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At the movies: The summer's biggest apocalyptic hits and misses

Aug. 30, 2013 - 10:57AM   |  
Matt Damon
Matt Damon, center, is seen in a scene from 'Elysium.' Military Times movie reviewer Chuck Vinch picked the film as the best apocalyptic movie of the summer. (TriStar, Columbia Pictures-Sony via AP)
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Jaden Smith starred in Columbia Pictures' 'After Earth' alongside his father, Will Smith. Military Times movie reviewer Chuck Vinch calls the film the worst of the summer's apocalyptic movies. (Sony Pictures)

Best to worst

One movie fan’s rankings are another movie fan’s TP, but just for funsies, here’s how I would stack this year’s apocalyptic horse race in terms of pure entertainment value:
1. “Elysium”
2. “This is the End”
3. “World War Z”
4. “The World’s End”
5. “Oblivion”
6. “Pacific Rim”
7. “After Earth”

Doomsayers have been predicting the end of the world for several millenniums now. In the summer of 2013, Hollywood got in on that act in a big way. This was truly an apocalyptic summer season, with no fewer than seven films sporting an “end of the world” theme of one shade or another.

The list is as eclectic as it is long: Tom Cruise’s sleek “Oblivion”; Will Smith’s father-son vanity bomb “After Earth”; the raucous and raunchy buddy flick “This is the End”; an epic pub crawl amid alien invasion in “The World’s End”; the global pandemic of “World War Z”; the sci-fi whackfest of “Pacific Rim”; the vicious class warfare of “Elysium.”

Of course, some worked better than others. Cruise, first out of the gate, was serviceable, then Smith’s misfire came and went with hardly a peep. “World War Z” and “This is the End” delivered the goods, “Pacific Rim” was so-so, and “The World’s End” and “Elysium” were two of the best coming near the tail end of the season. All had their apocalyptic moments, and here are some that stand out:

Freakiest apocalyptic moment. When the zombies of “World War Z” storm the 50-foot barrier in Israel, scrambling over each other like hyperactive ants and pouring up the wall.

Best tech. “Oblivion,” cool and sleek.

Most impenetrable accent. Jodie Foster, “Elysium.”

Most tone-deaf nepotism. Will Smith, for casting his not-ready-for-prime-time son in the lead role in “After Earth,” then sitting his own character on his butt for the entire flick.

Best broheim moment. The raging verbal warfare waged by James Franco and Danny McBride over some stuck-together pages in one of Franco’s favorite back issues of Penthouse in “This is the End.” This way-quirky flick also took the prize for sheer number of broheim moments.

Commander you’d most follow into battle. Idris Elba, “Pacific Rim.” Elba also gets the nod for best apocalyptic character name of Summer ’13: Stacker Pentecost.

Grandest vision, realized. Writer-director Neill Blomkamp, “Elysium.”

Grandest vision, unrealized. Will Smith and M. Night Shyamalan, “After Earth.”

Best line. “We’re going to see this through to the bitter end. Or … lager end.” Gary King (Simon Pegg), “The World’s End.”

Second-best line. “We can either sit here and do nothing or grab those flare guns and do something really stupid.” Herc Hansen (Max Martini), “Pacific Rim.”

Most ironic line. “Today, we are canceling the apocalypse!” Stacker Pentecost, “Pacific Rim.” And that is unlikely, as long as the studios continue to see cash in trashing old Mother Earth.

Best cameo. “This is the End” had the two best cameos among these films: Michael Cera completely torching his image by playing a foul-mouthed, coke-snorting party perv, and Emma Watson as an angry end-times survivor who wields an ax against James Franco and his nitwit buddies, which leads to this immortal line from McBride: “I think Hermione just stole our stuff.”

Tensest moment. The scene near the end of “World War Z” when Brad Pitt is in the lab trying to remain soundless as a zombie gnashes his teeth on the other side of a glass door.

Hit of the summer. The coolly realized production design of “Elysium.” Yes, the story teetered a bit, but Neill Blomkamp is a guy with a vision.

Miss of the summer. “After Earth,” which cost a fortune to create but couldn’t pull more than $60.5 million at the domestic box office, is already going down as a misfire of “Ishtar”-like proportions.

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