Guardians of the Galaxy is easily among the biggest risks Marvel has taken with a live-action film adaptation. While certainly not without its legion of dedicated fans, Guardians of the Galaxy is one of Marvel Comics’ more obscure properties that are unlikely to be known to the average moviegoer. Not only does this film adaptation have to stand out to audiences who have likely never heard of the material before, but it is also another canonical addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe that will tie into The Avengers: Age of Ultron and possibly even further than that. In addition to all of that, the film boasts an expensive $170 million budget and James Gunn as the writer and director, who had not created any significant audience hits in his career. There was an immense amount of excitement from fans of the material, but also some nervous anticipation as to whether this would be the first major stumble for Marvel’s impressive filmography. Rest assured, ladies and gentlemen: it paid off big time. Not only is Guardians of the Galaxy the most refreshingly original creation by Marvel Studios thus far, but it also features one of their most touching, exciting and visually-stunning adventures to date that rivals even that of The Avengers.
2012 was an unusual time for film in that there were two films release that year that were both based on the same source material: Snow White. The first of these movies, Mirror Mirror, was a light-hearted adventure story aimed for younger audiences (and directed by Tarsem of all people), while the second, Snow White and the Huntsman, was a darker re-imagining of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale that was a far cry from the innocence of the Walt Disney adaptation. It was particularly strange not only to have two Snow White films in the same year – two radically different ones at that – but also how competitive the two studios behind these films were to come out with the best Snow White film of the year. Strangely enough, 2014 seems to repeating this turn of events with Hercules – ironically another character that inspired an animated Disney movie – which began with the release of the critical and financial flop The Legend of Hercules in early January. And thus with the summer season coming to a close, audiences are presented (again) with the simply-titled Hercules, an action-driven blockbuster directed by Brett Ratner and starring The Rock in the lead role – two admittedly concerning choices that do not sound promising on paper. Hercules is almost exactly what it looks and sounds like in the advertisements: it is a straightforward action/adventure movie that has occasional moment of fun but is ultimately too shallow and unoriginal to leave much of a lasting impression.
Perhaps out of all the summer blockbusters of 2011, the most unexpected and surprising success of the year was the prequel/reboot to the Planet of the Apes franchise, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The rebooting and/or remaking of a film classic is often met with disapproval, and for good reason; they are usually a means to either make profit off of a popular brand or botched attempts to re-create the success of a critically-acclaimed movie that ultimately fail to understand the qualities that made the original a classic. Thankfully Rise managed to succeed where most others failed through the strength of its ape protagonist Caesar – brilliantly played by motion-capture king Andy Serkis – and the incredible visual effects of Weta Digital that set a new precedent for photo-realistic CG animals. Now under the direction of Matt Reeves, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes sets out to continue the story of Rise with a grander scope, more mature themes and a darker tone. While Rise made for a solid first step to this prequel franchise, Dawn is not only superior to its predecessor in almost every facet imaginable, but also lands itself among the most technologically-impressive achievements in filmmaking yet.
Remember when Michael Bay decided to leave the Transformers film franchise to make more original movies and came out with Pain & Gain, which despite mixed reviews is considered to be one of the director’s best movies? After making three practically-interchangeable action movies based off of the wildly-popular Hasbro franchise that garnered heavy criticism with its last two installments, Bay seemed like he was ready to move on to new horizons and do something new and refreshing for a change. Maybe for once, instead of making the same movie again, he could make something that – while not necessarily having to be good – broke from the norm of milking the same tired franchises for the sake of profit and add to the legacy of filmmaking. This weekend, however, that hope is dead; Bay has traded his soul to Hasbro and Paramount Pictures to create Transformers: Age of Extinction, a fourth entry in the film series designed to start a second trilogy of movies. And judging from its opening box-office numbers, it will not matter what the words of this review says, because these movies will continue to make money and the studios will just keep laughing their way to the bank as they squeeze the remaining life left from this franchise. Age of Extinction not only marks the blandest, least interesting and most overlong of the Transformers films thus far, but also a new career rock-bottom for Bay.
If 21 Jump Street was a parody of high school culture and buddy-cop movies, then 22 Jump Street is a parody of college culture and unnecessary Hollywood sequels. The latter part comes as absolutely no surprise to modern audiences anymore; everyone has seen it happen countless times, most notably with The Hangover which was a success with audiences and critics, but later gained two sequels that were both critically panned despite solid profits at the box-office. On one hand, consumers know that the existence of these kinds of sequels are mostly pointless and are only attempts to make money, yet many people still shell out their hard-earned cash to continue seeing these sequels – sometimes even if they think it is going to be a bad movie. It is a strange phenomenon in Hollywood culture that nevertheless persists today, and the unexpected success of the wildly funny 21 Jump Street promptly made it the next target for a new franchise. Despite following the same trend as many unnecessary sequels, however, directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller decided to laugh it all the way to the bank with 22 Jump Street by making a barrage of frequently funny jabs at Hollywood culture through the same formula that made 21 Jump Street a breath of fresh air – even if it sacrifices some of its own originality to make a point in the process.
