2016 Summer Blockbusters & The Limits Of Nostalgia
Throughout the last decade, the summer movie season has spilled beyond the typical starting point in early May. This year in particular, we got the incredibly successful and well received Deadpool in February! Once the Merc with the Mouth arrived, the flood gates burst open and movie fans were treated to huge movies every few weeks.
For the purpose of this recap, I’m starting in March with the release of the incredibly divisive Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It may not be a traditional Summer movie but times have changed. Blockbusters are released year round with a steady diet of superheros, remakes and sequels. BvS kicked off a summer that had a very distinctive flavor to it. The biggest films of the season shared a common theme that was meant to give fans a taste of the past. Indeed 2016 was The Summer of Nostalgia.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice promised to deliver something comic book fans have wanted for decades. A clash between the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel on the big screen. Even though it was another case of ‘spoiled in the trailers’ the idea of Doomsday was also a big comic book moment fans longed to see.
The ambitious project was risky and ultimately fell apart beneath the weight of a forced shared universe. DC rushed too much instead of focusing on the titular conflict. The result was a movie overflowing with promise and an equal amount of unfocused plot threads. Unfortunately, BvS delivered a mediocre battle between the two heroes and the nostalgia fans craved faded away with a faint whisper… “Martha…”
Batman v Superman is nothing more than a thin Justice League prologue. (But hold on… That may not necessarily be a bad thing…)
REVIEW | Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
With Captain America: Civil War, Marvel had the luxury of tapping into nostalgia created by their own films. When Iron Man was released in 2008, Marvel promised us an entire universe of heroic storylines. For nearly a decade, they have delivered standalone adventures and giant team up films like The Avengers.
In 2016, Marvel gathered all that history and flipped the script, turning our favorite heroes against one another. The result was a FUN movie. Watching Steve Rogers and Tony Stark’s relationship deteriorate was earned thanks to 7 prior films featuring at least one or both heroes. We know Iron Man and Captain America and that’s what made their break up so interesting to watch.
It was another win for Marvel and the perfect way to begin Phase Three.
I’m a fan of the X-Men movies… In general. I LOVED X2 in particular. I thought X-Men: Apocalypse would be the greatest of them all. It could have been the X-Men movie that felt like the 90s cartoon series. A series I absolutely adored. Unfortunately, Apocalypse was completely wasted with a strange design and even stranger actions on screen.
Thankfully, the nostalgia I craved is readily available to stream online. 90s cartoons were the best.
REVIEW | X-Men: Apocalypse & Wasted Villains
Warcraft relied on the nostalgia fans feel for the original real time strategy games as well as World of Warcraft. The immensely popular series has millions of devoted fans who couldn’t wait to see Orcs and Humans battle in Azeroth.
Aesthetically speaking, director Duncan Jones created a breathtaking world with incredible locations and visual effects. Unfortunately, the film just didn’t quite deliver. I was disappointed in Warcraft. I can admit that now as a long time fan of Warcraft 1,2 & 3. I thought the movie adaptation had a shot at becoming the surprise runaway hit of the summer. Perhaps I put too much pressure on the film. In all honesty, it does have many redeeming qualities. Thankfully, Warcraft performed well around the world so there is hope for a bad ass Warcraft sequel someday.
TMNT 2: Secret of the Ooze will always have a special place in my heart. However, even hardcore fans can admit the film has flaws. Namely, the absence of Bebop and Rocksteady. In 2016, we were promised a film that featured the fan favorite duo in addition too an improved Shredder and Krang… Krang!!!
The film definitely nails Bebop and Rocksteady but the rest is a complete mess. Since the reboot debuted fans demanded more turtles in the sequel. We got more turtles but the film lacks a coherent story to compliment them. Shredder is wasted and Krang? He sucked.
So far, we’ve discussed Batman v Superman, X-Men, Ninja Turtles and Warcraft’s inability to capitalize on nostalgia fueled hype. They took swings but they all inevitably struck out.
I thought Independence Day: Resurgence was a guaranteed home run. Unfortunately, this was the moment I realized Hollywood was banking more on nostalgia and less on telling GREAT STORIES.
After waiting two decades for a sequel to Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day, we finally reunited with our favorite survivors… It was just… Okay… The sequel has it’s moments and it’s full of inside jokes and references but it’s predictable and ultimately disappointing.
COUNTDOWN | Top 10 Moments: Independence Day
The rest of the summer featured some wins for nostalgia in Finding Dory, Star Trek Beyond and Jason Bourne but I was already frustrated. Jason Bourne is the same movie with a fresh coat of paint. Same storylines. Better visuals.
It felt like this year’s crop of blockbusters wanted nothing more than to reproduce the remarkable success of 2015’s Jurassic World. That film was a gigantic success and relied heavily on nostalgia. The difference is, in my opinion, they did just enough to keep the film fresh and original. They didn’t use returning characters as a crutch. They brought new characters into a world we were familiar with.
While speaking with EW, Brad Bird (The Incredibles) summed up the idea of sequels perfectly while discussing the upcoming Incredibles 2:
“Hopefully it’s the same characters and feel, but going in a new direction. I mean, that’s the trick with a sequel. It’s repeating yourself, without repeating yourself.”
The point is, nostalgia can only take you so far in a movie. You can capture the past in a positive way but you’re lost if you think that’s all it will take. Ghostbusters, The BFG and more all failed at the box office this year despite promising a great deal of nostalgia thanks to previous movies/books etc… This summer reminded me that some beloved franchises should be left alone. (I still wish they never made a true sequel to Dumb and Dumber.)
Still, I don’t want movies that carry hints of nostalgia to go away. I just want them to be better. Audiences are smarter than surface level makeovers of our favorite franchises. You can capture the past AND create something new. It’s possible.
When it comes to big summer blockbusters full of incredible action and drama, Captain America: Civil War comes away as this year’s big winner. However… When it comes to nostalgia? There simply isn’t a true standout on the silver screen. For a true nostalgic experience, my pick is Netflix’s brilliant show: Stranger Things.