Welcome to The Last Sci-fi Blog, a column dedicated to science fiction on film.
Here’s the thing about 2012: it was a really, really good year for movies. To get to the specifics of this column, it was an especially fine year for sci-fi. In fact, the movies were so good that my Best Science Fiction Films of 2012 post is going to be absolutely jam-packed.
You can look for that in two weeks. Today, we’re looking at the stinkers.
Compiling this list proved to be difficult. With so many good science fiction films out this year, there wasn’t a lot of room for so many bad ones. In fact, most of the films discussed below are missed opportunities, not outright stinkers. Strangely, some of these highly flawed films will pull double duty and will find homes on both lists. Of course, we’ll also be visiting some popular punching bags, and we’ll be beating some dead horses, but the year is just about over. In a few weeks we can throw the corpses in the fire and start anew.
Most Disappointing Sci-fi Film: Prometheus
Let’s get one thing straight: at the end of the day, I like Prometheus. Still, there’s no denying the fact that this is a movie that didn’t just fail to live up to expectations — it failed spectacularly in the expectations department. What sounded like the Next Great Science Fiction Film from the man who made Blade Runner and Alien turned out to be a silly, shallow, extremely entertaining and gorgeously shot studio blockbuster. It feels horrible to damn Prometheus for just being a decent movie, but there wasn’t a bigger letdown in 2012.
Runner-up: John Carter
Like Prometheus, I’m a big fan of John Carter. I like it a lot. In fact, you may very well see it pop up in the “Best of 2012” column that’ll follow this one. But a sci-fi/fantasy epic from Andrew Stanton should’ve been the next Star Wars… and John Carter is no Star Wars.
Worst Performance in a Bad Film: Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black 3
Like so many actors late in their careers, there are times when Tommy Lee Jones obviously just doesn’t give a f**k. His superb work in Lincoln is evidence that he still cares when he’s put in the right project, but his lazy, sleepwalking performance in Men in Black 3 is a far cry from his frequently hilarious work in the first film. Jones is here for the paycheck and the paycheck alone, meaning that his more enthusiastic costars (the never lazy Will Smith and Josh Brolin) have to save the film. He’s not in the film for too long, but every frame with him in it is dripping with contempt.
Runner-up: Taylor Kitsch in Battleship
Oh, Riggins… you are not a leading man. I love, but you’re not. I’m so sorry. Also, I really don’t think Battleship is a truly “bad” film, but that’s a subject for later.
Worst Performance in a Good Film: Logan Marshall-Green in Prometheus
For all of its (major, extreme, terrible) story flaws, Prometheus is full of wonderful actors doing everything they can with the material, from Michael Fassbender’s incredible performance as an android to Charlize Theron’s memorable turn as an icy corporate type. Logan Marshall-Green’s Charlie Holloway is an exception. I’m not sure how much of it is his fault and how much is the fault of his terribly written character, but he comes off as the whiniest, most irresponsible and least impressive scientist in recent cinematic memory. In short, you spend every second of the movie wishing he had stayed back on Earth, which was surely not the intent.
Runner-up: Taylor Kitsch in John Carter
Oh, Riggins… you are still not a leading man. I still love you, but you’re not. I’m still so sorry. Also, I really don’t think John Carter is a truly “good” film, but that’s a subject we’ve already covered.
Brain-Shatteringly Bad Scene of the Year: The Stupid Scientist Touches the Weird Alien Creature in Prometheus
If you were a part of any movie discussion during the summer of 2012, you surely talked about this scene. You probably first talked about how stupid and improbable it was that two scientists would journey to a distant planet and get scared and run away when they have the opportunity to make the discovery of the century. You probably then moved on to how dumb it was that they got lost in a spaceship that is essentially a big circle. However, it all comes down to the scene where these scientists, too afraid to even look at artifacts a few hours ago, suddenly decide it’s okay to touch the weird alien creature. So bad. So stupid. Let’s close the book on this one.
Runner-up: The Motorcycle Chase in Lockout
Early in Lockout, before he ventures to an orbital space station to rescue the president’s daughter from convicts, Guy Pearce’s Agent Snow gets himself involved in a motorcycle chase that looks like it was rendered for the PlayStation 2. It’s easily the worst special-effects sequence of the year, an assault on the eyes only saved from the top prize in this category because it adds to the movie’s amazing cheese factor.
The “How Did You Screw This Up?” Award: Iron Sky
Iron Sky began as a clever concept teaser, released on the Internet before a single frame was shot: What if the Nazis had a secret moon base? What if they came back? It’s an endearing pulp concept, the kind of thing you’d see in a ’60s science fiction paperback or a silver age comic book. Iron Sky’s great sin is that it doesn’t embrace the pulp of its concept. Rather than create a silly but fun adventure film, it wastes its premise on Friedberg/Seltzer comedy. The result is an impressively made exercise in how to not be funny. Call it “Sci-fi Movie’ and put it in a box set with Epic Movie.
Runner-up: John Carter
Remember what I said above? You could’ve been the next Star Wars, man.
Worst Reboot/Remake/Sequel of the Year: Total Recall
Len Wiseman takes Paul Verhoeven’s trashy action masterpiece and scrubs it clean of every drop of blood and every ounce of satire. Although I’m all for remakes running off in a completely different direction, I’m not for that direction being safe and bland. There is nothing of value here.
Runner-up: Men in Black 3
Hey, at least it’s not as bad as the second film.
Worst Universe: Total Recall
It’s all so very blue. And when it’s not so very blue, it’s so very gray. In any case, it’s always so very Minority Report and the simple fact is that you don’t ape Steven Spielberg because he’s going to do it better than you. Verhoeven’s sets may look like they’re made of cardboard now, but his funky, bizarro world is nowhere to be found in the soulless remake. But let’s face it: Total Recall won this award the moment it wrote Mars out of the script.
Runner-up: Iron Sky
Iron Sky doesn’t win this dishonor because of its universe — it wins this dishonor because it creates a cool universe and proceeds to do it every possible disservice.
Special Prize For “Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?”: Battleship
Here’s the rotten truth: I like Battleship. A lot. Like John Carter, it has been unfairly maligned by the critics and scorned by millions of people who didn’t even see it. This silly, bizarre and hilariously jingoistic alien invasion flick is director Peter Berg doing what Michael Bay never could: make a good Michael Bay movie. But there’s a reason this bombed so badly and a reason it has become a laughingstock and a black eye for Universal — it’s based on a board game and proudly displays “Hasbro” among the opening production companies. As much fun as Battleship is, its hasty death at the box office hopefully means we won’t be getting a Monopoly movie anytime soon.
Worst Sci-Fi Film: Men in Black 3
The first Men in Black may be little more than a good excuse to eat popcorn, but it had a lot going for it: a fun, dense world, incredible alien designs by Rick Baker and two amiable leads with terrific chemistry in Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith. Over the course of two dire sequels, the promise of the first film has been thoroughly deflated. There were worse films than Men in Black 3 released this year, but none were this cynically made and none were so obviously a product of money men. Of course, that wouldn’t have mattered if it was funny or exciting, but it’s not. So it just stinks.
Technically, Lockout is a worse film than Men in Black 3 on virtually every level… except for the fact that it’s really, really fun. No film this year has felt so marvelously, lunkheadedly out of date and no film this year has reached such dizzying heights of stupidity and that’s exactly why you’ll find Lockout sneaking into the fringes of my Best Of column. See you in two weeks.