The 2012 blockbuster season is coming to a close, and we wanted to take the time to count our picks down starting from the worst of the bunch and finishing off with the best. This was quite a busy year with a lot of different types of blockbusters with studios taking some relatively interesting gambles this year, so there’s definitely a lot to choose from. Whether it’s trying to make a Michael Bay film without Michael Bay, sequelizing a franchise we haven’t seen in over a decade, putting all the eggs of previous films in one basket with an unprecedented franchise team-up film, or ending the legend of one of the most enduring characters in fiction, 2012 was full of a lot of surprises. Which ones rose above the rest?
Let’s find out!
I hope this pick isn’t that surprising! When I first heard that they were adapting this game to a major-feature motion picture, I was at Universal Studios Hollywood headed down the last escalator needed to get to rides like Jurassic Park when I saw a giant billboard for Battleship. I was immediately aghast at the prospect of a board game being transformed into a film, but tried to keep an open mind.
Then the trailers started showing up. The trailers actually touted “From Hasbro, the company that brought you Transformers” as a selling point to try and bring people in. They didn't mention that Hasbro also brought you the Easy-Bake Oven, but I guess that’s not as easily transferrable to a trailer for an action film. But still, I tried to keep an open mind yet again.
But then, the film came out, and my open mind shut like a steel trap. It wasn’t the over-the-top nature of the action sequences, cheesy bits of dialogue, or even a premise that wasn’t very well thought-out. The thing that disappointed me the most was perfectly encapsulated by Todd Gilchrist’s review on this very site. He relayed what’s necessary in any film trying to show us the classic tale of the hero’s journey, and said, “the number one rule of a hero’s journey is make your hero a character that people want to care about, and Berg roundly fails at this essential task by spending 30 minutes of the movie undermining Alex’s admirable qualities with an indefatigable series of obstinate, idiotic and just plain bad decisions… arrested, blew a soccer game, shown up late at a Navy event presided over by the man whose daughter he’s asking to marry, and gotten into a fight with a superior officer.”
For me, that can definitively place Battleship at the bottom of the pile. We'll just have to bide our time until they make that Easy-Bake Oven movie from producers Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer, won't we?
9) Total Recall
While not a very obvious choice when determining what movies from eras past should be remade and released, I didn’t think Total Recall was at the top, or even the middle of the list. Although, I wasn’t against the idea of remaking the film because it seemed like they were going about it in the right way. It looked like it was going to have a largely solid cast of action stars and strictly reliable actors, an interesting (though somewhat blatantly attempting to bend the mind) premise, and some pretty dazzling looking effects sequences. When the reviews started coming in, though, my heart quickly sank.
I’m a fan of Paul Verhoeven. Particularly where films like RoboCop or Starship Troopers are concerned (as well as the original version of this film), I think he has an interesting bag of tricks that always manages to elicit an emotional reaction out of me. The remake, in that regard, largely left me cold. The questioning of reality didn’t seem particularly striking or imaginative. The lack of necessity also takes away from the enjoyment of this film to a certain extent, and while I felt that the film promised the world, it just couldn’t live up to the expectations. Although, Bryan Cranston certainly does, every time!
8) The Bourne Legacy
I tend to like when film franchises begin to expand beyond the characters we’ve grown familiar with, because it increases the sense of scope and broadens the canvas on which to play with in new installments. When first hearing about The Bourne Legacy, it was a curious way with which to continue a popular franchise since the main character was nowhere to be found, at least not actively in the story. Legacy would end up being kind of a bold experiment about whether or not the audience will truly follow the world of a previous film series instead of just following the character.
While Legacy proved to be an interesting film and continued to weave a tapestry of intrigue surrounding the higher-ups of the Treadstone Project, I felt like there wasn’t a lot that happened in this movie. I had a little bit more of an understanding about the machinations of the government’s agents and how they’re used, but it didn’t feel like a worthwhile payoff to the setup of the previous three Bourne films. The theatrical trailer for the film continued to ask, “Did you think Jason Bourne was the whole story?” Well, yes I did. And in truth, while a respectable effort, this film didn’t really do a strong enough job to make me think otherwise.
7) The Expendables 2
I’m sure that a lot of people would agree with me when I say that sometimes, it’s very refreshing to get a film without any pretense, that is honest about what it is, and makes no apologies for it. I find that the Expendables films are very much accomplishing what they are trying to be: call backs to a bygone era of over-the-top action with solid humor, that doesn’t take itself too seriously. If the second installment of the new action mega-franchise was trying to be anything other than what it was, I’d have probably had a pretty hard time sitting in front of it. While there were a few eye-rolling moments, it seemed like they were supposed to be eye rollers to a certain extent. I found that refreshing about The Expendables, and I certainly found it refreshing in The Expendables 2.