While DreamWorks has produced some great films for over 20 years, one of their most unexpected and pleasant surprises was the 2010 animated hit How to Train Your Dragon. Loosely adapted from the book series of the same name, How to Train Your Dragon is centered on a young Viking named Hiccup who unexpectedly befriends a dragon (who he later names “Toothless” for its retractable teeth) and discovers that these creatures can be trained like any animal. After earning critical acclaim from critics, impressive box-office sales and several award nominations (including winning the prestigious Annie Award for Best Animated Film), DreamWorks announced their plans to make this film the first part in an epic trilogy. With higher expectations and a larger scope, How to Train Your Dragon 2 soars into theaters with the promise of a bigger story that will expand the horizons of the film’s universe. Even with its greater ambition, however, How to Train Your Dragon 2 not only succeeds in creating a rousing spectacle for the senses, but also a heartfelt and moving story that builds upon the foundations of the first installment and takes the story of Hiccup and Toothless to new heights.
There are many great qualities to Walt Disney’s animated adaptation of the classic Brothers Grimm fairytale, “The Sleeping Beauty,” but perhaps the best part of the film was the antagonist, Maleficent. With her iconic dark robe and horns, terrifying green eyes, wicked personality and the sinister voice of the evil stepmother of Cinderella herself, Eleanor Audley, Maleficent was the stuff of kids’ nightmares. Even 55 years later, she still remains among the best animated Disney villains ever made. It is an interesting and slightly unusual decision, then, that Disney would release a re-telling of Sleeping Beauty that focuses on the villain of the movie and portrays her as a misunderstood anti-heroine. Maleficent in the Disney movie is essentially evil for the sake of being evil, and making a character such as this sympathetic almost seems like a fool’s errand. While Maleficent does manage to dazzle with its impressive production designs and boasts a commanding Angelina Jolie in the role, it fails as both a proper re-telling of the animated classic and also as a well-developed and intriguing look at one of Disney’s most iconic villains.
The X-Men franchise has come so far and done so much since the release of the first movie in 2000 from director Bryan Singer, but never has the franchise seen a more ambitious undertaking than the newest installment, X-Men: Days of Future Past. Based off of one of the most famous comics in the X-Men series, this installment in the long-running franchise brings back Singer to the director’s chair 11 years after his last film in the series, X2: X-Men United, and combines the older cast of the future (Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Patrick Steward and Ian McKellen among others) with the young cast of the past featured in X-Men: First Class (James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult). Not only that, but the film is designed as both a direct sequel to First Class and the third film in the series, X-Men: The Last Stand (which has received mixed to negative reception from fans), and is also meant to rewrite the continuity of the franchise to start a new clean slate. Days of Future Past has no shortage of ambition, but somehow under Singer’s direction, everything comes together almost perfectly in what is not only the best X-Men film to date, but also one of the best superhero movies ever made.
With his massive size, iconic design, atomic-breath and frightening roar, Godzilla still remains one of the most revered and iconic movie monsters of all time. Conceived by Japan and given a mammoth of a budget for its time, Gojira (the original name of the movie in Japan) was a huge success that would pave the way for a massive franchise that includes over 20 movies. Gojira was brought over to America in the form of a re-worked English dub called Godzilla: King of the Monsters!, and would later re-imagine the monster in the 1998 film Godzilla which was universally panned by both Godzilla’s creators and the fanbase. After 16 years, however, the King of the Monsters has returned on its 60th year anniversary with a new American re-imagining, coming straight off of the heels of the critically-praised Pacific Rim. Make no mistake: this Godzilla is bigger than its predecessors both in scale and in technical prowess, and is certainly an improvement over previous films in the franchise, but unfortunately its narrative fails to captivate and intrigue enough to compensate for the sparse number of action scenes and Godzilla’s lack of involvement in the story.
Whenever a popular film franchise crashes and burns, and Hollywood is desperate to keep it going as long as possible, it seems that the easiest and most frequently used business decision is to start again from square one. The reboot has become a familiar and conventional trope for summer blockbusters – particularly in comic-book movies, which besides Spider-Man has already gone through reboots of Superman, Batman and the Fantastic Four in an upcoming movie. The Amazing Spider-Man was essentially the result of both the disastrous Spider-Man 3 and Columbia Pictures trying to restore audiences’ faith in the beloved web-slinger, especially considering how much of a huge financial property Spider-Man is to the studio. The first movie is not as memorable as Sam Raimi’s earlier Spider-Man films and much of the film treaded on familiar territory, but that was just the building blocks to a greater foundation in the form of The Amazing Spider-Man 2. While this franchise still has the potential to do something new and exciting with the license, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is an unfortunate chaotic mess that provides more thrills and characters at the cost of a focused narrative.