This year’s box office has been Disney-dominated — from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) to remakes, Disney has half of the 10 highest grossing films of the year. It’s no surprise that some of these films have been summer blockbusters, but there are other films that rose to success. Here are the Tufts Daily’s arts editors’ roundup of 2019’s summer movies.
Considering that Marvel Studios has been building up to the culmination of the “Avengers” series for over 10 years, “Avengers: Endgame” clearly had a tall order to fill this summer. Luckily, the long-anticipated finale executed this task with finesse and aplomb, focusing not only on the epic conclusion of the battle with Thanos but expertly navigating the relationships between the Avengers themselves. Essentially, “Endgame” continues to remind us that our heroes have been fighting for the last 10 years. Not only does it dive into the physical and emotional toll of such a battle, especially after the end of “Infinity War” (2018), but it also (without spoiling too much) offers a compelling retrospective on the series as a whole, making the film not only the finale of the fight with Thanos but a satisfying conclusion to the end of a Marvel era as well.
“Spider-Man: Far From Home”
After the ambitious release of “Endgame,” Marvel lightened things up with the release of “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) globetrotting adventures on his class field trip force him to balance the responsibility of saving the world with his desire to be a high-schooler, which includes professing his feelings for his classmate, MJ (Zendaya). This classic teenage struggle adds welcome levity and familiarity to complement Peter’s responsibilities as an Avenger — especially after the seriousness of “Endgame.” In addition, “Far From Home” moves away from the familiarity of New York City; the films locations, including Paris, Prague and London, make for some fantastic new Spidey stunts that make this addition to the MCU loads of fun.
“Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood”
“Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood” emulates its name. Nearly the entire film is a slow buildup as reflected by the “Once Upon A Time in…” — the ellipses functioning as a sort of dramatic grammatical drumroll. The film ends with a scene so entertaining and bold that it could only be represented by the film’s setting and final word of the title — “Hollywood.” More structurally similar to “Hateful Eight” (2015) than “Inglorious Bastards” (2009) and “Django Unchained” (2012), acclaimed director Quentin Tarantino combines all of the elements that have won him praise in the past — dialogue, storytelling and fascinating characters — to create his newest masterpiece. The film is chock-full of famous actors and many have memorable moments, but Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt steal the show as a fictional actor and his body double living in 1969 Hollywood, during the twilight of its golden age.
“The Lion King”
To see the shortcomings of “The Lion King,” it’s best to compare it not to the original, but to the other recent CGI remake of a beloved, animal-centric children’s story — “The Jungle Book” (2016). Both films are directed by actor-turned-director Jon Favreau, of Marvel fame, who seems to have had the same goal in mind for each — expanding on classics and lifting them higher than their originals. With “The Jungle Book,” Favreau arguably succeeds, adding new, interesting, world-building plot points and upgrading characters such as King Louie and Shere Khan, and tweaking the songs to help the film flow. Favreau tries to do this in “The Lion King,” yet comes up considerably short — any changes to the plot (though few and far between) don’t liven up the story; big characters, such as Scar and the hyenas, come off as downgrades in appearance and personality; and the songs don’t inspire nearly that aural sense of wonder we all had when hearing the originals.
From director Olivia Wilde’s first screenings back in April to its re-release a few weeks ago, “Booksmart” has been the talk of the summer. It’s a fresh take on the high school comedy — a generational anthem in line with “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (1982) and “Superbad” (2007). But “Booksmart” is better than what has come before it. It’s not about clichés or tropes. It’s about real characters struggling to gain their footing in a place of transition. Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever have electric chemistry as best friends Molly and Amy, and the ensemble cast that surrounds them includes some of the funniest performances of year (especially from Billie Lourd).
“Toy Story 4”
At first glance, “Toy Story” was about the last franchise that needed another entry — especially after the near perfect “Toy Story 3” (2010). But “Toy Story 4” proves Woody, Buzz and the gang still had stories that needed telling. What the film does best is focus on Woody himself — long lost from his days with Andy and feeling purposeless amongst the variety of toys his new owner, Bonnie, has. Woody’s journey feels honest and complete by the end of “Toy Story 4,” and it almost tugs at the heartstrings more than its predecessor. Its animation is gorgeous, and its voice acting is fantastic. Truthfully, it might just be the best “Toy Story” installment since the original.
“Midsommar” helps confirm that A24 will go down as one of the best film companies of our time. The film features phenomenal performances from leading actress Florence Pugh, along with supporting actors Jack Reynor and Vilhelm Blomgrem. There’s a lot to appreciate when you pay close attention to this film, including impressive costume design, clever camerawork and complex symbolism. However, you don’t have to pay too much attention to get captivated by the terrifying plot and trippy visual effects. From an artistic standpoint, “Midsommar” is a must-see horror film.