The Five Most Disappointing Movies of 2013

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2013, as far as movie years go, were an embarrassment… of riches, I mean! So much so, in fact, that I’m still scrambling to catch up enough to feel okay about posting that top fifteen list I keep getting emails about [NOTE: I have gotten no emails about that].

Fortunately, I’m all done watching the crappy movies of the year.

In honor of this milestone, today I’m bringing you the five movies that I feel most personally let down by from the past year. With the caveat that I’m not including Man of Steel because enough already, and I’m not including The Hobbit because I pretty walked into that one with my eyes wide open and also just wrote an article about it that everybody loved.

Ahem. Here are five movies from 2013 that are just a regular embarrassment.

Elysium

Matt Damon;Jose Pablo Cantillo

You know, I remember enjoying this movie while I was watching it in the theatre. Now, though, I’m hard pressed to remember anything from it, save a couple of cool action beats. I don’t think I’m alone, as Elysium didn’t set the world on fire, and certainly not to the same degree as District 9. I remember a couple of common complaints — Jodie Foster’s accent, a general sense of “preachiness” — but my own main issue was the movie just took itself too damn seriously.

This is a flick that desperately wants to be a fun, nasty satire like Robocop, but betrays that by shoehorning in unearned emotions about three times too often. Like, take Sharlto Copley’s character. He’s a joy to watch in the role of maniac manhunter Kruger, but he feels completely incongruous with the sequence of somber flashbacks to Max’s childhood.

I haven’t lost faith… I still be that Blomkamp’s a fella to watch. His first two major features showcase a lot of raw filmmaking talent. He just needs to get a firmer grasp on his tone and intent, and he’ll be golden.

Frozen

frozen

A bit of context: I think Tangled is a surprisingly engaging movie. Shallow, a bit, but a lot of fun. Now, I realize that a lot of people also liked this movie. I just don’t understand why.* While there’s nothing damningly, horribly wrong with it, it’s one of those common family movies saddled with a pervasive “paint-by-numbers” feel. Things just… happen, not because the story demands it or because it enlightens the themes of the story, but because they’re simply supposed to.

SPOILER ALERT for the following paragraph.

For instance, Anna’s character gets hit in with a magic ice spell when she was a child. Later, she takes another shot of ice magic to the chest. At the climax of the movie, she freezes solid. So we have an ice/winter motif going on. And yet… this doesn’t really comment on any aspect of her character. She’s not particularly chilly, or inaccessible, or anything like that. You could make a CASE that her sister Elsa is remote — though in truth she’s really not — but her problems come FROM having magic powers, as opposed to being an actual part of her makeup.

This sounds like nitpicking, but contrast that approach with the one in Beauty and the Beast, where every single character affected by the witch’s magic is affected in a way that highlights their personalities. Not just the Beast himself — which, duh — but Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, and even that creepy talking wardrobe.

And that doesn’t even get into Frozen underused villains, cheap twists (about the underused villains), fun-but-pointless comedy relief… the list goes on. Add in some semi-memorable songs and you’ve hit every box on Disney’s current checklist. Sure, their latest is apparently likable enough, but a lack of focus means its charms melt from the mind and heart far too quickly.

Star Trek Into Darkness

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“I wonder if I’ll be able to find a picture that illustrates how shallow and sensatio — oh, perfect!”

Even though RottenTomatoes isn’t a flawless yardstick to judge movies by, it still blows my mind that this movie managed a higher score on there than The Wolf of Wall Street. Star Trek Into Darkness is a total sham of a movie; a high-speed VFX extravaganza hiding a hollow shell of a story. From the inert, completely reset character arc of James T. Kirk, to the sorely misguided recycling of Kahn, to the… you know what? Forget it.

Look, the first Star Trek was a messy affair, but it managed to work in spite of itself. In 2009, Abrams and his cast imbued the highly-anticipated reboot with a sense of genuine enthusiasm. The story may have been unlikely, but its characters were memorable, fun, and the absolute point of the film. Into Darkness, on the other hand, constantly eschews delving into character stuff in favor of tedious conspiracy-laden plot machinations.

Nobody has clear motives, no actions have consequence. Losing rank, messing up, frickin’ DYING… none of it matters. It’s more than telling that Into Darkness has almost the exact same ending as Star Trek. What, exactly, have we accomplished here? Nothing.

Oz: the Great and Powerful

OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL

Okay, I don’t think anybody expected this movie to succeed in comparison to the 1939 classic. Nor did anybody really think that the Raimi who made EVIL DEAD and the first two Spider-man movies was back, let alone working at Disney.

I just hoped it wouldn’t be as bad as, you know, that recent Alice in Wonderland debacle.

alice

Guess what my least favorite part of this movie was? Correct.

Sadly, Oz feels like nothing so much as a Raimi-flavored Alice clone. Actually, if you told me that the director of this movie was known for being a big-budget Raimi ripoff artist, I’d believe you. Some of his usual bits of flair (camera tricks, horror iconography) fill in the edges of the frame, but nothing about his sensibilities is truly front-and-center.

Also, the plasticky, CG-saturated aesthetic shared between this movie, Alice, and apparently the upcoming Maleficent needs to die in a fire.

Hopefully this marks the bottom of Raimi’s career. I don’t blame him for this entirely — Oz has all the signs of a movie that’s been micromanaged/focus grouped to death. Not unlike Spider-man 3 in that regard. Still, the reason this movie is on this list, despite the fact that it never really looked good, is that I’m sorely disappointed by what’s become of Sam Raimi. Here’s hoping he gets to do his thing again someday.

Thor: The Dark World

thor

Though Marvel’s been on a bit of a hot streak since the first Iron Man, their run hasn’t been flawless. The Incredible Hulk and (especially) Iron Man 2 are pretty weak. Still, Joss Whedon coming aboard and delivering the goods with The Avengers seemed to indicate that Marvel had this thing figured out. As they moved into Phase 2, Shane Black’s sensational Iron Man 3 only seemed to confirm it.

And then Thor: The Dark World came and ruined the party for everybody. I also want to point out that this is the second movie on this list with “Dark” in the title.

Anyway, as with Frozen, my understanding is that this movie has a decent amount of fans out there. Even more than that movie, I simply don’t know what the appeal is. This is easily the vaguest movie Marvel has put out so far. Things like Thor’s arc, the motives of the villain, the purpose of Jane and her companions are technically included, but rarely defined and never particularly clear. Oh, and the movie desperately wants to be a rolicking comedy but sadly has no idea how to tell a joke.

Also, I like goofy fantasy as much as anybody (well… close, anyway), but the fantasy in The Dark World has no significance. These other realms are presented in the sketchiest forms possible; the texture and color of a well-developed world simply isn’t there. A movie like Attack of the Clones does a far better job of making its locales distinctive than this movie did, and people don’t even like that one.

The one selling point? Loki. And I was even tired of him by the time the credits rolled. Also, who thinks we needed even more examples of that illusion fakeout? Show of hands?

What about you? What movies let you down the hardest in 2013?

FOOTNOTE:

*I suspect it has something to do with the popular voice talent and generally looking cool.


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