My Top 10 Meh Movies from 2019

What makes a meh movie?

Well, for one, there has to be some expectation behind it. Nobody cares if some low-budget indie turns out to be middling fair, but a big-budgeted movie with a top cast, known director, and studio backing? Or a movie with lots of anticipation behind it?

It has to be a movie you walk away from that didn’t entertain you but didn’t offend you, a movie – in all likelihood – that you’ll struggle to recollect in a couple of days. It won’t leave you with an urge to re-watch, or to rant at people about how bad it is, but neither will you talk positively about it.

In some cases and given time, you’ll even forget you saw a meh movie. You might be perusing some movie catalogue years later, and look at a title and wonder if you’ve seen it. That’s not something you’d do with a good movie or a bad movie. Those leave an indelible mark in your mind, and how you feel about them.

These are my meh movies from 2019. They’re not bad.

They just are.

 

Avengers: Endgame

Because the way this story was set up – Thanos erasing half the universe’s population, as well as a number of popular characters (e.g. Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Scarlet Witch) – it could only finish one way: a reset to bring everybody back.

They try to introduce stakes by moving the story onwards five years. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) now has a daughter. But you know they still have to hit that reset. That’s the only solution.

Moving the timeline forward creates a new issue: in that five years, the world’s infrastructure has adjusted to accommodate half the population. People who lost partners might’ve remarried. Houses would’ve transferred ownership. Jobs would’ve been filled. And now three billion people are returned. The chaos demanded of the world’s infrastructure should be worse than anything Thanos or any villain has ever done, but it just goes back to business as normal.

Also, I found the continual representation of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) as a fat-boy drunk disappointing. I’m guessing he was kept in this state because he was one of the few Avengers who could legitimately stand toe-to-toe with Thanos (Josh Brolin), so they had to remove that threat so the story can unfold as it does. Similarly, the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) never gets his payback for being smashed in the first installment. He just moves past that. I don’t know if that’s meant to be a commentary on violence and revenge or, again, they were just removing him as a threat.

I will credit Tony Stark’s “I’m Iron Man” scene as being the best wow moment in Marvel’s cinematic history. That’s genuinely good –  to the extent I remember that scene, and that’s about it.

The rest is just a means to an end.

 

Marriage Story

As the title implies, this is the story of a marriage breakdown. We meet Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) when they’re relatively happy, and follow their marriage through breakdown, separation, and the custody battle, along with all the gruelling exchanges in between.

One of the big problems is I could never believe these two would’ve ever fallen in love, let alone marry. The deterioration of the marriage never seems organic – it never truly felt as if Point A lead to Point B and that lead to Point C. It felt more like a series of set pieces that were loosely sewn together to be scathing examinations of responsibilities and roles in a relationship, as well as opportunities for Driver and Johnansson to showcase their acting skills.

Credit to both actors, who are excellent, although Alan Alda and Ray Liotta (both playing Charlie’s lawyers) genuinely inject some spark into this monotonal dirge.

 

Hustlers

Jennifer Lopez plays Ramona, an experienced stripper who takes Destiny (Constance Wu) as her protégé. They develop a scam where they drug unsuspecting men during private dances, and make huge withdrawals from their credit cards. When the men realise the debits, they’re too embarrassed to follow it up.

This is the typical master and apprentice story that follows the development of the con, the peak, and then the unravelling, with the two leads pitted against one another.

Lopez is excellent – probably too good, because it’s hard to dislike her and side with Destiny, who’s meant to be the protagonist. The story is one-paced, and features an ensemble of forgettable supporting characters.

 

Captain Marvel

Maybe it’s because Marvel have made a plethora of movies to this point that they decided to abandon their formula. We meet Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) when she’s already Captain Marvelling along. She’s close to fully formed. So, why should I care?

Richard Donner understands Superman. In Superman (1978), Clark – despite his powers – constantly faces challenges that endears him to us, and connects him to the audience. He can’t show-off at school and impress the girl he likes. He can’t save his father from a heart attack. He is insecure in his identity. When he becomes Superman, he does it with humility and empathy. He has to live a lie (Clark Kent) to protect the truth (Superman). Superman becomes the manifestation of the best that we can be.

With other superhero stories, we follow similar journeys – a normal person either has to earn their abilities (e.g. Batman); or is handed them but then has to learn about the tremendous responsibility they bear, which usually comes by way of a humbling, e.g. Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben is murdered, Tony Stark is imprisoned in a cave by terrorists. That’s why we connect to them: because we meet them when they’re ordinary schlubs like ourselves, we witness their failures, and we take their journey with them to something better.

Captain Marvel is already super-powered. Through flashbacks, we learn that an alien engine blowing up in her face gave her superpowers. That’s it. Later, she gets even more powers. And that’s her great arc. There’s also an unremarkable alien civil war sewn into the plot.

It’s not bad, like Man of Steel (2013), or Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). It’s just extraordinarily bland.

 

Spider-Man: Far From Home

I watch too many superhero movies, trying to recapture that wonder I experienced when I first saw Superman.
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I’ll credit this one with trying to be novel. Peter Parker (Tom Holland) goes on a school trip to Europe. Parker is struggling with the vacuum following Tony Stark’s sacrifice, and being expected to be his successor. When Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal) portrays himself as the hero the world needs in a Mission: Impossible-like subterfuge, Parker hands him the responsibility, only to learn that he’s been duped.

When I saw this I liked it. It’s not brilliant, and – like its predecessor – it’s struggling to find its identity in the Marvel cinematic universe, as well as adapt to a contemporary interpretation. Now, when I think about it, I don’t remember too much about it.

