It really seemed like 2012 was going to be a special year for sci-fi. Ridley Scott returning to the Alien universe, a lush interpretation of John Carter of Mars from Pixar bigwig Andrew Stanton, the much-anticipated movie adaptation of The Hunger Games — there was a lot to look forward to.
Of course, some of these mega events didn’t quite live up to the hype, but thankfully a number of smaller sci-fi movies (such as Looper) snuck onto the radar, making up for some high-profile disappointments. In the end, 2012 may not have always delivered quality, but it certainly offered sci-fi fans abundant quantity. I’ve watched a dozen science fiction movies in theatres this year without even trying — in past years tracking down even half that many sci-fi flicks would have been a chore.
So, here are some of the bests and worsts of this busy year in sci-fi. Keep in mind, this is merely a list of moments, scenes, characters or whatever other little things I liked or didn’t like about 2012’s crop of sci-fi films. In other words, giving a movie a “best” doesn’t necessarily mean I liked the movie as a whole, nor does a “worst” mean I hated a movie. Cool? Okay, let’s go…
Note – Oh, also I’m not including superhero movies on this list. Had to whittle down the list somehow. So, even though it had aliens in it, no bests or worsts for The Avengers.
SPOILER WARNING – I’ll try not to be too explicit when it comes to plot points, but there’s bound to still be plenty of spoilers ahead, so beware.
Jump John Carter, Jump!
I can see why John Carter didn’t do it for a lot of folks — the movie feels three hours long despite being only a little over two. It’s a pretty turgid slog at times. That said, I still liked the movie, largely because of all the jumpity, jump, jumping!
See, because Mars has less gravity than Earth John Carter can jump really high while there. That’s it. Above average leaping ability is the only thing that makes him special, but dammit he makes the most of it. This guy manages to completely redirect the course of an entire planet via jumping.
The filmmakers go to desperate (and frankly kind of loveable) lengths to make sure every obstacle John Carter faces is jump-solvable. All the bad guys travel around on these flying catamarans that float juuust low enough to be easily accessibly by a super powered jumper, every important person or MacGuffin is always at the top of some sort of tower and so on. It’s wonderfully stupid. John Carter is the Super Mario Bros. movie we’ll never get.
McNulty of Mars
Reason number two I liked John Carter — Dominic West (aka the Wire’s Jimmy McNulty) as the main bad guy. You keep waiting for him to drunkenly crash his hover catamaran into a bridge support or spend an entire five-minute scene using nothing but the f-word. It never happens, but it adds some much needed suspense to an otherwise slack film.
Costco, For All Your Alien Invasion Needs
The Watch was a pretty bad movie. It was basically just Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill screaming at each other about dicks, cum, and cumming dicks over a 100-minute commercial for Costco. The Watch may be the mostly shameless example of product placement I’ve even seen (and I’ve watched Mac and Me).
Everyone works at Costco, everyone spends all their time talking about Costco and yes, the entire climax of the film involves aliens invading a Costco. It’s bizarre, but not in a funny “so good it’s bad” kind of way. It’s just kind of depressing.
Men in Black 3’s Ending Was Really, Really Stupid
Apparently Men in Black 3 started filming without a finished script. It showed. The movie’s ending was a completely out-of-nowhere barf-inducing mixture of nonsensical time travel crap and sentimental sap.
Read no further if you’re afraid of spoilers, but come on, it’s Men in Black 3…
So, Will Smith has travelled back in time to 1969 and has to attach some gizmo to Apollo 11 to blah, blah, blah. Anyways, here in the last 10 percent of the movie we’re suddenly introduced to this black colonel guy. Hmmm, he seems to be getting a lot of screen time. Wonder why? Oh well, he’s dead now — and then suddenly we notice some random truck. Parked on a beach? Near Cape Canaveral? Uh, sure okay. Out of this truck emerges a young boy.
“Where’s my daddy?” bleats the child (with his dad’s corpse laying about five feet from him). Will Smith’s eyes widen. Yup, this isn’t just some random kid, it’s young Will Smith.
As adult Will Smith watches on speechless, young Tommy Lee Jones (played by Josh Brolin) decides the best thing to do is to immediately mind wipe young Will Smith. Young Tommy Lee Jones then tells young Will Smith his dad was a hero and they walk off into the sunset, and apparently young Will Smith never asks another question about his father ever again. Or wonders who the corpse on the beach was. Oh, and I guess Tommy Lee Jones dumps him in an orphanage at the soonest available opportunity, because Will Smith certainly doesn’t recognize him when they meet again in the earlier movies.
