Welcome to Summer 2011! Join us as we celebrate the time of the season with a look back at some of Hollywood's biggest summer movies, all available on Netflix Instant.
The crew of the Enterprise is re-imagined as a bunch of hot twentysomethings and the mission is a rollicking, CGI-heavy action-adventure... leave it to J.J. Abrams to transform the crown jewel of sci-fi geekiness into one of the coolest and sexiest summer movies ever. Star Trek managed to capture the creative spirit of the original television series whilst simultaneously re-configuring its dense mythology into an "origin story" that pleased both fans and non-fans alike. Character interpretations vary wildly, from almost completely new approaches (Chris Pine as James T. Kirk) to spot-on impersonations (Karl Urban as Bones, who provides most of the film's laughs just because he looks and sounds so much like DeForest Kelley), and the new additions are introduced seamlessly, with Eric Bana delivering a particularly sly performance as Romulan villain Nero (some felt Bana was one of the film's weaker elements -- we strongly disagree). And don't feel too bad for Kirk's doomed daddy -- he went on to play Thor, after all.
Why did it take Pixar eleven years to deliver another Toy Story movie? Because it took that long to make sure it was perfect. As good as its two predecessors are, Toy Story 3 is by far the best of the lot, offering a heartbreaking coming-of-age tale (one that demands at least one box of tissues) in which Andy is all grown up and off to college, which means it might be time to put away childish things such as Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen). A smart, mature and insightful tale for both kids and grown-ups alike, though don't be put off by its melancholy premise -- Toy Story 3 also contains some of the series' biggest laughs, with Buzz's latest unfortunate malfunctioning taking the cake. New characters include Ned Beatty as the villainous Lotso Bear and Timothy Dalton as Mr. Pricklepants, though Michael Keaton steals the show as a Ken doll who's constantly complaining about not being a girl's toy. A trilogy closer that is, indeed, perfect.
The weakest of the Bourne films is actually this first entry, though perhaps only in retrospect -- after going for the herky-jerky, hand-held thrill rides of director Paul Greengrass' Supremacy and Ultimatum, this moodier, more deliberately-paced yarn from director Doug Liman might seem at half-mast in comparison. Still, there's so much to love here, with Matt Damon requiring no warm-up time in the lead performance -- he nails Jason Bourne from the start, managing to make a role that requires him to do little more than constantly be in a state of urgent confusion not only compelling and mysterious but complex -- we want to know who this guy is and what happened to him just as much as he does. Franka Potente is the Euro-babe that gets involved with the international mayhem and Clive Owen provides cool intensity as The Professor, the assassin looking to bring down our amnesiac hero. Unfortunately, Chris Cooper's constant mugging/scowling gets old really fast... you'll be longing for Joan Allen's hard-as-nails antagonist from Supremacy and Ultimatum, Pamela Landy, to show up and show him how it's done.
Director Joel Schumacher's first Bat-film actually isn't too bad if you just take it for what it is... which might be too tall an order for fans of the brooding Dark Knight that Tim Burton captured so well. Val Kilmer's Bruce Wayne is allowed more room to grow than was Michael Keaton's, and he's given a series of character-revealing (and romantic) interactions with Nicole Kidman's hottie doc. Tommy Lee Jones' Two-Face and Jim Carrey's Riddler at least facilitate a not-bad action story (even though their hammy characterizations reduce them to basically competing Jack Nicholson/Joker impersonations of varying degrees of obnoxiousness). Chris O'Donnell's Dick Grayson actually has a moving part to play here in the development of Bruce Wayne's character and the inevitable Batman/Robin team-up. Ultimately, the garish, campy though often clever and insightful Batman Forever is at least honest with itself about what it is -- enjoy it, 'cause Schumacher's next Bat-film would be pure cinematic torture.
The Man of Steel takes on three Kryptonian villains (led by Terence Stamp's cool and cruel General Zod) in this exciting sequel that also features Superman voluntarily giving up his superpowers so that he can experience mortal love with Lois Lane. Unfortunately, the film's flaws are large and looming, mostly due to the piecemeal production process (Gene Hackman's and Marlon Brando's scenes were shot during principal photography of the first Superman) and director Richard Lester trading previous director Richard Donner's romantic view of Superman for ill-advised campy humor (such as Lex Luthor's minion Otis being too heavy for the getaway hot-air balloon) and extreme violence (the needlessly brutal beating of the power-less Clark Kent in the diner). Still, Superman II has the best story of the entire series, and the climactic battle in the Fortress of Solitude is thrilling and cheer-inducing. And, of course, the late Christopher Reeve's dual performance is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.