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The movies of 2013 we hope don’t suck (part 1)

Well, looks like those troublemaking Mayans were wrong after all. Who knew that a calendar made by a civilization that practiced ritual human sacrifice might not be the most reliable when it came to the mathematics of predicting the end of the world? Perhaps not paying bills for the last six months wasn’t the wisest idea after all.

With the world firmly in the “not ending yet” category, it is time to look ahead to 2013. No ancient civilizations have called for 2013 to be the end of the world, so it’s a good time to look forward to the movies that will not just be among the biggest of the year, but the films that will have a lasting impact on the next year, and the year after.

They are the films that we are rooting for, the ones we hope succeed for one reason or another. But more than anything else, even more than we hope they are great and entertaining films, we just really, really hope that they don’t suck.

A Good Day to Die Hard

(February 14)

The Die Hard series has never exactly been grounded in reality. In the first three movies, Bruce Willis’ John McClane lived out a first person shooter and killed more people than prostate cancer, and yet even so the last film, Live Free or Die Hard, was over the top even by those standards. This is a series where the main character laughingly flips physics the bird and regularly outruns explosions, and yet the fourth entry was too much. Hacker villains that would make Anonymous members jealous, a formerly down to Earth hero that substituted jokes for punching people in the throat, and at one point McClane even ran over the top of a jet in the air… A jet. A freaking jet. There are no words for this level of ridiculousness.

The fourth film departed from the tradition of the other films by playing down the “everyman hero” angle and ramping up the pretty ‘splosions and the superheroic nature of John “the most dangerous hungover cop in the world” McClane. For the fifth film, you can expect the walking explosion to continue his cataclysmic world tour, this time bringing the pain to Russia.

The series is also looking toward the future. Bruce Willis is still looking good, and the magic of Hollywood could have him kicking ass for decades to come (just look at Clint Eastwood, who was born when there were still real Nazis in the world and yet continues to project the image that he could murder you with a toothpick). But the good times can’t go on forever, and so the next Die Hard introduces a new McClane. Jai Courtney of Spartacus: Blood and Sand fame takes on the role of Jack McClane, the definition of a son of a gun.

If the series is planning to continue with Courtney as either the star, or even just as a co-star opposite Willis, it will have to be successfully established in this film. The film will probably be a money maker on name recognition alone – and that could probably support even a sixth film –  but for the sake of the good name of the Die Hard franchise we hope this film doesn’t suck.

Oz: The Great and Powerful

(March 8)

Sam Raimi takes us back to the world of Oz with a prequel to the 1900 book and the beloved 1939 film starring a bunch of flying monkeys, some emotionally crippled halfwits, and a girl with an iffy fashion sense. When the 1939 film was released it painted a wildly imaginative vision of a make believe land, and it did it with a budget that was five times less than Drew Brees’ annual salary. But the Wizard of Oz didn’t put up 5,416 passing yards in a season either, so maybe it’s a wash.

Raimi’s look at Oz comes with a hefty $200 million price tag as well as a bevy of A-list stars, including Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, and James Franco as the Wizard himself. Most importantly though, it stars Bruce Campbell as Gore, the Dark Wizard. A Raimi movie just wouldn’t be complete without an appearance from Campbell.

Not to be confused with the HBO prison drama – although it would certainly be ballsy to see the Cowardly Lion get shanked on the Yellow Brick Road by a monkey that just drops the shiv and casually flies away – the film could also reignite interest in one of the best known properties in the world.

Coming earlier in the year than most big budget, effects laden films traditionally appear, Oz could end up shifting the Hollywood landscape if it does well. With so many blockbusters competing with each other in a relatively tight period, expanding the blockbuster season to include March may prove to be a smart move. Oz won’t be the first movie to try that, but it could be the one that changes things. Assuming, of course, it doesn’t suck.

GI Joe: Retaliation

(March 29)

This film has already had something of a troubled life, all thanks to the unfortunate popularity of Magic Mike, aka Channing Tatum. It’s not his fault, of course, but rather that of the filmmakers that wanted to get out of the Channing Tatum business. Instead, Tatum’s growing popularity took the bullet and saved his (character’s) life.

The film was originally due on June 29, 2012, but the plan was to kill off Tatum’s character, Duke, early on. This didn’t test well, so the movie went back to the drawing board under the thinly veiled excuse of reworking it for 3D and to increase its international advertising campaign.

Test audiences wanted more Tatum, so reshoots were commissioned and the on screen relationship between Tatum’s Duke and Dwayne Johnson’s character of Roadblock was strengthened. Following the surprisingly successful male stripper story loosely based on Tatum’s life, Magic Mike, the studio also shifted some of the advertising to make sure people knew that Tatum and his magical member were still in the movie and had a significant role.