From bringing Arnie “back,” to making Jean-Claude execute his roundhouse, to even bringing legends of Chuck Norris into play, The Expendables 2 was a refreshing piece of action fun with zero pretense and with its balls firmly pushed to the wall. There are better films that we got this year, but as far as sheer fun, I’d put this sequel in pretty good standing.
As a pretty big sci-fi fan, some of my absolute favorite films in the genre include Blade Runner and the original Alien film. It seemed like Ridley Scott and the genre of science fiction were natural complements to each other given those two revered and critically acclaimed works. So, upon first hearing that Ridley Scott would be returning to sci-fi and the world of Alien in a film called Prometheus, I was naturally very excited at the prospect. The first glimpses offered a vast galaxy, an interesting alien planet, a bleak atmosphere, and the promise of some interesting revelations about the origin of the Xenomorph species.
In regards to the finished film, like many other people, I was left disappointed, a little perplexed, and sadly unfulfilled. Convinced I must've missed something, I made an effort to work through the entire Alien film series again before a second viewing, and picked up on a lot more connective tissue than I was previously cognizant of in my first viewing, but the film makes some horribly dunderheaded mistakes that can almost kill the entire experience. “Why are you going to the mysterious planet lightyears away?” “To ask why they made us.” “What possible evidence do you have that you’ll learn what you want to know?” “I believe.”
Seems poetic on paper, but coming from a scientist who you’d think would be respectful of solid facts before embarking on an interstellar spirit walk, it sounds rather stupid. Not to mention the fact that this same character, after being nearly killed by the Engineers she sought out, decides to go to their home to continue to ask them the same question that got everyone else killed. Why would she get a different response? Barring these missteps, the supposed biologist calling the first extraterrestrial organism conceivably ever seen by a human being “cute” and being surprised when it shoves itself down his throat had me rolling my eyes when I'm guessing I should’ve been horrified.
Although, Michael Fassbender was astonishing, and may be worth the price of admission alone for the next go-around in an inevitable sequel. I really hope the next film gives us a little bit more knowledge toward the first Alien film. Why did the Engineers create the Xenomorphs, and exactly why did they feel the need to destroy us? That's what I'd like to know. In regards to this film, it was certainly dazzling to watch and a couple of the characters were very interesting, but this film could have, and should have, been so much more.
5) Men in Black 3
The first Men in Black film gave me some of my most prized childhood memories of play. It came out when I was nine years old, and one of my friends and I had an entirely new world of imagination and fun opened up to us just by putting on a suit and sunglasses. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to appreciate the first film’s humorous aspects a whole lot more, and while the second film is largely seen as kind of a misstep in the franchise, I think number three got us back on track.
Beyond that, it was just plain awesome seeing K and J back on-screen together in a new adventure. Add to that a more interesting villain with a cool exploration of the organization’s history and Josh Brolin’s just plain eerie re-creation of a younger, 1960s Agent K, and you have a film that was immensely enjoyable and pretty damn funny when it wanted to be. Even though it’d been 10 years since we’d seen the MIB protecting us from the scum of the universe, nobody here missed a beat in bringing everything back up to par with where we’d left them. In fact, they may be better than we've ever seen them before. That’s both surprising and extraordinarily refreshing to see, and I hope that we haven’t been treated to our last adventure courtesy of the MIB (but they should bring back Frank, he's a riot).
4) The Amazing Spider-Man
In a summer that was probably definitively dominated by the superhero, The Amazing Spider-Man certainly comes off as a successful film, but critically not as successful as it could’ve been. Don’t get me wrong, I think Andrew Garfield’s turn as Peter Parker and Spider-Man are probably the best we’ve ever seen of that character on film. The chemistry he had with Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy was shockingly resonant, providing for some truly transfixing scenes between those two as soon as you see them on-screen together for the first time. Martin Sheen’s turn as Uncle Ben gave us a fantastic grounding for the tragedy that would redefine Peter’s life by giving us a truly three-dimensional and highly expanded look at what made Ben Parker such a special and unique man, and Sally Field brought the emotional weight with her in all of her scenes as Peter’s Aunt May.
The comic book action scenes were also, from my perspective, the best in the series. Spider-Man was moving almost exactly as he seems to in the panels of each month’s issue of Amazing Spider-Man, and I felt like the choreography of Spidey’s moves brought the character to life in a way that no other film featuring him had managed to. Amazing made me believe that the new Spider-Man I was watching on the screen and the one that I read on the page every month were very, very close together. I did find a few things to take fault with, but what I found were actually rather big chunks of the movie that would distract me a lot.
