Since I know everyone’s year would not be complete without an end of year movie review, here are the top 8/bottom 8 movies of the year!
For some reason, the worst movies of 2012 all fall into the category of reboots, adaptations, prequels, and sequels that never should have been made. In fact, I would like to take whole production teams out and kick the living daylights out of them.
8. Hunger Games- On the surface, despite it’s Young Adult label, this movie seemed like geek heaven- post apocalyptic world, final girl scenario, building on decades of science fiction tradition. Yet somewhere, between the book source material and the screen, everything that was bright, new, and original about this disappeared. Whether it’s the horrible CGI flame effects in the crucial scene, the contestants that looked like they were dressed out of the L.L Bean or Eddie Bauer catalogs, or the laughable dialogue and clumsy acting, this movie is rotten from beginning to end. I wish film makers would stop jumping on the bandwagon of appropriating great new books under the cover that they love the story and then make movies that bear no resemblance to the book.
7. Underworld: Awakening- The Underworld movies are not deep, they don’t offer great insights into the human condition. But they were something new and different in the vampire/werewolf universe before it was appropriated by teenage girls. The movies were fun to watch, had good action sequences, and I have friends who offer that the movies were worth it to just see Kate Beckinsale in that outfit. This movie had potential- Mankind has declared war on vampire and Lycan alike, and Selene awakes to discover she’s been used for nefarious purposes by a government lab for twelve years, Michael is alive, but missing, and Selene discovers they have a hybrid daughter. But somewhere between the good idea and the execution, the story lost its way. It never seems to get anywhere, and when the movie ends, it seems unfinished. Selena doesn’t find Michael, and nothing seems resolved. The studio seems to be counting on audiences continually plunking down money for the franchise, no matter how crappy the story or execution. Unfortunately, this was also a trend in movies this year.
6. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance- Nicholas Cage is a self-proclaimed comic geek. So there’s really no excuse for him to make this movie. The first Ghost Rider had multiple flaws, but had enough redeemable moments (Sam Elliott, some nice effects, some funny dialogue) to at least move it into the category of “so bad it’s good”. This one is just bad. Idris Elba, Anthony Stewart Head, Ciarán Hinds, Christopher Lambert- none of them are able to pull this movie out of the garbage. From the plot that seems cobbled together from a dozen different stories/writers, the cross country road trip that seems borrowed from another horrible Cage movie, Drive Angry, and the horrific Rider make up/CGI effects, there is not a single redeemable quality about any of this.
5. Resident Evil: Retribution: This movie can be summed up in one word- meta. Perhaps Paul W.S Anderson thought he was being clever, or introducing something new, but instead, this movie simply recycles ideas and characters. This franchise has long passed the ridiculous stage, and now we seem to be in the realm of absurdist theatre. Every character from all the previous films are suddenly brought back under the auspices that Alice is traveling through Underground’s Central Training Ground, where multiple clones are made of everyone, and everywhere is a hologram. Again, there is nothing new or interesting presented. It’s too much to hope that this is the last one. The simple fact is, that as long as people continue to go spend good money in these awful films, they will continue to crank them out.
4. Haywire- Note to Moviemakers 1: Please stop assuming that you can build an entire movie around someone who can’t act. A director stating he chose a lead actress because he saw her in an MMA fight and thought she was great does not fill me with confidence. Neither does a movie with empty action sequences, sloppy dialogue, characters that serve no purpose and a plot with holes you can drive a Mac truck through. The movie had a phenomenal director, and a great ensemble cast, so I was excited when I saw the trailers- it seemed hard to go wrong with this when combined with a story about a super soldier who is on a revenge mission. Oh, how wrong I was! I sat through the entire movie waiting for it to get good. By the end of the credits I was still waiting. It seemed as though rather than make a good movie with most of the pieces right there in front of him, Soderbergh instead worked down a list of how to make an awful, terrible, no-good movie. In that he succeeded.
3. The Amazing Spider-Man- Note to Moviemakers 2: please stop thinking that just because 8-10 years has passed that it has become necessary to reboot a franchise and present it as something as NEW and DIFFERENT! It’s neither. Rebooting a franchise is hard enough when you something truly new to say, or when previous adaptations are awful. However, when previous movies have been successful, and are still in recent memory, there is simply no purpose in rebooting a series. Andrew Garfield never seems to feel comfortable as Peter Parker, the side story about his parents (told in awful flashbacks) is ridiculous, and Rhys Ifans must have lost a bet (either that or he never saw a final cut of his CGI). Hype for this latest version targeted fanboy audiences, hoping to gain their interest by emphasizing that this movie actually included Gwen Stacy, showed Parker’s webslingers as he made them, and argued that this was “truer” to the comics than that other set of movies. The studio made the same mistake that studios often make- they assumed that using certain buzzwords would get them the geeks (and their money). But buzzwords are not enough. We’re not stupid, if the story isn’t good, if the characters aren’t developed, and if the acting isn’t convincing, it doesn’t matter how many scraps you throw the fanboys- the movie is still going to suck.
