What was hot and what was cold in theaters this summer

Ben Raymond

“You can’t always get what you want.” Mick Jagger told me so. It’s a fact of life. Often we are disappointed. Life many times thwarts hopes and dashes dreams. Our anticipation is tenuous, and our excitement is fragile.

And so it was at the movies this past summer. Promises of mega-blockbuster exhilaration nearly every week teased us into theaters in May. Sequels of beloved franchises like “Spider-Man” and “Pirates” brought moviegoers’ collective expectation to a fever pitch. Alas, it was not to be. Our patience quickly vanished; each release was more abysmal than the last. “Spider-Man 3” – crap. “Shrek the Third” – crap. “Pirates 3” – mega crap.

“You can’t always get what you want.”

But as the song says, “Sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.” Although the season’s most highly touted blockbusters failed to dazzle us, smaller films made at a fraction of the cost delivered enough laughter, wonder and thrills to salvage a summer season that appeared destined for complete catastrophe. Movies like “Knocked Up,” “Ratatouille” and “The Bourne Ultimatum” were all spectacular fun and, dare I say it, quality pictures. Sometimes, you do in fact, “get what you need.”

What could you do with $300 million? Well, you could buy a house on the Main Line, a pool for your new Swedish wife and a Ferrari or three for the garage. You could feed an East African nation for a year. You could even come close to paying your tuition here at Villanova.

But for production companies like Columbia, it’s far better to spend that $300 million excreting “Spider-Man 3.” Unarguably one of the most anticipated films of this decade, “Spider-Man 3” touted itself as the best of an already glorious film franchise. With the same production team, director and stars as the first two films, coupled with the highest budget in film history, how bad could it be?

Atrociously bad! This was possibly the silliest movie I have ever seen. Peter Parker trades his classic unsung heroism for whiny, über-emo ridiculousness, an oily comb-over and jazz hands. Gone is the web-slinging excitement. Gone is the poignant drama and subtle romance of the first two and, in its place, a hefty dumping of putrid dialogue, a bender of overwrought visual effects and a complete lack of class. I’d like to know how many writers had to be lobotomized in order to make a film this dreadful.

Juvenile, pandering and a complete waste of time, “Spider-Man 3” feels more like a practical joke than a slick, savvy actioner. The orgy of multi-million-dollar special effects did little to mask what the film really was: total crap. I don’t care how much glitter you put on a turd. At the end of the day, it’s still a turd.

Then came “Shrek the Third.” This was the least abhorrent of the three May threequels. But don’t get your hopes up. It still sucked. How many times are we expected to think this is funny? Are we all that unoriginal?

The movie is just more of the same. After accidentally impregnating his wife, Shrek, his jackass and pussycat venture across the land in search of more androgynous, fairytale do-gooders to save the kingdom. There is nothing new, nothing inventive. There is no growth or creative license – just a re-hashing of an already exhausted storyline.

Good thing this was the last of the series! Wait. No … it isn’t! There are not one, but two Shrek sequels in production. That’s right. “Shrek the Fourth” and “Shrek the Fourth Again” are coming! The trilogy is now a … fivology? Quintology? Quintrilogy? Spare me.

Look, production companies, I go the movies to be amazed. If I want to spend 10 bucks to have someone slowly regurgitate yesterday’s garbage at me, I’ll get on the R100. I don’t need you to do it for me.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” completes this trilogy of cinematic waste-matter. Dizzyingly stupid and entirely directionless, “Pirates 3” is a confusing, muddled mess of loosely intertwined storylines, none of which make a shred of sense. Not even Johnny Depp’s ever-entertaining presence could save it from itself.

Judd Apatow. If you don’t know his name by now, shame on you. The comic genius behind “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” released two brand-new, uproariously funny films this summer. “Knocked Up” and “Superbad” were two of the best-received films of the summer. Audiences love them. Critics love them (both received upwards of 85 percent critical approval). We all love them. Two hilarious, even heartfelt comedies from Apatow were a refreshing addition to the summer lineup.

“Die Hard,” released way back in 1988, is widely considered to be the best pure action film ever made. Its sequels, however, are widely considered to be complete trash. So, when “Live Free or Die Hard” was released, what were we to expect? What we got was the surprise of the summer. A decently made, entirely exciting action film, “Live Free or Die Hard” was an unexpected gift to audiences this summer. Plenty of explosions, twisted metal and profanity for the Philistine in all of us, coupled with a serviceable storyline and apt direction that made it a welcome surprise.

Another film that garnered praise this summer was “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” the fifth film in the series. From pre-pubescent tweens to us maladjusted 20-somethings (who would otherwise never pick up a book), the Harry Potter empire is everywhere. The films have earned well over $1 billion domestically and have been respectably received by critics. Amid the media orgy over the seventh and final book in the series, “Order of the Phoenix” managed to gather a tidy sum at the box office and, more notably, achieved broad critical approval.

The highlight of the summer was, without question, Pixar’s “Ratatouille.” Charming and mischievously funny from start to finish, it’s a robust, rambunctious film that pleased both audiences and critics alike. It is sharp, intelligent and real. The story bounces nimbly from one adventure to the next. It seamlessly parries character against character. The animation is simply miraculous. Long, sweeping panoramas of Parisian midsummer are clear and glowing. Steam flows from glistening cuisine. All of it is perfection. A well-crafted, hilarious and endearing film, “Ratatouille” was the *insert that French phrase* of the summer’s menu. An absolute delight through and through, it is certainly the best film of the year thus far.

The summer finale was “The Bourne Ultimatum,” a sexy, stylish actioner from top to bottom. Slick, intelligent and constantly intriguing, “Ultimatum” is the best of the Bourne series. It aptly balances action and espionage into a pulse-pounding chess match that fittingly ends the franchise.

All in all, this summer, we got what we needed. But for cinema purists like yours truly, the fall and winter seasons bring the best of the best. With films from greats like the Coen brothers and Ridley Scott and the return of legends Sidney Lumet and Francis Ford Coppola, the coming seasons bring the promise of classic cinema. Stay tuned.