Sometimes, despite millions of dollars, a selection of Oscar-winning actors, an endless stream of talented writers and crew, filmmakers have terrible ideas. As the first sentence explains this article will not be about films that have bad ideas and are small films rather films that have every possible advantage and still get it wrong. Whether it’s putting aliens in Indiana Jones or making your prequel trilogy start off with people arguing taxation sometimes the best filmmakers make mistakes.
Spoiler Warning – Spoilers for Ocean’s 12, the Alien films and X-Men: First Class
The Worst Idea Ever
Ocean’s 11 is an enjoyably silly heist film, George Clooney is his charming self, Don Cheadle has a ridiculous Cockney accent and they even had filmmaking legend, Carl Reiner, in it. Ocean’s 12, however, did the worst thing any film has ever done. This is not worst in terms of morality but worst in terms of the worst idea anyone has ever had for a film. This takes some beating. After all, there have been nine films in the Fast & Furious franchise with two more planned, so that’s nine bad ideas in a row, with each idea getting exponentially worse. However, these films are just bad and ultimately that is a matter of opinion and I know that many people love these films. Ocean’s 12 though cannot be countenanced.
Ocean’s 12 starts in a typical heist film fashion with the team being brought together, in this one the person they stole from last time is out for revenge and demands they do a job for him. Fairly standard heist stuff. And then it goes off the rails. There is an artistic idea of “the willing suspension of disbelief” meaning that we put aside our parts of our critical thinking to simply enjoy a piece of art. Ocean’s 12 is determined to push this suspension to breaking point. One of the lynchpins of the heist is that Tess, played by Julia Roberts, looks quite like Julia Roberts, so she can pose as Julia Roberts. When watching Ocean’s 12, and indeed any film, we understand that these are actors portraying these characters. Whether that actor “exists” in the world of that film isn’t important as no one thinks that character looks like that actor, otherwise every film would constantly be full of people saying, “You know, you really look like Michael Caine.” So this insulting plan is put into action only for – and get this – Bruce Willis to show up! The real Bruce Willis who is of course friends with Julia Roberts! Oh, the shenanigans that ensue.
Perhaps the worst thing about this is the filmmakers seem convinced this is the Greatest Idea of All Time! Like the “why don’t they make restaurants that look like food” idea for architects, this has occurred to every filmmaker and quickly is dismissed. There are films that play with similar “meta” ideas in good ways – in A Cock and Bull Story Steve Coogan plays both Tristram Shandy and a version of himself making a film about Tristram Shandy. The Last Action Hero plays with many of the little inconsistencies that make films work, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Pleasantville, Wandavision all play with these ideas but the difference being that is the point of those films – that is what they’re exploring.
Ruining What Came Before
As I’ve written about before I am a huge fan of the film Aliens, and believe it does the near-impossible challenge of adding a young child to a film who not only isn’t annoying but improves the film. Ripley’s relationship with Newt makes that film. So why on Earth in Alien 3 is Newt killed at the start? And even worse – she is not killed in service to the story, she is killed in a sentence or two about problems with the ship. Imagine if in The Lost World: Jurassic Park we learned the children from the first film had died off-screen? Alien 3 famously had something of a development hell, with numerous scripts being written and tossed out but even so, it’s hard to imagine how they settled on this script.
Magneto might be the most interesting character in the X-men films and probably the one who would have the most interesting origins film. So naturally what was meant to be the Magneto Origins film became X-Men: First Class. This is a film in which a survivor of the Holocaust literally rips the fillings out of a person’s teeth and it was thought that was what needed was the hijinks of young people. X-Men: First Class is half of a great film – a powerful mutant seeking revenge across the world caught up in the tumultuous events of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The scene in Argentina where Magneto confronts Nazis is astounding (although the choice for the final line to be delivered in English is bizarre) and the decision made by both Russian and American governments to kill the mutants who just saved the world goes further to explain the Magneto we know from the earlier films. He is a man haunted not just be what happened to his family at the hands of Nazis but even when he saved the world humans still wanted to kill him. But this incredibly dark storyline is combined with something far more light-hearted and neither storyline is served well by this combination.
So a brief look at some of the worst ideas and decisions in films and I’m sure there will be a lot more in the future.