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Summer movie recaps: Sci-Fi movies out now that guarantee to distract you from academic woes

By Anthony Lauriello     8/20/11 7:00pm

As the summer of 2011 reaches an end, our minds naturally turn to the idea of escape. The economy is more volatile and unpredictable than freshmen dating patterns and soon we must mercilessly defend our GPAs. Fortunately, three science fiction summer blockbusters in theaters now offer the chance to leave our studious world for a little while so we can retain some sanity as Rice begins to take it all away.

Captain America: The First Avenger takes us back to a more simple time when bravery, steroids and tights solved all of mankind's problems. Like the original comic book source material, the movie follows scrawny Brooklyn kid Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, The Fantastic Four) who is continually denied from joining the army due to his many medical conditions and meek physique. However, this all changes when Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci, The Devil Wears Prada) signs him up for an experiment where a special serum turns him into the super soldier Captain America. Initially forced into doing propaganda work to sell war bonds, Rogers soon gets to fulfill his dream of fighting for his country as he earns the command to lead an anachronistically multiethnic squad of soldiers against the Nazi research division, Hydra, led by the nefarious Red Skull (Hugo Weaving, The Matrix).

The film works well as a fun, simple, action packed comic book story. The CGI that makes Mr. Evans look skinny at the beginning of the film was awkward at times, but it doesn't spoil the movie. As the title implies, the entire film is a setup for the Marvel supergroup movie, The Avengers, which, despite the snobbery I have garnered from writing movie reviews, I anxiously await.

Going back even further in fictional American history is another comic book movie, Cowboys & Aliens. The genre mash-up tells the story of amnesia-ridden outlaw Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig, Casino Royale) and gruff rancher Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford, Air Force One) marshaling the forces of the Wild West to combat alien invaders.

Despite one of the strongest blockbuster premises in recent memory, the film fails to fill the large cowboy boots in the way audiences expect. Instead of making a western with mysterious extraterrestrials, Director Jon Favreau (Iron Man) opts for a modern film chock full of genre cliches, more akin to Transformers than Stagecoach. Good westerns explore shades of morality, with laconic heroes who must do evil in order to achieve their sometimes laudable goals. Despite great acting from the two leads, this film never develops dimensional, or even interesting, characters.

A film with even more boring men and women is Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Luckily the film does have memorable roles played not by actors, but by computer-generated simians. Set in a very near future and thousands of years before the Charleston Heston classic Planet of the Apes, the movie centers around an ape called Caesar (Andy Serkis, Lord of the Rings) who develops amazing intellectual skills after medical researcher Will Rodman (James Franco, 127 Hours) tests his cure for Alzheimer's disease on chimps. Caesar begins as a son figure to Rodman, but soon learns the discriminatory nature of our species-centric society and organizes a revolution. The film entertains, but it misses the whole point of The Planet of the Apes: that humans became so good at destroying themselves that evolution favored monkeys. Furthermore, Rodman becomes unnecessary in the third act of the film, but for some reason remains awkwardly present. Rise of the Planet of the Apes might be the second best in the franchise, but that doesn't mean it's close to the first.

I enjoyed seeing all three of these movies, but sadly none of them show any of the staying power or relevance as Inception or other recent blockbusters. As we move away from the summer and into the more pretentious period of Oscar contenders, I can only hope that 2012 delivers the truly spectacular movie 2011 never did. Speaking of which, did you see the new Dark Night Rises trailer?

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