RT's Summer in Review: The Best, The Worst, and Our Favorite Films!

From Batman to the box office, we revisit an unusually good summer in movies.

by | September 2, 2008 | Comments


The summer movie season of 2008 ended last weekend, and boy, was it a good one. Led by box office smashes like Iron Man, Wall-E, and The Dark Knight, Hollywood raked in the dough week after week — and, surprisingly, scored major Freshness on the Tomatometer in the process. Rotten Tomatoes takes a look at the Summer in Review to revisit the critical and commercial hits and misses of the summer.

Inside find out which movies fared the best and the worst with critics, which films made box office magic and which earned less than enchanting returns, and how each of the major studios measured up over the course of the season. Also, see which films Rotten Tomatoes’ own editors picked as their favorites of the summer! Chime in below with your thoughts on Hollywood’s summer of ’08.


The Top 10 Tomatometers of the Summer




more info…

10.
Wanted

Tomatometer: 73%

Summer comic book movies are usually based on established heroes — as Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, and Batman can attest — but Universal wanted something out of the ordinary. Their first step? Hire upstart Russian director Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch), who infused the film, about a new inductee into a super-powered ring of assassins, with his signature visual flair. Combined with a script loosely adapted from the comic of the same name, uber geek elements like “bullet bending,” physics-defying set pieces, and Angelina Jolie as a sultry killer, Wanted turned out to be one of the more unabashedly entertaining — and simultaneously critically approved — popcorn flicks of the summer.




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9.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Tomatometer: 77%

Say what you will about the long-awaited return of Indiana Jones, but even almost two decades after his last crusade, critics decided that the fedora still fit. Director Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas seemed to revisit a lot of familiar ground in the fourth big-screen franchise outing, but their 1950s Area 51-esque plotline — and the sheer coolness of seeing Harrison Ford reprise his trademark role — provided enough thrills to delight longtime fans. Could Indy’s newly introduced son (Shia La Beouf) don the fedora in further sequels? $780 million in worldwide returns point to “yes.”




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8.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Tomatometer: 80%

Woody Allen’s latest effort opened quietly in limited release before expanding into theaters nationwide, allowing the ebullient enthusiasm of critics to spread. Considering the mixed results of Allen’s work of late (going from the Oscar-nominated Match Point to the uneven Melinda & Melinda, to the disappointing Scoop, to the middling Cassandra’s Dream), critics discovered that watching the Spanish-set Vicky Cristina Barcelona was like unearthing a gem. At 80 percent, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is Allen’s best reviewed film since 1997’s Everyone Says I Love You (83 percent).




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7.
Kit Kittredge: An American Girl

Tomatometer: 80%

Critics (and parents) often groan inwardly when they sit down to watch a family film, but Kit Kittredge: An American Girl Mystery proved a surprisingly good watch for all ages. Credit for much of the film’s success goes to Little Miss Sunshine Abigail Breslin, but we can also thank director Patricia Rozema (Mansfield Park) and scribe Ann Peacock (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe) for infusing the kid mystery with wholesome smarts.




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6.
Tropic Thunder

Tomatometer: 83%

Ben Stiller’s Vietnam-set Hollywood satire brought up the rear of this summer’s line up, opening mid-August as (arguably) the last event movie of the season. And it surely did pay off. Audiences loved Tropic Thunder; critics made it Certified Fresh. Even protests over its controversial “Simple Jack” and blackface plot devices couldn’t get this war comedy down. Tropic Thunder also notably became the best-reviewed summer film to open since The Dark Knight debuted a month prior, and the first film to topple The Bat’s stronghold on the box office.




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5.
Kung Fu Panda

Tomatometer: 88%

Let it not be said that Pixar has a stronghold on doing animation well; DreamWorks SKG proved otherwise with Kung Fu Panda, starring Jack Black as a rotund bear destined for martial arts greatness. Prior to release, DreamWorks honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg hinted at the possibility of five or six Kung Fu Panda films, a la Shrek; one 88 percent Tomatometer and $577 million later, we’d say a Kung Fu Panda franchise looks very likely, indeed.




