Regardless of your opinion of Cowboys & Aliens, Green Lantern, Fast Five and a host of other explosion-filled films, they all can’t be brilliant. Sure, there are some classics that satisfy the action-movie thrills, but are also highly original. The first two Terminator movies are like this, and recently, the sci-fi thriller Hanna. But what about those seemingly universally disliked action/sci-fi films? Are any of them worth a second look? If the knee-jerk defense of action-oriented sci-fi movies is “to have fun,” then are some fun movies more fun than others? Here are five rotten tomatoes and cinematic whipping boys that I think deserve another chance.
Michael Bay certainly deserves most of the criticism he receives for the Transformers series, but this 2005 Bay film usually gets overlooked and I’m not sure why. Seemingly a rip-off of Logan’s Run and The Running Man, the movie tells the story of a couple of runaway clones who are searching for their counterparts. In this world, the rich and powerful buy contracts that enable them to have a supply of replacement organs in the case of a serious accident. What these people don’t know is that entire clones are grown instead! Between an awesome chase sequence on a hover-bike and some sweet McGregor and McGregor action, this movie is actually really fun. A lot of people will claim that it seems like Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson are just reading their lines, but since they’re playing clones who have never known the outside world, maybe that’s the right approach.
The Chronicles of Riddick
I think most fans would agree Pitch Black is a pretty solid sci-fi thriller, but most of us don’t really know what to make of Riddick. Does this character even belong in a movie like this? In the first film, it was all sneaking around in the dark dealing with scary stuff, and then the next movie was this big Dune meets Lord of the Rings visual epic. Why should anyone even bother with this movie? One reason: Vin Diesel is actually the perfect kind of guy you want in a science fiction film, primarily because he seems out of place. Unlike Arnold or Bruce Willis, you’re supposed to feel uncomfortable about Vin Diesel being in your science fiction movie. And that’s because Vin Diesel has a dangerous kind of trashiness. After seeing The Chronicles of Riddick, I thought Vin would make a great Gully Foyle in a hypothetical film adaption of The Stars My Destination. Well, I suppose that would be if they couldn’t get Javier Bardem. Oh, did I mention Dame Judi Dench is in this movie?
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Though Lucas and Spielberg talk a mean game about how Star Wars and Indiana Jones pay homage to Flash Gordon-style serials of a bygone era, Kerry Conran actually did it for real. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow shouldn’t be viewed as a contemporary action film, but instead as a kind of alternate universe where these sorts of movies never stopped getting made. There’s a Harlan Ellison story called “Jeffty is Five” in which a character doesn’t age and is able to listen to old radio broadcasts of Captain Midnight regardless of the fact that the show isn’t being produced anymore. And Jeffty’s episodes of Captain Midnight are NEW. This is what Sky Captain is. It’s a new/old movie that makes no attempt to disguise its antiquated trappings. We may as well be tuning in and listening to it on the radio. There’s no origin story of Sky Captain, he’s simply “on his way” to fight the robots at the start of the film. Honestly, I don’t know what’s not to love about this movie. Planes that transform into submarines! An island full of dinosaurs! That awesome ray gun! If you like big chase sequences and the gee-wiz factor of old school science fiction movies, this flick is for you.
A lot of action movies are derivative of other action movies and the sci-fi variety are usually being derivative of basic, old school SF concepts. Equilibrium borrowed (stole) thematic elements from Brave New World and 1984. In fact, it’s probably a better 1984 adaption than the movie version of 1984. The action movie stuff it stole was way more contemporary though, as many have correctly pointed out that its something of a faux-Matrix. And yet both the over-the-top action sequences and the hammy dystopian messages work fairly well together. The movie also seems pretty low budget which, unlike the Matrix, means its not trying to impress you. With Christian Bale, Emily Watson, Sean Bean, and yes, Taye Diggs, you’ve got an action movie cast at least as good as the far inferior Terminator: Salvation.
This is the big one. Seemingly everyone thinks this movie was absolutely terrible, including the studio, as they are totally uninterested in bringing anybody back for the new impending reboot project, Man of Steel. Now, prior this film, the Bryan Singer backlash wasn’t in full effect, so it’s not like the movie was disliked just because people didn’t like him. So what was missing? When you add up the specifics, it doesn’t seem like much. Brandon Routh is actually not bad as Supe at all (and he really demonstrated his versatility in Scott Pilgrim last year!) Kevin Spacey is great as Lex Luthor and, though she’s not perfect, Kate Bosworth doesn’t deliver a bad Lois. Sure, it’s not as iconic as the Reeve films, but it’s certainly not unwatchable. In fact, I would say this movie is about a 100 times better than Green Lantern and just slightly worse than Thor. It probably has the best conflict of any of the Superman movies insofar as the threat to Earth is directly tied into Krypton and as such is a true challenge for Supe. Like it or hate it, the subplot with Superman’s illegitimate child with Lois was, at the very least, risky. And in terms of action, the scene in which Superman rescues the airplane is totally awesome. I think the real reason so many people didn’t like this movie is because the near perfection of those first two Reeve movies are so powerful that almost anything else seems ridiculous in comparison. But if you give this movie half a chance, you’ll find yourself smiling at least once or twice.
How about you? Any supposed stinkers out there that you happen to love? Let us know!
Ryan Britt is a staff writer for Tor.com. Don’t even get him started on defending the Highlander movies.