A stunning, cinematic tour de force on these terms, Valerian’s problems lie in pretty much every other department, from it’s clunky, poorly-paced script, to the casting of Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne as one of cinema’s least convincing on-screen couples.
But Valerian isn’t the first film to fall into this kind of trap. It’s not the first movie to reach for the stars, get there, and then realize they forgot to pack anything for once they arrived. No, Hollywood is littered with examples of incredible cinematic eye-candy that looks a lot better than it tastes.
From the usual Michael Bay mayhem – or should that be Bayhem – to more recent 3D action epics, here are 18 Movies That Look Incredible But Are Complete Garbage.
18 Jupiter Ascending
When it comes to serving up visually spectacular cinematic treats, few do it quite like the Wachowskis. It’s just a shame these treats often look delicious before revealing something bittersweet beneath. Jupiter Ascending is a prime example. It’s up there with some of the most visually spectacular sci-fi movies ever made, and arguably the closest thing we’ve had - from a purely cinematic point of view, guys - to Blade Runner.
But while Ridley Scott had a Philip K. Dick novel as its source material, this relies on an incoherent script from the Wachowskis about a toilet-cleaning maid who discovers she’s an intergalactic princess and falls in love with a genetically engineered dog-man. And the less said about Eddie Redmayne’s whisper/scream villain Balem Abrasax, meanwhile, the better.
17 Fantastic Four
Christopher Nolan has a lot to answer for. Were it not for his entirely wise decision to take the Caped Crusader down a dark and gritty path with Batman Begins, we may never have been subjected to the glut of post-Dark Knight rip-offs that followed in the years since.
Films like Man of Steel, for example, had the same look of the Nolan trilogy but lacked the same compelling plot and characters. Zack Snyder’s Superman effort is hardly the worst example of tonally misguided superhero films, though. That honor instead goes to Josh Trank’s disastrous Fantastic Four. It’s a dark and strikingly significant departure from the Marvel characters’ bright and bubbly origins, which probably looked pretty impressive to most casual observers, with Trank displaying plenty of visual flair. What a shame that the film is also slow, dull, and entirely devoid of humor or fun.
16 Speed Racer
When it comes to the Wachowskis’ work to date, few of their films have proven as divisive as their 2008 big screen adaptation of the classic Japanese anime and manga, Speed Racer. First and foremost, it’s a visually stunning treat, full of bright colors and boyish charm. It’s pure, unadulterated eye candy at its best. However, like any candy, excessive consumption is likely to leave you feeling a little bit sick and potentially nursing a headache.
Unfortunately, what some fans might consider a homage to the anime classic ends up annoying, overlong, and often quite boring to pretty much everyone else. Despite all that, there will never be another film that looks quite like it again. It’s difficult to decide whether that’s a good or a bad thing.
15 Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For
It took nine years for Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez to re-team for this follow-up to the hugely population adaptation of the former’s graphic novel Sin City and, on balance, it probably wasn’t worth the wait.
Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For may have kept many of the eye-catching visual tricks of the first film, but it lost some of the noir sensibilities that made the 2005 effort so great. Instead of dark, twist-filled, violent stories full of intrigue and hard-boiled heroes, fans got violent, forgettable fables that went over old ground but in a less compelling fashion. There’s no real thrust to the film’s narrative, with the movie essentially a series of disjointed short stories with few redeeming features. It's still better than Miller’s other failed movie effort, The Spirit -- so there's that.
James Cameron has never been a filmmaker to do things by halves. Known for his sprawling, often three-hour-plus movies, he’s one of the few directors out there still making modern epics. And Avatar is nothing if not epic. A film that was 15 years in the making, it cost an estimated $240 million to make, with much of that budget going towards creating the living, breathing 3D environment of the alien planet Pandora and its people, the Na’vi.
Undoubtedly the greatest 3D movie made to date, while no expense was spared on Avatar’s effects, Cameron could have shelled out a few more million on a script doctor. Avatar was (and still is) incredible to look at, but it fell short with a script that had a little too much in common with Fern Gully and Disney's Pochahontas.
13 I, Frankenstein
From the moment the first trailer for this Aaron Eckhart-led action horror effort arrived, the omens were not good. A big screen adaptation of a little known graphic novel, I, Frankenstein arrived hot on the heels of the big budget critical flop Dracula Untold, and bore plenty of similarities. The one thing the film did have going for it, however, was a striking visual style inspired by its source material. I, Frankenstein may have ultimately been an unmitigated disaster in terms of plot and pacing, but it’s a pretty eye-catching one nonetheless.
