Around this time each year, there are a number of film publications that come out with lists of “top ten films of the year…so far.” I would be thoroughly interested in making such a list, however in 2016, I don’t believe I can release a list of ten films that I’ve seen this year that are worthy of such a ranking. Sure there were some gems out there, such as The Jungle Book and Hail Caesar!, but in all honesty, a vast majority of this year’s mainstream movies have been, if nothing else, lackluster.
Now I’m probably a little more high brow than most summer movie audiences, I get that. And you probably get that too, based on the fact that the title of this article includes the phrase, “mediocrity of summer movies.” While I understand that I look at blockbusters with an expectation of a little something more than just some silly explosions and a want of character depth, this is only because of a precedent that has been set by blockbusters in the very recent past. Over the past few years, films like Rise of the Planet of The Apes, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Inside Out have led us to expect films that are fun, well-written and creative. In 2016 however, what we have received are films that are dull, paint-by-numbers and uninspired.
The catalyst for this article being written was the undeserving amount of praise that Captain America: Civil War has been getting online. Every website or YouTube channel that I have visited has put it on their top ten films of the first half of the year. My question to this is; why? Did everyone else watch a different film than I did? While I agree that the airport scene was an incredible piece of action and that the new Spider-man could quite possibly be the best one yet, those scenes only amount to about 20 minutes out of 147 minutes of cinema that barely manages to make par. Entertainment Weekly referred to the film as, “a superhero movie with real issues, real stakes, and real depth.” I am not entirely sure what led them to that conclusion, but they clearly didn’t think very hard about the actual movie. The film started with real issues, you know, government surveillance and the consequences of being a vigilante, however, it quickly dissolved into being entirely about Captain America’s unrealistic obsession with Bucky. Also, “real stakes?” Nobody died in the film. Nobody. The only person who got genuinely hurt was Don Cheadle, the only person in the film that everyone cared about the least. At the end of the film, every character is in the exact same spot from where they began. Captain America doesn’t learn a lesson, and in the end, they didn’t sort out the issues that caused them to fight in the first place. And as far as depth, Iron-Man is the only person in the entire film who is a fully-formed character with probable motivations and a genuinely good performance. With the exception of Spider-Man and The Black Panther, everyone else just seems like they’ve been wrongfully forced to be a part of the plot. Scarlett Johansson appeared to have taken acting classes from a dry lump of coal. As far as Ant-Man goes, he literally threw away everything he had acquired in his movie; i.e. his stable family and a clean record, to become an international criminal, simply because he thought Captain America was “cool.” And in my humble opinion, if the worst part of your film titled “Captain America: Civil War” is Captain America, then you have failed.
But I suppose that the fact that Captain America arrived on everyone’s top 10 list truly is a testament to just how mediocre this year in film has been thus far. Civil War isn’t the only sequel to be a disappointment. For one thing, Independence Day: Resurgence was an absolutely dismal mistake. And while such films like Finding Dory and X-Men: Apocalypse might have been reasonably entertaining, they still fail to eclipse their more stellar predecessors. In all honesty, the only film I saw this year that was at least as good as the original, if not better, was Now You See Me 2, and that is not saying much. And some people might say that summer movies have never been that great, I’d qualify that statement as false. 2014 was one of the best summers for movies that I’ve been alive for. Between the months of May and August 2014, we were given such films as X-Men: Days of Future Past, Edge of Tomorrow, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Dawn of The Planet of The Apes, The Fault in Our Stars, What If, Godzilla, Neighbors, 22 Jump Street, Neighbors, and Boyhood. 2015 wasn’t so bad either, as it gave us the likes of Inside Out, Mad Max: Fury Road, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. Now my question to you is, what films do you think would qualify as standouts this summer? Because from what I’ve seen this year, I don’t think I can certainly say as much for any of them. Any of them, that is, except for one.
Last week I saw Swiss Army Man, and I honestly was floored. Swiss Army Man was the most original film I’ve seen in a long time. A vibrant, absolutely jubilant triumph of a film, that gave me hope for the rest of the year. Unlike the likes of Captain America, or Independence Day, Swiss Army Man has real, exciting characters, that create a unique and exuberant joyride of a film that had me completely engaged from the beginning to the end. It is what film should be; passionate, uncompromising and delightful. Dano and Radcliffe have the kind of undeniable chemistry that makes Cap and Bucky look like a group of disgruntled roommates who just met for the first time via Craigslist. I honestly can’t think of a single film that I’ve seen this year that even comes close to the caliber of Swiss Army Man; it is truly a victory of cinema.
In the end, I’ve been sadly disappointed by this year so far. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some hits; I thoroughly enjoyed Hail Caesar!, Zootopia and The Jungle Book. And I’m sure that once Autumn comes around there will be plenty of films that feel fresh and enlightening, but this summer has been incredibly bland so far. There are still a few films that could break through the din, Suicide Squad, the new Star Trek film, The Founder and Kubo and the Two Strings all have potential. But so far, I think it’s safe to say we’ve all been let down.
Captain America: Civil War: C
Swiss Army Man: A+