What’s your favorite good bad movie? Everyone has one, be it an adaptation that was botched between the page and the screen or a picture with horrible execution that resulted in a ruined premise. The fundamental truth of these movies that failed to deliver but are still loved by some is that they could've been much, much better.
Hollywood is littered with failed films that should have worked. It seems like every year gifts a handful of awful movies with great ideas, films in which flashes of brilliance are lost in a sea of mediocrity. In the wide world of cinema, there are few things more depressing than movies that could've been great but turned out crap, because you can see the greatness within them, trapped, forever unable to get free. In some ways it's worse than a movie that's terrible in every way, because at least those aren't wasting potential.
There may not be enough time left on Earth to fully explain how great a sin Brett Ratner committed with X-Men: The Last Stand. Following two wonderful installments from Bryan Singer (who was off disappointing fans with Superman Returns), The Last Stand simultaneously mutilates two of the comic world's most acclaimed story lines.
The studio cycled through a number of directors before Ratner finally signed on. Those who turned the role down or left the project include Darren Aronofsky, Joss Whedon, Zack Snyder, and Matthew Vaughn. Yet Ratner can't take full credit for The Last Stand - co-writers Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn deserve equal billing in the credits of this catastrophe. Together, they concocted the idea of blending the Phoenix saga with a story about a cure for mutants.
What could have been two or three movies worth of content was rushed out the door with middling effort and a Michael Bay-like reliance on spectacle-over-character. This mentality directly contradicts the thoughtful social commentary, philosophical insight, and contained action set pieces.
In the comics, John Henry Irons puts on a metal suit and goes on a solo quest to rid his streets of super weapons he designed. It's an enthralling undertaking, in which he tries to make up for a sin committed several years earlier. If you're noticing any parallels to Iron Man, the good folks at DC would like you to please ignore that. The character’s initial solo series, which arrived after he tried to be Superman (a matter for another day), was the origin of a new hero who traded on wits and served the little guy. It’s stirring shiznaz.
Then, some dillhole decided to make a movie starring Shaquille O’Neal in the lead, because John Henry Irons is a tall fella, get it? Never mind that casting a slow-talking basketball player as a brilliant scientist is an even sillier concept than casting him as a genie - Steel is a mess from start to finish.
O’Neal sucks, his supporting cast (including villain Judd Nelson) is static, and the story is so predictable not even one of the great NBA players of all time, clad in laughable metal armor, can get a rise out of the audience. It’s a seriously terrible movie that’s not even bad enough to be funny.
The writing-directing Wachowski siblings have an undeniably cool sense of scope, and their action scenes are always imaginative. They are great populists and humanists, part of a grand Hollywood tradition that stretches back to Charlie Chaplin. Unfortunately, they also make ultra-weird, unrewarding choices like casting Channing Tatum as some kind of wolf hybrid and Mila Kunis in any role other than acidic bitch (not to say she is one, but she’s awesome at playing them. And only them).
Mix those spectacularly bad choices with world-building that aches for a series, not a stand-alone piece, and a plot that putters by as a result, and not even the stellar action sequences can save this mess, especially when some of the talkier scenes are shot in such awkward, stilted close up it feels like bad television.
If there’s one surefire way to ruin a solid fantasy premise, it’s transplanting characters from their fantasy world to the time and place in which the film was made. With the notable exception of Thor, these movies all play out the same way, and the story always suffers. This is exactly what ruined the solid, simple, good vs. evil premise of Masters of the Universe.
He-Man and his buddies had enough built-in weirdness without inter-dimensional adventure. The show starred a muscle-bound dummy who lived undercover as a mondo wuss, rode a big green cat into battle, and waged eternal war against a magical skeleton. There was no need for He-Man and his peeps to take a magical journey to the 1980s, where they got help from Courteney Cox and her boyfriend.
If the film had focused on the war against Skeletor (and cast someone other than Dolph Lundgren in the starring role), it might have been a different story entirely.
#59 on The Best Movies of 1987