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4.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Tomatometer: 88%

While previous summers saw sequelized blockbusters rake in the dough but fall far below Fresh on the Tomatometer (see last year’s Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End), this summer boasted sequels aplenty that were also critically loved. Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army was one such movie, not only returning its beloved cigar-chomping hero to the screen, but improving on the first film in the process (Hellboy, 80 percent).




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3.
Iron Man

Tomatometer: 93%

While the summer of 2008 will be remembered for the domination of The Dark Knight, let’s not forget another comic book superhero that made his mark on critics and audiences: Iron Man. The Marvel character sprang to life in May, thanks to Robert Downey Jr.’s witty star turn and Jon Favreau’s glossy direction. Just one point and about 40 reviews shy of The Dark Knight, Iron Man could even potentially catch up and surpass Batman on the Tomatometer…




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2.
The Dark Knight

Tomatometer: 94%

When Christopher Nolan rescued the oft-silly Batman franchise from campy irrelevance in 2005, critics took note: Batman Begins introduced a gloomier dark knight and went Certified Fresh at 85 percent on the Tomatometer. This summer’s eagerly anticipated The Dark Knight followed suit, and then some; it scored an impressive 94 percent on the Tomatometer and dominated the summer box office for weeks, breaking records — and expectations — left and right. Not bad for a comic book movie!




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1.
Wall-E

Tomatometer: 97%

In grand Pixar tradition, Wall-E not only charmed the pants off of critics and audiences alike, it blasted its way to the top of the Tomatometer to become the best-reviewed film of the year so far. (Recent Pixar movies Ratatouille and The Incredibles also opened to critical acclaim and went on to become the best-reviewed wide releases of their respective years.) The tale of a lonely little robot is well positioned to win this year’s Golden Tomato Award…and if the Academy follows suit, Pixar might just have a few more of those gold statuettes to put on their mantle.

Next: The 10 Worst Tomatometers of the Summer


The 10 Worst Tomatometers of the Summer




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10.
Meet Dave

Tomatometer: 20%

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Critics and audiences alike have been mourning the apparent passing of classic Eddie Murphy for several years now, citing the likes of The Adventures of Pluto Nash and Norbit as examples of the dismal turns his career has taken. Unfortunately, Meet Dave isn’t the movie that’s going to change that trend. Settling in at 20 percent on the Tomatometer, it sadly doesn’t qualify as the lowest-rated film in Murphy’s career, but most assert that the clever premise (devised by a Mystery Science Theater 3000 alumnus, Bill Corbett) gets bogged down by stale writing and sitcom-level humor. Meet Dave has its handful of moments, but they just weren’t enough to propel the movie out of our worst-reviewed list.




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9.
Clone Wars

Tomatometer: 20%

Intended to be an introduction to the TV series of the same name that will debut later this year, The Clone Wars might just have been the least anticipated “Star Wars film” ever released. After disappointing many a fan with the prequel trilogy, George Lucas came right back with this animated feature and failed to rally anyone but his most faithful of followers. To be fair, the movie does suffer from the fact that it was originally supposed to air as the first three episodes of the TV show, and as far as animation goes, The Clone Wars looks great for television but subpar for the big screen. Many critics seem to agree that it will do much better when it transitions to its half-hour episodes, but for now, the feature film debut sits at 20 percent on the Tomatometer, making it #7 in our list.




