And we’re off. Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness may have jumped out of the gate early, but this is the real start of the summer movie season. First staked out by Star Wars, Memorial Day weekend is a chance to get four days of box office under a film’s belt, and to set the tone for the season. Fortunes and reputations have been made and lost on this weekend, and despite the efforts of the studios to creep further and further back into April to start unreeling their blockbusters, this weekend will always feel like the opening gun for me.
The first salvo was fired off on Thursday by The Hangover Part III. I wasn’t a big fan of the first Hangover. It was the ultimate case of “You had to be there,” where watching these guys piece together the crazy night they’d had wasn’t nearly as fun as it would have been actually watching it. It wasn’t a terrible movie, but the huge response it got baffled me. I skipped the second one, save for a brief glimpse on HBO that convinced me I hadn’t missed much. But the sequel scored big again, so now here we are with the “conclusion of the Hangover trilogy,” as if such a thing existed before the first box office reports came in back in 2009. And if this one makes as much as the other two, count on “conclusion” and “trilogy” being conveniently overlooked.
Blue Sky Studios and its parent 20th Century Fox have mostly been happy churning out Ice Age movies, leaning more towards Dreamworks than Pixar with a reliance on celebrity voices and pretty obvious stories. Their forays outside the comfort of mammoths and sloths haven’t proven as successful, but here they are trying again with Epic, a title that’s making one hell of a promise. Of course, how epic a film can be with the likes of Pitbull, Steven Tyler and Aziz Ansari providing the voices remains to be seen. Visually it does look pretty grand, but I just can’t wrap my head around some of the jarring pop culture references. That’s price too many animation studios seem willing to pay in order not to bore the adults who inevitably get dragged to these movies by their kids. Not that that’s ever been a problem with Pixar (and it’s becoming less of an issue with Dreamworks).
For my money though, the movie of the week is also the movie of the summer so far. I saw Fast & Furious 6 at a screening last night, and there were single shots in this film that got bigger reactions than Iron Man 3 and Star Trek put together. Yes, it’s a big, loud, dumb testosterone buffet, but it’s happy being a big, loud, dumb testosterone buffet. It doesn’t try to disguise itself as something it’s not, hiding its intentions under layers of seriousness. It comes right at you and says, “Things will go fast, and things will blow up. Hang on.” Like its predecessor, it doesn’t really require a whole lot of knowledge of previous entries in the series, although there are some nods that will be appreciated if you’ve seen those earlier films. And while it may have less ambition than this year’s two other blockbusters, there’s a purity and clarity in its purpose that makes it so much more fun. Man of Steel and Pacific Rim look like some likely competition, but I think I’m going to be hard-pressed to find a more entertaining movie this summer. And if the mid-credits stinger doesn’t have you anticipating the next one, you’re probably too jaded to have enjoyed it anyway.
And of course, with it being Memorial Day weekend, I’ll be doing my annual re-watch of Saving Private Ryan. I’ve already written plenty about my personal connection with this film, but it seems right to set aside the drunken revelers, the leaf-sized warriors and the muscle-bound car drivers and pay homage to some real heroes.