Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (July 11)
After four sequels, one remake, two television series, and a “series reboot,” Planet of the Apes somehow, someway still makes gobs of cash for 20th Century Fox. Gary Oldman proves a sensation, dropping the bumbling Commissioner Gordon shtick from Batman and adding some ruthless determination. “No more monkey business,” he deadpans in the film’s opening scene, eliciting cheers from longtime Planet loyalists. Compared to his previous turn as Gollum, Andy Serkis plays head ape Caesar with twice the energy and three times the creepiness. Even Rise of the Planet of the Apes looks tame by comparison. When Dawn tries a bit of subtle commentary on the state of the human race and our treatment of animals, everyone agrees its points are “spot on,” and “not at all sanctimonious or heavy-handed.”
Confused by all the similar Planet of the Apes titles (Battle for the, Escape from the, Rise of the, Dawn of the), most of America assumes Dawn is just a re-release of “some film from the 1970s.” Even illegal downloaders nab Beneath the Planet of the Apes, assuming it’s the latest version. Scrambling to set the public straight, 20th Century Fox releases an emergency ad campaign featuring Gary Oldman. The actor botches the spot, descending back into his bumbling Commissioner Gordon shtick and mumbling his way through the new movie’s title. The film flops, but not before PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals), files a lawsuit, calling the movie “sanctimonious” and “heavy-handed.”
Jupiter Ascending (July 18)
The most bizarre-looking movie of the summer also ends up being its best. The Wachowskis (The Matrix, V for Vendetta) go back to the basics, blending smart action with sharp, inventive characters. They only dip into their vintage semi-Buddhist philosophy once, and even then, it’s fairly insightful. Mila Kunis does it all as Jupiter Jones: she’s smart, capable, vulnerable and alluring, all at the same time. Best yet, she’s never objectified or treated as less than a human by her male costars. Sean Bean does his best Ned Stark impression, only he’s even more wise and even more humble. Channing Tatum does his best Channing Tatum impression, only he’s more handsome and more ripped. Riding high after seeing the film, everyone agrees to forget all the non-action scenes from The Matrix: Reloaded and Revolutions.
With a “destitute maid,” literal “Queen of the Universe,” and guy named "Channing Tatum," everyone realizes Jupiter Ascending is destined for failure. The film alternates between decades-old cliché (character with humble beginnings is actually destined for greatness/royalty), and inaccessible philosophical ramblings (only when one embraces the inherent tedium of humanity may one reach a higher level). Only Channing Tatum takes his role seriously. As Mila Kunis “expands her universe” she also gradually removes clothing, resulting in weirdly uncomfortable space sex scenes. Everyone leaves the film early to watch The Matrix: Reloaded instead.
Hercules (July 25)
In the surprise of the summer, Hercules is not filled with repetitive fist fights, bad CGI, and unfunny one-liners, but instead with a thoughtful look at Hercules, the man. Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson turns in his most tender performance to date, where he contemplates the fallen state of humanity and volunteers at Greek wildlife centers to tame wild beasts and distribute unloved animals to welcoming Grecian families. “People don’t understand that Hercules is a metaphor, not a bully,” says Johnson in a post-release interview. Jaded moviegoers across the world regain their faith in film. Professional wrestling revenues jump 50% overnight.
Clunky and unevenly paced, Hercules suffers from the worst action sequences this side of After Earth. In comparison, even professional wrestling looks more realistic. “Before he was a hero, he was a man,” the narrator announces, whereupon we see a badly-edited, three-minute montage of Hercules growing from a moderately-aggressive brute to an obnoxiously-aggressive brute. Two hours of uninterrupted machismo end with an un-billed cameo from a bored Vin Diesel and a climatic fist fight 20 minutes too long. High school English teachers across America agree to ban Homer’s Odyssey from the classroom. “If this is all that comes from ancient Greek poetry,” says a teachers' union representative, “then maybe we shouldn’t be teaching ancient Greek poetry."
Guardians of the Galaxy (August 1)
Marvel repeats its witty, ensemble-style Avengers formula with a brand new series, selling $500 million in tickets and nearly $1 billion in associated action figures. Everyone actually takes Chris Pratt seriously, just not too seriously. Bradley Cooper finally sheds his “guy from The Hangover” label in the most unlikely of characters: superhero critter, Rocket Raccoon. Even Vin Diesel gets a few polite compliments in the LA and NY Times reviews. Drowning in champagne, Marvel CEO Isaac Perlmutter promises to make a 5-hour long Avengers-Guardians hybrid sequel, starring over 30 of Hollywood’s hottest, goofiest stars.
Marvel realizes too late that The Avengers succeeded on the strength of subtle humor, sneaky social commentary, and perennial box office darling Robert Downey Jr. Guardians opens to poor reviews, too simple, too jolly, and ultimately, too stupid. Chris Pratt can’t shoulder all the expectations, proving far too "aw-shucks” in a movie desperate for a strong leading man. Bradley Cooper sounds too much like that same old guy from The Hangover. In a depressed, sleep-deprived impulse, Perlmutter cancels all future Marvel films indefinitely. The next day, he sells all Avengers rights to rival DC Comics.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (August 8)
Capturing the perfect blend of action, jokes, and amphibian awesomeness, the 2014 iteration of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles features the best “heroes in a half shell” since the 1990s animated series. Leonardo is amusingly sanctimonious. Raphael can’t tell a bad joke. A Donatello nunchuck scene goes viral on YouTube the next day. Megan Fox delivers a career performance as April O’Neil, the turtles’ human companion—she is sharp, scientific, and absorbed with her work—a role model for aspiring female scientists around the globe.
Things get off to a bad start when a steamy scene between April and Michelangelo nearly violates between 10 and 15 beastiality and teenage statutory assault laws. In a post-release correction, the Motion Picture Association of America upgrades the MPAA rating from PG to NC-17. Michael Bay abandons the film, removing his producer credit and subsequently spoiling any chance of profitability. One scene still goes viral on YouTube, but for all the wrong reasons. The clip is later removed by Google for violating YouTube’s content policy. Silently, the creators of the original animated series cry themselves to sleep.