The Fandom staff make the case for movies, games and shows that the world didn’t like in 2018. But which we think deserve a second chance…
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms – Keely Flaherty (Managing Editor)
With a grim 33% on RottenTomatoes, it’s safe to say that The Nutcracker and Four Realms became one of the rare Disney movies that was uniformly panned by critics. But what made Four Realms such a flop? It’s a Disney movie about Christmas and magic! While Disney worked the “fun, quirky, not-your-mother’s-boring-ballet” angle in marketing the movie, the message they should have used to entice audiences was simple: Keira Knightley plays a murderous doll-come-to-life who eats her own cotton candy hair and uses a weapon of mass destruction to start a war. In short, despite what critics said, this movie actually rules.
Like most Disney movies, Four Realms is a tale about absent mothers. Clara (Mackenzie Foy) is a young inventor whose mother (also an inventor) recently passed away, and her family is enduring the first Christmas since her death. But what no one knows, and what Clara discovers, is that her mother was also the loving creator of a fantastical fantasy world. Clara inherits her mother’s world — as well as the fraught family dynamics she left behind in the titular Four Realms after her death.
Enter Keira Knightley as the Sugar Plum Fairy, a Realm leader who turns out to be fantastically bonkers. Knightley’s sickeningly sweet with her high-pitched voice, delicate fairy wings and vortex of cotton candy hair that she occasionally snacks on. Sugar Plum seems kind — she gives Clara a makeover! — but the second she gets what she wants from the child, Sugar Plum morphs into a remorseless and murderous tyrant. With a Wicked Witch of the West-like cackle, she tries to squash the grief she feels — Clara’s mother was also Sugar Plum’s creator and surrogate mother — by mindlessly destroying everything in her path. Highly relatable.
Call me crazy, but I truly believe this movie will go down in history as one of those critical flops that’s quirky and dark enough for geeky kids to love and remember anyway — much like Millennials did for The Pagemaster (17% on RottenTomatoes) and Gen Xers did for Willow (53% on RottenTomatoes). Sure, every Generation Z kid is going to grow up and remember how much they loved seeing Infinity War — but there’s also going to be a large swath of theater kids who always preferred that weird Four Realms movie, and vividly remember how much Sugar Plum scared and delighted them.
Battlefield V – Jeremy Ray (Managing Editor)
A recent report shows Battlefield V‘s UK launch sales to be 63% less than its predecessor. Whether it’s low faith in EA, online squabbles over women on the frontline, general WWII fatigue, a hyper-crowded Q4 release window, or its experimental, tiered release schedule, fewer gamers wanted to pony up for Battlefield V this year. Heck — it’s already on sale.
But that’s no indicator of its quality. Indeed, we thought it was the Battlefieldiest Battlefield game to date. Gunplay feels great, it absolutely nails squad play, and — setting itself well apart from its triple-A cousins — it plays around with quite a few new ideas in its map design. Whereas most FPS games give you a section of a town as your playground, Battlefield V gives you an entire town plus the surrounding farmland. Which angle you attack from is up to you.
We’re sick to death of WWII as a setting, and the amount of Normandy landings we’ve done is crossing the line from reverence into desensitisation. Despite that, Battlefield V won us over. Ten minutes was enough for us to throw our hands up and grudgingly admit it’s a lot of fun. Add in the positive way DICE is listening to player feedback to tweak the weapons, and the experimental nature of some of the maps, and BFV offers enough new and interesting to not be lumped with the “WWII checklist” games.
Iron Fist – Mike Delaney (Community Development Associate)
Of all the Marvel Cinematic Universe shows on Netflix, Iron Fist is without a doubt the weakest. Its first season was roundly criticized, with particular attention paid to its slow paced storyline, underwhelming villain, and an unengaging lead who failed to convince audiences that Danny Rand was the greatest martial artist in the world, known as the Immortal Iron Fist. But there were a few hints that the series had potential, including the character of Colleen Wing.
Considering the reaction to the first season, Iron Fist‘s second season had to drastically improve. Some of the groundwork was laid in the Defenders team-up miniseries where partnering Danny with his regular comic cohort Luke Cage began to rescue the character. For its second season, Iron Fist delivered a much improved product. Finn Jones had obviously received a lot more martial arts training so that he could convincingly portray the fight scenes. The reduced episode count meant there was less padding and the pacing was more consistent. Colleen Wing took a greater role in the season, teaming up with Misty Knight as a nod to their comics partnership as the ‘Daughters of the Dragon.’