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8.
The Happening

Tomatometer: 19%

We were already becoming a little skeptical of M. Night Shyamalan after The Village underperformed and Lady in the Water downright flopped, but even as audiences grew disillusioned about the suspense director, few could have expected the depths to which he would fall with his latest, The Happening. The trailers were intriguing, especially considering this was Shyamalan’s first R-rated feature, but the overall premise of the film was kept secret fairly effectively, and with a couple of hits under Shyamalan’s belt, the hope was that this would be a return to form. Unfortunately, while it offered some of his trademark chills, Happening mostly fell flat, due to a poorly crafted script, some wooden acting, and what some ultimately deemed to be a silly premise. If this downward trend continues, Shyamalan may earn himself the title of “one-trick pony.”




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7.
Mirrors

Tomatometer: 16%

Asian horror remakes are a dime a dozen in Hollywood these days, but that doesn’t stop enterprising directors and studios from consistently making them happen. Mirrors, originally a Korean film, is the latest of the appropriated imports, but with a respectable cast (Kiefer Sutherland, Amy Smart, Paula Patton) and an experienced horror director (Alexandre Aja — High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes) at the helm, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to expect a halfway decent frightfest. Unfortunately, the movie was dull, with few scares and an overly convoluted plot, thus earning it a 16 percent on the Tomatometer and a #6 spot on our Worst Reviewed list.




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6.
The Love Guru

Tomatometer: 14%

After doing mostly voice work as Shrek and appearing in a few film cameos, Mike Myers came back in The Love Guru with his first starring vehicle since The Cat in the Hat in ’03. Unfortunately, critics weren’t feeling the Love in his latest feature, complaining that the character didn’t work, that the writing was lazy, and that the jokes were juvenile and, even worse, simply not funny. All things considered, The Love Guru still performed better overall than the aforementioned Cat in the Hat, earning a 14 percent Tomatometer score to Cat‘s 12 percent, but it was enough to place it as the fifth worst-reviewed film of the summer.




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5.
College

Tomatometer: 14%

Last summer’s Superbad was such a breakout hit, MGM decided to remake it for this summer season…only by “remake” we mean cop a poor imitation of that flick and just about every other college-set comedy ever made. Teen idol Drake Bell (of Nickelodeon’s Drake and Josh fame), whose attempt at crossing over into “mature” roles began with this year’s inane Superhero Movie, dug himself even deeper into Rotten territory in College, which opened last week, the dumping ground of the summer season. Gross-out humor in the vein of Porky’s failed to impress critics, who found the teen buddy comedy to be overly vulgar, homophobic, and sexist — all of which might have been more acceptable if it were only funny.




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4.
Made of Honor

Tomatometer: 12%

After achieving big-screen success with 2007’s widely acclaimed Enchanted, Patrick Dempsey tried again to bank on his “McDreamy” persona in Made of Honor. Unfortunately, the movie felt just a little too familiar (My Best Friend’s Wedding, anyone?) to most of its viewers, and with nothing particularly unique or interesting to set it apart from its recycled plot, stale humor, and romantic comedy clichés, Made of Honor found its way to our worst-reviewed list for the summer. Scoring a dismal 12 percent on the Tomatometer and prompting such criticisms as “cookie-cutter” and “stew of mediocrity,” the movie is notable for, if nothing else, being the final film appearance of the late Sydney Pollack.




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3.
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Tomatometer: 11%

Seven years after its first sequel was released, the Mummy franchise returned this year with its third installment. While neither of the first two movies could be considered critical darlings themselves, Dragon Emperor brought the series to a new low, earning a paltry 11 percent on the Tomatometer, compared to 54 percent and 47 percent for its predecessors. Many cited the formulaic, poorly written script and the heavy use of CGI as reasons why Dragon Emperor ultimately fell flat. It’s difficult to go wrong when you’ve got Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, dragons, and abominable snowmen, but Tomb of the Dragon Emperor somehow managed to secure one of the lowest Tomatometers of any movie this summer.




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2.
Babylon A.D.