The Lizard as a villain was written in a fashion that seemed very inconsistent. It seemed like in one segment he’s supposed to have multiple personalities to a degree, in another the man is fully in control of his own actions. He was kind of all over the place, and I feel like the exoneration of a villain’s action via science is kind of a played out theme. Also, the setup with the cranes in downtown New York totally took me out of the movie and really frustrated me. This isn’t a bad film -- its actors and a lot of the character work is really solid. However, it does stumble in a couple of places and while it doesn’t exactly fall, I think it shows that there’s some work to do on conflict and payoff before Spidey shows up on the big screen again on May 2, 2014.
I have to admit, my placing of Brave in the number three spot on this countdown is because it bucks a trend that I find a little disconcerting. I have a couple of very young nieces, and am always a little worried that their favorite princesses that they aspire to be all have the same story: marry a rich prince and be set for life. Sure they throw “true love” in there for good measure, but that seems to be the same tune in a lot of fairy tales they gravitate toward. Beyond being a great film, Brave bucks that trend and instead gives a young woman who seemingly has it “made” under the model of these previous princesses, but is far from satisfied by it. She sees the value of her independence and self-reliance instead of the more typical yarn of “fall in love, live happily ever after.”
While it’s safe to say that Brave hasn’t had the broad effect of a lot of other Pixar hits like Up, The Incredibles or the Toy Story films, its story, its undertones and its aims really impressed me by being outside the realm of typical fair. It also stood out in a largely satisfying fashion, and I feel that I have no choice but to bow to that fulfillment in this countdown.
2) The Avengers
It’s very difficult to add to the plethora of talk that’s already surrounded the surprise juggernaut that is The Avengers. Marvel Studios’ great experiment in setting up their solo franchises and combining them all into one giant comic book extravaganza paid off exceedingly well, and that’s news that’s easy to take when considering just how fun this movie is to watch.
Although it’s easy to see that all of the film’s characters are disparate to a degree, director Joss Whedon really excelled at showing why the heroic thing to do was to bring all of these egos and powers together in the form of a single team. Cleverly weaving through what was previously established in the other Marvel Studios films, Avengers felt like a true culmination. No more setup, just sheer payoff from our long investment in this world going back to 2008’s Iron Man. The Avengers is the third highest-grossing movie of all time, far and away the leader of the pack in superhero films financially, especially when compared to the previous films that came before it. When looking at the box office numbers, many people who had stayed home for Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger seemed to turn out for the team-up film.
This is definitely a statement on how attractive the concept of a comic book team-up film can be, and illustrates to me that maybe comic book fans and general film audiences aren’t so far apart in their sensibilities as some might think.
1) The Dark Knight Rises
However, even taking into account the sheer fun of The Avengers, it’s clear to me that the leader of the pack is easily The Dark Knight Rises. The trilogy crafted by Christopher Nolan starting in 2005’s Batman Begins was easily one of the most successful reboots in cinematic history, and paved the way for the critical and commercial powerhouse that was 2008’s The Dark Knight. How do you follow that up? Should you even try? How many good third films are there? That’s one of the things that was so surprising about Rises: for all intents and purposes, it should have been an awful movie, but the critical consensus is that it largely defied the odds with the deftness expected of the Guardian of Gotham City. Throw in some spectacular performances by Anne Hathaway as Catwoman and Tom Hardy as the enigmatic and terrifying Bane, and this film really does excel beyond the typical blockbuster.
Rises wasn’t just trying to be a retread of the second film that reached stratospheric heights back in 2008. Similar to how The Dark Knight was a very different film than Batman Begins, Rises stood largely on its own as a film with a different purpose and with different aims, while still continuing the story of this one extraordinary man who fights to save his city. As I tried to convey in my novel of a review I wrote for the film back in July, Rises is not a blind summer blockbuster bowing to the typical trappings of what is expected of superhero cinema. Instead, it aims just a little bit higher, putting Bruce Wayne’s drive and determination on greater display than we’ve ever seen before, rising from debilitating injury to ultimate glory and coming to a definitive conclusion that most fans of the character (including yours truly) thought they would never see. That’s why, for this guy anyway, The Dark Knight Rises is the champion of this year’s blockbusters: it aspires to be more. Beyond that, it gave the Batman the ending he deserved.
But again, that’s just one guy’s opinion. Art is always subjective, and I’m not here to dictate that this is the way things definitively are. No one can say for sure, and that’s part of the fun!
There were a few movies that were considered but that didn’t ultimately make the list, like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter or Dark Shadows. What’s your list? How would you rank the blockbusters of 2012? Is there anything we missed? Be sure to sound off below!
Chris Clow is a recent Western Washington University graduate, film history fan, and comic book expert and retailer, contributor, and overall geek to Batman-On-Film.com and ModernMythMedia.com. You can find his comic book reviews for various monthly titles and his participated podcasts at BOF and MMM. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClow.