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2016: The Disappointments

Next up are the Disappointments of 2016. I call it that because you won’t be seeing Gods of EgyptNorm of the NorthNine LivesMax Steel, or any other shoe-ins for “Year’s Worst” on this list. You also won’t be seeing Independence Day: ResurgenceRide Along 2Bridget Jones’ BabyNow You See Me 2Zoolander 2, or any of the other numerous films I could have included in the category of “Sequel We Needed Least”.

[Side note: While I did see Bad Santa 2 and Jason Bourne, I didn’t feel like giving either one of them the title of “Dumbest Waste of a Franchise (sequel)” when so many clearly worse candidates were out there.]

The point is that I don’t waste my time on movies that I know are going to be awful. Even if I go in with preconceived notions that I’m not going to like the movie, I still wouldn’t go if I wasn’t ready and willing to be surprised. Conversely, even when I’m absolutely certain that a movie is going to be amazing or if it looks great, there are still way too many movies that fail to deliver on their potential and/or promises.

These may not necessarily be the worst films of the year, but they’re the most disappointing. Let’s get started.

Most Benign Disappointment

For those who are new here, a “benign” disappointment is basically a difference of opinion. A fine example is Star Trek Beyond: While I understand and appreciate how that movie brought the fun back to Star Trek, the script is dumber than a screen door on a spaceship and I just can’t get over that. Even so, there’s no better example than one of the year’s most controversial films.

I didn’t hate Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I like how the film took bold steps to try and bring something new to the classic characters we all know front to back. I like how the film took the complaints about the Man of Steel climax and spun them into the film’s central conflict regarding how the world should deal with Superman. I like every single casting choice in the film — even Jesse Eisenberg’s approach to Luthor might have worked if he had any kind of decent dialogue to work with. And the choice to make Kryptonite the element of surprise was an inspired way to level the playing field between the two titular heroes.

But after typing my umpteenth defense of this film, I finally realized that I was standing up for what the film was trying to be, rather than what it actually was. The plot is convoluted, the Justice League foreshadowing is clumsy, and the film went so far in trying to reinvent these characters that it lost sight of why we loved these characters in the first place. I love Zack Snyder for how he keeps trying to push the envelope and not stick with the safe and familiar, but it infuriates me how he’s either unwilling or unable to learn from the mistakes that come as an inevitable result of his experimentation. I completely understand how he might have been a good choice on paper, but the director so inextricably tied to both “Watchmen” and Frank Miller was simply the wrong guy for the job.

But if you like the movie, trust me, I get it. Good for you. Though that “Martha” solution is still rock-stupid.

Dumbest Attempt to be Smart

Here we get into the films made by people who didn’t have anywhere near the talent or the intelligence to try and deal with such heady themes regarding life, the universe, and everything. A fine example is Complete Unknown, an opaque, formless, infuriating slog of a film that tries to examine the concept of identity. There’s also Nerve, a film that looks at our relationship with social media through a plot, premise, and setting that are all built on half-dried bricks of runny horseshit. But at least with those movies, I could see what the filmmakers were going for. They clearly had a purpose in mind.

By contrast, I have no idea just what the hell Morgan was supposed to be about. The premise is ripe for some examination of science and technology, or maybe some modern-day Frankenstein reinterpretation, but it’s just not there. We don’t even learn why the namesake character was built until the film’s closing minutes, and that last-minute twist only raises more questions than it answers. This should have been a slam-dunk directing debut from the latest of the Scott cinematic dynasty, but the extraordinary cast and behind-the-scenes talent are all wasted because we don’t even know what the stakes are, and everything onscreen falls flat as a direct result.

Dumbest Attempt to be Socially Relevant

Same basic concept as the first, only this category focuses on movies that are too stupid to make an intended sociopolitical point. A perfect example is The Purge: Election Year, which actually works as a pretty intriguing political satire so long as you ignore the legion of reasons why The Purge itself makes no goddamn sense. Elsewhere, Money Monster was a film so focused on conveying its intended message about Wall Street corruption that any nuance was lost and the “crime thriller” plot was left to atrophy.

But then I remember the immortal words of Matthew McConaughey: “Somehow, some way or sometime, everybody is just somebody else’s nigger.” Need I say more? The self-important, tin-eared, dreadfully-paced Free State of Jones takes this one.