Tomatometer: 4%

You know you’re in for a bumpy ride when a director publicly denounces his own film, as Babylon A.D. helmer Mathieu Kassovitz did a week before its release. Once the world took a gander at the sci-fi actioner, it seemed to agree wholeheartedly. With unintentionally cheesy dialogue, poorly staged set pieces, and a silly, muddled plot, the Vin Diesel vehicle played exactly as many people expected — which might be good enough for Diesel fans, but certainly not for critics. Just how bad is Babylon A.D.? Were it not for two lone positive reviews — U.K. critics James Christopher of The Times and Xan Brooks of The Guardian — the flick would be looking at double zeroes on the Tomatometer.




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1.
Disaster Movie

Tomatometer: 0%

Speaking of zero percent Tomatometers…we’ve got Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, quite possibly the most reviled cinematic duo since Hitler and Riefenstahl. (Though Triumph of the Will would probably be Certified Fresh given enough reviews.) Friedberg’s and Seltzer’s long-standing assault on spoof comedy (and cinema, in general) appears to be hitting its stride with Disaster Movie, a film so hastily thrown together that it spoofs trailers, which currently holds a zero percent Tomatometer. This year has been rife with the goose eggs (Witless Protection, Deal, Strange Wilderness, One Missed Call), but this Tomatometer is especially important for Friedberg and Seltzer: after getting single-digit percentages on their previous movies, they’ve finally hit the coveted rock-bottom. Enjoy, guys, you’ve earned it.

Next: The Best and Worst Box Office Earners of the Summer

The Best and Worst Box Office Earners of the Summer

While capturing both critical and commercial success seems to be as difficult an achievement as capturing lightning in a bottle (moreso for a summer blockbuster), the summer of 2008 saw an unusually high number of well-reviewed hit movies. Christopher Nolan’s grown-up superhero movie The Dark Knight struck that rare confluence of art and commerce, driving Bat-fans the world over into a ticket-buying Bat-frenzy, but it also earned raves and Oscar-buzz, and could end up one of the best-reviewed films of the year. Furthermore, The Dark Knight was in good company with its fellow top money-makers, as only two Top Ten films — the femme-driven event flick, Sex and the City: The Movie and Will Smith’s Hancock — earned a rotten Tomatometer rating.

Top 10 Box Office Earners (Gross)

1. The Dark Knight $493,671,047
2. Iron Man $317,570,520
3.


Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the


Crystal Skull

$315,337,154
4. Hancock $226,547,044
5. Wall-E $216,798,080
6. Kung Fu Panda $212,958,340
7. Sex and the City $152,440,062
8.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

$141,550,527
9. The Incredible Hulk $134,426,930
10. Wanted $133,822,865

Bottom 10 Box Office Earners (Gross)

*Films released prior to the week of August 29, 2008

1. The Rocker $4,664,559
2. Fly Me to the Moon $4,733,063
3. The Longshots $5,149,624
4. Vicky Cristina Barcelona $9,783,911
5. Meet Dave $11,662,184
6. Swing Vote $15,555,204
7. Death Race $16,849,530
8. Kit Kittredge: An American Girl $17,408,308
9. The House Bunny $19,551,243
10. The X-Files: I Want to Believe $20,750,074

Next: Which Studio Came Out on Top?

Which Studio Came Out on Top?




1. Paramount
Average Tomatometer: 71%
Box office: $966 million

Summer’s winner! Paramount is the only major studio to achieve more than one
$200 million hit leading to the highest box office total, and it did so with
the highest Tomatometer average (four of its five movies hit Certified Fresh
status). The critics’ influence may be diminished during opening weekend, but
here we see good
reviews are indicating what summer movies will have positive
word-of-mouth and staying power.

Movie

B.O.

Tomatometer

Iron Man

$318m


93%

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

$316m


77%

Kung Fu Panda

$213m


88%

Tropic Thunder

$87m


83%

The Love Guru

$32m


14%





2. Disney
Average Tomatometer: 67%
Box office: $376 million

Disney has the least amount of movies, with two of them vastly underperforming
(Swing Vote was a blip and Prince Caspian‘s gross is only half of The Lion,
The Witch, and the Wardrobe
‘s). The silver lining: Wall-E is this year’s
best-reviewed movie and has a strong chance of remaining so if Pixar’s past
performance record is any indication.

