Words by Harry Moore
Summer is the time of year where cineplexes are usually loaded with blockbusters. However, the summer season this year has seen a trail of busts limp their way through theaters in what was supposed to be Hollywood’s triumphant return to full force following the pandemic. Several of the studio tent poles have collapsed under the weight of their lofty budgets and middling receptions from critics and audiences, none more so than Warner Bros. much delayed, and even more maligned, superhero bomb “The Flash.” It was a long road to release for Andrés Muschietti, who also directed the two-part adaptation of Stephen King’s “It,” that ended with a faceplant at the box office and a forgettable shrug of a movie that is derivative of other works in the genre. Like several other recent superhero films, “The Flash” jumps into the multiverse, which allows for the appearance of heroes of films past, like Michael Keaton who returns as Batman — over 30 years after Tim Burton’s depiction of the character. For people of a certain age, Keaton is still regarded as the definitive big screen version of Bruce Wayne, and he’s also the highlight of this film, as he seamlessly slips back into his nervy take on the Dark Knight, but the actor and this celebrated version of the character are deserving of a better curtain call than this overly long slog. Unfortunately, Keaton wasn’t the main focus of this film; it was Ezra Miller.
Much has been made of the accusations of Miller’s disturbing, seemingly criminal behavior off screen, but the focus here is on their performance in the film — which is just as abhorrent. From the moment they’re on screen, Miller gives a grating and, frankly, annoying performance as Barry “The Flash” Allen, making the lead character who is in almost every frame of the film incredibly off-putting and almost impossible to root for. This is a hard obstacle to overcome for even the greatest film, but the nature of the time traveling/multiverse-centric plot causes “The Flash” to double down on the character with a second, somehow even more irritating, version of Allen becoming, essentially, the co-lead of the film. I have sympathy for Sasha Calle, who should have been enjoying her big break with the debut as Supergirl by bringing a unique presence to the film, but it is likely that this will be the first and last time we see her in the role. “The Flash” represents a nadir of modern event filmmaking, a bloated epic with a reliance on excessive CGI and a greater interest in being a vehicle for cameos of famous characters than in telling a cohesive and engaging story.
On the opposite end of the multiverse spectrum sits Sony Animation’s “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” one of the few outright box office successes of the summer. The sequel to the 2018 surprise hit continues the adventures of the Brooklyn Spider-Man Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) as he travels to different dimensions, encountering a secret society of countless other spider men, women and other beings. “Across the Spider-Verse” is, in my mind, a masterpiece that rubs shoulders with the likes of “The Dark Knight” in the genre and pushes the medium of animation forward. The film seamlessly integrates multiple art styles, utilizing computer animation, hand-drawn illustrations, watercolors and many others — sometimes all at once — to bring the various universes to life. “Across the Spider-Verse” isn’t just a visual feast: It fires on all cylinders. The ambitious narrative could have easily spun out of control, but it remains engaging and filled with genuine heart, balancing its out of this world story with the universal theme of seeking belonging. The voice cast is exemplary. Moore has played a big part in turning Miles Morales into a household name alongside Peter Parker; Hailee Steinfeld shows once again that she should give up trying to be a mediocre pop star and focus on being an excellent actor; Jake Johnson is arguably the best big screen Peter Parker; while series newcomers Daniel Kaluuya and Oscar Isaac steal scenes in their respective parts. It is a decisively modern film, brilliantly scored by hip-hop super producer Metro Boomin who does some of the best work of his career while showing he’s unafraid to revel in and dissect the Spider-Man mythology in a way that shows there are generations of people who have been raised on these stories. Each and every frame of the film is a work of art that belongs in a museum.
Which brings us to “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” the fifth and final outing in the iconic adventure series … Harrison Ford returns for one last ride and gives a reliably charismatic performance for the swansong of his famous character. “Dial of Destiny” marks the first Indy outing not to be directed by Steven Spielberg. And it shows. While James Mangold, who helmed this film, is an exceptionally talented director who has made several great films in his career, his ability to orchestrate action sequences and conjure indelible images pales in comparison to Spielberg — as almost every filmmaker ever does. It is a solid adventure, if a little bit of a rendition of past hits from the series. Nevertheless, it’s a fun movie with a surprisingly moving final scene.
Elsewhere this summer we’ve had Jennifer Lawrence’s R-rated comedy “No Hard Feelings,” which showcases Lawrence as a decent comic lead and underlines her charms as a movie star, even if it is unlikely to usher in a return of broad comedies into the multiplex. Recreating the euphoric pandemonium of seeing a film like “The Hangover,” for example, with a crowd full of people scream laughing feels almost impossible in the current era.
“Transformers: Rise of the Beast” is a decent reboot and far from the worst of the series, and stars Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback are both charming. I also enjoyed the ‘90s East Coast rap soundtrack, even if the needle drops felt about as obvious as a Spotify playlist.
And finally, Wes Anderson’s “Asteroid City” is a decent outing for the director that fits comfortably amongst the other works of his filmography.
It remains to be seen if the back half of the summer will save any of Hollywood’s blushes at the box office.