Remember the 1980s? Pee-Wee Herman. Prince. Pac-Man. It was a good decade. But what I liked best about it was that every summer we got to see great nerd-friendly films in theaters. From 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back right up to 1989’s Batman, we had ourselves an embarrassment of riches; the apex of which was 1982, which gave us E.T., The Thing, Blade Runner, Time Bandits, The Road Warrior, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Poltergeist, Conan the Barbarian, and Tron. Whew! I’m not gonna say the summer of 2014 topped that lineup. But I will say it was a better movie summer than almost any summer since the 1980s. Here are five big reasons why.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
While Captain America: The First Avenger was not without its charms, its action sequences left something to be desired. It wasn’t until Cap became a man out of time and joined The Avengers that his character was fully realized. Yet even that mega hit didn’t give us a story as finely-tuned as that of The Winter Soldier, which found directors Joe and Anthony Russo fusing ’70s conspiracy thrillers and car chases with twenty-first century pyrotechnics and a healthy dollop of trademark Marvel humor. Its script is arguably the studio’s finest to date, and every performer from Scarlett Johansson to Anthony Mackie to Robert Redford brings their A game, anchored by Chris Evans’ Sentinel of Liberty, the perfect emblem for a nation that despite its losses and despite its many mistakes still refuses to say die.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Admit it, you didn’t see this one coming, did you? I know I didn’t. In fact, if someone told me that after X-Men: The Last Stand, Wolverine: Origins, and the just-above-average The Wolverine there would be another great movie featuring the original X-Men cast, I would have said they were crazy. And if someone told me that after Superman Returns and Jack the Giant Killer Bryan Singer would make the best action movie of his career I would have called them a lunatic. Yet that’s just what we got with X-Men: Days of Future Past, a loose adaptation of the 1980s’ two-issue X-Men tale by Chris Claremont and John Byrne that somehow morphed into a gripping thriller about Xavier and Magneto’s dueling philosophies, with the soul of Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique hanging in the balance. I’m still dumbfounded that as good as the Quicksilver prison break scene was — and it was very, very good — it was ultimately just a throwaway scene. A mere cherry on a sundae of terrific scripting, performances, and effects.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes won plenty of praise, and rightly so, as it rebooted the forty-year-old Apes franchise and returned it to its morality-tale roots after Tim Burton’s 2001 misfire. But Matt Reeves’ Dawn is far more confident installment, presenting a simple tale of two species searching for common ground, against the nostalgic spectacle of gun-toting monkeys on horseback. With the English language unheard for much of the film’s running time, it succeeds, like so many of the best science fiction epics, by putting us in the head and heart of “the other.”
Edge of Tomorrow
After 2013’s Oblivion, Tom Cruise wasn’t exactly a name associated with quality science fiction. Yet as summer 2014’s most underrated film proved, Cruise still has taste when it comes to choosing genre projects. Based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s 2004 novel All You Need Is Kill (yes, they should have kept that title, or at least gone with the alternate home video title Live Die Repeat), Edge of Tomorrow‘s director Doug Liman takes its Groundhog Day-esque premise, of a soldier forced to fight the same battle over and over again, to its logical conclusion, while offering more than a few laughs along the way.
Guardians of the Galaxy
And finally we come to Guardians. The film that so many expected to be Marvels first box-office bomb has emerged as, arguably, the studio’s greatest triumph. A completely satisfying fusion of action, laughs, and special effects, it’s the one movie on this list that’s most reminiscent of the 1980s classics I mentioned above. Not only for its space opera and planetary romance, unseen perhaps on this level since the original Star Wars trilogy, but also for its go-for-broke, oh-so-quotable oddness, which calls to mind films like Big Trouble in Little China and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai. Unlike those cult favorites, however, everyone gets the jokes that Guardians makes while witnessing the most complete proof to date of the superhero genre’s versatility on screen.
What were your favorite films from this year? Let us know below!