A must-see summer of mutants and machines

Ted Pigeon

“X2: X-Men United”

With the recent explosion of superhero stories, it should come as no surprise that the first of the summer’s big blockbusters was a superhero film, and in this case a very entertaining one. Hugh Jackman returns once again to lead the stellar cast in this sequel to the original box office success in 2000. The film does a good job of inter-cutting between the subplots of its many characters, proving that director Bryan Singer can tell a story very well. But the familiar plot doesn’t allow for the ambitious story to achieve all that it wants to. Also, the film’s final act falls surprisingly flat due to its length and melodramatic tendencies. **½

“Finding Nemo”

The latest film from Disney’s Pixar Animation Studio is a triumph, a spectacular undersea adventure full of visual wonders that one can indulge in endlessly. Supported by a good cast of voices, clever humor and beautiful animation, this is one of the few superbly told stories of the year. The film isn’t exclusively for kids; it can be enjoyed by all, since the story itself is more mature than most animated features and is very moving. This movie has taken computer animation to a new level by showing us a truly wondrous world, it is a feast of breathtaking visuals. Altogether, this movie is one big balancing act, one that miraculously hits all the right notes – a comedy, adventure and flat out good story. ***½


Instead of making “Hulk” into a mindless action film, as one would expect of a summer movie, director Ang Lee instead took a risk with this film by heightening the human drama in his portrayal of the tragic character. The result is an often good balance between action and reflection, with a handful of truly extraordinary sequences. Unfortunately, the cartoonish aspect of the story tends to get in the way of the real drama, as it comes out in several over-the-top characterizations and situations. There are some scenes in which this film has real power and nears greatness, but there are others that seem emotionally hollow and almost laughable. **½

“Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines”

This third entry in the famed saga doesn’t quite engage the mind the way the first two films did, but it has several exciting action sequences and an overall well-told story that far outdoes many of the sci-fi/action films of today. Many are bound to be disappointed by the ending, which abandons an all-out action finale for something a little less conventional and more operatic. “Terminator 3” is a worthy entry in the Terminator franchise even if it may be a step or two behind the first two films. And despite the fact that it is the least in the saga, it is still one of the best action movies of the year, which says something about today’s movies. ***

“Pirates of the Caribbean”

This is one of the few action/adventure movies that actually delivers what it promises and is among the summer’s most fun and entertaining films. The lavish production is highlighted by gorgeous cinematography, great visual effects, a rip-roaring musical score, and a great sense of atmosphere. Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush also inject a lot of life into the film, somewhat making up for the routine story. But like so many movies this year, this one doesn’t know when to quit and goes on way too long. There are countless noteworthy aspects of the movie, but it is hard for them all to come together when the story drags on for far too long considering its routineness. ***

“Bad Boys II”

It should come as no surprise that Michael Bay was responsible for the worst film of the summer of 2003. The director is known for his pumped-up style of filmmaking, all of which are annoyingly present in his latest movie: some of his techniques are over-reliance on slow motion and rapid editing. Throughout its self-indulgent 150 minute running time, there is not one pleasurable or enjoyable moment – the film is just a series of redundant action sequences with an immeasurable amount of carnage that add up to no entertainment value. It’s been a long time since watching a movie has been this painful. *

“Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life”

Angelina Jolie returns as the infamous video game character Lara Croft to once again battle baddies and save the world in this at times entertaining, but entirely phony, adventure film. The movie so blatantly and poorly steals from other classic movies within the genre, not as a tribute like the Indiana Jones films, but rather as a result of a complete lack of creativity. Yet for some reason this movie still wants its audience to take it seriously, making it all the more laughable. It still has some entertainment value, though it’s barely passable as dumb fun. **


In a summer of relentless explosions and mind-numbing action, it’s a treat to watch a movie like this, a beautifully filmed and well-acted movie. It is slow-going near the beginning, though never boring, and when all its elements finally come together the movie finds a remarkable rhythm. Unfortunately it begins to wears down in the final act, missing its chance at greatness. Nonetheless, “Seabiscuit” is still a very good film, an old-fashioned and well-told story with some real emotional depth. ***

“American Wedding”

Much like the Austin Powers films, the third installment of the American Pie series is a step above its predecessor, but although funny at times, it doesn’t match the freshness of the original. The reason why it doesn’t match the first film is because it is much of the same, as many of the humor tends to come from these characters being thrust into the most awkward and sometimes vile situations. It may not be tasteful, but it does deliver the laughs. **½


Based on the 1970s television show, this intense cop movie is one of the more entertaining and less insulting action films of the summer. It does its job well because it is a simple story that paces itself nicely and delivers good action without ever really going over the top, which so many action movies do these days. What we have here is still a decent movie that does its job well and nothing more. Unlike “Bad Boys II,” this movie doesn’t assault your eyes or insult your intelligence, and even though it is a textbook affair, by comparison, it feels like a classic. **½

“Freddy vs. Jason”

For a very long time, die-hard horror film fans have been wondering what it would be like if horror icons Freddy Krueger and Jason Vorhees ever duked it out. And now their wait is over. Unfortunately, if you’re not a fan of either series, this movie is a complete waste of time. Like many horror films of recent days, this movie doesn’t seem to stretch beyond the known territory of modern day slashers and inevitably ventures into self-parody. It feels more like a comedy than anything else, an overly bloody and violent one. Fans are bound to love it, all others will likely laugh at all the silly clichés. **

“Open Range”

Kevin Costner directs and stars in this wonderful Western in the spirit of “High Noon” that is one of the best films of the year so far. He stars alongside Robert Duvall, both of whom give great performances in this beautifully shot and vividly realized film that paces itself very well and fully develops its characters. The story builds perfectly to an amazing climax in the form of a dazzling shootout. The love story feels rather out of place, but that’s a minor quibble for an otherwise great movie. ***½