There were a lot of great films in 2016. There was also a fair share of disappointing ones. Rather than just dump on the really bad ones, here’s a look at a few examples of films that dropped the ball whether by smashing expectations, adopting a poor release strategy, or in missing opportunities to deliver something special to audiences but instead made tragic missteps along the way.
Drew Dietsch on Morgan
Morgan seemed like such a slam dunk for genre fans. A Blacklist script that got picked up by Ridley Scott’s production company? Great! A strong cast that included Kate Mara, Toby Jones, Michelle Yeoh, and talented newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy? Brilliant! But what we got was a plodding and confused story that seemed unsure of itself. Morgan brought nothing new to the table in terms of filmmaking or story. It guided along a predetermined path that was far too easy for the viewer to map out. With no unique flair or iconic moments, Morgan flittered out of our memories as quickly as it had appeared.
Brandon Marcus on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
In retrospect, we should have known Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice wasn’t going to live up to expectations. Right from the start the entire endeavor felt like an attempt to keep up with Marvel’s dominance at the box office. It was as if Warner Bros was so desperate for a hit post-Chris Nolan that they just jammed their most popular characters together into one film. Using the parlance of our times, Warner Bros was thirsty.
Zack Snyder and company dropped the ball in many ways. Many balls, many times. The biggest sin of BvS was its dour attitude and misunderstanding of the character of Superman. Instead of being the hopeful, bright and patriotic character we know and love, he was transformed into a moody and violent sad sack. Paired with the perpetually sullen Batman, this movie felt too heavy and grim. Then there’s the train wreck of a script which was cluttered, false and bland. Even some star performances from Ben Affleck and Jeremy Irons couldn’t make this movie feel like anything but a chore. I’ve been a Batman diehard my entire life and even I was rolling my eyes about forty-five minutes in.
There’s still hope for the future of the franchise. Snyder has indicated that he’s lightening up for Justice League and wants things feeling lively and fun. We hope that’s true. In a fair world, we would have a plethora of Marvel and DC films to cherish.
Eric Fuchs on 31
31 is the latest film from indie horror director Rob Zombie. Some of us waited years to see what this thing was even since Zombie announced it in 2014. 31 was not worth the wait. The movie is a rehash of his previous grungy works such as House of 1000 Corpses but stealing the plot from The Running Man. Unfortunately, 31 is by far his least interesting and most disappointing work yet.
I’m something of a Rob Zombie apologist, but 31 is the kind of movie that makes me wonder if I was wrong about this director from the very beginning. 31 is a trainwreck of bad ideas, bad scripting, and utter tastelessness. It is not even nasty in a particularly provocative or trangressive way. Instead, the movie uses a twelve-year-old’s idea of “edgy”. We have such villains as a Nazi dwarf and a pair of redneck rapist twins which inspire more groans than fear. Set in 1976 for no particular reason, 31 features a cast of typical Zombie weirdos, making the victims little less repulsive their tormentors. This is the kind of movie that plugs a gross incest joke into casual conversation to fill time.
What does not help is that even after half a dozen films, Rob Zombie still does not know how to make a movie. After Lords of Salem used freakish imagery for a great psychological horror mood, one thought Zombie had a bit more to him than just his usual inbred punk style. But 31 is back to Zombie’s basics, only worse. It has terrible dialogue, terrible acting, and is by far his worst shot movie. Zombie is too much of a horror veteran at this point to still be an “outsider”. And whatever unique credibility he had is lost by how cheap and unoriginal 31 is.
Travis Newton on Blair Witch
Blair Witch is not a total disaster. Its intentions are pure. It wanted to take The Blair Witch Project and turn it into a carnival ride. It wanted to make the most of the leaps and bounds we’ve seen in camera tech since 1999 and wanted to fool us with its deceptive marketing campaign. And to the film’s credit, it succeeded at all of those things. But none of its successes can make up for the lack of strong characters. The Blair Witch Project showed us an ambitious young female filmmaker whose bluster got her in deep trouble. Blair Witch, on the other hand, showed us a pretty woman with a bunch of cameras.
Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that horror is chock full of expendable characters. It’s a relatively normal thing, if only because we’re watching their deaths as entertainment. But 1999’s The Blair Witch Project touched a nerve that made us fear for the poor fools in the woods. 2016’s Blair Witch gave us more fools with more cameras. Blair Witch is more — more scares, more violence, more witch, more darkness, more everything. That philosophy may work for a carnival ride, but it doesn’t make a better movie.
Nick Nunziata on Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (review) may have dropped the ball louder and harder than any other film in 2016. Tom Cruise had done the impossible task of making the microscopic Tom Cruise believable as the gigantic hero from the Lee Child books. The hard work done, all Edward Zwick had to do was continue the good work done by Christopher McQuarrie with the first film. Sadly, the film is rote and by-the-numbers and does little to further the legacy of a very good cinematic character. Chances are slim that the tough guy will get another shot but if he does, he’ll need to really do it right.
Drew Dietsch on X-Men: Apocalypse
Too bad for the X-Men that Deadpool showed up earlier in the year and brought us something really fresh. The storied X-Men series as guided by Bryan Singer has become passe. The world-saving melodrama and sleek cartoony style has grown old. Plus, X-Men: Apocalypse (review) mishandled one of the series’s most memorable bad guys and turned him into a cheesy action figure of a villain. Not to mention the weird decision to give Magneto a family and instantly rip them away from him. Lots of clunky decisions, goofy CGI, and a sense of “been there, done that” made X-Men: Apocalypse feel like it needs to be the last in this iteration of the superhero team.
Travis Newton on Warcraft
Warcraft (review) is as ambitious as failures get. This is a big, big movie with some of the year’s best visual effects. The scope is vast, and it packs a big story into its running time. Duncan Jones’s assured direction gave the film a unique sensibility. When it worked, Warcraft was strange and fun. I can say with confidence that there was nothing else like it in 2016. But holy cow, the confluence of bad characters and poor acting just wrecked this movie.
Travis Fimmel (Vikings) is devoid of charisma as Lothar. The wonderful Ben Foster is totally wasted as the troubled wizard Medivh. Ben Schnetzer plays an important character from Warcraft lore, but he comes across as transparent. Paula Patton doesn’t act at all — she’s just saying things and making faces. These performances render the movie dramatically inert. It’s a damn shame, because when the Orcs (Toby Kebbell, Daniel Wu, Robert Kazinsky) share the screen Warcraft comes alive.
Danielle Ryan on Suicide Squad
Suicide Squad was the DC Comics movieverse promised child, an attempt at a success after the drudgery of Batman V. Superman. After a fantastic trailer was released online, the studio pushed the release date back, citing reshoots. The reshoots were supposed to make Suicide Squad closer to what was promised in the trailer: fun.
It almost worked. The first half of Suicide Squad is a decently-paced set of mini-origin stories for each of the members of the Squad. Will Smith is great, Margot Robbie is great, the writing is campy but (seemingly self-aware). The soundtrack is round after round of classic rock hits, which works at first but begins to feel like Suicide Squad is an extended music video. The script goes nowhere, the characters start repeating themselves, and what was initially a fun premise turns into an over-edited fever dream.
Suicide Squad had so much potential. The cast is great, David Ayer has done some really solid work in the past, and DC clearly spent a lot of money. Suicide Squad is a classic case of too many cooks in the, uh, studio. Hopefully, Ayer has more control over the upcoming DC Sirens film, or we’re in for another big disappointment.
Nick Nunziata on Independence Day: Resurgence
Some things are better left untouched. Roland Emmerich’s return to the scene of his greatest triumph is a huge swing and miss. Not only does the film regurgitate all the worst elements from the original film, it also introduces nothing new and interesting to the series. Liam Hemsworth is a vacuum of charisma here and in a world filled with tentpole movies this film simply showcases that it’s a product of a bygone era.