The Collegian
Thursday, June 13, 2024

Film Fridays: The return of the summer blockbuster

<p>Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian</p>

Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian

Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, people turned from movie theaters to streaming services. 

Going to the movies with friends, purchasing a buttery bag of popcorn and excitedly anticipating the newest coming attractions turned into nights dedicated to Netflix, Hulu and catching up on all the old Pixar films we used to watch as kids on Disney Plus — I certainly indulged in all three.

Until this summer. 2023. The year summer blockbusters returned. 

Yes, theaters screened movies before this summer and I had seen “Spider-Man: No Way Home” in December of 2021. But this summer was different. 

There was Pixar’s newest hit, “Elemental,” which beyond its wholesome Disney lore dug deeper into themes of family tradition, immigration and interracial marriage. 

Jennifer Lawrence had a new comedy, “No Hard Feelings,” which saw her character attempt to receive financial support for getting a college-bound young man out of his shell. 

The seventh movie of the Mission: Impossible franchise, “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One,” had all the action and Tom Cruise one could hope for. 

And even an 80 year-old Harrison Ford pulled out the whip for one last ride in the fifth and final Indiana Jones movie, “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. 

And then there was Barbenheimer — “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer,” two movies that revamped cinema and the idea of the movie theater in this decade as we know it. 

I have a theory that these two summer blockbusters, which were both released July 21, single-handedly saved movie theaters. I think they wanted to get people to visit the theater again in a post-COVID world, so they hyped up these two films in a way that had not been done since 2008 when “Mamma Mia” and “The Dark Knight” were released on the same day 15 years ago

For starters, “Barbie” was special — not only because of its powerhouse cast headlined by Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, Will Ferrell, America Ferrera and Kate McKinnon, but because it was, as the trailer put it, for those who love Barbie and for those who hate Barbie. In many ways, the movie mocked what Barbie has stood for in the past and uplifted what Barbie now stands for in the 21st century. 

However, when pictures of Gosling and Robbie skating as Ken and Barbie surfaced for the first time many months ago, I was skeptical. At that time, I thought the movie looked stupid and I thought to myself, ‘why would they make a movie with these fake characters?’ Of course, at that time, I was not aware of the movie’s premise. 

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But as the movie got closer and closer to its release, I couldn’t help but engage in some of the excitement for what was to come July 21. Social media account after social media account fawned over what was made out to be one of the most important films of this generation. 

And I can happily say I saw it a few days after the initial release and enjoyed it. No, I did not wear pink to the theater, but I went with my sister and my parents and dare I say, the ‘Kenergy’ could be felt on that Tuesday afternoon at the Regal Cinemas in Hagerstown, MD. 

Greta Gerwig’s writing was special, the acting was special, the plot — which I was not expecting — was special and frankly, I think this is a movie everyone should see. Whether you had a Barbie growing up or not (I had a Ken thanks to my sister for including my younger brother and me), it was important content-wise for our society and I think it will change people’s preconceived notions about the plastic figure many grew to hate. 

I also may or may not have bought my brother a tie-dye t-shirt for his birthday with “I am Kenough” plastered across the chest. Let’s just say “I’m Just Ken” has been on repeat on my way to and from my house ever since the movie came out. 

As for “Oppenheimer,” I think like “Barbie,” it’s an important movie for our generation and one everyone should take the time to see. Like with “Barbie,” I was skeptical at first. Not skeptical of the content per se, but I was certainly leaning towards seeing “Barbiemore. Honestly put, I wasn’t racing to go see a movie about the atomic bombing that had such a profound effect on so many people. 

But it’s more nuanced than that. As my mom said after the film, viewers could see just how sort of torn and pulled in two directions J. Robert Oppenheimer truly was. I remember thinking as the movie was coming to a close, two words: Mr. Misunderstood. 

“Oppenheimer” had incredible cinematography, an incredible musical score, incredible portrayal of a historic event and incredible acting across the board. It certainly didn’t hurt having a cast headlined by Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr., Emily Blunt and Matt Damon. 

The movie was also a mix between different time frames in Oppenheimer’s life, which added to and made the nuanced storyline interesting. At one point, viewers would see an older Oppenheimer, recounting what happened with regard to the construction of the atomic bomb and then viewers would get a glimpse into Oppenheimer as a professor or leading the team in Los Alamos. 

I saw a tweet that said the Oscar award for Best Supporting Actor in a major motion picture may come down to Gosling as Ken and Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss and that is not a bad thing. I laughed when I saw it but couldn't help but agree. 

All in all, I believe these films made cinema relevant again. In a world of streaming and binging, people went to the movie theater again with their friends, their families and even grandparents, like I did with “Oppenheimer” on its opening day. 

People spent hours in theaters across the country to complete double features of “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie” and even made a significant pop culture experience out of it all. 

Perhaps going to the movies will give people a chance to make a point of spending time with one another again. And perhaps that will translate into a closer and more respectful world, one that may be less plastic than we think. 

Contact sports editor Jimmy James at jimmy.james@richmond.edu.

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