The first movie was goofy. It inexplicably featured people wearing exoskeletons for what appeared to be no other reason than to beat up Paris, while the amazingly good cast that included Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Christopher Eccelston, Rachel Nichols, and Dennis Quaid managed to breathe an air of respectability into it. All of those names are missing from this film, but they have been replaced by Dwayne Johnson, Bruce Willis, Adrianne Palicki, and RZA. It is shocking, the level of talent that these films have attracted. The producers must have a staggeringly comprehensive set of blackmail pictures on everyone in Hollywood. But with the childhood of so many invested in the GI Joe brand, and such an impressive cast, we just hope the movie doesn’t suck. Plus, we’re already looking forward to the next sequel starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Helen Mirren, Al Pacino, and whoever else the filmmakers can convince to jump on board the GI Joe train.

Evil Dead

(April 12)

The original Evil Dead was intended to be a serious horror film, but it just sucked at it. It was laughable, and so Sam Raimi and company decided to roll with it and revel in the notion of a horror comedy. That produced two (three if you count the original that was partially remade as The Evil Dead II) of the biggest cult hits of all time. Ash’s dialogue in Army of Darkness has entered into the lexicon in such a way that presidents have even quoted it. There is no direct proof of that, but it is (probably) true (maybe).

The reboot is entirely Raimi’s idea, and he pushed ahead even against the wishes of most fans who were more interested in a sequel with Bruce Campbell returning as Ash than a remake. But Raimi insisted that he had a good idea, and asked fans for their support and trust.

The film is apparently going to attempt to do what the first film tried for, and be a legitimately disturbing horror film. There will likely be a good deal of humor, but that may just be color and not the intention as it was in the later films, games, and other properties in the series. That seems like an odd shift for a franchise that was famous for lines like “this is my boomstick” and severed hands giving the finger to its original owner.

But it’s Raimi’s franchise to do with as he will. It’s an important series, and one that has influenced many people for decades now. So we just hope that the film, which has the daunting tag line “The most terrifying film you will ever experience,” doesn’t suck.

Iron Man 3

(May 3)

With Jon Favreau foolishly asking for a bit more money after directing and producing two of the biggest films ever and helping to launch the Marvel universe on screen, the keys to the franchise fall to Shane Black, one of the men that helped save Robert Downey Jr.’s career after his experimentation with drugs became a full on graduate study course in substance abuse.

Black is an interesting choice, and so far the trailers have presented a shift in tone for the franchise. It looks dark, which certainly isn’t a bad thing, but it also marks a stark (see what we did there?) departure for the series that has had a few heavy moments but generally was about a rich, smart guy that built a toy capable of destroying Botswana in an afternoon.

Marvel was quick to rush in and claim the trailer was a bit misleading and the film will be more lighthearted, which in itself causes more concern than a trailer with a slight tonal shift. If Marvel is paranoid about the reaction of a single trailer released more than six months before a film hits theaters, it could mean that the studio intends to interfere with the future offerings in the Marvel universe.

On the other hand, it might mean nothing at all. The Marvel universe is still going strong, and The Avengers justified all the planning that came before it. But now phase two begins with Iron Man 3. Can the studio continue to push out quality films that can connect with each other? There is more of a cushion for this second wave of Marvel movies, but a bad film could lead to problems in the future. Hopefully Iron Man 3 will begin this new era in style, and it won’t suck.

Star Trek Into Darkness

(May 17)

JJ Abrams pulled off a minor miracle with his reboot of the Star Trek franchise. He took one of the most sprawling and complex mythologies in fiction, featuring what is one of the (if not the) most passionate fan bases in the world, and made a film that rebooted the entire continuity, attracted new fans, and did so without alienating too many people. The guy should win a Nobel Peace Prize because the alternative would have ended his career and brought a seething anger to bear on Paramount.

The pressure is off in that regard, but the new film needs to live up to the expectations its predecessor set in order to continue building upon what long ago proved itself to be one of the most viable properties in entertainment.

The sequel looks good so far. The identity of the villain played by Benedict Cumberbatch has been kept so quiet that Abrams and the Bad Robot crew could step in for the CIA in a pinch. Is he Khan? Is he Gary Mitchell? Is he just some dude with a really big gun? The odds are that there will be a major twist to it all, but despite our need to dig for answers as fans, hopefully the secret will remain under wraps until the film is fully unveiled. That won’t stop us from guessing though.

So until the film is released this May and the fantastically named Benedict Cumberbatch is revealed to be Khan (it has to be Khan, right?), the chatter will continue, which is a good sign. It means the interest is high in both the film and the franchise. If it delivers, that could also lead to more Star Trek content, maybe even a new TV series of some kind. As long, of course, as the movie doesn’t suck.

Fast and Furious 6

(May 24)

The name may change to something like Fast Six or Fasterer and the Furiousest or something equally heavy in unnecessary alliteration, but a gasoline covered rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Well, not sweet, per se, but you get the point.

The gear head crew lead by the gruff Vin Diesel and Keanu Reeves’ illegitimate brother Paul Walker return, along with Dwayne Johnson. The details of the plot are still murky, except that it will feature the resurrection of the presumed dead character Letty (Michele Rodriguez), as was teased at the end of Fast Five. There is a very good chance that cars will also feature prominently. It does raise the question of where the film fits in the series’ continuity though.

