Summer Movie Reviews

We’ve got time to spare during the summer, and Hollywood knows it. Blockbuster after blockbuster is released during the months of June, July, and August, but chances are you didn’t get to see everything theatres had to offer. 2015 was a particularly excellent year for summer films, so here’s a guide to help you catch up on your days off.

Mad Max: Fury Road (****)

By far the best action movie to come out this summer, this year, and possibly any other year, George Miller’s fourth entry in the consistently excellent Mad Max series sees the Road Warrior helping lead an exodus of women out of harm’s way. But don’t mistake that for some kind of damsel-in-distress scenario. Tom Hardy’s version of Max is a more subdued character, letting the focus remain on butt-kicking Imperator Furiosa (played wonderfully by Charlize Theron) and her ragtag group of ladies coveted by the villainous Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, returning after his role as Toecutter in the first film). Nicholas Hoult also gives a charming performance as Nux, a rogue “War Boy” whose comic relief is amazingly both comic and a relief.

The feminist twist on the series is due in no small part to “Vagina Monologues” writer Eve Ensler’s assistance as an on-set adviser, and the story is raw and open in its humanism. Of course, Miller’s post-apocalyptic Australia is as gleefully bizarre and desolate as it ever has been, and wife Margaret Sixel’s sublime editing always gives us the best view of the anarchic action. This is a surreal piece of art that somehow got mashed with commercial action filmmaking, and it’s one of the most suspenseful, moving, and viscerally satisfying movies you’ll ever see.

Inside Out (***½)

Pixar is back on top with this superior animated film that personifies the five emotions (Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger, and Fear) present inside a little girl named Riley Andersen. The movie flips back and forth between Riley’s story, in which her family relocates from Minnesota to San Francisco, and the world of the emotions, where the disturbance caused by the move begins to upend their routine.

It’s a simple story that’s intriguing for kids and adults alike, with a number of creative allegorical devices to explain human psychology. The animation is simply beautiful, with one particularly stunning sequence reducing the characters’ dimensions and playing around with abstract art. The relationship developed between Joy and Sadness, and the eventual revelation that all emotions — even the ones we perceive as negative — are necessary, are easily the standouts in this superb piece of family entertainment.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (***½)

Who could have believed the Mission: Impossible movie series would hit such a high at its fourth film? 2011’s “Ghost Protocol” was a tense, rip-roaring thriller with a great deal of camaraderie between Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and newcomers William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg). That same team is back in “Rogue Nation,” which isn’t quite as good as the former film but still provides outrageous entertainment that blows the first three out of the water.


CIA Director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) is fed up with Hunt and friends’ destructive antics, calling for the dissolution of the IMF at a Senate hearing. His wish is granted, and naturally this couldn’t come at a worse time; the group has just discovered the existence of an international crime group known as the Syndicate, whose members include Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) and sneering lunatic Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). The movie is filled wall-to-wall with the series’ hallmark outrageous stunts, including one particularly impressive scene that takes place underwater and a brilliantly-paced mission at the opera. Amazingly, despite the certainty of the IMF’s success, the increasing absurdity of the situations continue to effectively generate suspense.

Rebecca Ferguson is easily one of the best characters in the series as Faust, in a complex and multifaceted role that is mercifully written as a beautiful friendship with Hunt rather than a romance. In one of the only missteps, Sean Harris’ Lane is more slimy and creepy than intimidating, and his villainous role is ultimately a bit of a letdown. In the end, though, this film remains better than it probably has any right to be as the fifth entry in an action franchise.

Ant-Man (***)

Paul Rudd takes on the role of the miniaturizing superhero in this latest entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which takes after the crass and self-referential humor of last year’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.” It never quite reaches the delirious heights of that film, but Ant-Man still carves a name for himself as a funny and endearing action hero. After Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) has his research used against his will by malevolent protege Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), it’s up to Scott Lang to don the titular suit and steal the tech back.

Accompanying Pym and Lang on this journey is Evangeline Lilly’s Hope van Dyne, Pym’s daughter serving as a double agent. Lilly’s performance as Dyne is easily one of the best parts of the movie; her convincing attempts to reconcile with her father provide light drama amongst the comedy and action. Less effective is her slapdash romance with Lang, unceremoniously tossed in as an afterthought near the end credits. The colorful collection of caricatures that serve as the comic are actually quite funny (led by Michael Peña having way too much fun). Almost as funny is the overacting of Stoll in a goofy and admittedly weak villain role.

“Ant-Man” plays it a bit too safe to be one of the best, but it’s still in the upper echelons of the MCU. One wonders if it would be up there with “Galaxy” had the touch of “Hot Fuzz” director Edgar Wright still been present.

Jurassic World (***)

Colin Trevorrow’s take on the “Jurassic” franchise is silly, preposterous, and the best entry since the 1993 original. Yes, this one is about a dinosaur genetically modified to be bigger and badder than the rest, and yes, it is as over-the-top and dumb as you could possibly expect. But you don’t go to a “Jurassic” movie to see its characters wax philosophical, do you?

Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard play the leads. It would be a kindness to call these actors’ roles “characters,” as they barely edge their way into two-dimensional territory and engage in exchanges of dialogue that may or may not be unintentionally hilarious. “I don’t control the raptors. It’s a relationship. It’s based on mutual respect,” says Pratt’s goofy dinosaur-trainer-dude, practically winking to the camera. “That’s why you and I never had a second date.” It comes out worse than it looks on paper.

Howard and Pratt are charming, however, which is more than you can say for the two little snots they bring along for this theme park adventure. Who are these young actors? Who cares? They’re easily the worst part of the movie, human props meant to give Howard’s strict aunty character some sort of ham-fisted character development. Apparently the writers didn’t care much for these boys either, because there’s a scene about the impending divorce of their parents in the middle of the picture that comes out of nowhere, goes nowhere, and is forgotten by the end credits.

Oh, right, but how about that good stuff?  All right, the script is lame, but it’s lame in the best kind of way, best enjoyed guffawing with one’s friends over the corny dialogue. The acting is about as good as you’d expect for writing like this, especially Vincent D’Onofrio hamming up every minute as this film’s human baddie. The CGI is better than it’s ever been, blending into Trevorrow’s expertly-directed action scenes with more realism than any film before. And yeah, the Indominus Rex is pretty cool. If only it’d taken a chunk out of those brats.