2. Dredd- I was ecstatic when this movie was released for one reason, it meant I could stop hearing from friends about how PHENOMENAL this was going to be, and how it was finally going to wash the bad taste of Stallone’s Judge Dredd. They pointed to the fact that finally we were going to see Dredd with his helmet on, that the 3D was going to be great, and that the trailer seemed to accurately portray the “true” world of Dredd. Purists, I have this to say to you- the same thing I said above about The Amazing Spider-Man, if the story sucks, the CGI is awful, and the acting is awful, it doesn’t matter if he keeps his damned helmet on! The main problem with this story was that the characters obviously took it very seriously, but the writers failed to make anything matter to the audience. The 3D effects were intermittent, and it was easy to point to the few spots in the film where it mattered. It was as though Pete Travis decided to shoot in 3D just to showcase a couple of moments of drug induced ecstasy. Karl Urban is fun to watch, because he’s always fun to watch, but they certainly didn’t give him anything to work with. The sets are a joke, the characters underdeveloped, and Lena Headey should fire whoever convinced her to take the job.
1. Prometheus- Of all the movies of 2012, there was not another one that promised so much and failed so miserably in fulfilling that promise as Prometheus. The hype leading up to the release was insane, and the Interweb was all abuzz with rumors- it was a prequel, it would explain where the Aliens came from, it would answer all our questions, it was going to be visually stunning, and beautifully put together. It was none of these things. Ridley Scott continually stated that this was not a prequel, but he always seemed to be winking at the camera when he said it. And the production shows this confusion. The Weyland Corporation funds Prometheus’ mission. David, played by Michael Fassbender, is our next Android in the alphabet (after Ash, Bishop, and Call). The aliens seen in the vases in the Engineers’ dome bear a strong resemblance to the Aliens we know and love. But because Scott doesn’t want this to be a prequel, he skews everything. The Engineer’s escape ship appears to be the same one seen when Kane is on LV-426, theoretically the child (alien baby?) that Shaw gives birth to/surgically removes is the beginning of the Alien race, but Scott refuses to make direct connections. The end result is a mish-mash of Alien related references that just never seem to go anywhere or explain anything. If Scott found himself unable to stay true to the facts already set down by preceding movies, and was unwilling to provide a story that bridged this movie with those, then he should have just left well enough alone. Fans were looking for answers, much like Shaw. Instead, it seemed as though Scott decided to cash in on the fan interest and then walk laughing all the way to the bank.
8. Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope- Morgan Spurlock is an amazing documentarian whose only issue seems to be that he can’t get out of his own way. This documentary, covering the four days of the 2010 Comic-Con is wonderfully put together by Spurlock, and for once, he lets the material speak for itself, not stepping in front of the camera once. The documentary follows several people as they prepare for, then attend, the convention- a young couple, a comic book dealer, an aspiring costumer, and two aspiring comic artists. The documentary is intersected with interviews with the likes of Kevin Smith, Stan Lee, Joss Whedon, Eli Roth, Seth Green, as well as multiple comic artists and just general fans. This movie explores, not just the phenomenon that the convention has become, but also what it has come to mean for fans. The movie has some weaknesses, I would have liked to have heard more than soundbits from the interviews about what comics meant to them, more about how and why Comic-Con has been taken over by studios and conglomerates, and what the future of the convention is. Spurlock seems to be offering “geek lite”, as though he was afraid to get too in-depth and alienate his audience. All in all though, it’s a nice all around look at the beast that has become Comic-Con.
7. John Carter- I know a lot of people would put this on the other list, but I have several key reasons for putting it here. The die hard purists need to learn that no movie adaptation of their favorites is ever going to match what they imagined. Instead, I think the purists would be happier if they were able to enjoy what does get done with their favorites. This movie is visually beautiful, from the sets, to the costumes, to the effects. This could have easily become cartoonish and laughable (as purists claim it is) but the entire production design comes together in a seamless canvas. The thing naysayers missed was that this movie did a great job of presenting the John Carter of Mars series as a whole. Yes, there were things that were missed, and maybe the studio left “of Mars” off to appeal to a greater demographic- but so what? I’ve never understood the idea of fans that DIDN’T want new people to come to love what they love. This movie isn’t going to launch a franchise, and it’s not going to earn any critical acclaim, but it’s a good, solid science fiction story told well.