Both the fourth and fifth movie take place before the events of the third film set in Tokyo, where the character of Han (played by the actor Sung Kang) – who appeared in the fourth and fifth films – died. Kang is listed as appearing in the sixth film, which may mean that this film will once again technically be a prequel (despite all the discrepancies with makes of the cars). That is just dumb. And in a series where the characters dragged a bank vault weighing several tons down the streets of Rio and used it as a weapon, that is saying a lot.

The Han character was a good one and it was a mistake to let him go, but it is time to move on. The filmmakers could try to explain that he faked his death, despite very clearly exploding, but at least it would get the franchise’s time line moving forward. But despite all that, with these films you know what you are going to get and there is an audience happy to dive in. There is even talk of a seventh movie already. So while these movies certainly don’t make your soul sore, they are entertaining, and we hope the newest addition to the family doesn’t suck. But please just let Han die already.

Man of Steel

(June 14)

There are so many reasons that we hope this film doesn’t suck, and so many reasons that it could. Director Zack Snyder has a good instinct for action. His films have some eye popping visuals, and he has a knack for shooting super powered fisticuffs. But when it comes to a deep and compelling story, the jury is still out. Feel free to argue in the comments below. 

And then there is the subject matter itself. You have a character that can punch the planet so hard that the Earth weeps, and you need to make him relatable to the average guy. Batman is human. Spider-Man is just a guy with cool powers. Iron Man is a dude in a fancy suit. But Superman is basically a god walking among humans, occasionally coming down from Heaven to beat up a mugger or stop a liquor store robbery. Finding an interesting angle is tougher than it sounds.

So can Snyder show us a story that makes Superman more than just a quantum powered boxer? That is the question. And it isn’t just a question of Snyder’s directorial talents, it is a tough task for anyone with many pitfalls – but just as many rewards. It also doesn’t hurt than in his corner Snyder has Christopher Nolan acting as a producer, but the depth of his involvement is questionable. If it all works, it could be the first step towards DC aping the Marvel plan and combining its properties for a financial smorgasbord culminating with a Justice League movie starring characters established in other films, and it could also help to launch countless other DC properties. Or it could all fall apart.

So if it works there is a pot of gold waiting under DC’s rainbow, but a lot depends on Man of Steel. DC’s ambitions can survive a bad Superman movie – after all Superman Returns didn’t affect Nolan’s Batman trilogy – but a good Superman film will change everything and open a whole lot of doors. As long as the film doesn’t suck.

Monsters University

(June 21)

There is more on the line with this film than you might think. On one hand it is fairly innocuous. It’s a prequel to a film that was liked, but not nearly as well loved as some of Pixar’s classics – which begs the question of why did they make it at all? With the notable exception of the Toy Story films, Pixar’s strength has lied in creating new properties that continue to surprise and amaze. Making a prequel to a film that was released twelve years prior, a prequel that people weren’t exactly clamoring for is perplexing. But it is Pixar.

Following the mediocre Cars 2 and the underwhelming Brave, Pixar has shown that it is fallible.  There was a time not long ago when anything Pixar put out was almost a guaranteed classic. Things change though, and while there is certainly still gold to be mined, the current slate isn’t as impressive as we might hope.

Monsters Inc. was a good movie, but it wasn’t Pixar’s best, not even close. The odds are this movie will follow suit and be good – maybe even very good – but not great. At least not great on the level of Wall-E or Up. But maybe we’re wrong.

Pixar is an important studio, perhaps one of the most important film studios of the last decade. It excels at storytelling, and it always has the potential for excellence. We need that excellence to show itself again. Monsters University probably won’t come close to the heights that Pixar can reach, but a good film can ease a lot of concerns going forward. Unlike the other films on this list, not sucking may not be enough, but it is a start.

World War Z

(June 21)

Beware the wrath of super stacker zombies! They can be anywhere and everywhere, and judging by the trailers, they can even turn themselves into the most fearsome ladders that the world has ever seen! Loosely based on the book of the same name, the current zombie craze sweeping the world continues, and now features Brad Pitt.

The story is about zombies. What more do you really need to know? They are hungry, and humans are the scrumptious morsels that they desire. Zombies are a trend, and a hot one at that. And while the name World War Z certainly isn’t as familiar to people as The Walking Dead or Resident Evil, it is just as important to those that read and loved the book.

The zombie craze hasn’t burned itself out yet, but there will come a day – and soon – when audiences tire of the over-saturation of the sub-genre within the horror field. That might help to weed out some of the zombie cash grab films that are on the way, but it’s bad for the horror genre in general. Whether you love or hate the zombie craze, it has helped to bring attention to the horror genre that was for years dominated by torture porn films like Saw and Hostel. The zombie fad has been mostly good for the horror business, and when it fades the questions of what happens to it next will need to be answered. 

World War Z may be great, or it may be silly. Judging by the trailer it could go either way. But as long as it doesn’t suck, the zombie genre – and the horror genre with it – will live to see another day.

Click HERE for Part II.

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