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Looking back a year full of movies you have to remember the bad with the good. We can celebrate the best of the best and express our love and appreciation for them, but for the sake of balance it’s important to look back at the ones that we expected more from – the ones that didn’t deliver on expectations or hopes. These are the titles we see in theaters and leave saying, “Man, I wish that was better.”
As the year comes to an end we can look back at our lists of Most Anticipated Movies from January and find out where we went right and where we went wrong – and this is a list of the latter. For various reasons to be explained, these films were unable to live up to our aforementioned expectations or hopes and instead left us wanting more. These are the most disappointing movies of 2012.
There are two films that were released in 2012 that caused me to leave the theater in a bit of a rage – and Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows is the first on the list. It should have been simple: take a silly, gothic soap opera from the 1960s, borrow its themes and characters, and create a cool little early-in-the-year star-filled scare-a-thon. But that’s not what we saw. The script, written by Seth Grahame-Smith, is spectacularly lazy, filled with meaningless relationships, hollow characters and no sense of pacing, but there’s also the fact that the movie never decides what it wants to be, be it a comedy, a horror, a spoof or a thriller. Burton was able to save a little face this year by releasing Frankenweenie, a solid, fun bit of stop-motion animation, but I will not soon forget the truly awful experience that is watching Dark Shadows.
Ridley Scott’s Prometheus was meant to be one of the best movies of the year. The director’s first science-fiction film in three decades and his first return to the Alien universe since 1979, everyone went into the theater thinking that his latest was going to have a breathtaking impact on the genre – but what we got was simply a beautiful disaster. Unlike some of the other titles on this list that have a laundry list of major issues, this entry could have worked if it weren’t for the Swiss cheese-like script. Scott’s visuals and performances by Michael Fassbender, Noomi Rapace, Idris Elba and Charlize Theron try to hold the whole thing together, but at the end of the day most of the movie doesn’t make any sense and is so riddled with plot holes that all the stuff that does seem clear ends up getting muddled. We wanted Prometheus to revolutionize sci-fi, but all we ended up with is disappointment.
Akiva Schaffer’s The Watch is a special entry on this list because the film is not disappointing so much as it is confounding. This is a movie with a lead cast that includes Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade, not to mention a script by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Pineapple Express, Superbad), but their abilities and talent is nowhere to be found here. Instead the entire runtime is filled with forced improv and about 20,000 dick jokes (seriously, I think if someone were to go back and count all of them we would have a new world record). On some level you do have to feel a bit sorry for The Watch, as it was pretty roughly screwed by the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent controversy surrounding neighborhood watch associations, but that’s not really an excuse for screwing up a sci-fi comedy this badly.
While reading this list you’ll discover that there are two different kinds of disappointing movies on this list. There are those that we were really excited to see but left us wanting, but also others that we just expected more from due to past experience. Brave falls into the latter category. Despite the hiccup that was Cars 2, we still see Pixar to be a haven for some of the most brilliant storytellers working in the movie industry today, and the sad truth is that their latest simply didn’t live up to our high expectations. The film is still a great work, and could easily be ranked as one of the most beautiful animated movies ever made, but the story is disappointingly simple and more Disney than Pixar in terms of creative spark (and Walt’s studio just made Brother Bear back in 2003). Let’s cross our fingers and hope that Monsters University puts everything back on the right path.
Remember how I said there were two movies I saw in 2012 that caused me to leave the theater in a bit of a rage? We’ve officially reached the second title. While it’s been a good number of years since Oliver Stone made a truly great movie, from the outside Savages looked like a throwback to his titles from the 1990s, hitting audiences with a good bit of chaos and drug-fueled insanity, but the actual final cut is a breath-taking disaster. Blake Lively, who showed some decent skills in Ben Affleck’s The Town, is monotonous dead weight for her entire performance – which would have been fine if she wasn’t narrating the entire goddamn movie. The story takes forever to get going, the stakes are minimal because you don’t care about the characters, and the movie’s ending is so jaw-droppingly, mind-numbingly horrible that it actually led me to let out a verbal, “What the fuck?” while sitting in the cinema. It can’t be said for all the films on this list, but Savages isn’t just one of the most disappointing movies of the year, it’s easily one of the worst.
