I am getting better at managing my expectations. But build a better mouse and all that and 2013 will come and invent new ways of administering the recommended dosage of disillusionment…
1. A Good Day To Die Hard – Mourning the loss of John McClane is beside the point. It’s an undeniable tragesty (that’s tragedy plus travesty) but it’s been a long time coming. That we put it off this long is almost commendable. It’s absolutely a large part of this disenchantment. A bad Die Hard movie is always going to have that effect, but I don’t think anybody can honestly say they weren’t prepared for it.
What we should be mourning is the loss of Bruce Willis. Between sleep walking through this and G.I. Joe, and barely registering amongst all the brighter stars in RED 2, it appears as though he got tired of himself way before we got around to it. If this had been Striking Distance 2 or 17 Blocks or just some other non-sequel Bruce Willis movie it still would have come as a disappointment. Because while the overall quality may vary, Bruce Willis has always been someone most of us wanted to watch. In 2013, he wasn’t. And he didn’t seem to care about that either way.
To make this list, never mind be first on it, generally takes a lot of build up. Whether it is from a barrage of amazing trailers, a phenomenal cast, or just whirlwind word of mouth (maybe all of these), there is a sense that this movie is going to be great. That it will be one of those things that makes a lot of money and deserves it. It unites the nation, the world, even the internet. It might be an impossible feat, to live up to such advanced frenzy, but that is its own fault.
The trouble is, A Good Day To Die Hard did not have this. At all. Generic posters [albeit one with with a really good ad line (“Yippee Ki-Yay Mother Russia”)] and that bad guy from Jack Reacher as his son. The trailer was a hyperspeed edit of weird gutteral sounds and half-liners. There was a Valentine’s Day release date. And absolutely no positive advanced word. So it was already a long shot. How then could it be one of the most disappointing movies of 2013 then? Well, that’s just how bad it is. So much so we are going to talk more about this later…
2. Pacific Rim – I didn’t notice until the credits when I heard my friends talking about the RZA’s end-credit-plot-summary song in excited tones. They all really liked Pacific Rim. While I spent the whole time relentlessly making fun of it. We couldn’t have been further apart in our viewing experiences. It doesn’t happen that often, but it is somewhat comforting to know that you aren’t somehow assimilating into some hive mind when you watch something as a group.
Still, it’s difficult to find any of what they saw in it. Certainly I shared their initial enthusiasm. As misplaced as it might be, Guillermo Del Toro’s name still carries great expectation. And as scarred as we all may be from recent forays into similar territory, giant robot fighting is always going to coerce certain expectations. But after an opening stuck on fast forward, a lot of inexcusably terrible human strategy and some awkward lumbering slogs between outsized robots and fish, it became a struggle to endure.
It’s not even that there is no redeeming value in Pacific Rim. Sometimes the fighting does work. Sometimes the barely formed characters can steal moments of sentiment from the deluge of forced interpersonal drama. And sometimes even all the accents aren’t so terrible they can’t be ignored. But Pacific Rim isn’t based on comic or a toy or even another movie (not directly anyway.) Its greatest failure is in squandering this seemingly isolated chance for a huge budget original story to grate against the machine so set on churning out material with which you’re already somehow familiar (for the results of that, see most of the rest of this list.)
3. The Lone Ranger – Gore Verbinski had a bit of an uphill climb to generate excitement for his next project. That it was going to be a restructuring of a hokey but iconic Western character wasn’t the worst road he could have chosen to do the climbing, but it couldn’t have been the best either. Resorting to renovating the wacky Johnny Depp sidekick trope he created with the Pirates series wasn’t terribly original, but it seemed like a pretty sure bet. A really fantastic trailer made all the difference, and suddenly the pedigree really did seem to speak for itself even if separately none of it should have.
