Looking back now, I can pinpoint the exact moment I fell out of love with summer movies: May 3, 2002. I ducked out of work early that afternoon to wait in line for the first screening of the first blockbuster movie of the summer. I remember looking around at the swarm of hooky-playing droolers and fanboys and knowing I was precisely where I was meant to be. I would’ve taken a bullet for these people. After all, we’d shared some indelible event-movie moments over the years. July 3, 1991: Opening day for Terminator 2. June 11, 1993: Jurassic Park. July 3, 1996: Independence Day. Hell, I’d even saved the ticket stubs. Now it was Spider-Man’s turn.
Sitting in the darkness of the theater, beaten numb by the whining adolescent angst of Peter Parker, fighting back a yawn during his schmaltzy rain-soaked smooch with Mary Jane Watson, nearly going into diabetic shock from all of the sugar-spun F/X eye candy that honestly couldn’t have looked more bogus, I felt…well, I felt really bored. At some point during those endless 121 minutes, I’d changed. And when the audience started whooping as the end credits rolled, I realized that my beloved summer movies were changing too.
That weekend, Spider-Man made $114 million — till then, the biggest three-day opening ever. And soon, it felt like every studio head in town, itching to wet his or her beak with Spider-Man’s box office backwash, was trotting out any half-baked comic-book flick that had been pitched across their desks: even the ones with C-list avengers like Daredevil, Punisher, and Ghost Rider. No superhero was too minor or crappy to be pulled out of the mothballs, tarted up, slapped on the ass, and turned into a bloated summer movie.
This might be a smart place to admit a few things. I personally don’t have anything against Tobey Maguire. And I think Spider-Man’s Sam Raimi is a fine director. In fact, I own all 307 versions of The Evil Dead on DVD. But I wasn’t one of those kids who grew up reading comic books with a flashlight in bed. I never dressed up like Green Lantern for Halloween. And I never had a dog in that timeless playground hypothetical: Who’d win in a fight, Superman or Batman? What I am — or was until recently — is a sucker for big, loud summer movies. The bigger and louder the better. I love the buildup and the promise they hold. I love the way these films trumpet the arrival of a new season, like leaves turning gold and red in autumn. These things mean something to me. Or at least they did before summer was hijacked by men in tights.
Not too long ago, Entourage skewered Hollywood’s craven appetite for superheroes when it cast Vince Chase in a movie version of Aquaman, perhaps the most ridiculous crime fighter in the DC Comics stable. The satire wasn’t exactly Swiftian in its subtlety. After all, no one would ever seriously consider sinking a couple hundred million bucks into a movie about an Aryan-looking amphibian who can mind-meld with Shamu, right? Well, it turned out that real development execs had been kicking around the idea of turning Aquaman into a movie for a while. In fact, guess who’ll be swimming toward a theater near you in Justice League some day?
NEXT PAGE: ”Depending on your tolerance for coughing up 10 bucks to witness movie stars in snug spandex, this summer is shaping up to be either Nerdvana or a slog akin to the Bataan Death March.”