Movie

B.O.

Tomatometer

Wall-E

$218m


97%

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

$142m

66%

Swing Vote

$16m


40%





3. Warner Bros.
Average Tomatometer: 56%
Box office: $1.02 billion

The fact that Warner Bros. put out the summer’s most notorious bomb (Speed
Racer)
is easily offset by the enormous success of The Dark Knight. It’s
become second-highest grossing movie off all time (and Certified Fresh to
boot!), pushing WB over the $1 billion mark for the summer.

Movie

B.O.

Tomatometer

The Dark Knight

$504m


94%

Sex and the City

$153m


51%

Get Smart

$129m


52%

Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D (New Line)

$96m


61%

Speed Racer

$43m


36%

The Sisterhood of Traveling Pants 2

$41m


63%

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (Picturehouse)

$32m


80%

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

$30m


18%





4. Universal
Average Tomatometer: 53%
Box office: $655 million

Wanted gave Universal a surprise critical and commercial hit and Mamma Mia!
has quietly become the highest grossing musical ever. Surprisingly, it was the
superheroes that let the studio down, with both The Incredible Hulk and
Hellboy falling shy of recovering their reported costs.

Movie

B.O.

Tomatometer

Wanted

$134m


73%

The Incredible Hulk

$134m


67%

Mamma Mia!

$133m


54%

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

$98m


11%

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

$76m


88%

The Strangers

$52m


42%

Death Race

$25m


40%

Hamlet 2

$3m


61%





5. Sony
Average Tomatometer: 40%
Box office: $581 million

Sony was in classic Hollywood mode this summer, relying on the stars like Will
Smith, Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell to draw crowds in. Behind the scenes, Judd Apatow proved
reliable once more, producing the studio’s sole fresh movie.

Movie

B.O.

Tomatometer

Hancock

$227m


38%

You Don’t Mess With the Zohan

$100m


34%

Step Brothers

$98m


51%

Pineapple Express

$80m


68%

Made of Honor

$47m


12%

The House Bunny

$29m


40%





6. Fox
Average Tomatometer: 26%
Box office: $250 million

It was a brutal summer for Fox, which lacked a single fresh movie or $100
million success. If Paramount is keeping its audience around with fresh movies,
Fox proves the vice versa: resoundingly rotten ones can repel audiences.

Movie

B.O.

Tomatometer

What Happens in Vegas

$80m


27%

The Happening

$65m


19%

Space Chimps

$29m


33%

Mirrors

$25m


21%

The X-Files: I Want to Believe

$21m


33%


Babylon A.D.

$12m


04%

Meet Dave

$12m


20%

The Rocker

$6m


36%

Next: RT’s Editors Pick Their Favorite Films of the Summer


RT Editors’ Favorite Films of the Summer

Here in the RT office we all had our favorite films this summer. And we didn’t always agree with the Tomatometer. But hey, that’s what favorite means — rhyme or reason aside, these movies spoke to us. Below, our editors share their picks!

Join in below and let us know what you think were the best and worst films of the summer season.

The Dark Knight, picked by Editor in Chief Matt Atchity

My pick for best movie of the summer? I’m going to have to go with The Dark Knight. It’s not perfect; Bale’s Bat-voice is a bit much after a while, and it runs perilously close to overstaying its welcome, but those (very minor) complaints aside, it’s a fantastic film. As with Batman Begins, this film is as much a psychological crime drama as it is a comic book movie, and continues to take a sort of realistic look at the idea of a costumed vigilante. And if Batman Begins showed us a plausible scenario that could result in the creation of the Batman, then The Dark Knight shows us how the world would respond; the citizens of Gotham both embrace and condemn him. But if the Batman represents the extreme avatar of order amidst chaos, then it’s inevitable that someone will rise to Batman’s challenge. Which brings me of course to the Joker. Heath Ledger‘s Joker is simply the best comic book villain ever to menace the screen. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that Ledger’s Joker is going to stick with us as an iconic villain, along the lines of Hannibal Lecter, Darth Vader, and Norman Bates. It’s truly a tragedy that Ledger isn’t with us anymore, if for no other reason than that he’ll never experience the acclaim he so richly deserves.