Costing $65 million to make and returning $71.2 million, it’s a film that falls into the 'so bad it’s good' category, helped by Eckhart’s scene-chewing performance. You can't fault the effects, though.
12 The Cell
Tarsem Singh made the step up from directing music videos to feature films with The Cell, a ludicrous sci-fi horror effort starring Jennifer Lopez before she was J-Lo and Vince Vaughn before he was funny. Plot-wise, it’s a nonsensical fusion of The Matrix and Silence of the Lambs, with Lopez’s child psychologist neurologically transferred (don’t ask) into the mind of serial killer Vincent D’Onofrio.
While there, it’s her job to try to discover the whereabouts of a young girl who might be primed to become D'Onofrio's next victim. In order to do so, she apparently has to travel deep into the recesses of this troubled killer's mind, encountering any number of visually impressive horrors involving dissected horses and D’Onofrio dressed kind of like a geisha. Still, it all looks pretty incredible and served as a precursor for Singh’s superior follow-up, The Fall.
Everyone laughed when the idea of a film based on the board game Battleship was first floated – pardon the pun. Then director Peter Berg signed on, along with Friday Night Lights favorite Taylor Kitsch and the one and only Rihanna, and suddenly, hopes were raised that a fun action franchise was about to be born. Then the film arrived and, well, any hopes that they could make a coherent film with only a basic game as source material sunk without a trace. Battleship is big, loud, and incredibly dumb, offering predictable action thrills which, though enjoyable, hardly broke the mould.
No expense was spared, though, with much of Battleship’s $220m budget going on creating a film that looked incredible, even if the script and actors involved left a lot to be desired. From the film’s set piece explosions to the aliens involved – no one can deny Battleship looks great. But that’s pretty much the only positive one can take away here.
10 Only God Forgives
If fans were hoping the reteaming of Ryan Gosling and director Nicolas Winding Refn would yield something similar to the universally acclaimed Drive, Only God Forgives must have felt like a kick in the chops - or should that be a knife in the eye? Though Refn retained the same striking visual style, he appeared intent on upsetting the applecart with a film that rebelled against much of what made Drive great.
While the same eye for violence remained, there is something more sadistic about this follow-up, populated by obtuse and cold characters who are simply nowhere near as compelling as those in Drive. If Refn was looking to shake off the memory of that movie, he certainly achieved it. If he was looking to replace it with an equally memorable film, he failed.
9 Wrath of the Titans
The jury is still out on Sam Worthington’s acting abilities, given his penchant for popping up in effects-laden blockbusters like this, Avatar, and Terminator: Salvation. Clash of the Titans was rightly lambasted when first released back in 2010 for its stilted acting, silly dialogue, and loud, lazily rendered 3D action sequences. It was still a big success though, earning $493 million at the box office.
That inevitably led to a sequel, and the chance to right the wrongs of that first film were presented soon enough. The result was Wrath of the Titans, a film every bit as awful as its predecessor with one key difference – the 3D effects and overall look of the film improved greatly. It's just a shame that the acting didn't.
Paul W.S. Anderson took a break from making increasingly outlandish Resident Evil movies to create this similarly dumb but fun swords and sandals epic, Pompeii. Steering clear of the blueprint laid down by Ridley Scott in Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, and Exodus: Gods and Kings -- which dictated all modern epics should be handled extremely seriously -- Pompeii still retains the same striking look, if nothing else.
Channelling the epics of 1950s Hollywood legend Cecil B. DeMille in style and scope, it's another visually impressive film let down by a weak script. There’s still plenty to enjoy, however, with Pompeii amounting to something of a guilty pleasure worth watching. Kiefer Sutherland’s scene-chewing antics as Senator Quintas Attius Corvus certainly didn't hurt.
7 The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Whisper it quietly if you must, but Andrew Garfield’s second outing as Spider-Man may actually be the most visually alluring incarnation of the Marvel web-slinger to date. It’s probably important to add that it’s also simultaneously far and away the worst entry in the franchise to date. And that includes Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 3.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2's three villains perfectly highlight this rather unusual contrast. Each of Jamie Foxx’s Electro, Dane DeHaan’s Green Goblin, and Paul Giamatti’s Rhino look the part on the big screen and are a major element of what makes the film so eye-catching in the first place. But all three are also woefully underused in an overstuffed film that lacks focus and ultimately leaves audiences short-changed. The film's studio, Sony, was clearly eager to lay the foundations for future sequels and spin-offs that would, ultimately, never come to be.
