Summer's best and worst movies -
Published Monday, August 19, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 10:23 am
Summer's best and worst movies

World-Herald man-children Dave Croy, Micah Mertes and Patrick Duprey duke it out over the summer movie season.

The movies
"Iron Man 3"
"Star Trek into Darkness"
"Fast and Furious 6"
"After Earth"
"Now You See Me"
"This is the End"
"Man of Steel"
"White House Down"
"World War Z"
"2 Guns"

Micah: This summer really didn't do it for me, guys.

Though I enjoyed “Iron Man 3,” “Pacific Rim,” “Elysium,” “Star Trek into Darkness” and even the first two-thirds of “Man of Steel,” my overall feeling as a moviegoer is one of exhaustion. I look back on this summer, and I don't remember fun, just a jagged mash of concrete, metal and superpunches. By the time “The Wolverine” rolled around, I couldn't take one more CG battle.

My top 5:
1. “The Conjuring”
2. “White House Down”
3. “This is the End”
4. “Elysium”
5. “Iron Man 3”

Best summer movie: “The Conjuring.” It's not like this is a terribly original or innovative film. But it's so well-made, so terrifying. Teeming with dread but still kind of warm and moving. No other mainstream movie this summer came close to this.

Most pleasant surprise: “White House Down.” It speaks to the gigantism of this summer that a movie that blows up the White House and concerns nuclear warfare feels like one of the year's smaller blockbusters. Yeah, it's dumb and sappy but also thrilling and funny. Any action comedy buddy pic with Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx as basically John McClane and Barack Obama has my support.

Biggest bore: The last 45 minutes of “Man of Steel” and the full 130 minutes of “Fast & Furious 6.”

Worst thing I saw: “Only God Forgives.” The star and director of “Drive,” one of the best films of the last several years, follow up with an inexplicable and maddeningly pretentious turd. It's so bad I sort of admire it.

Limited releases you should check out: “Upstream Color,” “Frances Ha,” “The Place Beyond the Pines,” “Before Midnight,” “Drinking Buddies,” “Mud.”

Dave: Every summer can't have 2012's “Avengers” and “Dark Knight Rises” on tap, but I feel as though I sat through a lot of movies waiting for something truly great this summer. “Star Trek,” “Man of Steel” and “Pacific Rim” came close, but I finally got what I had been waiting for with “Elysium.” For me, what set these four films and the earlier “Iron Man 3” apart from the competition was their heart, and none had as much heart as “Elysium.”

My top 5:
“Man of Steel”
“Star Trek: Into Darkness”
“Iron Man 3”
“Pacific Rim”

Best summer movie: “Elysium,” by several miles. The only thing that will prevent this movie from being huge is possibly audience fatigue from watching too many previous big-budget sci-fi snooze-fests like “After Earth,” “World War Z” and “Oblivion.”

Most pleasant surprise: “Man of Steel.” This was my most-anticipated film of the summer, mainly because I have always wanted to see Superman taken seriously on the big screen, something that I believe the previous films never quite managed to do. I went in with high hopes but also with a certain degree of trepidation. Although I am a huge fan of director Zack Snyder and producer Christopher Nolan, I had my doubts about how well Superman could fit into their “gritty” worldview and how relevant Superman could be in a 21st Century context. For the most part, both my hopes and my expectations were greatly exceeded.

Biggest bore: The middle 90 minutes of “The Lone Ranger.” The first and last 30 minutes of this film are pretty good. Cut the middle bulk of this 149-minute-long trainwreck (literally and figuratively) down to about 45 minutes, and it might have been decent.

Worst thing I saw: Tie. “After Earth,” “The Lone Ranger.” “Ranger” was the most butt-numbing, but “After Earth” was the most brain-numbing.

Patrick: May brought us "Iron Man 3," "Star Trek Into Darkness" (still minus the colon) and "Fast and Furious 6." August's already delivered two more personal favorites — "2 Guns," easily the summer's best comedy, and "Elysium."

In between, there's been a lot of trashy sequels to mediocre originals (I'm looking at you, "Red 2") and trashy originals with the promise of increasingly trashy sequels ("World War Z").

My top 5:
1. “Fast & Furious 6”
2. “Star Trek Into Darkness”
3. “Elysium”
4. “2 Guns”
5a. “Iron Man 3”
5b. “Pacific Rim”
5c. “Man of Steel”

Best summer movie: Everyone has their guilty pleasures — mine just happens to boast fast cars, beautiful women and 120 minutes worth of fun. “Fast 6” knows what it is and knows that the 18-34 demo will come out in troves, as evidenced by a nearly $800 million worldwide box office haul. Even if the airport runway in the penultimate scene never ends. Or almost every character who's died in the first five films reappears. Sometimes you just got to live your life a quarter-mile at a time ... and protect your family, while destroying everyone else's.

