Modern culture demands instant analysis, and that tends to mean our opinions get more polarised. This is particularly apparent in film, where it’s not particularly common anymore to hear nuanced takes on a new release. Usually it’s either good or bad. For instance, critical consensus is that A Star Is Born is a runaway Oscars darling and a spectacular achievement, while Bohemian Rhapsody is, as The Daily Beast put it, an insult to Freddie Mercury. You don’t hear things such as that A Star Is Born is good for what it is but somewhat sloppy in pacing and exposition, or that Bohemian Rhapsody sugarcoats a story but is still entertaining, and revolves around a sensational lead performance. Each film has to be good or bad – or, almost, great or terrible.
Because of this, we tend to view “flops” particularly harshly these days. A movie that might have had good ingredients and largely fine execution can still be dismissed as an utter disaster if it has one terrible sequence, or a bad plot twist, or an iffy performance, etc. Taking this into account, I did some thinking about some recent flops – by critical and/or box office standards – to think of a few that ultimately didn’t miss by much, and could be redone in a more satisfying manner.
Man Of Steel
Can you remember seeing the trailer for Man Of Steel before the movie ever came out? If not, you should do yourself a favour and go back to it, or rather to a whole run of trailers that preceded the release, because they’re among the best we’ve seen in the 21st century. Coming right on the heels of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, these trailers very much played up a similar atmosphere, even going so far as to plaster Nolan’s name across the
screen as a producer for the project. Russell Crowe’s rich and hypnotising narration sets the scene for a tale of wonder, and we see but teasing glimpses of a largely unfamiliar actor – Henry Cavill, who is now a borderline household name – who looks as if he was created in a lab to play Clark Kent/Superman. Man Of Steel quite frankly looked extraordinary.
The film unfortunately couldn’t live up to this promise. While it wasn’t an all-out disaster, and it did make plenty of money, critics and comic book fans alike were somewhat underwhelmed. Cavill, for his Superman-ish looks, played the role somewhat flatly, and far too much of the third act was lost in supersized action sequences devoid of heart or even particularly strong meaning. But even now, I can’t help but feel like this was a narrow miss. Cavill has come a long way as an actor even in the brief time since Man Of Steel (he was excellent in Mission Impossible: Fallout), and might just play the role with a bit more personality if it were to be freshly attempted. And it seems as if a different director – one less focused on video game-like actions sequences than Zack Snyder – could work wonders with the same script. This could truly have been The Dark Knight of Superman movies.
Runner Runner is probably the least popular of the films I’m mentioning here, despite a fairly powerful starring duo of Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck. It came out in 2013 and was billed in part as the first serious gambling movie in years – probably since the MIT blackjack flick 21. More specifically, it was about a college student named Richie Furst (Timberlake) who’s a whiz at online poker and ultimately determines that a prominent online site is cheating him. To get to the bottom of it, he works his way to the top of the food chain and winds up getting a face to face with the site’s owner, Ivan Block (Affleck). From that point on though, the movie forgets what it is, or what it led fans to expect, and devolves into a sort of mock mob movie, with Block going ludicrously overboard to protect his empire.
There’s actually space for a film with Runner Runner’s setup, particularly given the slowly but surely growing online gaming culture in the U.S. At this point this kind of activity is available beyond Las Vegas, and figures to expand. New Jersey offers fully licensed gaming sites, and Delaware too has some gaming – with more states considering legislation off and on. An online gaming-oriented version of a poker or gambling thriller, in other words, fits the current climate, and the first third or so of Runner Runner could still serve as an excellent setup. But a better version of the film would need to stick to its guns and have Furst and Block address their differences without resorting to over-the-top mortal danger.
The Dark Tower
Perhaps even more than Runner Runner, this 2017 film personifies the term “flop.” Despite being based on a popular fantasy series by none other than Stephen King, The Dark Tower was a relative failure, earning about $51 million domestically on a $60 million production budget and earning a lowly 16 percent positive rating at Rotten Tomatoes. The same site’s “critical consensus” review quip couldn’t have been much harsher: playing on the most famous line from the Dark Tower book series (“there are other worlds than these”), the staff wrote up, “go then, there are other Stephen King adaptations than these.”
If you’re familiar with the books, however, you can see clearly that the only issue with this film was its unnecessary rush to wrap up a tale. Rather than tackling the first novel of a series – The Gunslinger – this film attempts to pluck elements from the series and mash them up together into a neat, concise fantasy story. The actual bones of the thing aren’t bad. Idris Elba was a surprising but excellent choice for protagonist Roland, and Matthew McConaughey couldn’t have been more perfect as the Devil-like “Man in Black” villain. It was a pretty enough film as well, and some of the key sequences were legitimately entertaining. But it was a misguided project from the start, simply from a scope and compression standpoint. Perhaps this would all have worked better as a TV series – something rumoured to be in the works, in fact.
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