Another movie from the DC Films Universe has been released to less than stellar critical acclaim. Though there will have been some rubbing their hands together, preparing their prognostications of doom for DC’s fledgling cinematic universe since before a frame was shot, few could have predicted the film’s disappointing opening weekend. Despite the film showing that it has better legs than most suspected, the opening weekend domestic gross of less than $95m has raised some serious questions about the fate of the DCEU.
Of course fans and haters alike have rushed in to pick apart the movie’s carcass even as it continues to do fairly well in theaters. The disparity in directing styles between Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon has been cited as a contributor as has the cultural hangover from the divisive Batman V Superman. One factor that cannot be overlooked is the film’s fairly woeful Rotten Tomatoes score of 41%. Though it has fared far better with audiences (ratings currently stand at 82%) it’s likely that this disappointing score has no doubt discouraged many from watching the film. This is a shame because Justice League is a flawed but good film, especially when compared to some of the superhero movies that fared better with the site…
15. THOR: THE DARK WORLD
This one’s a shame because a lot of the criticisms heaped upon Justice League could just as easily have been leveled at this disappointing sequel to Kenneth Branagh’s superlative Thor. The film has severe lapses in narrative cohesion, a forgettable villain, uninteresting and/or underdeveloped peripheral characters and a forced sense of levity including some incredibly clunky one-liners.
Not to mention a narrative that shoehorns in a sleepwalking Natalie Portman and returns the action to Earth for no good reason at all. Nonetheless the film boasts a far more impressive critical score of 66% on Rotten Tomatoes. Though the film unquestionably has its moments; including some beautiful moments with Rene Russo’s Frigga, at least one impressive battle scene and the ever impressive Tom Hiddleston working his mischievous magic as Loki, the film is on balance a far less satisfying experience than Justice League.
14. IRON MAN 2
Surely the nadir of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man 2 tries to keep so many plates spinning that none of its many disparate elements pay off in a particularly satisfying way. The film boasts some impressive scenes, to be sure, including the heart stopping confrontation in Monte Carlo, but its flaws detract a great deal from its highlights. Whiplash’s character is woefully under cooked and is established more through expository dialogue than in meaningful character moments on screen.
Indeed, Mickey Rourke was reportedly furious that so many scenes that helped to establish his character were cut from the film. Many have claimed that the final cut of Justice League reeks of studio interference and while they certainly have a point, the tension between studio mandate and directorial intention is far more evident in this film which bagged a RT score of 73%.
13. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2
You have to pity Marc Webb, Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and all involved in the creation of the Amazing Spider-Man films. Despite everyone’s good intentions, none of it was supposed to have happened. The 2012 reboot was supposed to be a sequel to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 but for various reasons the project never came together. Sony pictures realized that they needed to make a Spider-Man movie, any Spider-Man movie to keep hold of the rights.
That corporate cynicism is evident in every single shot of both films, but it’s especially egregious in the second which scored 52% on RT. While Garfield and Stone’s chemistry remains the sole redeeming feature of both films the duology is a tapestry of missed opportunities. The fact that TAMS-M2 is able to waste not one, not two but three talented actors on horribly written villain roles is the most cardinal of its many sins.
12. POWER RANGERS
On paper it must have seemed like a great idea. Reinvent Power Rangers by making it half blockbuster action adventure and half The Breakfast Club. Fill it with a cast of up-and-coming young talent playing the classic ’90s iteration of Saban’s superhero team, have them fight a CGI villain in CGI zords and wait for the money to roll in… What could possibly go wrong? To the film’s credit, it did one half of its job too well.
The cast and their interactions are so compelling that they’re actually way more interesting than any of the superhero stuff. Thus, the action heavy third act feels almost tacked on and the film feels dissonant, unsatisfying and tonally confused. Nonetheless, this superhero team up trumped Justice League on RT at 44%.