While still not on the same level as the other MCU shows in Netflix’s stable, Iron Fist showed a marked improvement. Sure, the Meecham storylines were flat and unnecessary, but the flashbacks to Danny’s time in K’un-Lun gave us a deeper understanding of both Danny and Davos. The season’s greatest moments came in the final few episodes where the show’s mythology was upended by transferring the Iron Fist to Colleen Wing and Danny later showing off some sweet handguns that shot chi-bullets. Sadly, the further adventures of Colleen as the Iron Fist and how Danny acquired his new powers will probably never be seen as Iron Fist was cancelled shortly after. While the cancellation didn’t come as a major surprise, the second season showed that Iron Fist had a lot more potential to offer.
Rampage/Skyscraper – Chris Tilly (Managing Editor)
It’s a bit of a cheat having two picks. But as they are both high-concept Dwayne Johnson movies that hit screens over the summer, failed at the domestic box office, succeeded internationally, and received middling-to-negative reviews, I’m lumping Rampage and Skyscraper together.
Rampage was the belated adaptation of a beloved arcade game. Starring Johnson as David Okoye, a primatologist whose best friend was a silverback gorilla called George. Meaning that when a mysterious gas turned George into a giant — alongside a wolf and a crocodile — David was called into action, to save the Chicago, and to save George. As silly as it sounds, Rampage was nevertheless something of a romp, thanks to some dazzling effects, and scenery-chewing performances from villains of the piece Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy. And also because Johnson truly sells the bond between David and George, so-much-so that you truly care about their plight.
Skyscraper was basically a remake of Die Hard. Johnson starred as a former hostage rescuer who now assesses building security, and who finds himself framed for setting fire to the largest — and supposedly safest — skyscraper in the world. While his family is trapped at the top. It wasn’t Die Hard good unfortunately, but Skyscraper was nevertheless dumb fun, and deserving of a place alongside the best of the Die Hard knock-offs.
It’s no surprise that a couple of dopey action movies received bad reviews. As for why both films failed in U.S. cinemas — Skyscraper grossed $67m, Rampage $99m, compared with Jumaji‘s $404m the year before — that may be down to overexposure. Dwayne Johnson movies are events, but Skyscraper was his fifth blockbuster to hit screens in little over a year. Which seems to have been too much. Suggesting that audiences might not always want to smell what The Rock is cooking.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web – Kim Taylor-Foster (Film/TV Editor)
Some might not have thought much of the fourth instalment in the Millennium franchise, but The Girl in the Spider’s Web is not only a movie for the times, but one which also tackles issues around the #MeToo movement and representation of women admirably.
Director Fede Alvarez reportedly worked closely with actress Claire Foy — who plays tattooed protagonist Lisbeth Salander — in an attempt to erase the male gaze from the film. Refreshingly, the camera shies away from opportunities to linger on female flesh, or objectify women. Whenever Lisbeth is naked or in underwear, it’s never shot exploitatively and instead serves to say something about the character. You can read it as her being entirely comfortable in her own skin. A result of the trauma she’s been through; a cutting off of mind from body perhaps. But it’s also a defiant act to reclaim the body that’s been seen by others as theirs to do with as they wish, and later in the film as a symbolic rebirth.
The film’s subtext is overtly about women, the patriarchy and #MeToo. Lisbeth has her own #MeToo moment addressed in the film — abuse at the hands of her father — and the film spends all of its 115 minutes unravelling the impact of that. Claire Foy spoke eloquently to Fandom about why women have historically remained silent about their abuse, often internalising it; she cites a lack of trust in a system that sees them as victims rather than survivors.
Ultimately, Lisbeth is a complex woman of the type we have historically rarely seen on the big screen. In many ways, she seems real, not just some way off the mark, reductive Hollywood idea of a ‘strong woman,’ a notion Foy rejects. And in a wonderful yet simultaneously tragic turn of events in the film’s closing moments, Alvarez delivers his masterstroke, upending tropes and stereotypes to reveal that Lisbeth’s sister Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks) is just as complicated, and far from the two-dimensional supervillain character she’s been set up as. The Girl in the Spider’s Web is progressive stuff deserving of more recognition than it got.