Most pleasant surprise: Four months after "Pain and Gain" produced less than $50 million at the domestic box office and offended just about everyone, "2 Guns" reminded us why we love Marky Mark. Wahlberg and Denzel Washington, far from comedy regulars, played off each other well in their crusade against back-stabbing bureaucrats and drug cartels. Sure, the storyline was far from plausible, but the writing was clever, witty and, most importantly, funny. Moral of the story: Never rob a bank across from the shop with the best donuts in three counties.

Biggest bore: If you thought "Hangover 2" was bad, which I didn't, don't bother with "The Hangover Part III." Better yet, throw this one in the "Hey-the-first-two-made-over-a-billion-dollars-combined-so-why-not" bucket. Not even the addition of John Goodman is of any use.

Worst thing I saw: three-way tie between,
* "Hangover Part III." For all the reasons above
* "After Earth." Isn't it crazy to think that Will Smith passed up the title role in "Django Unchained" for this?
* "The Canyons." If you're looking for 90 minutes of soft-core porn, Lindsay Lohan, bad acting and a random Gus Van Sant appearance 75 minutes in, you came to the right place.

The movies

“Iron Man 3”

Micah: So now that that “Avengers” business is over, the Marvel universe narrows its scope back to the individual characters for a round. “Iron Man 3” DOES feel like a comedown after “Avengers,” but it's nonetheless a fleet entertainment, immensely better than “Iron Man 2.” Writer/director Shane Black (“Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” “Lethal Weapon”) deserves a lot of the credit for this. He makes the movie feel more like a comedy that happens to have a superhero in it than the other way around, and he keeps Robert Downey Jr. out of the Iron Man suit for the bulk of the running time so he can freely take jabs at friends and foes alike.

Dave, did you feel like it delivered enough fun to make up for its lack of Hulk and Thor?

Dave: I think that as far as fun in the Marvel cinematic universe is concerned, two-thirds of your prayers are answered when Robert Downey Jr. shows up. I thought it was a blast. I agree with you about Shane Black. (just re-watched one of my all-time Black favorites, “The Last Boy Scout” the other night!) His interest in characters, regardless of how preposterous their circumstances are, is what sets him apart from a lot of “tentpole” directors. Thus, you have this great, twisted, ersatz father-son relationship between Downey and the wonderful Ty Simpkins, which really sets the movie apart from the typical superhero romp. But how did you feel about the canon-istic blasphemy that was the Mandarin?

Micah: I had no allegiance (or even knowledge) of the Mandarin prior to "Iron Man 3," so I wasn't too put out. I will say his, um, development was the funniest moment in the movie. They took a potentially ridiculous bad guy and had some fun with it. With the climate of superhero movies being so dour, it was refreshing to see one that doesn't take itself too seriously.

Dave: Yeah, in spite of die-hard fan outcry, I don't think there was a more legitimate way to handle what was, in the comics, just another stereotypical supervillain. Besides, not only was the Mandarin reveal hilarious, but I really liked the idea that we might want to look twice before we accept whatever boogeyman is presented for our consumption. I'm on the fence as far as serious takes on superheroes are concerned. I love the humor inherent in the Marvel films, and I'm crazy-about “Kick-Ass,” but I was always disappointed by the earlier “campy” cinematic takes on Superman and Batman. I wanted movies that took those characters seriously. But I agree, the Marvel films have done a better job so far in terms of maintaining a level of gee-whiz fun while still treating their characters with respect.

“Star Trek into Darkness”

Dave: J.J. Abrams, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, etc., returned for round two. I'm a huge fan of Abrams' first “Trek” film, and I wasn't disappointed by this effort. As demonstrated by much of Abrams' work (“Lost,” “Super 8,” “Star Trek”), his ability to assemble and direct a cast framed within an unmistakable family dynamic may be unsurpassed. Certainly his “Trek” cast has realized that approach, as well as having taken full ownership of their respective re-imagined characters. Generally, I thought the performances, pacing and visuals were superb. I had a few quibbles with the plot, but nothing terribly serious. I liked the climactic Spock/Kirk role-reversal/homage to “Wrath of Kahn” when I saw it a lot more that I do in retrospect. It feels a bit cheap to me now.

Patrick: This one's up there among the summer's best, for sure. I'm a Chris Pine fan, and I think he's on the verge of becoming an A-level movie star. Don't forget Benedict Cumberbatch, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg and John Cho. I'd stack this film right up there with the 2009 version, both of which were more suspenseful than just about any other action flick this summer.

