Summer Film Recap: Janie Walenda’s summer of spiders and turtles and raccoons, oh my!

By Janie Walenda

Tradition is important to me.  That’s why during finals week for two years in a row, I dragged a group of friends to go see a Marvel movie in theatres.  So on May 5th, six college students sprinted into the movie theatre at 7:45 for a 7:30 showing of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.” At least one college student walked out sobbing (and I have cried every time I’ve rewatched it.) 

While I am perfectly capable of enjoying movies by myself, with my Barbenheimer experience as a perfect example, there is nothing like sharing a movie experience with people you’re close to.  Whether it was crying to GOTG3 with my friends on the last night of school, cheering the appearance of Lego Spiderman in “Across the Spiderverse” with my brother, or just enjoying the experience of going to “TMNT: Mutant Mayhem” with my dad, these are the movies that made my summer. 

And what if I said that this is my favorite comic book fight scene.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” earned the dubious title of “movie that made me cry the most.” That sounds like a ridiculous statement to make when the movie is about a talking raccoon, but part of the franchise’s charm is its ability to balance the absurd with the heartfelt. The most prominent heart-rending element is Rocket’s story. The abject cruelty of his backstory, especially when contrasted with the growth and closure he receives in the film, is the emotional core of the film. The High Evolutionary is one of the most bone-chilling MCU villains, and for Christians, his character points towards the miracle that we have a good and holy Creator. 

The other heartbeat of the film is the Guardians’ relationship as a family. James Gunn gives each of these characters a full arc and a happy, albeit bittersweet, ending. I’m particularly impressed with how Gamora and Peter’s relationship ended. While Gunn could’ve easily written the characters back into a relationship, he instead writes a surprisingly mature story that allows both of them to grow and grieve. 

Of course, it wouldn’t be a GOTG movie if it wasn’t side-splittingly hilarious. The characters remain weird and irreverent, with my personal favorite being the new addition of Will Poulter as Adam Warlock. All of these elements add up to make “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” my latest comfort movie. A movie that I know will make me laugh and cry, and ultimately leave me more grateful for all the wacky people in my life.

The Spot’s transformation from a goofy side villain to a menacing threat is perfect.

I was more than a little nervous going into “Across the Spider-verse.” I consider the first movie, “Into the Spider-verse,” a pretty much perfect movie, so it was hard for me to believe that ATSV could live up to its predecessor. While I’m still biased towards ITSV, it is impossible to deny that ATSV, like the first, is a near-perfect masterpiece. 

After ITSV forever changed the industry standard for animation, ATSV sets a nigh-impossible bar to clear with its animation. From the watercolors of Gwen’s universe to Hobie’s mind-bending distinctive style, to the Spot’s constantly unnerving presence, ATSV is a masterpiece in every frame. 

ATSV also sets the bar for multiverse stories, an increasingly popular superhero story in the mainstream. The film uses its dimension-hopping premise to strengthen its themes and moral dilemma, and manages to keep the stakes high despite having the comic book equivalent of a “get out of jail free card.”

In a film with a large ensemble cast, multiple storylines and character arcs, ATSV still manages to highlight Miles Morales as its main character and push his story forward from ITSV in a dramatic and seamless fashion. That doesn’t make the other characters any less compelling. Gwen takes Peter B. Parker’s spot as the secondary protagonist in this movie and goes through an incredibly captivating hero’s journey. Miguel O’Hara and The Spot shine as the film’s complex antagonists, and new characters Hobie Brown and Pavitr Prabhakar completely steal my heart. 

There are few things more exciting to experience in a movie theatre than plot twists and cliffhangers. The last fifteen minutes of ATSV set it apart as one of the best cliffhangers of the modern age. The movie still stands on its own and has a full story, mostly through Gwen’s story arc, but for Miles Morales, this is clearly part two of his story. ATSV knew exactly where to end to make its own story complete while setting up the final film in the trilogy.

When “Mutant Mayhem” does action, it does action right.

As a professional nerd, it’s honestly appalling that “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” was my first experience with the franchise. Despite the fact that my dad had to tell me which color went with each character on the way to the theatre, “TMNT: Mutant Mayhem” made a new fan out of me.

A large part of the film’s charm is its animation. It joins the ranks of “Mitchells vs. The Machines” and “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” which are clearly inspired by Spider-verse, but “Mutant Mayhem” clearly makes the style its own. One of its most endearing features is just how ugly everything this. That sounds like a back-handed compliment, but from the character design to the locations, “Mutant Mayhem” feels grungy and unsanitized in a way that is sure to either delight or frighten children, which is the hallmark of a fantastic children’s movie. The ugliness doesn’t mean that the film is not visually appealing; rather the film doesn’t have the shiny, plastic feeling that a lot of modern 3-D animation has. 

“Mutant Mayhem” is at its strongest when it’s taking advantage of its central characters. The turtles have an excellent family dynamic and play off each other in believable and entertaining ways. They clearly have different roles in the team and different story beats, making their development cohesive and entertaining.

“Mutant Mayhem” is a fantastic family movie, holding appeal for both kids and the kids at heart. It’s funny, stylish, and never boring.

When putting this article together, I realized that I was falling right into my classic Cedars niche: comic books and animation. It makes me happy to see how entertaining, bold and heartwarming these movies are, reminding me why I love these genres, and film as a whole, in the first place.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is available for streaming on Disney+. “Across the Spider-Verse” is available to rent or buy. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” in currently playing in theaters. 

Janie Walenda is a junior Global Business major and the A&E editor for Cedars. She is passionate about musicals, animation and cold brew. When she isn’t obsessing over her own nerdy interests, she’s usually absorbing her friends’ nerdy interests.

Images courtesy of Marvel Studios, Sony Pictures Animation and Paramount Pictures.  Header created by Ben Konuch.

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