A summer-y of 2018 summer films
This was a year of box office records. “Black Panther” became the ninth-highest grossing film of all time with a $1.3 billion take; “Incredibles 2” became the highest non-PG-13 grosser of all time besides a list of box office records in the animation genre; “Avengers: Infinity War” conquered theaters worldwide with a claim on the $2 billion milestone. Additionally, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” the deep dive into the life of beloved children’s entertainer Fred Rogers, became the top-grossing biographical documentary of all time at $20 million. Average per-screen grosses were also very impressive with the releases of “Eighth Grade,” “Sorry to Bother You,” “BlacKkKlansman,” and the 50th anniversary re-release of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Let’s begin with the three major comic book movies. I’d say that all were, at minimum, fun times to be had with creative action sequences, well-executed emotional beats, and entertaining stories. “Infinity War” clearly stands out in front of “Deadpool 2” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” It may be that it was a product 10 years in the making, similar to the Harry Potter films, but I found “Infinity War” very satisfying and engaging— so much so that it pulled me out of my superhero fatigue and made me excited for part two next May.
While we’re on the topic of film franchise fatigue, let’s discuss “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” Its serviceable technical performance and bland characters aside, it was a movie nobody asked for. Same goes for “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again,” “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” “Ocean’s 8,” and “Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado.”
Other duds included “Tag,” “Skyscraper,” “The Meg,” and “Christopher Robin.” The only one I deem a success is “Mission Impossible: Fallout,” an entry I believe to be the best in the franchise. Ever since the third, they’ve been increasing in quality. They skillfully mask redundant and predictable characters and plot with thrilling fight choreography, death-defying stunts and exciting editing.
Let’s move on to the independent films. Some standouts that I saw were “Tully,” “First Reformed,” “Leave No Trace,” “Upgrade” and “Eighth Grade.” “Tully,” the story of a modern mother’s exhausting life in a nuclear-age family, offered a terrific screenplay and performance by Charlize Theron. It was charming but predictable. “First Reformed” did the same, with Ethan Hawke as the lead and “Taxi Driver” writer Paul Schrader as writer-director. It featured heavy themes relating to guilt and hope in an unjust world. “Leave No Trace” left me speechless with its poignant story of a man and his daughter forced to re-enter society after living in the woods for most of the daughter’s life. The performances by Ben Foster and child actor Thomasin McKenzie were heartbreaking; they longed for peace in a disheveled word.
“Upgrade” was a small sci-fi action film that was wildly original and very well executed, considering its budget. If it had just a little more money to hire better actors, this imaginative and tight script could have gotten the final product it deserved. “Eighth Grade” was a darkly comedic and inventive debut from contemporary comedian Bo Burnham. Breakout child actor Elsie Fisher stole the show with her portrayal of life as an eighth grader living with her father, played by Josh Hamilton. All of these films impressed audiences because they were all wholly original and made by writer-directors. Their strong performances are correlated with their focus on a singular vision of storytelling.
Sometimes, originality can go too far, which is how I felt about “Sorry to Bother You.” The wildly scattered tone and exhausting pace left a bad taste in my mouth. This film was just an onslaught of weird plots and meta storytelling techniques. Director Boots Riley tried to say too much, leaving nothing to resonate with the audience.
The winners of this summer were “American Animals,” a film based on four men who attempt an audacious art heist, and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” the aforementioned Mr. Rogers documentary. “American Animals” was a gripping crime drama that used a unique storytelling tool which I will not spoil. The performances were all-around convincing and engaging, especially those of Evan Peters and Ann Dowd. The use of an unreliable narrator and a creative script made for some emotionally complex and structurally distinct scenes. Some may be tough to swallow, but nonetheless are well done.
“Neighbor” brought light, optimism and hope for humanity into an otherwise cold and depressing world. It was refreshing to see a person so deeply and genuinely caring for other people, something we don’t really witness anymore. The life of Mr. Rogers was brought to life by Oscar-winning documentarian Morgan Neville, showing the undying love he had for children and the innocence of wanting the best for our future and our community. It makes one excited for the biopic starring no one better than Tom Hanks as Rogers. The summer had many lows and quite a few highs. However, I wasn’t as emotionally invested in these movies as I was invested in movies during previous years. Most were charming, some were fun, but nothing has tugged on my heart strings like “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” has.