2013 was another busy year for sci-fi -- even if you discount superhero movies, over a dozen major sci-fi movies hit theatres this year. Unfortunately the quality of said movies was a little sketchy. There were a few real bombs this year and, in my opinion, no real classics to offset the bad. That said, there were certainly some solid sci-fi movies this year, which delivered a handful of memorable moments.
So, like I did last year, 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 2013'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...
Warning! I don't get too deep into plot specifics, but there are some SPOILERS ahead!
Every Action Scene In Elysium
Nobody shoots action like Neill Blomkamp -- every action scene in Elysium was a brutal, hard hitting, merciless affair. It helped that the movie had the best villain I've seen in a mainstream movie in some time in Agent Kruger, played with s--t-eating glee by Sharlto Copley. Whenever things were going boom I was riveted.
The Stuff In Between The Action Scenes In Elysium
Unfortunately I was mostly checking my watch between the blow-up bits in Elysium. District 9 may have had its share of carnage, but it was also an intelligent movie. Well, okay, so the whole aliens living in a ghetto in South Africa thing was a bit ham handed, but still -- the world of District 9 felt well thought out. The same could not be said of Elysium. The only defense Elysium has is a guy with a space bazooka living in a slum on Earth? Everyone in the world can become citizens if you just reboot the rich people's computer? Huh?
The WHO Facility Scenes
Originally World War Z was going to end on a big battle scene in Russia that probably would have been as numbing and dull as most of this film. Instead a much more down-to-earth, traditional zombie movie scenario in which Brad Pitt must retrieve a cure from a World Health Organization facility half overrun with zombies was subbed in, and it pretty much saved the movie. The end of World War Z was genuinely intense and creepy and I strongly doubt the movie would have been the surprise hit it was if Paramount hadn't made the last second change.
Were special effects companies giving sci-fi movies a discount on angry baboons this year? Because not one, but two movies this year (After Earth and Hunger Games: Catching Fire) shoehorned "killer super-baboons who are thankfully scared of water" into their plots. By the way, baboons aren't actually afraid of water -- don't believe whatever your friends tell you during recess Hollywood.
A Rough Day For The International Space Community
I liked the first half-or-so of Gravity when it seemed like they were sticking to their "This could really happen! Totally realistic!" claims, buuuut then a second space station blows up, and a third and was there a fourth? Probably. Somehow Hollywood figured out a way to do destruction porn in the void of space. It was just too much.
That said, I'll admit I had a good chuckle when Sandra Bullock survived numerous space debris attacks, multiple exploding space stations, Russian instruction manuals and a needlessly tacked-on subplot about her dead daughter to finally land her escape capsule on Earth, only to immediately get caught in a bunch of seaweed as she tried to swim to the surface. If she hadn't escaped that seaweed Gravity would have been the best dark comedy of 2013 hands down.
Whoa, actual aliens (aside from Vulcans who are just humans with bowl cuts) in a Star Trek movie? Get out of town! For a moment I thought this franchise was about exploring the galaxy and interacting with strange new aliens races again! But no -- back to Earth to blow up San Francisco!
Your name is Khan huh? Wow, you just totally blew the mind of the one guy on the planet that didn't see that coming six months before the movie came out.
Two Tom Cruises?!
I actually liked Oblivion quite a bit. I might put it in my top 3 sci-fi movies of the year. While the movie's trailers pretty much gave away the twist that Tom Cruise was actually on the wrong side of things, the revelation that he was actually a clone working for the aliens was a nice little double-twist. One problem though -- given the fight or f--k option, I don't believe for a second Tom Cruise would go for fight if he met his clone.
Why Are We Starting This Story After The Exciting Part?
Alien invasions factored heavily into the plots of a number of this year's sci-fi flicks, but oddly in every case we picked up after the alien invasion had taken place. Oblivion, After Earth, and Ender's Game all contain lots of talk about no-doubt super exciting, hard-fought human-alien wars, but all three movies take place after the war and focus on fixing drones, wilderness survival and middle school -- stuff arguably a lot less interesting than an alien invasion.
I suppose it's a reflection of what's happening in the world today. Iraq and Afghanistan are mostly behind us and Osama Bin Laden is dead, and yet the world still kind of sucks, so Hollywood is pumping out sci-fi movies about how things are still dangerous and depressing and s--tty even after we beat the aliens. I dunno -- honestly I'd rather just see the alien invasion most of the time.
I haven't said much about Pacific Rim so far in this article because, frankly, the movie has rapidly melted from my mind. The only thing that still pops out to me, is the fact that the movie ends with Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi floating in the middle of the ocean after saving the world -- something you might see at the end of a James Bond movie -- and they don't even kiss. That's Pacific Rim in a nutshell -- all promise and no payoff.
For the most part I didn't think The World's End was as good as the previous two films in the Cornetto trilogy -- too long and loud and the whole pub crawl concept didn't quite work. Thankfully the movie was buoyed by Simon Pegg's turn as Gary King, the ultimate arrested development loser.
Most of the movie seemed to be heading towards an Apatow-style "man-child learns his lesson and grows up" ending, but at the last moment The World's End took a left-turn and gave us an ending that actually celebrated Gary's obnoxious immaturity, and the movie was all the better for it.
This is Still the Dumbest Dystopian Totalitarian Government Ever
Last year I took The Hunger Games to task for having the dumbest totalitarian government possible. Killing adorable children on TV is not the way to keep the people sedate and submissive.
Well, even with the addition of red-faced Philip Seymour Hoffman as the new game master, the evil Hunger Games overlords remain as dumb as ever. Who do the people in this world care about even more than adorable children? The folks who win the Hunger Games! So, let's put all of this society's most beloved people in a celebrity-only version of the Hunger Games -- that's sure to calm everyone down, right?
No, Wait, This is the Dumbest Dystopian Government Ever
The Purge is about a society where a corrupt government makes ALL CRIME LEGAL for one day, the explanation being that it lets people let off a little steam, thus keeping the proles docile.
Everyone, including Ethan Hawke's family, are totally okay with this. Until somebody shows up at their door to rob and kill him, at which point they're "Whoa whoa whoa, wait, never thought of this! This is terrible!"
Also, in this universe making crime legal for a day means everyone grabs machetes and tries to kill each other. What? Human beings aren't that awful. No, everyone would just rob each other blind if you made crime legal for a day. All capitalist societies would crumble within 24-hours. Maybe read up on how totalitarian societies actually work sci-fi writers.
Jennifer Lawrence's Wetsuit and Space Butt!
Hint -- keeping society in line has a lot more to do with making sure we're fed a steady stream of young ladies wearing tight things.
Astronauts totally wear stylish buttocks-hugging boyshorts under their spacesuits, right? No? Well, I'll let the lack of realism slide this once.
Take a knee sci-fi movies of 2013, take a knee.
Like I said up top, it wasn't the greatest year for sci-fi. A lot of sloppy world-building and a strange undercurrent of pessimism permeated a lot of this year's movies. Still, there were certainly some impressive effects and well-staged scenes -- we're at the point where even a b-level sci-fi movie like Ender's Game looks pretty amazing throughout. Also it was nice to see women leading or playing an important part in so much of this year's sci-fi. So, what your favorite and least favorite things about the sci-fi movies of 2013?