Even now, it’s sometimes difficult to be so hard on The Lone Ranger. It wanted so much to have fun with what it was doing and for us to join it. You don’t want to condemn the sort of enthusiasm that seems to be hovering there, just out of reach. But the results are just so disjointed and miserable that the empathy evaporates quickly, leaving you with the distilled concentration of pallid attempts at humor and action that come at a relentless pace. When The William Tell Overture finally blares through the nonsense toward the end, it is meant to be a blissful, overwhelming moment, marrying what you’ve been watching with whatever preconceived notions about the story you may have entered with. But instead it is just an embarrassment. Which makes it the most apropos music choice of the year, really.
4. The Last Stand – There seems to be a lot of revisionist history going around now that we are almost a year removed from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s dead eyed return to the movies. It isn’t that he’s lost it completely (he’s great in Escape Plan), but like any athlete he just needed to get warmed up. And like any aged athlete who’s been away from the game for awhile, he needed longer than usual. By the end of The Last Stand, you can see flashes. The climactic fight is even pretty good, but it’s all way too late.
From far too many year end lists of “overlooked” or “unfairly maligned” you might think that the collective cringing that took place last January was done exclusively by a bunch of deluded, nostalgia-chasing numbskulls who truly believed they were going to get some kind of a Terminator/Predator hybrid redux that would be better than they remembered either of those.
Lost in all of this is Korean director Kim Jee-Woon (I Saw The Devil, The Good The Bad & The Weird) putting forth his American debut. Which might be the most disappointing part. Arnold Schwarzenegger was in his newly emerged state, a wild card at best. However Kim Jee-Woon, if a somewhat unknown commodity in this country, was freshly proven. There was much more reason to believe that even if Arnold shouldn’t have bothered coming back to us, that this guy would make something worth enduring that potentially embarrassing decision.
Some of the acting choices might be attributable to language barriers, but these are all around some of the worst performances of the year. And that doesn’t account for the complete lack of any of the flourish that has made his previous work so inimitable. Arnold will continue to receive the opportunity to capture some shred of his past glory, no matter how distant a memory that becomes. But the way things go now, Kim Jee-Woon might not be granted such a stay, not by Hollywood anyway. And while it certainly may be argued that is for the best, it’s still one of the most disappointing behind-the-scenes stories to come out of 2013.
5. Riddick – Having Riddick anywhere near this list runs the risk of implicitly endorsing the previous installment in the series, The Chronicles Of Riddick. And I cannot stress enough that this is not the case. In fact, let me please imprint upon you the fact that this one is future space miles better. The opening twenty (or so) minutes is on par with Gravity and All Is Lost as far as isolated human(ish) stories go. So much so that you can’t help but associate it with the first of the series, 2000’s Pitch Black, a near perfect specimen of the genre about to get mutilated before your eyes.
It is because of this fleeting surehandedness that Riddick is one of the most disappointing movies of the year. When after a shocking triumph like that, the movie not only reverts to typical tough guy posturing but becomes about a bunch of people that are not Riddick being played with by off screen Riddick, it has only set itself up to fail you.
The East – I can’t even remember why at this point, but there wasn’t a movie I looked forward to more in 2013 than Zal Batmanglij’s second foray into movies about cults. It’s not even that his first (Sound Of My Voice) was all that great. But something about The East seemed like fantasy fulfillment for anyone that finds themselves no longer satisfied by the prospect of giant robots fighting each other.
Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 – Maybe the first one was too good. It was the very best movie of 2009, after all. Because it certainly isn’t that Cloudy 2 was so terrible that we find ourselves here today. It’s because after that kind of set up, there isn’t anywhere to go.
Much Ado About Nothing – We’d reached the point where we just figured anything Joss Whedon touched would be so unequivocally awesome that it wouldn’t matter if he was using someone else’s plot and dialogue when those are the very things for which we revere him. I suppose it was the only way he could bear to finally let Wesley and Fred be together.
The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty – Gripping imagery and some generally funny people cannot elevate this dull adventure that isn’t at all a mystery but sure likes to tell you it is a whole lot.
The Call – Another one where expectations were inflated by a perfectly executed opening, The Call took it a step further and remained really good throughout the whole first half. But the tailspin it fell into after that was hard to watch, and all the moreso because it had just raised its own bar so successfully.