Nobody who goes to the multiplex in the summer expects great art, just two hours of popcorn that doesn’t leave them feeling like they’ve been had. A hero to root for, a villain to hiss, some zingers and a climactic confrontation in a collapsing skyscraper – who could ask for anything more?
Alas, the simple act of giving the masses what they’ve paid to see eludes most filmmakers, who’re more likely setting up a franchise, linking their picture with a parent corporation’s products or just indulging in a bit of shameful product placement. Inspiration’s a fleeting thing, and you certainly won’t find it in a sequel to a movie based on a theme park ride.
Speaking of the Pirates Of The Caribbean sequels, they serve as a pretty good illustration of everything that’s wrong with modern blockbusters. There’s always something happening but there’s no real story, everybody shouts and runs around a great deal but it’s not particularly exciting and the cast are trying so hard to keep your attention that after a while you start to pity them.
How do summer blockbusters manage to be boring? By draining the charm out of the characters and throwing them into ludicrous plots littered with unexciting action sequences, that’s how.
For ten examples, step right this way.
10. Jurassic Park 3
Sequel #2 is really a big bucks SyFy movie: it’s barely 90 minutes long, there’s a ridiculous excuse for stranding some famous faces on dinosaur island, and the “plot” consists of watching them run around for the rest of the film.
How do they sucker Sam Neill into returning to the island? William H Macy and Tea Leoni tell him they want to spend their wedding anniversary looking at dinosaurs, so without waiting for the cheque to clear he boards a plane to Isla Nublar. To the surprise of nobody except those onscreen, they end up crash landing on Isla Sorna, the “other” dinosaur island, and you can probably guess the rest.
It’s apt that this franchise found a home at Universal because Jurassic Park III brings to mind the studio’s earlier monster movie sequels. As with House Of Dracula, The Mummy’s Ghost, Revenge Of The Creature et al, it’s not a patch on the original but a completest seeking cheap thrills won’t mind too much.
9. The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Supposedly based on Alan Moore’s graphic novel, The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen unites several characters from 19th Century literature (including Allan Quatermain, Captain Nemo, Tom Sawyer and Dorian Gray) but has no idea what to do with them and has them run around for two hours dodging explosions.
Also included in the group is Dr Jekyll whose transformations into Mr Hyde are more The Incredible Hulk than Robert Louis Stevenson, which is surely intentional – Ang Lee’s Hulk opened that same summer. Whenever onscreen, he growls while destroying the scenery with his fists, so the filmmakers missed a trick by not having him say, “Hyde smash!”
Described by the New York Daily News as “beyond banal”, and a box office stiff to boot (it cost $78 million yet made $66 million in the US), the film is extraordinary only for the effect it had on its cast and crew. Star Sean Connery went into retirement, director Stephen Norrington left Hollywood and Alan Moore stopped selling the film rights to his work.
The highest grossing entry in the Alien franchise to date, Prometheus seems to start out with the intention of giving the audience something, if not entirely new then at least surprising. When the surprises fail to materialise it turns into more of a re-tread with supposedly intelligent people behaving in stupid ways.
Not only does Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) turn out to have an ulterior motive (what’re the odds?) but this crew of brilliant minds are very, very good at putting themselves in harm’s way. Is it Standard Operating Procedure for biologists to wander off from their group or start prodding foreign objects as soon as they see them? You will not find much credibility here.
Nor will you find much in the way of tension. There’s no risk, and when it becomes clear that any attempts to subvert expectations have given way to following the formula, no reason to get involved.
7. X-Men: The Last Stand
No matter how outrageous Magneto’s schemes became in Bryan Singer’s movies (and what’s more outrageous than attempting to transform world leaders into mutants?), his motives are grounded in his disgust at animalistic, hypocritical human beings. Throw in some talk about the persecution of outsiders, in a movie directed by an openly gay filmmaker, and you have a pulp fiction raised to its highest level.
Without it, you’ve got an old man in a dorky-looking helmet, which pretty much sums up what X-Men: The Last Stand did to the franchise.
Trashing all the good work done in the previous films in favour of special effects and overheated drama, The Last Stand has no reason to exist, so the subsequent movies pretend it doesn’t. Even Vinnie Jones registered his displeasure at the movie, claiming the original script was junked before filming began.
If that’s true, it explains the narrative’s slung-together feel. A movie where so many important characters bite the dust (or do they?) should have more impact, but this is just a long, limp farce from beginning to end. Then again, what were you expecting from the director of Rush Hour and Red Dragon?
6. Planet Of The Apes
Not only was Tim Burton’s Planet Of The Apes the first film to employ the dreaded “reimagining” label, it gave the term a concrete definition. Judging by the level of wit and creativity on display here, it means a rushed and pointless film that throws out the original in favour of a third-rate Twilight Zone episode.
So incredibly slipshod in its storytelling that neither Burton nor his cast could explain the plot, Apes ’01 has the distinction of being the only movie in the franchise where nothing is satisfactorily explained, characters and plot points are introduced and discarded at random and the big ‘reveal’ at the climax still leaves viewers scratching their heads.
At least the cast is good, with Tim Roth, Paul Giamatti and David Warner (among others) unrecognisable beneath Rick Baker’s make-up, which turns out to be an unexpected blessing: you can’t see the actors cringe at lines like “Never send a monkey to do a man’s job.”