In its advertising John Carter reminded audiences that it was based on material that inspired legendary science-fiction films like Star Wars and Avatar. But not only did the film fail to live up to those titles in terms of box office receipts – famously losing the studio $200 million – it also simply failed to live up to its predecessors in terms of scale and scope. While I liked the movie a lot more than most of my colleagues, including our own Sean O’Connell, it’s hard to deny that the finished product didn’t live up to its promise. Taylor Kitsch made for an uncharismatic lead, making it hard for audiences to really connect with his character and the world was so overstuffed with CGI that the story became too distant. It’s actually a shame that John Carter will never get a sequel because there is real potential in the property, but the first one didn’t fully capitalize on it.
With Denzel Washington as the headliner, Robert Zemeckis making his return to live-action after a decade trapped in the world of motion-capture Flight should have been an easy win – and while the star definitely puts on one hell of a performance and the plane crash scene is pretty spectacular, I couldn’t help but be frustrated by everything else the film brought to the table. In addition to being emotionally ham-fisted (particularly the eye-rollingly trite final scene), the film is tonally all over the place. One minute it’s a tragedy that Washington’s pilot character, Whip Whitaker, endangered over a hundred people with his reckless recreational activities, in the next his addictions and flaws are portrayed as comedy, and then the audience is expected to hope that the “hero” actually gets away with the crime he committed. There was serious potential in Flight as a story about addiction and consequence, but it spends too much time figuring out how to get to that point that it never actually gets there.
Looper was a bright spot on my radar for two very specific reasons: Rian Johnson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Years ago I saw Brick in the smallest theater in Boston and loved every second of it, and when I learned that they would be teaming up for a sci-fi time travel story I could hardly contain myself. But that only contributed to feeling underwhelmed leaving the theater. Great movies will have you thinking about how great they are for weeks after you’ve seen them, but with Looper I just kept noticing more and more plot holes and eventually it got to the point where the substance that the movie does have was overshadowed by the number of flaws. I love the world that’s created and I think Gordon-Levitt’s performance was top notch, but I wish more time had been spent going through it with a fine-tooth comb.
The Bourne Legacy
Matt Damon’s Bourne trilogy is a collection of some of the best action movies to come out in the last 20 years so The Bourne Legacy had a lot to live up to – but the truth is that the movie had all of the right pieces. Jeremy Renner is a legitimate action star; Tony Gilroy, who wrote the three previous titles in the franchise, was back with the pen and also serving as the director, and the project managed to gather the best supporting cast the franchise has seen, with Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, and Oscar Isaac, along with returning players like Scott Glenn, David Strathairn and Joan Allen. But despite all of those important pieces the movie was still mostly a letdown. Aaron Cross turned out to be a much less engaging hero than Jason Bourne, the action scenes never really had the thrill that Paul Greengrass provided in the last two entries, and the story is so dull that by the time it ends you’re left in your seat thinking, “Wait, is that it?” There’s potential to fix the new franchise problems in the sequel, but as it stands The Bourne Legacy is the weakest of the series.
The impulse to make a direct movie adaptation of Les Miserables is understandable, as the stage version is considered to be one of the greatest productions of all time, but the sad truth is that it’s devotion to the original material is what makes Tom Hooper’s big screen version of the musical a disappointment. Because of the way the film is edited and the way that the songs are assembled the final cut actually manages to feel like a 140 minute montage – but even certain elements of the story don’t work in a film version. The love-at-first-sight romance between Cosette and Marius is patently ridiculous and that ridiculousness is only emphasized by one of musical theaters’ greatest sins: having characters sing every little thing they’re thinking. From something that was based on such acclaimed material I expected more.