most disappointing movies

Every week in /Answers, we answer a new pop culture-related question. In this week’s edition, tying in with the general reaction to The Cloverfield Paradox, we ask “What is the most profoundly disappointing movie you have ever seen?”

Jacob Hall: Men in Black II

Everyone remembers the first time they realized a movie could be bad, usually because it’s accompanied by some sense of heartbreak. For years, young me thought there were two kinds of movies: movies I loved and then everything else. I didn’t realize that a movie could hurt, that it could disappoint, that it could make you feel mental and emotional pain. Until Men in Black II.

Released in 2002 when I was 14 years old, Men in Black II was the movie to beat that year. I had seen the first one four times in theaters. I had watched the VHS tape until it was worn out. I could practically quote the entire movie from beginning to end. In retrospect, it’s weird that I was that obsessed with Men in Black (although it is a very fun and very funny movie), but it had everything I wanted in a film. Aliens, gun battles, wacky comedy, astonishing special effects, etc. It was the whole package.

I vividly remember showing up to the theater to see Men in Black II and having to buy tickets for a later showing because so many were already sold out. I vividly remember taking my seat with my family. I vividly remember being pumped when the film began. And then, I vividly remember thinking things were off to a rough start. That it wasn’t as funny. That it wasn’t as exciting. That it…didn’t feel right. The first Men in Black was a comedy, yes, but its world felt realized and lived-in. It felt like a movie with stakes. Its sequel didn’t feel right. It felt…empty. Lame. Dull. Stupid. Cheap. Lazy. I remember trying to justify it to myself in the theater. I remember getting angry. And then I remember getting sad.

In a weird way, Men in Black II is one of the most important movies ever made for me. It taught me that movies can disappoint. It began my journey to discover why a movie can be bad. It made me consider the medium of film in a way I never had before. Thanks, Men in Black II. You suck. Truly and wholly. But thank you.

Chris Evangelista: The Cloverfield Paradox

I so very excited for The Cloverfield Paradox. Even before I knew what the dang title was (rumor had it as Cloverfield Station), I was all-aboard the Cloverfield hype train. The first Cloverfield is an excellent film, filled with existential dread. It’s about the casual, mindless destruction of everything you know and love, and I still find myself haunted by its bleak-as-fuck ending.

10 Cloverfield Lane came seemingly from nowhere – a surprise trailer appearing a few months before release. Going into the film knowing very little about it, I was completely blown away by how well-written and well-acted the film was. I even love the big twist ending that a lot of people seem to hate.

So I was all-in on future Cloverfield films. I love the idea of the franchise: a series of big, weird, inventive genre pictures that aren’t really related, but all exist under the same banner. When word came right before the Super Bowl that the next Cloverfield might drop onto Netflix following the game, I was thrilled. Here was a big, bold, unprecedented move perfectly in line with the mystery box nature of the franchise. Then, when the Super Bowl trailer confirmed that The Cloverfield Paradox would indeed be dropping on Netflix after the big game, I was practically bouncing up and down in my chair. I wanted nothing more than for the Super Bowl to end (spoiler alert: I don’t care about sports; not even a little) so I could start streaming The Cloverfield Paradox.

And then I watched it. To be clear, the first 10 or 20 minutes of the film had me hooked. Everything was unfolding nicely. I was ready to be pleasantly surprised. Then slowly and surely, The Cloverfield Paradox proceeded to fall apart. It ended up being a rushed, poorly written, terribly directed sci-fi knock-off. Sure, the cast was great – but so what? A great cast alone can’t make a film worthwhile. I still have hopes the franchise will get back on its feet, possibly with the upcoming Overlord. But for now, the Cloverfield name feels tarnished. I almost wish they would just re-release Paradox under its original title, God Particle, and pretend it had nothing to do with the Cloverfield franchise.

Hoai-Tran Bui: The Last Airbender

The Avatar: The Last Airbender TV series was not only one of the best animated series of all time, but one of the best series on TV period. Inspired heavily by East Asian mythology and Japanese anime styles, it could have easily been a messy amalgamation of hamfisted Oriental references and mysticism filtered into a kid-friendly cartoon. Instead, Avatar was one of the most richly realized stories I’d ever seen, and an ardent love letter to Chinese, East Asian, and South Asian cultures.

Avatar follows the story of Aang, a 12-year-old boy who is discovered frozen in ice by two siblings, who soon realize they have found the legendary Avatar, a powerful reincarnated being who can control the four elements of water, earth, fire, and air. And as the world is on the precipice of mass invasion by the dictatorial Fire Nation, Aang reluctantly shoulders the burden of saving the world. It’s a simple hero’s journey that we’ve seen time and again, but Avatar stands out thanks to its warm, complex characters and balance of zippy humor with weighty character drama. The character arc of the show’s resident villain-turned-antihero, Zuko, remains one of the best redemption arcs I’ve seen on TV. I can’t rave enough about Avatar: The Last Airbender, even 10 years after it left the air. Which is why M. Night Shymalan’s The Last Airbender was such a severe disappointment.

Just bringing up the existence of this movie pains me. The Last Airbender was supposed to be the mainstream validation of all animation lovers — proof that even an animated Nickelodeon show could boast one of the best narratives on TV. Instead, we got a butchered, whitewashed version of the epic tale with the only people of color playing its hokey villains. Even the fight scenes, one of the TV show’s greatest achievements, were embarrassingly boring. It lacked the rich characters of the animated series, and even its stunning visuals — something an acclaimed director like Shymalan operating on a blockbuster budget could have feasibly pulled off. The Last Airbender looks so dull and lifeless that it seemed impossible that it sprung from something as vibrant and exciting as the TV series.

I don’t want to go into the specifics of why it was just so bad. It would traumatize me too much. Instead, I’ll just give my highest recommendation to the Avatar: The Last Airbender TV series and beg you to wash this movie from your memory.

Vanessa Bogart: Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland isn’t just a terrible movie, it is a parade of tasteless self-indulgence that marks the end of Tim Burton as we all grew to know and love him. It is on the very short list of movies that made me lean over to my sister and say, “do you wanna leave?” This was fairytale made by the man that gave us Batman, Batman Returns, Mars Attacks!, Beetlejuice, and so many more delightfully weird and unique films. I had every single possible reason to expect this to be spectacular. I mean, the director of Edward Scissorhands was taking a trip down the rabbit hole. It could have been glorious.

I should have listened to my gut after Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but instead I wrote that off as just “not being my cup of tea.” I should have paid more attention to that little voice in my head during Sweeney Todd that kept saying, “aren’t some of these tricks getting little tired?” But still, I trudged on, grasping firmly to the good old days. However, Alice in Wonderland was so blatantly insulting, treating audiences like fish to be distracted by shiny tackle, that I was left heartbroken in the theater surrounded by the excited and applauding preteens that did not know the Tim Burton that I knew.

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