6 Hansel & Gretel : Witch Hunters
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters represented the American-language debut of Tommy Wirkola, the devilishly talented writer and director behind the inspired Norwegian Nazi zombie horror effort Dead Snow, so hopes were understandably high going in.
Though both of the film’s principal stars, Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton, were game for anything, things were all over the place tonally. The main issue centers around the film's uneasy fusion of fairytale and full-blown horror. It worked well for Dead Snow, where it served up some aesthetically memorable moments, but didn’t translate so well to this big budget effort. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters certainly looked the part. It’s just a shame that the film’s confused tone and lack of a particularly compelling plot rendered much of that pointless -- and the film as a whole, entirely forgettable.
5 Transformers: Age of Extinction
Choosing the worst Transformers film is a tricky process, made all the more difficult by the fact that they all look pretty incredible while also all lacking anything even approaching substance.
Mark Wahlberg’s first entry into the franchise just about gets the vote, though. Now, it's important to stress that Michael Bay’s Transformer movies are pretty much universally derided by fans these days. But anyone who recalls the old Transformers animated series will surely still hold some appreciation for the incredible visuals on display in these otherwise forgettable efforts.
Transformers: Age of Extinction has all the key components in place: it’s loud, dumb, and almost entirely action focused (at the expense of anything approaching a plot). Wahlberg is not exactly a step up from Shia LaBeouf, either. Those robots in disguise do look incredible, though -- especially those Dinobots.
4 Alien: Covenant
From Alien: Covenant’s opening scene -- in which Guy Pearce’s Peter Weyland introduces his new robot companion, David, to the world and the meaning of life from the comfort of an expansive, all-white, living room -- it’s clear that something pretentious is on the cards.
It’s what separates Alien: Covenant from many of the entries on this list. It’s an incredible feat of sci-fi ingenuity on the part of director Ridley Scott, who has created another film full of dark worlds and awe-inspiring space ships. Unfortunately, it’s also a film bogged down in philosophical psychobabble covering every aspect of the human condition. That alone wouldn’t be so bad, but Alien: Covenant veers from pretentious to stupid in the blink of an eye, with characters guilty of any number of horror movie clichés that contribute to a very ordinary (but very beautiful) film.
3 Max Payne
Max Payne should have been the slam dunk of a game-to-film adaptation, the sort of effort that fans had been waiting for after years of Street Fighter-level disappointment. A noir tale about a cop out for revenge and on the trail of a mystery involving drugs, murder and shady corporations, all of the necessary elements already seemed to be in place.
Mark Wahlberg seemed to be a great fit for the title role too, and with a cast that also included Mila Kunis, what could possibly go wrong? Pretty much everything, actually. Rather than follow the plot of the game or adapt it for the big screen, a new and thoroughly confusing storyline was introduced, along with additional characters and back stories no one asked for. It did at least retain some of Max Payne’s noir visuals. It’s just a shame about the rest.
2 Sucker Punch
Zack Snyder showed us why he remains a better director than a writer with Sucker Punch, a fantasy steampunk nightmare of a movie containing some very worrying messages for young women and visuals that also proved memorable, but often for all the wrong reasons.
Packed full of eye-catching imagery that lives long in the memory, Sucker Punch struggles on pretty much every other front. The writing is confusing, the characters veer between two-dimensional fantasies and lazy stereotypes, while the narrative framing and depictions of worlds within worlds only add to the chaos.
It hardly helps that some of the performances on display make for difficult viewing. Oscar Isaac, in particular, hit an early career bum note as the embarrassingly named Blue Jones, a character who alternates between shouting and whispering throughout his many hammy appearances. Yet despite all of this, the images and scenes offered up are indisputably memorable.
1 Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace
Star Wars fans waited 16 long years for the Phantom Menace to arrive and, when it finally did, there might have been a few out there who wished it hadn’t. From that opening scroll and the talk of trade federations, it became clear that this was a different kind of Star Wars film - a boring, rubbish one.
Ewan McGregor’s dodgy Alec Guinness voice, the oh-so-subtle Emperor Palpatine hints, and Jar-Jar Binks – these are just three of the countless elements that helped make Star Wars Episode I such a prize turkey of a film. The only real saving grace came through the film’s effects. CGI Jar-Jar looks solid considering that the movie was made in 1999, while the film’s high-speed pod race half way through story is a definite highlight. The Jedi fight scene with Darth Maul is also spectacular and, generally speaking, the Star Wars universe has been given a visual face lift as a result of this outing. That’s about it, though.
Can you think of any other movies that are all style and no substance? Have your say in the comments.
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