The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of the Top Ten Summer Movies

By: Daniel Reynolds

With the release of Iron Man 3 today, the barrage of the summer movie season is officially and inevitably upon us. The weekly game of escalation reminds me of the classic spaghetti western showdown The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. It is all of Hollywood, stuck in a stand-off, gunning for that sweet air-conditioned bag of loot. Is this comparison a stretch? Would Clint Eastwood lie to you?

Real quick: that famous film’s got three main dudes who set out across the American west to recover some buried gold. The three guys, for the most part, do not like each other (though really, how can you stay mad at Eli Wallach?). So, you’ve got the Good (a.k.a. a talented cast, proven director, and interesting story) and the Ugly (a.k.a. unfair expectations, Hollywood press, hype) working together uneasily, with the Bad (a.k.a. poor execution, track history, Ryan Reynolds) hounding them every step of the way.

Now, I didn’t want to run through the calendar movie by movie because, that’s boring; and I couldn’t just rank the big movies by anticipated box office, because if I could I  would not still be writing this; and I couldn’t just rank them based on media hype because, gross (and Ugly!). Instead, after careful consideration and thoughtful analysis, I’ve distilled a list of my Top Ten most anticipated movies of the Summer (a season which runs from May 1 to August 31. Sorry, Tom) by presumed quality. Ah, but the wrinkle for the list: we’re slicing each one up via the Good, Bad and Ugly criteria. Each film has it in them to be great, but in this ultimate face-off for dollars, their gun had better be loaded.

With our gunfighters in position, and the soundtrack starting up, let’s get to the list:

Summer movie showdown!

Summer movie showdown!

10. The Bling Ring

The Good: Sometimes you read a news story and think, as you do, Hey that would make a great movie. Then, of course, you read that the movie is already being made and you think, Hope they didn’t just fixate on the ‘teen girls robbing celebrities’ aspect and get some crass director in there. Fortunately, with its clever use of recent celeb-trash news and Coppola-ized (that’s a thing) vision, this one appears to be on track to be the film that Spring Breakers definitely could not be.

The Bad: We’re into a fifth movie for Sofia Coppola now and she has never not been an acquired taste. Full disclosure: I am on board with the whole Coppola experience. I applauded Marie Antoinette‘s decision to use 80’s pop music and I wholly embraced Lost in Translation’s Euro-film airs, buuuuut…

The Ugly: Her last movie was a lot of scenes of the Dorff lounging around. Your mileage may vary.

9. Pacific Rim

The Good: It is a film about giant robots fighting giant aliens. It comes out in the summer. It is directed by nerd godhead Guillermo del Toro. Did I mention the robots? It’s got Charlie Day doing decidedly non-Charlie work and bonus points for casting Idris “Not just Stringer Bell” Elba, too. Wait, did I mention the giant aliens? And the giant robots?

The Bad: If ever there was a simpler premise for a summer blockbuster this would have to be it. I have it slotted in at #9 purely because a lot is going to hinge on execution. There have been movies about aliens, robots and giant monsters before and quality is not always assured. Plus, Charlie Hunnam? Are we there with Charlie Hunnam?

The Ugly: I’m just going to whisper this but do you realize it’s been five years since Guillermo del Toro made a movie and that movie was the overrated Hellboy 2?

8. The Way, Way Back

The Good: At some point we probably need to start appreciating Sam Rockwell a lot more. Like, a lot more. I’ll give you a minute to peruse that IMDB page. Impressive right? Even in the movies that stink (hi Gentleman Broncos!) he is consistently entertaining and usually the best part of any film. Teaming him up with writers/directors(/deaners) Nat Faxon and Jim Rash is a smart idea and one that definitely goes a long way in minimizing some of the creeping familiarity emanating from this film.

The Bad: Because there is some familiarity in there even if it really just depends on how cynical you are. The marketers of The Way, Way Back would definitely like to conjure up happy memories of Little Miss Sunshine, that hilarious movie that involved the corpse of Alan Arkin and a young girl doing a stripper dance (it also had some touching moments involving Steve Carell, also in this film, Toni Collette and Paul Dano, I’m just playing devil’s advocate here).