Dave: “Star Wars VII” is the big question mark for Abrams now. I feel confident that he has the ability to do a great job, as long as he doesn't get TOO cute. I guess that's what I kind of ended up feeling about the Spock/Kirk scene at the climax of “Into Darkness” -- that it was maybe just a bit too cute. But you're absolutely right. Cumberbatch, Saldana, Pegg and Cho were all outstanding. If not for “Elysium,” “Trek” would have been my favorite movie of the summer, easily. A blogger I read the other day suggested that “Elysium” director Neill Blomkamp would be the perfect choice for “Star Trek 3,” as it appears as though Abrams might be too busy. I would definitely like to see a Blomkamp “Trek” movie.

Patrick: This begs the question, Dave, what character would Blomkamp's childhood friend Sharlto Copley play?

Dave: Well, given his role in "Elysium," I think he would make an excellent Klingon warlord. But they should probably just create a new villain for him.

“Fast & Furious 6”

Micah: So, Patrick. This was your favorite movie of the summer. Which part did you like best? The needlessly convoluted backstory that required knowledge of the first five movies? Paul Walker's guilt? Michelle Rodriguez's amnesia? Ludacris' strained attempts at comedy? Or was it the 9-hour airport runway scene?

Patrick: All of the above. These movies are usually not well-scripted or well-acted, but they're always entertaining. They know what they are and who their audience is and don't veer from the formula. Very rewatchable on cable and VOD, too. In one of the more awkward film summers, when I stepped into the theater for “Fast 6,” I knew what I was getting. Absurd fun. I'm still betting on "Fast & Furious 10."

Micah: I guess some people just like the smell of Axe body spray, and some do not.

Patrick: Ride to die.

“After Earth”

Patrick: I don't know what this was. All I know is, I can think of A LOT of other ways to spend $130 million, the reported production budget for this M. Night Shyamalan pic. I feel bad for Will Smith, who reportedly passed up the title role in "Django Unchained" for this end-times sci-fi flick -- based on his idea, by the way. Hey, at least he scored his son a role. And props to Shyamalan for keeping it under 100 minutes.

Dave: I'm pretty sure I DO know what this was. The arrogant move of a “star” with the power to greenlight a film. If I were Will Smith, I wouldn't be going around bragging about the fact that the concept for this run-of-the-mill sci-fi debacle was mine. Assuming Smith probably had something to say about who directed it, I'm surprised he would have gone with Shyamalan, who has been busy destroying his own career for the span of his past three or four flops. Perhaps Smith ought to reconsider his decision not to reprise his role for 2015's “Independence Day” sequel. I realize Smith is too great a superstar to embrace being just a part of an ensemble cast, but I would suggest that it might be better than no longer being cast at all.

“Now You See Me”

Patrick: Here's one of this summer's under-the-radar treats. There's the typecast Jesse Eisenberg as an intelligent-and-he-knows-it jerk, Morgan Freeman as the wise one and Michael Caine as the wealthy one. For the most part, the film flows nicely, is well-acted and features its share of plot twists -- perhaps too many in its much-too-long 115-minute frame. But who doesn't love magic? And Woody Harrelson? And Woody Harrelson doing magic?

Micah: I love magic, and I kind of enjoyed “Now You See Me.” It's zippy and has that great cast. I didn't even mind that it was dumber than a bag of hammers. I'll take a small, slick trifle like this over most $200 million superhero movies.

Patrick: "Dumber than a bag of hammers." Says the guy who ranked "White House Down" No. 2.

Micah: “White House Down” is dumb where it counts.

“This is the End”

Micah: “This is the End” couldn't be sloppier or more self-indulgent, but I laughed hysterically all the way through. I particularly liked Danny McBride, who ratchets up his white trash party boy persona to something approaching pure evil. His monologue about why he ruined James Franco's magazine belongs in a museum.

Patrick: I think “hysterical” is a bit much. This was an above-average comedy but one I wouldn't put too far ahead of another end-of-the-world pic released in June, "Rapture-Palooza," also starring Craig Robinson. The pros here: Michael Cera as a coked-out womanizer, Emma Watson going cray, Channing Tatum as Danny McBride's sex pet and the Backstreet Boys as, well, the late-'90s BSB America loved. The cons: 106 minutes. Yawn.

Micah: I'll admit the pace lags a bit in the middle stretch. But Jonah Hill's exorcism gives the movie a second wind.

Patrick: Jonah Hill's transformation into a demon is one of the movie's high points, though spoiled in the trailer.

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