11. X-MEN: APOCALYPSE
One can only imagine the parties that took place over at Fox when X-Men: Days of Future Past reminded everyone just how epic, ambitious, poignant and visually astonishing (get it) an X-Men film could be. So giddy with joy were they that they appear to have written Bryan Singer a blank check and issued him the singular mandate of “do that again!”. Unfortunately, the resultant sequel is far less satisfying than its time-hopping predecessor.
Apocalypse was supposed to be the greatest mutant villain of all time, but the script puts so little effort into developing him that even Oscar Isaac’s talent and charisma couldn’t save him. Fan favorites like Storm and Psylocke are glossed over and the film wastes time shoehorning in a Jean Grey/Proto-Phoenix subplot that absolutely nobody asked for. Nonetheless, the film scored 7% more on RT than Justice League.
Somebody somewhere is responsible for casting Keanu Reeves as DC/Vertigo’s beloved chain smoking occult detective. Whoever that person is, a special award needs to be made for them for the most heroic miscasting of all time. It’s not even the lack of blond hair or a British accent, it’s the fact that the character is so clearly out of Reeve’s comfortable range. Neo? Yes. John Wick? Yes. Jonathan Harker? No. Constantine? Absolutely not!
The 2005 Constantine‘s cardinal sin isn’t that it’s misjudged, it isn’t that it’s nonsensical, it isn’t even that it’s lead appears to be doing an impersonation of himself… It’s that it takes a clever and intriguing line of comics and boils them down to one of the most predictable, soulless paint-by-numbers action thrillers ever committed to film. Nonetheless, according to the RT algorithm, it’s 5% better than Justice League.
9. RED 2
Who asked for this self regarding, self congratulatory comic book superspy sequel? The first RED‘s charm lay almost entirely in the repartee between the cast and the infectious sense of fun that they seemed to be having. The sequel managed to capture almost none of that. RED 2‘s greatest crime is its redundancy. Its very existence seems to stem entirely from the fact that the studio were pleasantly surprised that the first RED made more money than they expected.
The trouble is that the original was all premise and no plot, and its formula was already starting to look (if you’ll forgive the expression) arthritic towards the end of the first film. Building on a decidedly shaky foundation, the sequel doubles down on all the wrong elements and eventually becomes a cliche-by-numbers explode-o-rama that somehow managed to land 3% north of Justice League on RT.
When the one-two punch of X-Men and Spider-Man hit even bigger than anyone dared hope in 2002, fans of The Man Without Fear were delighted to hear that Fox were planning to make a film about Daredevil in the wake of the success of these previous Marvel movies. The result was… not worth the wait.
While the subsequent Director’s Cut did a great deal to redeem the film it’s still unable to overcome the poor decisions that mire it, from a capable but miscast Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner to Colin Farrell chewing every piece of scenery that isn’t nailed down to a protagonist who’d rather get jiggy than fight crime. The film scored 44% on RT despite having a clear disparity between the director’s gritty sensibilities and the studio’s desire to have their own Spider-Man clone.
7. X-MEN: THE LAST STAND
Don’t you just pine for the days when the only reason we hated Brett Ratner was because he made terrible movies? While this X-Men sequel (which scored 58% on RT) has its moments, its shortcomings aren’t helped by the high quality of the fine films that preceded it. The Last Stand seemed quite happy to raise a middle finger to the previous films by killing off or hobbling characters who’d earned their stripes in the eyes of audiences.
It robbed Cyclops of the chance to do something, anything that he so badly needed, and reduced one of the comic books’ most landmark story events to a vague approximation of its printed glory. Getting rid of great characters like Nightcrawler and bringing in horribly miscast characters like Vinnie Jones’ Juggernaut didn’t help either.
6. IRON MAN 3
Ah, the Batman Returns of the MCU. Some fans love it vociferously, some fans hate it equally vociferously but while in many ways it’s an improvement on its predecessor it doesn’t measure up that well to the first Iron Man nor to most of Shane Black’s back catalog. Iron Man 3 has a lot of interesting stuff going on but is never quite equal to the sum of its parts.
