In the summer that gave us fairly unimaginative superheros in the Green Lantern, Thor and Captain America — are superhero films, post-Batman and Inception allowed to be this earnest? — and a slew of predictable money-grab sequeels in Cars, Pirates, Transformers and Kung Fu Pandas, it was exciting to go into the theater and be surprised.
If you saw those movies this summer, you’re forgiven if you left the theater feeling unenthused. Most of them were spoiled in the trailer, in part because they didn’t have much else to offer besides spectacle. This is how most people like it. And that’s fine. Spectacle is often enough.
Sometimes, however, a film’s marketing team receives a good story that’s hard to market. The trailer editors have to lie and tell you it’s going to crazy: action-packed, tense, horrifying, hilarious — whatever they can pull together from 100 minutes of arty filmmaking the director put together.
It’s always nice to be surprised! Some of my favorite movies this summer did not deliver on their promise. Rise of the Planet of the Apes eased into its action-packed conclusion, delivering a measured meditation on how creatures gain political consciousness. Contagion was more muted than the overstuffed, apocalyptic insanity it promised, closer to a somber look at catastrophe from multiple, conflicting perspectives. Irish indie The Guard didn’t come close to the interracial buddy-cop romp it wanted us to think it was, more In Bruges (whose writer-producer Martin McDonagh exec-produced The Guard) than Lethal Weapon in tone.
Moderately aware filmgoers, of course, probably weren’t too surprised. After all, Contagion is a Soderbergh joint and the The Guard is an art house crowd-pleaser. The biggest jolt to the senses had to be Rise. I’d been expecting pulpy summer fun. But Rise took itself seriously, and it worked, remarkably.