So yeah, at the very last moment they retcon MiB’s mismatched partners dynamic, replacing it some sort of warped father-son thing that doesn’t work at all. It’s unneeded, unearned and makes no damn sense at all. But hey, up until those last 20-minutes the movie was actually pretty good.
The First Half of Looper
The first hour-or-so of Looper is fantastic. It’s got everything good sci-fi needs — a cool, fully realized futuristic world, a clever twisted hook and some good ultraviolence. Why, if this movie can keep it up we may have a new Blade Runner-like classic on our hands!
The Last Half of Looper
But Looper doesn’t keep it up. Around halfway through Joseph Gordon-Levitt decides to chill on some farm, Bruce Willis starts shooting kids and this movie goes limp fast. It all culminates in a simplistic, flat ending unworthy of Looper’s initial high concept or great first hour. Also, man, whose idea was it to cast Emily Blunt as a tough-as-nails mid-westerner?
David may have been my favorite movie character of 2012. Not just sci-fi — any movie, period. Michael Fassbender, a dude at the height of his powers, masterfully and seemingly effortlessly, managed to make David both loveable and deeply menacing all at once. I would absolutely watch an entire movie of nothing but David chilling out before the rest of the crew wakes up. Just two hours of basketball, root bleaching and dream spying.
If David was one this year’s best characters, Charlie Holloway is one of the worst. He’s supposed to be a scientist, but he’s completely devoid of curiosity. When confronted with David, an amazing feat of technology and engineering he just rolls his eyes and makes with middle-school level insults.
His entire life has apparently been devoted to finding evidence of extraterrestrial life, but when he does find this evidence, he doesn’t give a s–t. He lands on a planet, immediately finds giant alien structures and perfectly preserved alien corpses everywhere and he’s all “Ehnn, whatever, let’s go home. Better luck next time”.
Oh, and he gives poor Noomi a space-octopus STD. This guy is the worst.
If you’ve watched The Cabin in the Woods you know the elevator of which I speak. Up until the movie’s protagonists enter the aforementioned elevator, The Cabin in the Woods is a good movie — once they go down the elevator though, it becomes freakin’ amazing.
This is the Dumbest Dystopian Totalitarian Government Ever
The Hunger Games takes place in a dystopian future society in which a corrupt and decadent central government holds sway. Numerous times throughout the movie Donald Sutherland shows up to expound on the importance of keeping the proles sedate and submissive.
So, how do they do this? By holding an annual televised fight to the death starring children! Yes, that’s the best way to keep the people from rising up. Now, it’d be one thing if this society was depicted as being so fundamentally rotten that poor folks actually enjoy watching this sort of thing, but no, later in the movie a particularly cute little girl is killed and everyone’s outraged, because yeah, of course they are. Basically, nothing about the society in The Hunger Games makes any sense whatsoever, but hey, at least it’s not Twilight, right?
Basically the whole thing, but if I had to pick one part…
Yup, the mega budget alien invasion flick based on the board game Battleship was bad. I mean, of course it was, but man, I was genuinely surprised by just how bad it was.
So, the good guys have had their battleship sunk. Game over right? Time to play Hungry, Hungry Hippos instead? Of course not, but all of America’s battle ships are stuck under an alien dome! And apparently no other country on the earth has any usable warships either. Nope, the only option is the USS Missouri, a WWII-era steam-powered ship that’s now a museum. But wait! There’s no crew! Or is there? Out of nowhere a bunch of 80-year old veterans show up to run the ship and the barely seaworthy USS Missouri is off to defeat an alien invasion! Sure, okay, whatever.
The first 5-minutes of Prometheus
No five minutes of film have stuck with me more firmly than the first five of Prometheus. The gorgeous alien-like landscapes that were actually from earth, the amazing 3D, the first appearance and self-destruction of the engineer — the rest of the movie may have been confusing or frustrating at times, but those opening minutes were among the best in sci-fi history. Up there with the first minutes of Star Wars or Ridley Scott’s own Blade Runner.
So, those were some of my favorite and least favorite sci-fi moments from the year 2012. How about you folks? Good or bad, what about this year’s sci-fi movies stuck out to you?