Following up on my 7 worst post, it’s time for the best 8 SF films of 2015. And again, I’m doing less than 10 because the year isn’t quite over yet. I’ll fill in those last 2 slots if anything deserving pops up. Here’s the best 2015 had to offer, starting with:
#8 Terminator Genisys
In the future, just after John Connor sends Kyle Reese back in time to save his mother, Doctor Who infectsfuture humanity with Skynet. Reese appears in a past that has changed from the first two Terminator movies. Sarah Connor has a protector Terminator and is already a kick-ass fighter. They have to take out a few cyborgs and stop the creation of skynet.
That this showed up on my Top list for the year does not say good things about the SF films of 2015. Well, it was better than the previous Terminator film. If you were of the opinion they should have stopped after two, this movie isn’t going to change that. Emilia Clarke is a fine replacement as Sarah Connor, though Jai Courtney fails as the rebooted Kyle Reese. Things blow up, terminators get crushed and I didn’t care. It’s fun in a way that Terminator 4 was not, but also forgettable. I enjoyed it while watching, but can’t think of any reason to see it again.
#7 Jurassic World
They’ve rebuilt Jurassic Park and to keep attendance high, they’ve genetically designed a super dinosaur. A generically evil military guy is drooling over the raptors as a new weapon, because, wow, is he stupid. Some kids get lost, the big dino escapes, the nasty corporate lady must become good, and Chris Pratt, the raptor whisperer, saves a few folks.
My list continues with another film that wasn’t all that great. Jurassic World is stupid on an epic scale. Not a single decision made by a character makes sense. Everyone is an idiot. Luckily the film isn’t based on sense. In a movie like Ex Machina, that needs to be smart, being stupid, which it is, is fatal. For Jurassic World, it weakens the film, but it still gets by as dino porn. It has big monsters and they eat people. Then people run around, and then there’s some more people-eating. As a reboot/retread, I’ve seen worse.
#6 Mad Max: Fury Road
Furiosa leads an escape of the sex-slaves of an insane warlord in an apocalyptic, sandy future. Her escape is simply a very long car chase one way, and then back again. End of film. Oh, and there’s a guy named Max there for no reason.
I enjoyed the vehicular combat in The Road Warrior and Thunderdome, so I was going to enjoy this. I didn’t really need those chases extended till they became the entire movie. There is no plot here. None. There’s some dialog, but Max is not a big talker. Fury Road functions purely on punk outfits, people acting insane, and quick moving cars. The world is nonsensical (how is the water hoarded, and is that really a good way to distribute it?), so best to enjoy it for the look and leave your brain off. Tom Hardy does nothing with Max, but Charlize Theron is excellent, as is usually the case with her.
#5 Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Luke Skywalker finds a droid with an important message inside. After a slaughter that upsets him, he boards the Millennium Falcon with a team that includes a rogue, an elderly mentor, and a Wookie. Luke gains insight from a small, wise creature and begins his journey to become a Jedi Knight. They are hunted by a masked, evil Sith Lord with a strange personal connection to the team and a fascist army of stormtroopers. Somehow, they must destroy the Death Star before it blows up the planets of the Republic.
Now, change “Luke” to “Rey,” change the masculine pronouns to feminine, and rename the Death Star.
Star Wars 7 is a construction more than a film, made up of pieces from the other six films (mainly the original three). It’s all homage and repeats. It’s well done, though lacking in WOW moments. The actors do better than under Lucas’s care, and so do the characters. It supplies exactly what the audience asked for. I don’t believe art involves supplying just what an audience asks for. That’s the job of hucksters and conmen. This is the finest movie you are likely to see that demonstrates the emptiness of the blockbuster business. It’s fun, hollow, corporate fun. It would have never created a legend, but it can live off of one.
Super scientist and ex-Ant-Man, Hank Pym, recruits cat burglar Scott Lang to become the new Ant-Man in order to stop yet another scientist/industrialist from selling shrinking tech to terrorists. And Hank’s daughter, Hope van Dyne, she…she…um…well, she’s there too.
The action is a lot of fun, and they manage to make shrinking and ant-friendship into powers you can take seriously. The same can’t be said for everyone’s plans. Pym’s initial trick to pick up Lang is just silly. The evil guy’s plot to sell shrinking suits (instead of the really useful shrinking gun) to terrorists is stupid, but the ringer is the ridiculous and completely unnecessary plan by our heroes. Pym could have driven by and tossed a shrink bomb out of his car window—done. Stupid plans are part of the MCU, but this film dwells on them. In other films, the eye-rolling plans are hidden with action or by our hero not knowing what’s going on, but Ant-Man is all about the plan.
Then there is the whole problem with The Wasp. If you don’t think you can sell a female-led superhero film, then don’t make it so obvious this should have been one.
#3 The Martian
Assumed dead, an astronaut is left behind on Mars when his crewmates make an emergency launch. He attempts to survive as NASA works on a way to rescue him.
As this is a slow, survival film that could be about a guy on a lost island, it should be dull. Why isn’t it? Sharp dialog. Multifaceted Characters. Real emotion, The Martian is way better than it has any right to be. In a year of films where I just didn’t care, I cared. Story-wise, it isn’t much. But then it is never about story, but how you tell it. They told it well.
#2 Avengers: Age of Ultron
Tony Stark’s need to find a way to defend the Earth leads to the creation of Ultron, an artificial intelligence more attuned to destroying the planet. The entire Avengers team, along with a few newcomers and SHIELD agents are needed to stop this threat.
Joss Whedon works his ensemble magic again, crafting an extravaganza that’s really a character piece. Each line counts and each character has his moment.
Sure, this second Avengers outing doesn’t rival the first, but then that’s a high bar. The action is a bit much (quite a bit—I’d have exchanged fifteen minutes of crowd saving and building breaking for a couple more group discussions) and a few of the characters are slipping into their clichés (Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, I’m looking at you). No problem. There’s lots of heart, lots of wit, and fabulous new characters to take up the slack. Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Vision are exactly what the franchise needed, and I’d be content with an entirely new Avengers team as long as several of these new characters are a part of it.
Even grading on a curve, nothing this year deserves to be called “The Best.” My top film of the year is 3rd on my ratings of the twelve MCU movies. My 4th is 12th on that same MCU list. My 5th ranks 4th among Star Wars films, and 7th in terms of the most interesting of that series. All of the films on my best list are part of a series except The Martian, and none of them are the top of their series. That’s pathetic. Only The Martian isn’t at least slightly embarrassing. There’s been rough years before, but I can’t think of any significantly below this one. Perhaps what is worse than the failures is the lack of imagination. Sequel after sequel and nothing new or fresh or interesting in even one of them. What wasn’t just more of the same due to being part of a series was more of the same due to copying what had been done in unrelated films. Movies below my top 10, like Vice, Infini, and Pixels (those last two on my worst list) are part of that second group. Gee, I wonder if the filmmakers of Vice, a film about a luxury resort where you can play out your fantasies with robots until a robot becomes self-motivated, ever saw Westworld? At least Jupiter Ascending failed relatively on its own—though it did fail. Ex Machina wasn’t part of a series and didn’t steal directly from another film, which sadly is a big deal this year. Too bad it went over well-tread AI tropes, and functioned by having incredibly stupid characters doing incredibly stupid things (key cards? No weapons? Girls being so mysterious?). Not a good year. So, unless I uncover some hidden SF gem, this year goes without a #1.