Iron Man, picked by RT Australia Editor Joanna Cohen

I first loved Robert Downey Jr. in Less than Zero as a spoiled new romantic with deep, glassy eyes and a pastel blazer. Since 1987 I have remained devoted through every dive of his cardiac-like celebrity Tomatometer graph. Iron Man is Robert Downey Jr. and vice versa. The flawed genius, the troubled vulnerability…I adored every misogynistic, world-dominating, politically incorrect moment. He shone. And someone should give Gwyneth an award for best acting of a pencil skirt.

Gonzo, picked by Editor Sara Schieron

Telling you it inspired my summer reading list will make Alex Gibney‘s Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson sound a lot less hot than it is. A doc about Hunter S. Thompson, the miserable genius, self-titled “Dr.” and inventor of Gonzo Journalism, Gonzo paints a crystal portrait of an era and a man that in some light looks golden and in others looks leaden. Thompson and his stories teeter between snark and melancholy, fascinating always, by page or by screen.

Mongol, picked by
Community Manager Ryan Fujitani

This summer brought us several wildly entertaining blockbusters, but the one movie that got me hitting up Wikipedia and updating my “countries to visit” list was Mongol, a moderately successful indie biopic chronicling the life and times of Genghis Khan. It may have had something to do with my fascination for ancient cultures and fallen empires, but Mongol grabbed me from the start and wrapped me up in its epic story until the credits rolled. While the movie isn’t without its problems (questionable editing choices, a somewhat abrupt ending), the cinematography was appropriately gorgeous, the action was visceral and cathartic, and Mr. Khan himself was fascinating to watch. Oh, and it inspired me to grow a beard and move every three months.

Pineapple Express, picked by Editor Alex Vo

The Dark Knight‘s better-crafted, and WALL-E got me a little teary, but I haven’t had as much plain ol’ movie fun all year than watching Pineapple Express the first two times. (Yeah, here’s that rare movie that’s beckoned me back to the theater multiple times.) The movie’s alternately breezy and intense, while director David Gordon Green‘s loving care towards fringe characters makes Pineapple Express feel earthy and organic, a rarity for so-called stoner flicks.

Wall-E, picked by Senior Editor Tim Ryan

Is WALL-E more poignant than City Lights? Is it a more potent allegory than Metropolis? Is it as powerful a reflection on what it is to be a cognizant being than 2001? Time will tell if Pixar’s latest marvel is mentioned alongside those classics in the cinematic canon, but let the debate begin here. Achingly romantic, darkly funny, and blessed with some of the most remarkable visuals ever committed to celluloid, WALL-E is one for the ages — and great summer fun to boot.

Speed Racer, picked by Senior Editor Jen Yamato

This particular pick is bound to stir some controversy (bring it on, haters!), but so be it: Speed Racer was my favorite summer flick of 2008. Inventive, innovative, intriguing, spectacular — the Wachowski brothers’ live-action, anime-based adventure is everything I hoped it would be, and more. It’s a “kid flick” I’d have enjoyed as much as a tyke as I do today, a film that transcends the medium as we’ve known it, bursting through traditional boundaries of moviemaking to create an entirely absorbing, eye-popping, immersive alternate reality. It is the movie equivalent of mixing Coca Cola and Pop Rocks. Or like BeDazzling your cerebral cortex. Which would be awesome, were it only possible…

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