Summer Blockbuster Battle: How 2016 Stacks Up to Years Past

How do 'Civil War' and 'Suicide Squad' compare to 'Avengers' and 'The Dark Knight Rises' (2012) or 'Winter Soldier' and 'Guardians of the Galaxy' (2014)?
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Captain America has laid down his shield and Harley Quinn has left Belle Reve, which means summer movie season has come and gone.

The Hollywood Reporter has already done a box-office postmortem and looked at the future of the studios' big franchises. Now, Heat Vision will look at this summer's offerings from a fan perspective. To put it all in context, Heat Vision editor Aaron Couch and writer Graeme McMillan are looking back at the hits and misses of the past five summer blockbuster seasons to see how 2016 stacks up.

2012

Liked: The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises

Disappointed by: Prometheus, The Amazing Spider-Man

Aaron Couch: The Avengers and a Christopher Nolan Batman movie? Come on …. I'm not sure what summer this decade can rival that, and that's why 2012 was the most hyped summer ever. Both films more or less delivered, even if TDKR is the most flawed of Nolan's trilogy.

Graeme McMillan: I am the contrarian who thinks that, as flawed as TDKR is, it's still better than The Dark Knight, because it doesn't feel like two pretty disconnected movies smooshed into one with the dullest Batman ever at the center of it. At least TDKR had Anne Hathaway's Catwoman, who was better than pretty much anything in Batman Begins or The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger aside …

Couch: I'm going to ignore that Dark Knight comment as my blood boils. Back to 2012: I know you disagree with me here, Graeme, but Amazing Spider-Man was way too much a rehash of the original. But the biggest disappointment for me was Prometheus, which was billed as an Alien prequel (or was it?). A lot of people liked it, but it took until the end to finally begin … and then it was just over. 

McMillan: I spent most of Prometheus waiting for something to happen and convinced that it would. I was one of those audience members who was so convinced by the trailers that I almost willed the movie to be great all the way through, and was frustrated by the fact that there's not really any story there: Michael Fassbender is an emotionless robot who finds a thing, the end. You promised me existential dread, trailers! Where's the existential dread? And The Amazing Spider-Man is something I'll always defend more than it actually deserves, just because the casting of Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone worked so well for me. Yeah, they could've used a better screenplay, but it's not as bad as ASM2 

2013

Liked: Iron Man 3, Man of Steel

Disappointed by: Star Trek Into Darkness, Kick Ass 2, Elysium, The Wolverine

McMillan: Oh, 2013 … the year in which cinema seemed to try to find an alternative to superheroes only to fail miserably. Remember The Lone Ranger? After Earth? R.I.P.D.? If you answered no, you're really not alone, sadly.

Couch: This is the summer that let me down the most of the ones we're looking at. It delivered a lackluster sequel (Kick-Ass 2) to one of my favorite comic book movies ever. Star Trek Into Darkness followed up J.J. Abrams' great 2009 reboot with a watered-down version of Wrath of Khan (with superblood thrown in there). This also was the summer the sheen started to come off of District 9 helmer Neill Blomkamp, whose Elysium didn't have the magic of his first film. 

McMillan: I am looking at you askance about Kick-Ass now, Aaron. But then again, I still think that Man of Steel is an underrated movie and way better than the majority of blockbusters from the year. I think that sound we heard was everyone preparing to yell at me in the comments.

Couch: Right, Man of Steel remains my favorite DCEU movie. So what else was good that year? At the time, Iron Man 3 seemed to be OK — though it doesn't really come up in conversations about the "all-time great" MCU movies. I admit I liked Pacific Rim … though I also can't defend myself against its detractors. The Wolverine was well-liked by fans, but it ranks as among my least favorite X-Men films and it wasn't the end-all-be-all apology for X-Men Origins: Wolverine that I had hoped for.

McMillan: Iron Man 3 feels like the Thor movies to me now, in that everyone knows they've seen it but no one really talks about it. At least it kind of relaunched Shane Black's career? And wasn't Deadpool the end-all-be-all apology for X-Men Origins: Wolverine, when it comes down to it?

2014

Liked: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Guardians of the Galaxy, Edge of Tomorrow

Disappointed by: The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Transformers: Age of Extinction

Couch: For me, this was the greatest blockbuster summer of the millennium, with Marvel Studios delivering two of its finest movies — Captain America: Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. X-Men: Days of Future Past pulled off the near impossible by bringing two generations of mutants together (with a final scene atoning for X-Men movie sins of the past). The summer was so packed that I almost forget the underappreciated Edge of Tomorrow and cerebral hit Dawn of the Planet of the Apes also came out that year.