Waste of a Franchise

Did I mention that Star Trek Beyond had a screenplay that was clearly undercooked? Because I think it bears repeating that the script was obviously rushed. Another fine candidate is Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, which really REALLY should have been left alone as a book.

But the clear winner here is Warcraft, which boasted an extraordinary setting wasted on a rote story. We were promised nuance, such that we could root for either side, but that only meant characters of both sides painted in broad strokes, nearly every one of them painfully miscast. Such a damn shame.

Dumbest Waste of Talent

The more I think about Florence Foster Jenkins, the more it pisses me off. Some eccentric old woman buys her way into a short-lived singing career and we’re supposed to feel sympathetic for her because she’s just that passionate? We’re supposed to root for her as she holds onto something she didn’t even remotely earn? Get the fuck outta here. Conversely, I Saw the Light is a biopic about a famed musician who actually had talent and put in the effort of getting famous, yet the film itself had a sloppy plot and incompetent direction. Both movies had extraordinary casts — respectively headlined by Meryl freaking Streep and a wonderful Tom Hiddleston — but it wasn’t enough to salvage either picture.

Then we had Hail, Caesar!, which boasted a jaw-dropping cast of A-list talents reading from Coen Brothers dialogue. Damn shame the plot to that film was borderline non-existent, but at least the actors in that film had memorable characters and A-grade dialogue to work with. By comparison, Rules Don’t Apply also had an exceptional cast, and it also had a sloppy plot, but it didn’t have the advantage of characters who were remotely worth a damn. It doesn’t work as an entertaining story, it doesn’t work as a compelling romance, it doesn’t work as a tribute to the Golden Age of Hollywood, and it sure as hell doesn’t work as a showcase for the exceptional talents involved. The whole film is a mess that doesn’t work on any level.

Dumbest Thriller

I have no idea if The Shallows was trying to be a serious “humanity versus nature” film in the style of The Revenant or if it was trying to be a goofy over-the-top horror flick, but it sure as hell didn’t work either way. We’ve also got failed horror movies like the dull-as-dogshit The Darkness; and Lights Out, which was lifeless and padded out even at 81 minutes’ running time. Nocturnal Animals deserves another mention here, as that wretched story-within-a-story presentation was so thoroughly botched that it damn near killed whatever that film had going for it.

But this one’s barely any contest: It has to be The Girl on the Train, which made the boneheaded choice of trying to rip of the “50 Shades”/”Gone Girl” erotic thriller fad, which was clearly a mistake to begin with. The cast may be exceptionally talented, but it’s still a movie without the intelligence of David Fincher and without the “guilty pleasure” factor of “50 Shades”. It’s just trash. Brainless, bland, boring, useless trash.

Most Malicious Disappointment

This one may seem like an unusual choice, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to fit. Unlike previous recipients of my top dishonor, this isn’t a film that left me frothing with rage. It’s not a film that shows clear disrespect for its audience. It’s not such an outrageously bad movie that we’d all have been better off if it was never made.

But none of that is what makes a malicious disappointment. A malicious disappointment is a film that had so much going for it, and failed so spectacularly for reasons that should have been so clearly obvious at the time, that it could only have failed on purpose. And no film this year better demonstrates that concept than The Legend of Tarzan.

Right off the bat, this film was given to David Yates, who was also on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, so he had to direct both high-budget tentpole movies at the same time. In all the time I’ve been writing about movies, that may well be the single dumbest choice I’ve ever heard of. It may also explain why none of the characters here are remotely memorable, Alexander Skarsgaard seems to be wandering through the whole film with the same stoic expression, and the whole movie looks like shit. This is a movie about freaking Tarzan — a character who could hardly be more relevant in this environmentally conscious time — yet the forest looks dreary and the animals of Africa are scarcely utilized outside the climax. Instead, Tarzan depends on the local African villagers, inviting a racial component that the franchise and the filmmakers were simply not prepared to handle.

The basic premise of a Tarzan who had to rediscover his connection to nature had so much potential, yet the film itself was terribly constructed, self-sabotaged by creative choices that anyone with half a brain could’ve seen were bad ideas.

***

Do you agree with the list? Was anything left out? Be sure and leave a comment. The Wild Rides list is coming tomorrow, so stay tuned!

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