Isn’t It Time For Fun Summer Blockbusters Again?
With the summer movie season now in full gear, we all have our personal watch-lists ready and poised for deployment. As with every year, there are the inevitable stinkers, some of which will be surprisingly good, and there are the sure-fire hits, some of which will be disappointingly terrible, but everyone’s list has one similarity – summer just isn’t as fun as it used to be. But the differing success of two recent releases has suggested that the trend of relentlessly gritty and dark blockbusters may be starting to dissolve.
A quick glance at the summer schedule demonstrates just how solemn blockbusters have become – no longer an arena for the silly blockbusters of yesteryear. Nothing demonstrates this more than Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger, which has taken a television show legendary for being gloriously camp and made it into a dark western epic that nobody wanted to see. It confirms our worst suspicions about Hollywood’s remake culture, with interesting ideas being beaten down until they’re boring and forgettable.
Verbinski’s other big franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean, started off as the sort of family blockbuster that used to dominate the summer months, but got darker and darker as it went on. It looks as though the director has tried the same tricks for The Lone Ranger, right down to casting Johnny Depp as the hero’s comedic sidekick, but he’s also made the same mistakes. The message has been sent – audiences are growing tired of anything dark and anything gritty – it’s time to make that trip to the cool air-conditioned paradise of a summer’s evening fun again.
We live in a time when Superman doesn’t wear pants, The Wolverine has been re-pitched as a samurai revenge tale and teen fantasy romance movies prioritise gothic tone over anything else. The Lone Ranger hasn’t been a success at the box office, which isn’t really a surprise to anyone paying attention, but there are some glimmers of lightness that suggest the current trend could be turning around. The biggest one is Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, which puts fun and spectacle before anything else and has become the movie of the summer already.
I’m all for blockbusters coming with a side of smarts, but when that comes at the expense of entertainment value then someone somewhere is doing something seriously wrong. Pacific Rim stood out to audiences from its very first trailer – from the moment Idris Elba announced he was “cancelling the apocalypse” – and people were clambering over themselves to catch a sci-fi that remembered to not take itself too seriously. Has it proven that the Dark Knight-effect has finally worn off, and we’re allowed to turn our brains off and just enjoy a popcorn film again?
There will always be comedies, and there will always be bad genre cinema, but what we’ve been missing for years is the crowd-pleasing family film that pleases everyone without fancying itself more profound and meaningful than it needs to be. Hurrah for Pacific Rim, The World’s End and Kick-Ass 2, and let’s start enjoying summer again.