McMillan: Yup, in complete agreement on all of that. I remember having absolutely no excitement for Days of Future Past and then being quietly stunned in the theater by how fun it seemed, and both of the Marvel Studios movies hit the mark entirely. This year might end up going down as Marvel's most successful year, at least creatively — the gulf between Winter Soldier and Guardians in terms of tone is as big as you get in the MCU, and yet both are up there as far as quality in Marvel movies goes.

Couch: As for the misses? Amazing Spider-Man 2 is one of my least favorite superhero movies ever, but it's failure led to Spider-Man getting to join the MCU, so I can't be totally mad at it.

McMillan: Oh, I'll happily be mad at it. It's a terrible, leaden movie that feels as if it commits every single sin people accuse superhero movies of: too many villains, a nonsensical plot that goes nowhere but works around set pieces, a sense of having been written (and edited) by committee, really pointless fan service … Garfield and especially Stone deserved better. It's so bad that even Transformers: Age of Extinction seems better, which is really saying something. At some point — maybe the second movie in the series? — the Transformers movie franchise became an exercise in situationist visual spectacle, unencumbered by logic or plot, and this one kept up that bold, if surprising, tradition. 

2015

Liked: Mad Max: Fury Road, Jurassic World, Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation

Disappointed by: Chappie, Terminator: Genisys, Fantastic Four

McMillan: Not going to lie: 2015 is one of those "Well, I guess that happened?" summers. Movies gotta movie, but nothing really stood out too much in either direction aside from Mad Max: Fury Road.

Couch: The film lords gives and taketh away with reboots that couldn't have turned out more differently. Mad Max: Fury Road became one of the most acclaimed blockbusters ever and Fantastic Four stands as the worst superhero film to be released in theaters.  I'm not really a Jurassic Park guy [ducks to avoid the objects being thrown], so I thought Jurassic World was fun, but it's not something I've really thought about since. Avengers: Age of Ultron underwhelmed and Ant-Man was a pleasant surprise.

McMillan: It was…? I came to it late enough that I'd seen the backlash to the backlash, so went in expecting something far better than what I got. There was nothing really wrong with Ant-Man, but nothing that really stood out to me, either. It's on a level with Age of Ultron and Jurassic World for me: movies that were just fine, which is what the summer felt like overall, somehow. Well, aside from Fantastic Four, which remains fascinating in its failure.

Couch: Aside from Four, the only real disappointment for me was Terminator: Genisys, which proved once again that yes, that franchise really is dead. Do not attempt to resuscitate. All and all, the highs of Fury Road just about balanced out the incredibly high hopes I had for Josh's Trank Fantastic Four — and if you add in the fun of Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, the summer came out on top for me.

2016

Liked: Captain America: Civil War, Star Trek Beyond, X-Men ApocalypseSuicide Squad

Disappointed by: The lack of true standout movie 

Couch: I liked Civil War quite a bit and Star Trek Beyond delivered what it needed to. But there was no Fury Road or Guardians of the Galaxy or Avengers. There was no blockbuster that gave us something we'd never see onscreen before. 

McMillan: This summer was very odd — not only was there no blockbuster that gave us something we'd never seen onscreen, but it didn't feel like there was "a film of the summer," if that makes sense? Lots of things came out, but what really sticks in the mind are the disappointments people expressed about films not living up to their expectations rather than the films themselves.

Couch: For disappointments, a lot of people might name Suicide Squad or Ghostbusters, but really it's the lack of that one transcendent movie that is missing for me, as much as I liked seeing Tony and Cap go at it. As I get more distance from Suicide Squad, I like it more than I initially did. 

McMillan: I like Suicide Squad, even though I don't think I could make the argument that it's a "good movie." (I also liked Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice more than Civil War; come at me, haters.) But here's something I've been wondering: Have the winter Star Wars movies sucked some of the air out of the summer season? I feel as if people care more about Rogue One: A Star Wars Story than they do any of the big summer movies — and that Batman v. Superman felt almost "too soon" after Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Has Star Wars hurt the summer blockbuster?

Couch: I think a good movie is a good movie, whenever it's released (oh hello, Deadpool), but we are getting spoiled. I remember in the '90s and early 2000s having to wait two years just to get one movie like the ones we talked about, so it really is a good time to like this stuff.  

Of the past five summer blockbuster seasons, which is your favorite? Take our poll, and discuss over on Heat Vision's Facebook page.

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