The Ugly: Apparently the market for coming of age stories about awkward young males has not be completely saturated. Imagine that.

7. The World’s End

The Good: These are the days of in-jokes, nerd-mania and, um, wanton drinking. I don’t know much about World’s End (I believe I’ve said this before) but as a conclusion to a trilogy of sorts and with roles for a cadre of funny British people (Pegg, Frost, Marsan, Considine, Freeman), plus Rosamund Pike (ya feel me?), it feels desirably comfortable.

The Bad: This may sound a tad sacrilegious but Wright’s movies have this habit of turning into a bit of a slog. Case in point: Hot Fuzz is a pretty amazing idea that is executed, for the most part, very well. But then it starts tip-toeing up to the two hour mark and that ‘for the most part’ rears its head and you start wondering how many more cars you’re going to have to watch Simon Pegg jump over.

The Ugly: Eddie Marsan (I kid. I love that guy!) 

6. One Direction: This is Us

Just making sure you were still paying attention.

6. Iron Man 3

The Good: This cast. The Robert Downey Jr. factor. Shane “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, Lethal Weapon” Black. There is a lot to like here. It cannot be overstated how lucky Marvel got with the decision to cast RDJ as Tony Stark. Everything they’ve done in the last 5-6 years (Iron Man, the reasonable Thor, the fun Captain America, the Avengers) would have fallen apart and we’d be stuck talking about a possible reboot of an Affleck-less Daredevil franchise (wait, what?). Fortunately, Iron Man also survived a Mickey Rourke-sized incursion (heyo!) and managed to lure to the cast Grade A scenery chewer Sir Ben Kingsley as Mandarin. Yeehaw.

The Bad: Look, I realize that the Mandarin is the iconic Iron Man villain (besides alcoholism, and I guess Fin Fang Foom was outside of the budget) but does the idea of an Asian warlord with ten magical rings that grant their wearer a bunch of powers translate? And OK, the trailer looked good, technically speaking, but did it not feel a bit rote? Join me in the Ugly section for more.

The Ugly: Rote as in, oh yeah, Iron Man 2 was pretty bland, right? Am I the only one that remembers this?

5. Before Midnight

The Good: Have the “Before…” movies become the most unlikely film franchise in cinema history? Some brief history: Back in 1995, Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy teamed up to make Before Sunrise, a slight by charming movie about two wanderers in Europe. They reunited in 2004 for Before Sunset, and now, amazingly in 2013 for Before Midnight. The first two films are exercises in pure soft spoken romance, evoking over (real) time the blooming of a beautiful relationship. It sounds like Before Midnight will follow that trend.

The Bad: I admit that this is where my column conceit starts to stretch a little thin. If we wanted to be really mean we could get angry at a series of films that indulges that find-yourself-by-getting-lost-in-Europe aimlessness that is rewarded therein. Some people don’t have 18 years to sort out their romantic lives! We’ve got day jobs.

The Ugly: I don’t know, Julie Delpy is really French, am I right?

4. Star Trek Into Darkness

The Good: I have never been the world’s biggest Star Trek fan (my credentials: watched some Next Generation, read some Deep Space Nine fiction), but it still feels slightly crazy to see all the excitement being drummed up for this latest Trek reinvention. Credit where credit is due, J.J. Abrams has made Star Trek cool. Now, hold on fellow nerds! I realize we don’t want every slack-jawed bro high-fiving in Klingon, but if we all can relax a second it gets easy to admit the truth. Sometimes it is supremely rewarding to see cultural vindication in this way; something we enjoyed in the past and knew was cool all along is now a huge, huge deal. I’ve got no trouble with that.

