2013 had the misfortune of being the post-Avengers/Dark Knight Rises year, meaning that 1) few of the movies of this year benefited from the flood of eager anticipation that awaited those two titans, and 2) pretty much all of them were doomed to suffer from the “That’s-nice-but-other-movies-have-done-it-too” syndrome that plagues many an action franchise. Personally, I thought it was an okay year for big-budget superhero movies. There were a few I enjoyed, a few that set my teeth on edge, one that had me calling for more, and a few that I just could not care enough about to see. Which ones fall into which categories? I guess you’ll just have to keep reading to find out. This is my personal report card for this year’s lineup of superhero/action flicks (no, I’m not waiting for Thor 2 to do this, the idea will get stale by then).
The following grades were determined using a variety of factors, including (but not limited to): level of contrivance/cliché/stealing in the story or plot, quality of lead acting, creativity in the action department, amount of shaky-cam, and which level of AWESOME each film succeeded in achieving (also known as the F*** YEAH test).
Oh yeah, and spoilers. Just in case. Each grade is followed by a link to my full review of the movie.
Pacific Rim: A (see full review)
Yep, this is still the best action film of the year by far, and although I am genuinely excited about seeing Thor, Loki, and the Doctor square off against each other, I highly doubt it will top this loud, in-your-face, blessing of a monster flick. I’ve never been a fan of the monster movie franchise, but if there was ever a film to get me into it, this would be it. Creative set-up, interesting world that isn’t overly explained, simple but solid characters/relationships/conflicts, and fantastic action- I can’t ask more than that. I was particularly glad that nearly all the fight scenes were shot at nighttime- the fact that we rarely completely see the monsters gave the Kaiju an extra level of mystery. Del Toro has not ruled out a sequel, but I would be perfectly happy if they let this film be a great film and end it at that. I’ve rarely cheered so loudly in a theater before.
Elysium: B (see full review)
Honestly, the biggest thing that held this one back for me was the blessed shaky cam. If Blomkamp had succeeded better in delivering top-notch, R-rated sci-fi smackdowns, I would be much more willing to forgive Elysium it’s various other flaws; the rushed character developments and conflicts, how little of Earth and Elysium we actually see, Jodie Foster completely phoning in her performance as the right-wing conspiracy theorist, those bizarre-ass cherry trees in the final fight scene (really? Cherry trees in the middle of a warehouse? And they just happen to be blooming NOW?), etc. Sadly, even when the fight scenes do come around, aside from a few excellent bits involving guns that I want right now, it’s nearly all shaky and stirry and completely indecipherable until after the final blows have landed. Better luck next time Niell.
Ironman 3: B- (see full review)
I’m being very charitable with this one. I enjoy Downey’s Tony-Stark-a-thon as much as anybody, but this is the movie where he finally stretches the persona to its douchebaggy breaking point (or that could have been the writers. Who knows). Plus, I’m really, really sick of seeing Pepper Pots (thus far the ONLY interesting female character in the entire Avengers franchise) get pushed to the side in increasingly insulting ways (yeah, I said it, the ONLY one. Come at me bro). I’ll give the film credit for bending over backwards to make up for that by literally having her save the day in place of Tony, but even that is almost immediately ruined by her horrible follow-up line- “Oh my God! That was really dangerous! Come Tony, protect me with your big, strong man arms!”
That said, the action was creative, especially the bits where Tony fights with only half his suit on, the finale does deliver on the ‘ol razzle-and-dazzle, the banter is as crackly as ever, and I personally enjoyed the slower second act, where Tony befriends a young admirer of his while in hiding. And then there’s Ben Kingsley. Who was perfection in a beer can. So on the whole, I’ll give it a pass.
Oh yeah, and War Machine exists. Not that anyone can really tell. Ahem.
Didn’t see it. Do not care. See also Riddick, Furious 6, After Earth, The Lone Ranger, and Kickass 2.
Star Trek Into Darkness: C (see full review)
Into Darkness has the dubious distinction of being, as far as I can remember, the first time I was actually glad I’d had the ending spoiled for me before going to the theater, because if I’d gone into it cold, it could very well have killed the entire film for me. Not that the terrible, terrible ending was the only problem with the movie- screen time between the characters is horribly imbalanced, Kirk is never forced to actually take responsibility for his actions, and the f***ing lens flares all over the damn screen were big distractions, to name just a few. I also heard later than Abrams had criticized the original Star Trek for being “too smart.” I hope that’s not true, because if it is, I will need to find him and punch him. Hard. Despite all that, though, I still maintain it’s far from the worst Star Trek movie- the franchise has suffered plenty of sad excuses for films, and it will survive this one. At least the actors are still bringing it- if it hadn’t been for the KHAAAAAN shout, Uhura’s and Scotty’s performances during Kirk’s death might have saved the scene from itself. And the music is great.
Man of Steel: D+ (see full review)
I don’t hate this movie. Really, I don’t- I’m not invested enough in any of the superhero franchises to be “hurt” by a particularly bad or problematic one. However, this still gets the worst grade of the summer in my book because it’s the only action movie of the year that I honestly don’t ever want to see again (yes, I’d even rewatch Into Darkness, if only to laugh at it). Some of the action is good, Shannon’s Zod is a blast to watch, and Cavill himself is a pretty decent Superman, but boy, did this movie need to lighten up. A lot. And it also really, really needed to drop the Lois Lane and the Daily Planet entirely. I very much want to see a movie that turns me into a Superman fan. Man of Steel came close, once- the scene where Clark finally pushes himself to fly was the only moment of pure magic the film had, and it was gone all too quickly.
And those are my grades for the only action movies of the year I could be bothered to see (and could afford to). Will I ever watch any of the others, given the chance? Possibly. Except Lone Ranger. And Furious 6. Or Kickass 2. Or Riddick. So, probably none of them.
Up next, my review of Blue Jasmine! Finally, the great English-language films of the year are coming out.