A: Excellent All Around
It could be argued that the best of the season came early. Iron Man 3 combined out of left field humor, involving character development and dazzling effects better than the rest of its blockbuster competition. Comic book fans complained at the offbeat approach writer/director Shane Black took in portraying the villainous Mandarin (played, in every sense of the word, by Ben Kingsley). The character could have been another Asian stereotype or interchangeable comic book villain. Instead, Black allowed the element of surprise to overrule the fanboys checklist of expectations–just one of several touches that made his warped superhero comedy the season’s best. Although it only played at the Maul Mall Theater for a total of four days, the sublime, sophisticated and hilarious Before Midnight is a must for romantics. Monsters University matched the hysterically funny ingenuity of its predecessor and one of the best jocks vs. brains farces since Revenge of the Nerds.
B: Above Average and Good All Around
After a few iffy X-Men spin-offs, The Wolverine was a real step up for the character. The bullet train chase is one of the best action sequences of the summer, matched only by the Iron Man 3 free-fall rescue. Star Trek Into Darkness lacked the heart of the first 2009 reboot but, for the most part, Trekkies old and new walked away satisfied. This is The End played like a great, live action South Park episode and The Conjuring jolted audiences by providing something missing from most recent horror movies: great actors, the absence of gore and big fat scares.
C+: Better Than Expected
The famously re-tooled ending of World War Z still didn’t work. No matter. Brad Pitt’s on-the-run charisma, the scary introduction, the Israel invasion and airline assault scenes made the movie. Even if it’s arguable which in the series is the dumbest, Fast and Furious 6 was so exciting, it left audiences panting for part 7. It’s official: Tokyo Drift, all is forgiven.
C: Painfully Average, Watchable at Best
World War Z survived months of bad press and pre-release naysayers but The Lone Ranger got hit by a silver bullet right out of the gate. Even with a game-for-anything Johnny Depp, a gritty approach to reviving a western and a stunt-packed finale, it couldn’t match the more-is-more enjoyment of the first Jack Sparrow installment. Simply put, it wasn’t fun. Neither was the dreary, in-your-face The Great Gatsby. Leonardo DiCaprio’s superb performance wasn’t matched by his co-stars, a never flatter Tobey Maguire and the chemistry-free zone that is Carey Mulligan. Finally, the goodwill of District 9 can only carry the trying-too-hard Elysium so far.
D: Below Average
The Best thing about Bruce Willis’ RED 2? It was better than The Whole Ten Yards and G.I. Joe Retaliation. The amusing but unexceptional R.I.P.D. looked like a dud months ago but who would’ve thought The Hangover Part III would crash and burn? The Wolf Pack is officially dead.
Will Smith fans tolerated Seven Pounds and Men in Black 3 but finally put their foot down with the agonizing After Earth. It didn’t deserve comparison to Battlefield: Earth, which is actually a preferable bad movie with more entertainment value. Another fiasco was Pacific Rim from a slumming it Guillermo Del Toro, the great director whose film played like a murky stroll down the aisles at Toys R Us. Finally, the heartbreaking letdown of the season, Man of Steel–Zac Snyder’s action-heavy take on Superman was endless, chaotic, charm-free, and devoid of romance. All of these stink bombs failed to give us characters worth rooting for, stories worth caring about and films worth remembering.
Photo of After Earth: Movieweb