The Bad: Now be honest, have there ever been two really great Star Trek movies in a row? I lost track of the even/odd curse (Wrath of Khan: good, Final Frontier: bad), especially after that run in the late 90s and 2000s (Insurrection, Nemesis). Can we be worried that every long term project that Abrams has been involved in has gotten progressively worse as he quietly eased on to the next? Ah, what am I talking about? It boils down to how many stiff Chris Pine lines you can deal with and…

The Ugly: … lens flares. My god, the lens flares.

3. Elysium

The Good: The moment this movie made the jump to #3 was approximately around the time I saw Matt Damon get bolted into whatever the hell that wiry spine mech suit is. That’s movie magic, people. Immediately, Elysium evolved from some airy, nebulous concept film about class warfare and a decadent space station into a suddenly tactile, gripping looking futuristic classic-to-be. To indulge my inner Hubie Brown for a second: we know Neill Blomkamp can do high-concept science fiction films with a lived-in production aesthetic, we know Matt Damon is a charismatic movie star, we know Elysium has got what it takes to be a great team, er, movie.

The Bad: Should we be worried about a sophomore slump? Or does the access to greater resources (budgets! CGI! Matt Damon!) mark Blomkamp as a filmmaker primed to be brought low by excess? Am I reaching here? These Bad and Ugly entries would start to feel very arbitrary if not for our next entry.

The Ugly: I’m ready to believe this will actually be the best of this entire Top 10. The only reason it is not #1 are because of, well, #2 and #1. How’s that for a dodge?

2. Man of Steel

The Good: Watch the trailer again. Feel those chills up your spine? They happen for me right when the last son of Krypton starts in on his speech (ending in a gracious cadence with “What do you think?”). Should we be tired of another origin story? Sure! Does this trailer wipe away those concerns? Yes! I, for one, welcome the idea of a Superman who is treated as an alien first, a being from another planet. I love the idea of a Lois Lane who is trying to cobble together the story of some mysterious figure saving lives across the country. And I especially like Michael Shannon as a crazed General Zod hell-bent on destroying the Jor-El bloodline. Toss in some finely aged Kevin Costner and now you’ve really got something that feels invincible.

The Bad: We’re going to have to address the Zack Snyder issue, right? The further I get from his previous “comic” movies (Watchmen, 300) the less esteem I hold for them. Watchmen, one of my favourite books, was actually undone by being completely buried in comic verisimilitude. The film felt strangled by its own legacy and to be honest, it felt like Synder had read it and learned all the wrong lessons anyway (the totally tone deaf and obvious ‘period’ soundtrack didn’t help). As for 300, have you had an urge to watch it again? What’s that? No? Yeah, me neither. My point is, the degree of difficulty for a Superman movie in 2013 feels pretty high and, unlike Spider-Man and Batman (both of whom can be more easily couched in coming of age stories), Superman needs to be both small-town humane and planet smashing epic. We’re talking about a scope of range that Snyder has so far appeared to lack.

The Ugly: The trailers for all of Synder’s previous movies have been awesome, too. The films, ehhh, not so much.

Looks great, but it's not #1!

Looks great, but it’s not #1!

1. Only God Forgives

The Good: Total homer pick. Have I mentioned that Drive was my favourite movie of 2011? How about that I love crime movies, especially when they involve some mute ronin-type, bent by a code or revenge? At this point, Nicolas Winding Refn is this generation’s cinematic mad scientist, like a cross between the insane parts of Werner Herzog (watch Valhalla Rising and tell me that Herzog wouldn’t love it) and the calculating parts of Steven Soderbergh. This film is about.. ahhh, I don’t even know. Ryan Gosling is a brawler in Thailand, his mother is Kristen Scott Thomas and they are filmed, in lush drunk colour, by Refn. Watch the trailer. What else is there to say? Oh, I know: wanna fight?

The Bad: I feel vaguely disappointed that Refn couldn’t find a way to work in all of the great supporting actors he had in Drive. Won’t somebody think of Albert Brooks?!

The Ugly: When you operate as a cinematic mad scientist, sometimes things can blow up in your face.

And on that note: enjoy the summer cinema explosion, everyone!

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