26 July 2013

The Road to a Blockbuster: SNIKT!

We're getting into the last throes of July, and so the real Blockbuster Season is nearly done with. Every Friday all Summer Long we've been examining the critical, commercial, and cultural potential of each big movie that has hit the Box Office. We're not only concerned with whether or not a film's going to make any money, but whether or not we still be loving it ten or twenty years on down the line. Where is our next Ghostbusters (1984), Back to the Future (1985), or Jurassic Park (1993)? It is interesting enough that these really great Blockbuster films seem to have been canonized, without any new entries allowed. Do the films coming out today have what it takes? What do you say, Wolvie?

Logan took the red pill.
That The Wolverine (2013) exists at all is a strange phenomenon. Wolverine was already basically the star of the first three X-Men movies when he got his own spinoff, X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009). While that movie did OK at the Box Office, it's also generally accepted as one of the worst superhero flicks of all time, and not just because will.i.am has a major role. The bloated plot made no sense, it butchered longtime fan favourite characters like Deadpool, and it was somehow laced with worse CGI effects than the first X-Men film, which dropped nearly ten years prior. This movie angered me so much, that to date it's still the only film I've ever reviewed that I didn't see in theaters, because I felt so compelled to trash it.

So why am I still kind of jazzed for The Wolverine? It's the kind of experimental movie that can only come from a franchise as experienced as X-Men. By this point X-Men (2000) has almost become the grandaddy of the modern Superhero movie. Out of the three core franchise movies, two are pretty good, and after that they've been free to flex their muscles. After X-Men Origins: Wolverine tried to be a solo flick (which was really just still a team-up pic, crammed with a ridiculous number of mutant cameos), X-Men: First Class (2011) went back in time as the first period super hero film (coming out a few weeks ahead of Captain America: The First Avenger [2011]). Now, the main series is able to mix and mash up its characters in the first time-travelling superhero film in the form of the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014). This franchise is able to bend and buckle itself unlike any other modern series of films. So of course we can take a journey to Japan with no A-list supporting cast members, no mutants, and from the looks of it, no powers. Right?

That's why I'm excited about The Wolverine. It's the exact opposite of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It's a stripped down story focused on character instead of an excuse to have lots of explosions and mindless action. This also makes it a bit harder to market, but it should ultimately pay off. Could it become the greatest X-Men movie out there? The franchise is 3 for 5 on good flicks right now, which isn't too awful. Wolverine as a character is always overexposed, this happens in the comic world, too. Seeing him with a bit of depth and without the Amnesia Monkey on his back is quite refreshing.

Apparently Hugh Jackman is challenging
Matthew McConaughey for the title of
"Most Time Spent on Screen without a Shirt On"
In the best of worlds this will really be an anti-superhero movie. A closed off, contemplative experience that focused on Wolverine dealing with the massive amounts of nonsense he's graced in the previous five films. Or it will just be more of the same crap. If it's the same crap, this film is going to be a drop in the pond, especially during a summer where it has become more and more difficult for any action film to break out. In fact, no action film as really done that well since World War Z (2013), and that only did well by normal standards, not really in terms of how huge its budget was (it's about barely breaking even right now for the studio, once you factor marketing costs and theater takes). To be fair, that was only a month ago, but there has been so many others that have come in, tried, and failed since then, from White House Down (2013) all the way through to R.I.P.D. (2013). I'm feeling like we still need a little breather - here's to Elysium (2013) premiering on a clean slate. If, however, The Wolverine is actually a solid movie, it can rise above a lot of the other crap that has dropped this summer. It can be the movie it needs to be.

There are also two smaller comedies debuting this week. The To-Do List (2013) seems to be an attempt to give Aubrey Plaza a starring vehicle, but I get the sense that she's a much better supporting actress than a lead actress. It also makes me think of this really weird and awkward moment from the MTV Movie Awards a few months back. The To-Do List seems like a fairly typical teen sex comedy, which we haven't seen all that much of lately, to be honest. I'm not sure this can become a cult hit, which it really needs to be if it wants any kind of long term success.

The other comedy film, which is expanding a bit this weekend, The Way, Way Back (2013), does seem to have the makings of a cult hit, which is good. It's got a dream cast of Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney, and Maya Rudolph among others. It's also directed by the Oscar winning duo who wrote The Descendants (2011), Nat "Beerfest Germon" Faxon and Jim "Dean Pelton" Rash. It's got kind of an Adventureland (2009) summer growing up movie kind of vibe, and that shit is usually legit, especially with this kind of talent involved. Of course, its marketing has really miffed on this, but if it's solid, it'll find a way into the hearts and minds of the people who want it. Long term, broad success, though, is out of the picture.

So will you be unsheathing your claws this weekend? I feel like The Wolverine has been such an afterthought. This summer was all about Men of Steel and Iron, not Adamantium. We'll see what the pup can pull off. Stay bloodthirsty, my friends.

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