Far Cry 5 – Zac Fox (Host/Producer)
Yeah, sure, it’s story may not have quite hit the heights promised by the fresh new setting and yes, ok, the over-the-top action may have occasionally tipped into the farcical, but if you don’t find some joy in knee-sliding your way through a militarised mountain state then… well actually, I don’t blame you.
For everyone else, this entry to the series foregoes the tried and tested tower-climbing, icon purging, mini-mapping formula for a much more stripped back and realistic exploration experience. Which is a great decision, what with such a gorgeous and well-optimised world to run, drive and fly about in.
If you enjoyed previous Far Cry games but avoided this one because you feel you’ve already experienced it then I’d urge you to dig up a copy of this Americana, throw it on your console of choice and enjoy ANOTHER eagle attack. Seriously.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald – Sophie Hart (Programming Producer)
As a self-confessed Potterhead, I should be first in line to take indignant offence at The Crimes of Grindelwald. For many fans, the retconning of Rowling’s world to shoehorn in improbable origin stories and characters that have no business being born yet — looking at you, McGonagall — was just too blasphemous to earn praise. For critics, it was the over-complicated plot that found their heads spinning as if they’d just used a Portkey.
But those very criticisms are what I believe make The Crimes of Grindelwald one of the most fascinating entries in the Potter canon. The Fantastic Beasts sequel took me on a magical, rollicking journey full of surprises, which left me itching to investigate how every plot thread can — and eventually will — tie together as the next three movies pan out. On top of its bold revelations, Crimes of Grindelwald introduced the magical nostalgia that the first Fantastic Beasts was lacking — namely the return to Hogwarts. From internally screaming at ‘Hedwig’s Theme’ to admiring the twinkle in Jude Law’s eyes a little too much, Potter fans have been invited home.
With well-pitched humour, truly heartbreaking romances, beautiful, detailed recreations of 1920s New York, London and Paris, and a genuinely dread-inducing villain, Crimes of Grindelwald doesn’t hold back the punches right until the last moment. Love it or hate it, we all want to know what happens next. And it could literally be anything.
DARLING in the FRANXX – Karla Clark (Fandom Contributor Program Manager)
Anytime an anime finds itself compared to Neon Genesis Evangelion, the holy grail of anime, it’s pretty much dead on arrival. With giant mecha, pubescent kids, and a dystopian setting, DARLING in the FRANXX certainly hit all the Evangelion markers, prompting a subset of the anime fandom to grab their pitchforks and brand the series a travesty. Others were turned off by the over-the-top fan service, overly dramatic teenage love triangles, or the needless insertion of antagonistic aliens without warning.
DARLING in the FRANXX isn’t perfect. It’s a beautiful mess — a show about children who carry the fate of the world on their shoulders, but who can’t help but wish that that certain someone will smile at them. They make selfish decisions that leave us writhing with fury. But the children and how they evolve — how they stick together despite their raging hormones — is what makes this series so compelling, and relatable.
Sure, we weren’t exactly in love with Ichigo when she cockpit-blocked Hiro and Zero Two, but that moment didn’t warrant death threats, nor did it ruin the series. We’ve all been Ichigo, competing against another person, sometimes unknowingly, for someone’s attention or affection. It’s all a part of growing up, and even amidst its rushed final arc, the series never loses focus of this fact as it sees these character arcs and relationships through to the end — even giving Ichigo a purpose outside of Hiro. DARLING in the FRANXX is no Evangelion, but it successfully tells a moving story of love, adolescence, and parenthood (when you ignore the aliens). It’s message of holding on to your loved ones, despite the outside world falling apart, is one we desperately needed in 2018, clunkily told or otherwise.
Phantom Doctrine – Jeremy Ray (Managing Editor)
Phantom Doctrine’s average of 70 on Metacritic doesn’t show the wide range of opinions about it. The divisive XCOM-like sought to paint a Cold War story onto turn-based tactics, and not everybody appreciated the attempt. But we certainly did.
Perhaps for some, the dense intrigues of CIA vs KGB vs Mossad didn’t capture the imagination as much as an alien invasion. But its narrative (which was decent enough by itself) served its purpose as an excuse for battle after battle of tactical spy vs spy action. It captured that addictive loop of field missions, upgrading your troops and base, and metagame management.
Most importantly, Phantom Doctrine provided a rare game in this genre that didn’t rely on random outcomes for gunshots. If you’re like us and got tired of missing 99% shots in XCOM, you may want to try this one out. And judging by the several tactics games on the horizon that all minimise die rolls, it seems this is what players want.