A Satisfactory Season

Summer 2017’s underrated blockbusters deserved more love

Movies | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

The 2017 summer season is ending with a whimper. As I’m writing this, the very average The Hitman’s Bodyguard has been leading the box office for two weeks in a row, with a shot to make it three.

The curiously mediocre ending for this year’s blockbuster season doesn’t reflect its quality. The batting average has been unusually high, in spite of several films coasting on previous installments (looking at you, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales). This doesn’t mean audiences showed up — so far 2017 is well behind 2015 and 2016 in terms of domestic gross, and may not beat them even with a new Star Wars film on deck.

Here is my profoundly unscientific breakdown of the summer season.

BEST BLOCKBUSTER: DUNKIRK

No surprise. Christopher Nolan is incapable of phoning it in — every movie he makes pushes the envelope. Dunkirk manipulates time and uses IMAX to enhance the film’s dramatic weight. Nolan is ambitious but his risks are calculated. He’s also well on his way to passing Spielberg as the most fascinating blockbuster filmmaker. RUNNER-UP: BABY DRIVER Great film, more on it in a bit.

WORST SUMMER FILM: THE MUMMY

Poorly written and badly directed by Alex Kurtzman, The Mummy fails to establish even the most basic rules for a monster movie (motivation, powers, weaknesses). To add insult to injury, the Tom Cruise vehicle was expected to kick off Universal’s “Dark Universe”, an idea that now feels increasingly terrible. Then again, The Mummy did okay abroad on the strength of Cruise’s appeal, so prepare for a couple more tries. RUNNERS-UP: THE EMOJI MOVIE, BAYWATCH, THE BAD BATCH So much competition for the crud crown even without bringing up those Caribbean pirates.

MOST UNFAIR RAP: THE DARK TOWER

I’m not saying this adaptation of Stephen King’s seminal work is a masterpiece, but given the magnitude of the source material (seven books and a number of companion pieces), The Dark Tower is entertaining enough for a summer romp. If nothing else, Idris Elba is a terrific gunslinger. I would put money on new readers grabbing the books because of the movie. RUNNER-UP: ALIEN: COVENANT It was horrifying and made more sense than Prometheus. What else do you want?

WORST TREND: SHARED UNIVERSES

Not everything needs or deserves its own galaxy, people. RUNNER-UP: JOHN WICK-LIKE MOVIES THAT ARE NOT JOHN WICK Accept no substitutes.

BEST MOVIE NOBODY SAW: A GHOST STORY

Granted, summer might not be the best time for a meditation on infinity and legacy, but A Ghost Story packs a punch that reverberates for weeks. It’s a transcendental experience that will land in my top 10 of the year. It’s got both the most heartbreaking scene and a scare for the ages. RUNNER-UP: THE BEGUILED A solid movie about love, war, betrayal and mushrooms.

BEST CHARACTER: BABY, BABY DRIVER

The summer’s most fun flick was spearheaded by quirky/cool kid, hyper competent at being bad but a good guy at heart. Actor Ansel Elgort drives circles around the competition. RUNNER-UP: BABY’S NEMESIS, BUDDY The best trick Baby Driver pulls is turning the presumably friendly Buddy (Jon Hamm) into a vicious killer. Movies are never better than when they pit two excellent creations against each other.

BIGGEST LETDOWN: DETROIT

Kathryn Bigelow’s latest is cinematic and excruciatingly tense but its unorthodox structure weakens the film’s impact. Detroit also takes dubious dramatic licenses (changing the perpetrators’ names, making Melvin Dismukes the hero) that over-simplifies the real-life incident. RUNNER-UP: FURIOUS 8. I’m okay with silly and preposterous, not with by-the-numbers.

BEST SUPERHERO FLICK: SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING

Yes, I know: where’s Wonder Woman? Sure, it’s a considerable improvement over previous chapters of the DC Cinematic Universe. Then again, any marginally coherent story would beat Batman v Superman or the nearly unwatchable Suicide Squad. Wonder Woman builds a solid central character but the third act isn’t great, particularly the uninteresting confrontation with Ares. By comparison, Spidey hasn’t been this fun, or smart, in ages.  RUNNER-UP: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, VOL 2  Guardians 2, which builds on the first romp as opposed to remaking it and calling it a sequel, is also better than Wonder Women in my book. #Sorrynotsorry

BEST HORROR FILM: IT COMES AT NIGHT

I admire movies that don’t compromise. At my screening, people were angry at the conclusion of this zombie-movie-without-actual-zombies, but it’s the sequence that stays with you. It Comes at Nights pessimistic view of the human condition is no crowd pleaser but it rings true. RUNNER-UP: ALIEN: COVENANT For all the film’s shortcomings, aliens remain prime nightmare material.

MY BIGGEST SCREW-UP:

I gave Transformers: The Last Knight three out of five. I blame mixing alcohol with medication. ❧