Surprise and the Summer Genre Picture

A summer movie season with more than a little surprise factor to it is winding down now with its latest surprise unfolding. Terminator Genisys, mostly critically derided, a domestic box office disappointment, is, ah, morphing into a global box office hit following a blitz of China by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The fifth film in the Terminator franchise, a controversial and many would say convoluted time travel reboot, just launched over the weekend in the Middle Kingdom with the fourth highest opening in Chinese box office history. Only the latest Fast & Furious, Avengers, and Transformers pictures have opened bigger.

Thus a film which has grossed not quite $90 million at the domestic box office is poised to go well over $400 million worldwide and likely assure two more planned films in the series. Which I expect will be better than the current picture. More on that in a moment.

Just the other day, Terminator Genisys looked like a franchise-ending disappointment. Now it looks like a global hit.

This summer of no little surprise began even before the season itself with Fast & Furious 7 stunningly becoming the fifth biggest film of all time in worldwide box office thanks to its amazing international returns, especially in China.

The return of Mad Max via, er, Fury Road brought critical acclaim and big returns, though less than Terminator 5 and nowhere near that of Furious 7 or, especially, one of the biggest shockers, Jurassic World.

I expected the Jurassic Park remake/restart/update to be a sizable hit. It was time for another dinosaur movie, and star Chris Pratt, who makes a great impression off-screen, was a marvel as it were in last year's much beloved Guardians of the Galaxy. But, like everybody else, I sure never saw the third biggest movie of all-time, in both domestic and worldwide box office, coming down the pike. Even after watching it in the theater I still don't see why it's so huge. Bigger than the first Avengers? Are you kidding? But there it is.

Which brings us to our next surprise, the under-performance, so to speak of Avengers 2. Which I discussed here a month and a half ago.

It's more than a bit psychotic to say that a movie which took in over $1.4 billion in world wide box office, sixth highest of all-time, currently sitting at eighth on the all-time domestic box office list, and which is a very interesting and well-done film to boot, is an under-achiever. Yet, with the growth in Hollywood's international box office reach, it was expected to do better than 2012's The Avengers worldwide even if it lacked the novelty and magic of that first superhero team-up.

Yet it did fall short, both commercially and, perhaps more crucially, culturally. There was not nearly the amount of fan buzz around the picture one would expect, especially given how much actually happened in it.

A very consequential picture for the Marvel Cinematic Universe -- now far and away the leading movie franchise -- it may actually have been too full of intriguing things, more than a few of which felt truncated for the sake of the film's running time.

The second Marvelverse picture of the summer, the well-reviewed, frequently hilarious, and mostly delightful Ant-Man, did very well but did not ignite as an offbeat sensation like last summer's Guardians of the Galaxy.

As a result, this year's Marvelverse offerings, despite bigger box office takings, surprisingly proved less impactful than last year's line-up of Guardians of the Galaxy and the allegorical action heavy-hitter Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

And, though Marvel Studios has nothing to do with it, since a previous Marvel owner, New York financier Ronald Perelan, long ago sold the film rights to Fox, this month's incredible failure of the rebooted Fantastic Four based on the Marvel Comic title still reflects poorly if indirectly on Marvel and the comic book/superhero genre in general.

This Fantastic Four went too young and insipid with its superheroes, dour and gloomy in aspect, a surprisingly dull film. It makes the earlier and rather fluffy Fantastic Four films, little loved yet commercially successful in the Noughties, with the pre-Captain America Chris Evans, Jessica Alba et al starring, look like cinematic masterpieces.

It's really unfortunate that Marvel can't get control of Fantastic Four and X-Men (decent at another studio but could be much better) back as it's in the process of doing with the mishandled Spider-Man, but those foolhardy old licensing deals are still in effect.

Fortunately, the fifth Mission: Impossible film came out around the same time to show once again how a proper genre action film is done, as I discussed in this piece on the venerable '60s franchise and why it shows little sign of aging.

Like its 53-going on-33 star/producer, Ton Cruise, who must have his own portrait of Dorian Grey stashed in a vault somewhere.

The fifth Mission: Impossible, which garnered near unanimous strong reviews stands in contrast to another movie out this month, the latest attempt by a fellow '60s TV spy show (following I Spy and The Wild Wild West) to join MI in franchise territory. That's The Man from UNCLE.

Like his far more successful Sherlock Holmes pictures -- Robert Downey, Jr.'s 'other' franchise -- director Guy Ritchie's movie is a very stylish and energetic period picture. It's actually pretty darn good. But it lacks the strong casting of MI and Sherlock -- and I'm not just talking about Downey and Cruise -- that can carry a movie past lackluster or dodgy script elements.

Casting is another area cited by most negative Terminator Genisys reviews as a problem for the picture. Not Schwarzenegger, who actually got good reviews, but too much of the rest of the ensemble.

Who knew that a remake of Jurassic Park would turn into the third biggest box office hit of all time?

With the possible exception of Matt Smith, who's barely in the current picture, there's no one in the non-Arnold Terminator cast who is as strong as any of Cruise's compatriots and adversaries in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation. Fortunately, Smith is likely to have a much bigger part in future Terminators.

Longtime readers know I love the offbeat British scifi series Doctor Who and that I think Smith was one of the very finest Doctors. It was good to see him cast in the new Terminator, especially since the character he plays is so wildly different from the persistently benevolent protector of humanity that is the Doctor. The one thing Smith's Doctor Who and Terminator characters have in common is their intelligence.

Which is a roundabout way of saving that, now that Schwarzenegger has gotten this vehicle to clear the trees at the end of the runway, the next picture in the series may be much more popular and critically successful in North America, not to mention more interesting.

It's also a good sign for what may be the revival of another classic Schwarzenegger character, the special forces major in Predator. Old Arnold friend Shane Black, writer-director of the very clever mega-hit Iron Man 3 and creator of the Lethal Weapon franchise, is relighting Predator, which has limped through several Arnold-free iterations since the 1987 classic. That film also co-starred Black himself as a member of the ill-fated special ops team.

Perhaps it can be Schwarzenegger's version of In Harm's Way, the John Wayne World War II Navy epic of 50 years ago in which the veteran superstar, as the original version of "The Rock," Admiral Rockwell Torrey, dominates the action-packed proceedings and a very powerful cast of co-stars without ever firing a shot or throwing a punch. Not unlike, say, a Governor of California.

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