6. Men in Black III- This movie was not what a lot of people expected. In many ways, it lacks the sharp, quick wit and pace of the first two films. In spite of that, this movie makes the top 8 because of one thing- its heart. From Michael Stuhlbarg’s portrayal of Griffin to the explanation of what happened to K to make him who he is, to the tragic story behind Agent J’s life, this movie centers more around the emotions of the characters than it does funny alien costumes or wacky alien parodies. The movie manages some of these things (Andy Warhol as a MIB? Hysterical. Griffin’s alternate time line predictions, adorable) but the focus is on telling a story, and the story is one that is character driven and emotion centered. Yes, the tie in between Agent K and J is a little cheesy, as is the ending. But, if this is to be the last movie of the franchise (as it certainly reads) then it is a wonderful way to say goodbye to some favorite characters.
5. Total Recall- Hopefully the purists have stopped reading at this point, because you’re REALLY not going to like this one. This movie is visually stunning and the technology of film making has finally caught up so that it can accurately portray the images Philip K. Dick’s stories put in our heads. Perhaps not incidentally, it’s hard to watch this and not see parallels to Blade Runner. I couldn’t help wishing that Ridley Scott had had this technology to shoot that seminal film. Don’t get me wrong- I’m not wishing a reboot (stay away!), rather, when watching this, it’s clear to see the visual legacy of Scott’s work. It was nice to see Colin Ferrell in an actual role again, and Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel are good backups, if underdeveloped. The story is fast paced, and keeps you hooked in throughout the entire movie. The only complaint I have is the weakness of the ending, it doesn’t quite live up to the epic scale of the rest of the movie.
4. Cabin in the Woods- This movie is not for everyone. This movie is also not what most people expected going in. If you’re not a fan of Whedon’s writing, or Drew Goddard’s style, then this is not for you. However, if you’re a geek about horror films- not just the films, but all the little tropes that make up these films, and you love fast, clever, whip smart writing and dialogue, then this is right up your alley. This is one of those films where the geek can feel superior to the merely human audience who doesn’t understand half the movie because they don’t understand the intertextuality of it. This is a movie that it is impossible to understand without having a working knowledge of about a zillion popular culture reference. And I loved every last second of it.
3. Justice League: Doom- If you’re a comic fan, and particularly if you’re a Batman fan, this is a must see for you. The voice work is great (Nathan Fillion as Green Lantern, Tim Daly as Superman, and Carl Lumbly as Martian Manhunter are all wonderful). The story is good- and focuses on what happens when Vandal Savage gets a hold of Batman’s files on how to take down the Justice League (although I don’t understand why at the climax they don’t trade arch enemies to fight so they don’t know all their weaknesses). The genius of this though is the characterization of Batman- the actions he takes, his motivation, his betrayal of the trust of the Justice League, it all manages to condense who Batman is to his most basic parts. It’s rare when an animated series manages to expand the understanding of a character, usually they just go along with whatever is known or popular. The writers are to be congratulated for their excellent contribution to Batman lore.
2. The Dark Knight Rises- There’s a story about Richard Donner when he was filming Superman, that he made signs made that said REAL and posted them everywhere for the production team to see. The purpose was not to make the film realistic he said, but to make sure that every decision they made was real within the universe they were operating in. One can almost imagine Nolan making the same statement, and this sense of REAL is perhaps the main reason that The Dark Knight Rises, and in fact Nolan’s entire trilogy will stand the test of time. Every character, set, and prop is real within the world Nolan has created. This movie had its detractors, mostly focused on the character of Bane, but some people will complain about anything. The introduction of Selena Kyle, Bruce Wayne/Batman’s tiredness at the beginning of the movie, his restoration, and the nice wink to the audience with the entire ending, it’s all put together well. It’s an epic attempt- both in storyline, and for being the final film, and Nolan accomplishes it with style and grace. In a world where the studio and the every loving buck seems to drive the creative bus, it was lovely to watch a franchise that was ended because the story was told.
1. The Avengers- There is not a single thing wrong with this film. The characters are beautifully crafted, flawed, detailed, and self-supporting. The story is tightly woven, and every single scene serves a purpose. I would argue that this movie would not have worked in the hands of anyone other than Joss Whedon. The man has proven his genius over and over again, but his true gift is to bring an ensemble together and make them a team. Because he’s a master of detail, he’s also ensured that fans will be sitting down to watch this movie over and over again, and gaining something new with every viewing. Mark Ruffalo didn’t get enough credit for his great portrayal of Bruce Banner, and it’s the first time that the Hulk has hit the screen without making fans cringe. The interplay between Banner and Stark is great, as is Hulk’s “Puny human” line to Loki. The death of Agent Phil Coulson broke everyone’s heart, but also served, in true comic book fashion, as the motivating tragedy for the team.
So that’s it guys and gals, my best and worst of the year. Let us all start the new year with the insane hope that only excellent plotlines will make it to the screen, that adaptations will actually be true to their source material, and that nothing we love and hold close to our hearts will be shredded before our very eyes, in full CGI fashion.
Purist complaints and loving adoration can be left below.