The film’s impressive RT score of 80% has done little to assuage the ire of fans who balked at Iron Man’s most iconic villain being reduced to a blundering comic footnote. Yeah, sure Aldrich Killian was the real Mandarin but it’s still a kick in the shins for fans who were hoping for a serious face off between Iron Man and his comic book nemesis.
5. SUPERMAN RETURNS
Absolutely nobody can deny that Superman Returns‘ heart is in the right place but Bryan Singer’s divisive love letter to Richard Donner’s Superman is flawed at a conceptual level. The film invokes Donner’s movie ad-nauseum yet deliberately eschews its sense of romanticism. While it has some beautiful shots and one or two great Superman moments, the attempts to subvert certain archetypes (e.g. making Superman an absentee father, or making Lois a vociferous anti-Superman advocate) fell flat on their face because they were building on the whimsical, idealized world of the Donner films.
Brandon Routh is doing his best in the titular role but there are many times when he’s visibly uncomfortable, particularly opposite a wholly miscast Kate Bosworth. While the film is not particularly well remembered it fared better with critics than with audiences, garnering a 76% RT score.
4. DICK TRACY
Dick Tracy could have been great. A self aware take on an all-but forgotten pulp hero with an all-star cast, compelling art direction and a veteran actor/director in the chair. Unfortunately, the finished product (which got an RT score of 64%) reeks of self importance and is a little too knowing for its own good. Alarm bells should have started ringing when Beatty refused to cast anyone but himself in the title role.
The idea of using a vivid six color palette to tell a film noir story is interesting but the plot moves too sluggishly for us to truly become engaged even with Al Pacino is enjoyable hamming it up as the lead villain Mumbles. Disney bet the farm on this one with a slew of merchandise that sat untouched on the shelves in the summer of 1990. Turns out kids just aren’t that into film noir.
While Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk should be lauded for its ambition, for every moment of genuine directorial genius there are half a dozen things that just don’t work. Despite having a respectable RT score of 61% the film fails to satisfy largely because it has absolutely no idea what it wants to be. The editing technique of splicing shots together like comic book frames would be cute if it weren’t so bewilderingly at odds with the ponderous philosophical and psychologically driven narrative.
Some actors are playing it absolutely straight while some have their tongues firmly in their cheek (which would be less of a problem if they weren’t in the same scene or even the same shot). The digital Hulk looks great, especially by 2003 standards, but this is clearly at the expense of the film’s other digital characters and effects. Also… Gamma. Dogs.
2. THE GREEN HORNET
if Chris Pratt has shown us anything it’s that actors with a background in comedy can be credible action heroes. In fact, he even makes it look easy…but Seth Rogen can tell you that it isn’t. There’s probably an alternate reality in which pairing Rogen with the ambitious and celebrated director Michel Gondry on an action comedy based on a cult comic book hero was a good idea. If only we all lived there.
One or two cool action beats and a fun cameo by James Franco the film is grindingly tedious. Legend has it that the dual clunkers of 2011’s Green Lantern and Green Hornet so toxified the color that the CW’s subsequent Green Arrow show was called Arrow to avoid any association with these cinematic pariahs. Unaccountably, the film just edges out Justice League with a RT score of 43%.
1. SPIDER-MAN 3
Yup, it’s true! The most divisive, the most oft criticized, the most widely bemoaned superhero movie of the century outscores Justice League on Rotten Tomatoes by a whopping 22%. Spider-Man 3 isn’t just bad because it’s a disappointing successor to Sam Raimi’s superlative originals. It’s a laundry list of what makes a bad comic book movie. Every tired and overused superhero movie criticism that has ever echoed across social media (and before that message boards-remember those?) can be found abundantly in this film.
Questionable casting choices? Check! Uneven digital effects? Check! Sleepwalking actors from whom we should expect better? Check! Characters acting inconsistently for no reason at all? Check! Incoherent plot? Check! Uneven digital effects? Check! Ample evidence of studio interference? Big ol’ check! Everything that’s wrong with Justice League is doubly and obnoxiously wrong with Spider-Man 3.
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