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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
After exploring Adam Sandler’s Funny People in our last edition, and King Kong before it, I’d like to look at a few more films that had mixed receptions. Now that I’m back from vacation, I’ll be profiling two at a time again instead of just one. So let’s get to it!
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)
Let’s not make any bones about it, Pirates 4 was a tremendous box office office success, grossing over a billion dollars worldwide. But it was an absolute bomb with critics, and was also the lowest-grossing film domestically in the Pirates series. If I am remembering correctly (and I’m pretty sure I am), Pirates 4 was pretty heavily anticipated, even by people who should have known better (the AV Club talked it up in a summer preview feature). It also seemed to be a departure from the previous film trilogy, the third film having left a pretty bad taste in people’s mouths. Gone, to many people’s pleasure, were director Gore Verbinski as well as stars Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley. In were Penelope Cruz (hot off an Oscar win) and Ian McShane (perfectly cast as Blackbeard). Pirates 4 was also based, ostensibly, on a well-received 1987 fantasy novel by Tim Powers (also named On Stranger Tides). So what exactly went wrong?
Main character Captain Jack Sparrow, still ably played by Johnny Depp, was expected to anchor the film essentially. But Depp burnout seemed to have taken hold domestically, especially so after The Tourist flopped in theaters. Though Depp was hardly the problem with the film, it seemed many were disappointed with the direction of On Stranger Tides as a whole. The script also turned out to be just as bad as the previous two films, with characters again forming alliances and double crossing each other at the drop of a hat (seriously, this got old in the second movie), as well as yet another tale of star crossed lovers shoe-horned in (this time with a mermaid!). Additionally, new director Rob Marshall (known for Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha) seemed in over his head, as battle scenes were lifelessly choreographed and looked incredibly dumb and fake on film (especially the final battle between at least three different groups of people). Set design also lacked compared to the earlier films, with sets looking especially like they had been cheaply built on a sound stage. This is hardly empirical evidence, but I have found no one who will vehemently defend this film. The original film trilogy, garbage as the third film is, is pretty universally beloved by comparison.
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Hard to believe it’s been over two years since Iron Man 2 disappointed in theaters in May 2010. The first Iron Man was the surprise of the summer, grossing over 300 million dollars domestically and revitalizing Marvel-based comic book films after the disappointing third chapters in both the X-Men and Spider-Man franchises. Like Pirates 4 and King Kong, Iron Man 2 did well at the box office, though it failed to out-gross its predecessor domestically as it was expected to do. Reviews for the first film were glowing, whereas Iron Man 2 received a more lukewarm reception from critics and moviegoers. Before its release, I and many others were eagerly anticipating this film. But I walked out of it shaking my head, wondering where it went wrong. So, what exactly did go wrong with Iron Man 2?
I feel like the Iron Man sequel just had a few too many cooks in the kitchen for its own good. There are three, possibly four, antagonists throughout the film. Downey, Jr. (great again as Stark/Iron Man, but definitely getting a bit too comfortable in the role for my liking) faces off against Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko (great but totally underused), Sam Rockwell’s rival weapons maker Justin Hammer (great but totally unnecessary in this movie), Stark himself (Iron Man destroying his house was just so totally stupid), and lastly Gary Shandling’s politician/the government (again, Stark didn’t need to battle the US gov’t as well as Vanko as well as Hammer as well as himself…. it’s just too much conflict). In short, there’s just way too much story stuffed into this film, leaving it feeling bloated and much too long for its own good. Additionally, the film featured far too much Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, and Phil Coulson as agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., possibly leaving more casual viewers completely confused and giving the film an overall feeling of being just set up for the inevitable Avengers movie. Ultimately, Iron Man 2 was the end of Jon Favreau’s relationship with the franchise as director. He moved on from the series, leaving Iron Man 3 to be directed by Hollywood outlaw Shane Black (Favreau is staying on as a producer however).