixed reactions from those who didn’t seem to appreciate its blend of gothic romance, melodramatic tawdriness and high camp. We loved it, and while we weren’t alone, we suspect it will take time for Dark Shadows to find the right audience. If you missed it, or were baffled upon first viewing, watch it again on home video and try to tune into its counter-culture wavelength. It’s a funny, sumptuous film that deserved better.
The biggest surprise of the summer was that any film that looked this bad could actually be this good. We suspect that’s why audience stayed away in droves. Premium Rush is the kind of oddball b-movie that energizes a small minority but can’t seem to catch on with the mainstream, like Snakes on a Plane or Speed Racer. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a bike messenger who flies down the streets of New Yor, evading the most outlandishly corrupt cop imaginable, played with scenery-chomping zeal by future Man of Steel villain Michael Shannon. Director David Koepp keeps the absurdly simple storyline zipping along, and fills the screen with non-stop momentum and memorable action beats. It amounts to nothing… except a great time at the movies. You really should have seen it.