The biggest problem with Marvel’s Spider-Man is that he’s Iron Man Lite. Tony Stark gave him his suit. The suit is mechanised with all these gadgets. It defeats the purpose of Peter Parker being a boy genius who creates this secret identity and has to carry that burden while addressing the rest of his responsibilities.

 

Terminator: Dark Fate

The problem with every sequel to The Terminator (1984) is it’s been a rehash of the original: a Terminator is sent back to kill a target, and somebody else is sent back to stop it.

I like Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), because it tries to adapt to the new timeline Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) created. The other movies have rewritten the future to accommodate their stories. Terminator: Salvation (2009) is forgettable. Terminator: Genisys (2015) is abysmal. And Dark Fate …? Well, it’s one of the better sequels.

Now, remember, that’s graded on a curve. But it tries to do what Rise of the Machines also did, although what it actually does – or enforces – is that Judgement Day is inevitable. The pieces may change. The dates may change. But it’s going to happen.

Exploring how to stop that would make a truly interesting Terminator movie, instead of just going through the same beats.

One thing I loathed about this film – and about a lot of continuations nowadays (hello, Star Wars Sequel Trilogy and Star Trek: Picard) – is they shit on their legacy, and tarnish properties that were once revered. Terminator: Dark Fate does exactly the same thing to The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

Is that the only way to build something new? To destroy what came before, and then simply build a shitty facsimile?

I will say that this wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. Mackenzie Davis as Gracie, the hybrid sent back as the protector, and Gabriel Luna as the evil Terminator, are both very good – the trailers did them no justice. But Natalia Reyes as Dani Ramos doesn’t have the presence to play the saviour of humanity, and some of her heroic moments (and particularly the inspirational speeches) almost comes across as comical.

 

Pet Sematery

This is one of my favourite Stephen King novels. It was actually the first King novel I read. I enjoyed that it was a gradual build-up, that it got you to know the characters and the circumstances, foreshadowed certain aspects early organically, and then derailed it all.

I didn’t expect much from this adaptation. The trailers made it look heavy handed. Jason Clarke (who plays the lead of Louis Creed) seems better suited to enigmatic characters.

But I enjoyed the first half of the movie. Clarke is excellent. I was pleasantly surprised.

Then it detours from the novel’s narrative. A possible subplot about acceptance of your children (despite their issues) is teased and abandoned, and the story instead opts for B-grade schlock.

One of the problems with adapting this particular King novel is that a movie just doesn’t give you time to get to know the characters and the setting. Half the book is dedicated to doing just that, while odd events foreshadow what’s to come. When things do go awry, you’re now invested and know everything you need to know to move forward.

I think this would make an awesome limited series.

 

Yesterday

Struggling singer Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is in a road accident – right at the time that everything blacks out on Earth for about seventeen seconds – and wakes up to find that nobody remembers The Beatles.

Drawing on his memory of their songs, he becomes a rock phenomenon but struggles with the morality of building his career on plagiarism. He also learns that other things have also been erased from this timeline’s consciousness, such as Harry Potter and cigarettes.

Malik is good and the story is charming initially. You query where it’s going to go and expect it to shift into some deeper narrative, that the conclusion will be profound and thought-provoking. Uh uh. The story stays purely in romcom territory as Malik realises that his feelings for his manager, Ellie (Lily James), run deeper than friendship. Will they reconcile their love?

Credit to their re-creation of The Beatles’ hits and Malik’s performance: they power the movie through to its conclusion long after the story has run its course.

 

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

The long-awaited movie sequel to Breaking Bad provides answers none of us needed, and arguably tarnishes Breaking Bad’s legacy.

The beauty of Breaking Bad are the journeys the characters take. Walter White (Bryan Cranston) goes from an upstanding citizen to a megalomaniacal psychopath. Jesse (Aaron Paul) goes from a petty criminal and itinerant drug user to developing a conscience and wanting out of that life.

El Camino pits him right back into it. He evens kill a gang in a premeditated attack. He goads the leader until a duel is inevitable.

This is Jesse – the guy who develops the conscience, right?

If you try to qualify it that the gang are scum, well, that enters that murky grey area where you can debate what’s right and wrong – that’s exactly why Walter became the tyrant he did. He kept justifying things.

So unless the message behind El Camino is that Jesse hasn’t changed (and I don’t think that’s the intention), it hurts how I remember his journey finishing in Breaking Bad: driving away in his car. That’s the figurative, And he lived happily ever after. We accept he’s free and onto something better.

Nothing El Camino does portrays that better.

 

Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings is one of my favourite series of books.

I fully expected – and dreaded – JRR Tolkien’s service in the Great War to be twisted into a series of inspirations for what became The Lord of the Rings. Friends and I joked about this, that Tolkien would have a mentor, General Randolph, who’d send him on a secret mission behind enemy lines with his closest companions, Cam, Perry, and Flip.  And this would be the nucleus to The Lord of the Rings.

Fortunately, we didn’t get that.

What we did get was the everyman’s story of living throughout that time.  While fighting in the Great War would’ve been horrific, and life after would’ve changed vastly, in this biopic they are just things that are.

What is this story commenting on? The war? Well no, not really. That’s just a backdrop. Tolkien? Um, no, not really either. He could be anybody, and he clearly isn’t. That the war changed him and inspired him to write The Lord of the Rings? Nope (and thankfully, because that would’ve been trite). While the war affected it, it didn’t motivate him to go into writing.

So I wasn’t sure what I was meant to be watching.

 

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