Every year, filmgoers will see a movie that have gotten panned by critics and wonder “why such bad reviews”? Many label these type of films as “guilty pleasures”, but I want to make a case for five 2017 movies that didn’t get the recognition by critics that they deserve.
Kingsman: The Secret Service was one of the biggest surprises of 2015, but many critics and fans of the original were not too keen on its sequel. As someone who hated the original, I was shocked with how much fun I had with The Golden Circle.
For starters, this film felt a lot more defined tonally. While the first film spends too much time on its generic origin story, the sequel from start to finish feels like a send-up to the hokey Roger Moore Bond-era. The story is over-the-top as ever, but its a fun narrative to follow thanks to Matthew Vaughn’s energetic direction. The action is satisfying as ever, with Vaughn shooting each sequence with dynamic movement.
While the first film introduces these characters, its this sequel that truly defines our lead spy Eggsy. Taron Egerton not only is more comfortable in the role, but he also has more to work with material-wise. Where the original film was too sophomoric, this film takes Eggsy seriously as a spy and a character. This film also does more to develop Eggsy’s relationship with mentors Harry and Merlon, both played wonderfully by Colin Firth and Mark Strong.
It’s certainly not a perfect film, as Vaughn and company get a little too bombastic with its two-hour plus running time. I also think the inclusion of the “The Statesman” was a wasted opportunity, especially considering the stars attached to those roles. Still, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a lot of fun, and left me excited to see where the series goes next.
Luc Besson’s visually-audacious adaptation of the French comic series is one of the year’s most divisive films, but I would go as far to say it was one of the summer’s most entertaining blockbusters. For starters, Besson deserves credit for getting this film made through untraditional-means, with Valerian essentially being a big-budget independent film.
Visually-speaking, this was the first time since Avatar that I was blown away with what I was seeing onscreen. Not only are the special effects seamless, but Besson creates a truly original galaxy with its own unique quirks. It helps make this a very lived-in world, one that I was enthralled to keep exploring.
Love it or hate it, Valerian is a blockbuster that throws away the conventions of typical blockbusters, making it feel like a much-needed breath of fresh air. Similar to The Fifth Element, this film has some hokey elements that are going to divide people, but for the most part I dug them. If audiences are to take anything away from the film, its the star-making turn from Cara Delevinge, who steals the show with her wonderfully charismatic lead performance.
Like any divisive film, there are some notable flaws. Besson’s script certainly feels tired from a narrative perspective, and I think Dane DeHaan is miscasted as the co-lead of the film. He doesn’t have the extroverted appearance nor charm to sell the character the way the film intends. Valerian as a whole though is a wonderfully enjoyable experience, and I am sure it will develop a cult-following in the coming years.
3. xXx: Return of Xander Cage (Rotten Tomatoes Score: 45%)
To call xXx a storied action franchise would be a big reach. The 2002 original was a fun extreme sports romp, with its 2005 follow-up being kind of terrible. While its surprising that a third xXx was even made, I do have to say its the best of the three releases.
Return of Xander Cage is about as dumb as an action movie can get, but I love that this movie embraces its corny, machismo roots. Vin Diesel and company are clearly having a lot of fun with their performances, and the movie looks to poke fun at itself whenever it gets the chance. It’s a ridiculous concept, the world needing saving from extreme athletes, but director DJ Caruso embraces that.
As far as action goes, Return of Xander Cage is a lot of fun. There is some iffy CGI, but just being able to watch Vin Diesel surf on waves with a motorcycle was both hilarious and satisfying. The movie pushes the boundaries of plausibility, but it does so with style and an earnest charm.
The script is certainly a mess and the film’s corny execution is not for everyone, but xXX: Return of Xander Cage is some of the most fun I’ve had watching a film this year. If you enjoy dumb action movies, this is a must watch.
2. The Great Wall (Rotten Tomatoes Score: 35%)
Matt Damon and company received a lot of flak for this Chinese-American blockbuster hybrid, including claims of whitewashing due to Damon’s casting. As a fun monster throwback, I had a lot of fun with The Great Wall.
I do first off have to defend the movie against its whitewashing claims. Matt Damon is casted as an outsider of this culture, acting as the audience’s cypher for learning about the wall and what’s on the other side. This film doesn’t use its Chinese setting as a motif, instead embracing its core values and showing the loyalty of the people.
As a monster-movie, there is a lot of fun to be had. Director Yimou Zhang is a visual auteur, using this big production to capture some grand set pieces. The production of the film is quite impressive, and that extends to the fun and stylish action sequences. Similar to Valerian, this is a blockbuster that doesn’t follow the trends of today, as I enjoyed the film’s B-movie roots and lack of “epicness”. With a 103 minute running time, it moves well and never hits a dull beat.
Like many blockbusters, the script does restrict this material, especially its middling character development. However, the cast is game, and make more of this material then what’s there on the page. The Great Wall is not flawless, but its a fun and visceral B-movie that packs a lot of entertainment.
1. American Assassin (Rotten Tomatoes Score: 34%)
Critics of this modern spy film labeled it as “Jason Bourne-lite”, which was odd to me considering this is a significant improvement over the last few Jason Bourne films. Coming from Homeland helmer Michael Cuesta, American Assassin is a taunt and well-executed actioner.
Much of the film lies on the talent of its cast, who do a solid job. Dylan O’Brien isn’t your typical action star, but he sells the role well while having some star presence. It was enjoyable to see an action film with a different type of hero, one who is more introverted and realistic. Michael Keaton is as engaging as ever, and Sanaa Lathan is dynamic as the CIA boss.
Under Cuesta’s direction, American Assassin as the feel of a Homeland episode, but in a good way. It’s storyline is a bit too ridiculous to be considered realistic, but the film embraces the page-turning aspects of its narrative. The action is brutal and intense, as the film raises the stakes throughout with some interesting twist and turns.
The film has a weird moral stance on revenge that is contradictory, and its serious tone can be cumbersome when the plot becomes more elaborate. That being said, American Assassin is well-executed, and will likely be an effective dad movie for years to come.
What are some critically-panned films that you enjoyed this year? Let us know in the comments below!