Summer blockbusters: The good, the bad, the guilty pleasures

Every year, without fail, summer blockbusters invade the movie theaters, marching their big-budget, post-produced glamour through America. It’s become as American a tradition as standardized artillery on the Fourth of July.

The sad thing is that some of these movies are poor excuses for an American pastime. We almost accept this as an unwritten cultural rule, passing it off as an excuse for a movie. “It was a summer blockbuster” or similar phrases are passed with little regret. It’s the film equivalent of our reasons to eat fast food. “It was fun!” or “the piece of meat was hot” (how many near-nudes does it take to put a summer flick in the black? We may never know) are common mantras for the summer moviegoer, and we lull ourselves into a security that brings the movies back year after year.

Happily, not all summer movies are destined to this fate. My wife and I are avid moviegoers and, having seen our share of this year’s releases, I am happy to report a good crop.

“Star Trek Into Darkness” was one of the better summer movies I’ve ever seen. I am a bit biased, as anything with Benedict Cumberbatch is a shoo-in for greatness, but the cast as a whole does a spectacular job footing the bill for the action-packed, riveting cinema we’ve developed a taste for. With plenty of spaceship sounds and surprisingly good acting, this is one that should make your list.

“Now You See Me” was less exemplary than hoped for, but overall did what a summer magic movie tries to, which is to simply entertain. With the star-studded cast (Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Mark Ruffalo, Isla Fisher, etc.) and the clever — though underdeveloped — plot, it’s worth your time. You may even be inspired to pick up card tricks again. Hopefully it goes better for you than it did for me.

A growing soft spot for the American public seems to be the iconic superhero genre, which lends itself well to this time of year. One short year ago, we were graced with “The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” both of which were received with open arms. “Iron Man 3” is no exception, bringing an exciting close to the “Iron Man” trilogy, becoming one of the few movie trilogies to have half-decent entries all three times. Robert Downey Jr. lives up to his reputation, portraying the post-Avengers Tony Stark in a different light after the near-apocalypse in New York. All in all, “Iron Man 3” may just be the best entry in the series.

I say we have a good crop, readily knowing that it’s only June, and that some of the most anticipated movies have yet to be released.

“World War Z,” one of the most expensive movies of the summer (production costs are rumored at $2 million), is set to release on June 21 to what capitalists hope to be rampant success. Brad Pitt, the star of “World War Z,” is taking on his first zombie movie, another staple of summer entertainment.

“Despicable Me” wowed theaters and managed to win recognition in the same year as “Toy Story 3,” no small feat for those in touch with animated entertainment. “Despicable Me 2” will release on July 2, much to the excitement of many, including my wife, who hopes to gather Minions of her own someday.

All of these are good summer fun. They don’t promise cinematic masterpieces, most won’t be mentioned by the Academy in consideration for an Oscar, and many film purists will overlook these titles based on release date, budget or popularity. But these films play an important role within our culture, and we will see them whether they deserve it or not.