22 July 2016

Lights Out Beyond Collision Course

It's amazing that all those movie titles make a sort of coherent sentence. As unbelievable as it may sound, we're nearly gearing up for the end of July. There's not all that much Summer left, folks, and while I'm basically just waiting around until Suicide Squad (2016) to sate whatever blockbuster-lust I have left and Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) to satisfy my desire to see a good movie, there are a slew of releases this week that I don't totally care about, but may actually end up being pretty good. In general it just seems as if this weekend has been an afterthought after some more profile hits (and misses) like Finding Dory (2016), Independence Day: Resurgence (2016), The Legend of Tarzan (2016), and Ghostbusters (2016). This is emblematic of summer blockbuster fatigue, but the conversation just doesn't seem to be about anything coming out this week, despite their high profile.

That being said, these are all very different releases targeting different audiences. We've got horror, animation, and action all in one big mix. Audiences have already seen plenty of all three this summer so it's still to be seen if they'll respond again. Animation especially has seen some huge dividends. Can the fifth Ice Age movie churn them out? Let's go through each release one by one.

First we have Lights Out (2016) which appears in equal measure scary and goofy, the latter unintentionally so. It's kind of a cool presence - some ghost or whatever that only comes out when the lights are off. That's basically a Boo from Super Mario. But these Boos are scary as fuck, or at least they're supposed to be. Although it's probably intended to be a horrifying look at something we do every night without thinking twice (turning on and off lights), it comes off as more gimmicky and silly. A critical drubbing is almost guaranteed. I'd also suggest that this doesn't stay in culture that long. It doesn't even really have a foothold now.

Commercially, it's tough to say. A banal horror flick like this in October or January could get some play. But off the heels of The Conjuring 2 (2016), The Shallows (2016), and The Purge: Election Year (2016), audiences could be horror'd out. Sure these are all pretty different besides The Conjuring 2, but that feeling is there. There's also nothing really here to make Lights Out stand out as anything worth watching. Even though the concept is sort of fresh, it feels like a played out ruse.
Oh wait...

Moving on, let's talk about Ice Age: Collision Course (2016), which is so damn improbably the fifth installment in a franchise that began on the backs of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, and Denis Leary back in 2002. It's really a bizarre collection of characters and concepts that has grown year after year. It's amazing that the franchise has had this steady pace, with every film coming out three or four years after the one before it, yet at a remarkably steady pace with plenty of variety to distinguish each picture.

Domestically, the Ice Age movies aren't really much to get excited about. No film as grossed over $200 million, although The Meltdown (2006) and Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009) came very close. Globally, though, the past two installments netted an average of about $880 million, which is stunning. This is like, the only work Ray Romano has had in ten years besides Men of a Certain Age and his cameo in Funny People (2009). It's stunning that this franchise has had so many legs.

Now, these films are objectively pretty bad and don't really offer any sort of thematic value for kids, but I'll always appreciate them for leaning a bit more into cartoon-y over-the-top-ness than a Pixar film every would. Blue Sky Studios, which is FOX's animation wing, has always seemed more interested in telling goofy stories over good stories, which isn't wholly a bad thing. I am 100% on #TeamScrat, and his adventures have proven to be classic silent comedy reminiscent of the Golden Age of Warner Bros Animation. It's brilliantly random how the use the little Sabre-Toothed Squirrel as interstitials from the main action, although his acorn obsession almost always affects the main characters. It's a really good move and if anything I'm looking forward to seeing what kind of Scrat shit we get, although it looks like it's mostly already been dropped - what with the Scrat in space for reasons that completely escape me.

The series is also notable for just how bad the original looks. Seriously, Ice Age (2002) looks substantially worse than Toy Story (1995). That might be because all the animals were tougher to animate than plastic toys, but Pixar chose plastic and bugs as its first CGI subjects for a reason. Ice Age looks like a bad CD-ROM game.

Yet, unassumingly and surprisingly, that really crappy-looking film has exploded into a legit franchise. It's almost assuredly going to make bank worldwide, but actually in the wake of other talking animal animated films like Zootopia (2016), The Angry Birds Movie (2016), Finding Dory, and The Secret Life of Pets (2016), does it really stand a chance? I doubted The Secret Life of Pets when it came out, thinking that audiences had already had their fill, but that flick rolled in the dough. Can parents stretch their legs for one more? This summer has been really unkind to sequels, although Finding Dory is a solid exception to that rule. This could swing either way, but the premise seems new again and fun again, so I might think it does decent business. I'm sure that critically it'll get pounded and culturally it'll kind of merge into our collective interpretation of Ice Age. Did you even know this was the fifth? It's like the Resident Evil or Underworld of animated films.
This goes out to Ol' Fright Night himself

Finally we have what would feel like the big hitter this weekend, Star Trek Beyond (2016). JJ Abrams made everyone care about Star Trek again while also crossing it over into legit action blockbuster territory. This is of course not really what the original Star Trek was all about, but whatever. Despite a somewhat lackluster anti-climactic ending, the new cast proved out good they were cast, made each role their own, and set out to chart a new continuity in a way that would only really work for Star Trek.

Abrams followed up all this goodwill with Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), which just seemed awful in way but that Space Jump. That Space Jump was gnarly. But the whole thing seemed to miss the mark, both thematically, and in its overreaching attempt to emulate The Wrath of Khan (1982) for no real reason besides ways convenience and provoking nostalgia. Of course, the issue is that it wasn't actually nostalgia, because this Khan isn't anything like Montalban's Khan besides his name. The whole thing is shoehorned, and while that's not the only issue with the film, it's what emerged the most in the cinematic discussion that followed.

That brings us a few years later to Beyond, which really felt like a film that would never get made. Abrams left for The Force Awakens (2015), which his really where he belonged (even though the episodic [ironically so] nature of Star Trek would seem to play more to his creative sensibilities), and was replaced by the Fast & Furious' savior, Justin Lin. I have never seen any of Lin's other work besides episodes of Community and True Detective (let that combo sink in for a bit), but presumably he knows how to handle a large cast of characters and give them all little moments in a big ensemble.

The reviews for Beyond are actually pretty decent, but I feel like it'll become the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) of this year. A well-reviewed and rewarding late July release that for some reason never quite connects in a memorable way that makes okay but not great money at the box office. I haven't totally been sold on the trailers so far - it does seem to invoke an interesting concept of the Federation pushing against the Frontier, but what does that mean? Why is that important? Why is Idris Elba hidden behind a crazy white Green Goblin monster mask? The anticipation doesn't feel like it's there.

So there you go. Three wtf movies that could go big or completely stumble. Sequels have been demolished this season (well, non-Disney sequels). Has it been long enough between Ice Age and Star Trek installments that people are jonesing for another go around? My guess is no. What's yours?

1 comment:

  1. Yeah I had no idea that "Ice Age" was such a hit internationally. I'm not a fan the series at all, but I knew some folks really liked the first one. But since then I haven't heard anyone buzzing about these movies. The international gross is the only reason we are getting sequels.

    "Star Trek Beyond" is an odd one. There has been a few folks I know who are excited to see it. But that first trailer really killed the excitement for the film with the Trek fans I know. It just confirmed all their fears about Lin in the directors chair. The follow up trailers were better, but I really think a lot of old school Trek fans are in wait and see mode. What that will translate to in the box office, yeah I think you're comparison to "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is right on the money.

    I actually think "Into Darkness" holds up pretty well to repeat viewings. There's more going on in that film that people give it credit for. But it is hard to look past the whole Khan issue.


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