There seems little point in compiling a list of the worst television shows or films of 2017, as it would be stating the obvious in many cases. Most truly terrible things are well avoided, or slip by unnoticed.
No, it’s more interesting to reflect on things that were memorable disappointments because they could have been otherwise, based on reasonable assumptions or the talent involved.
Below, some of the Frame Rated team have each chosen their biggest disappointment of 2017, with a few dishonourable mentions thrown in for good measure. Do you agree with these choices?
‘THE DEFENDERS’ by Dan Owen.
This was positioned to be the small-screen equivalent of The Avengers when Netflix and Marvel announced their intention to bring Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist to the streaming service. Those shows would be separate entities, but the characters would combine forces to face a big threat neither of them could defeat alone. Unfortunately, while the two seasons of Daredevil were good, Jessica Jones was more divisive, Luke Cage was more of a mood piece for long stretches, and almost everyone hated Iron Fist.
When The Defenders finally rolled up this year, the excitement over seeing those characters together had dimmed because each series hadn’t been a clear-cut success, but it was still hard to imagine it would be a big disappointment. Sadly, it was. Considering each solo series had struggled with having too little plot to fill 13 hours, The Defenders was instead only 8 episodes and still felt too long. The story was also heavily reliant on the mythos established in Iron Fist (which many people, myself includes, didn’t finish), and characters like Jessica Jones and Luke Cage just seemed a bit out of place fighting ninjas and immortals. Sigourney Weaver was a great choice to play the villain, lending the series a bit star-power to make it feel like a miniature movie, but a late twist negated her requirement too much.
I don’t want to be too harsh, because there were much worse shows than The Defenders around in 2017, and it did have some enjoyable moments and fun dialogue between the Big Apple’s street-level heroes, but it was easily the most disappointing show for me this year. And that’s largely because it seemed like such an easy win for Netflix-Marvel, but instead it highlighted some problems with these characters and the world-building.
‘SPLIT’ by Amelia Harvey.
Somehow we still have faith that M. Night Shyamalan will return to the heights of his debut feature, The Sixth Sense (1999). Split wasn’t it. The hook is that James McAvoy’s character has 24 separate personalities living inside his mind, so he jumps between being a gay fashionista, a little boy, and a church lady, amongst others. The multiple personality concept seems a great idea on paper, but it’s messily handled, with too much time spent explaining it. The rules seem to be made up as it goes along, anyway.
Even if you step outside of the real-life boundaries of identity disorder, Split is a wasted opportunity for a classic horror thriller. The most dangerous alter-ego, “Kevin”, kidnaps three teenage girls, hides them in an underground lair, and consequently makes audiences think they’re about to watch a claustrophobic thriller. The film should be about abductee Casey Cook (rising star Anya Taylor-Joy), but we instead spend too long focusing on McAvoy and his sessions with a psychiatrist. Casey is left to become a supporting player in her own survival story.
Split is also dragged down with dialogue that could only have been written by Shyamalan, who doesn’t seem to know if he’s making a tense thriller, a psychological horror, or a black comedy. But the biggest problem, perhaps, is that Split is simply boring, so by the end you don’t care for any of the characters or the overall outcome. To give him his due, McAvoy does the best he can with the material, especially in the first act, which goes some way toward Split being very disappointing instead of totally awful… but when the best moment is a post-credits scene referencing a different movie, you know you’re in trouble.
Dishonourable mentions: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Alien: Covenant, Justice League, The Great Wall, The Mummy (2017), War for the Planet of the Apes, Spider-Man: Homecoming & Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2.
‘SONG TO SONG’ by Stacey Shaw.
Terrence Malick’s movie still infuriates me, as readers will remember from my review of the movie this September for its DVD release. I hadn’t paid much attention to Malick’s fall into weirdness, instead recalling the fantastic Badlands (1973) and The Thin Red Line (1998), so it was a real shock to watch this garbled student film arthouse-style nonsense.
It’s been a few months since watching Song to Song, and I still can’t figure out what it was about, because the synopsis and trailer are so misleading. The lack of dialogue didn’t help, but that wasn’t a handicap for Wall•E (2008) of the acclaimed “Fish out of Water” episode of BoJack Horseman. Song to Song instead struggled with this element, and the lack of character development made for emotionally hollow confusion.
Song to Song is just a pretty setting interspersed with strangely shot scenes of unpleasant yet attractive characters, for whom being one-dimensional is kind. I don’t mind a bad film, like The Room (2003) and Manos: Hands of Fate (1966), but the difference is those films were trying and had some heart to them, whereas Song to Song felt like an addled ego project for Malick and Malick alone. I hope that, at the very least, he enjoyed making it.
‘MARVEL’S INHUMANS’ by David Bedwell.
What more can be said about the displeasure of the Inhumans premiere? Marvel had big plans for this comic-book series, giving it an IMAX premiere weeks before its broadcast on ABC, but it had creatively fallen apart and they were left with an embarrassing mess. This was a big swing and miss, which is rare for Marvel these days, and remains one of the few blips on an otherwise incredible decade for their films and TV series.
What was wrong with Inhumans? Just about everything. The fight sequences were terrible, the characters unlikeable, and the tone of the show all over the place. The series settled down and became better, but how many stuck with it after such a woeful start? The cast wasn’t too bad, with Serinda Swan and Anson Mount giving decent enough performances, it was more a case of bad writing, bad direction, and plot developments that were such a distraction that they completely wasted their limited amount of episodes.
As someone who stuck through the entire first season, there’s definitely potential here, but I wouldn’t blame them if this project gets filed away quietly.
Dishonourable mentions: The Walking Dead (S8), The Snowman, Rings, Flatliners (2017), Transformers: The Last Knight, 24: Legacy, Chicago Justice, Blacklist: Redemption (S1) & Bancroft.
‘FAST & FURIOUS 8’ by Simon Cocks.
The Fast and Furious series has steadily developed and re-shaped itself from a street racing thriller into a rewarding and exciting superhero franchise over the years, and one of the reasons that Fast and Furious 8 is so disappointing is that it squanders a great deal of that potential. The film is hardly the worst blockbuster of 2017 (that honour goes to Justice League), but as a narrative and an action spectacle it really doesn’t live up to the movies it follows.
It feels like the film series has lost a little of its spark. The change in directors may have a bit of an effect on how exciting the whole thing is, and the sad loss of Paul Walker is unfortunately noticeable. Furious 8 is also forced to contort its story and sweep the events of previous films under the rug (Han’s death, in particular) in order to bring Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw into the team. He may be fun, but this disregard for continuity threatens to break the trust the audience has invested in these tales so far.
That’s saying nothing of just how disappointing Charlize Theron is as the villain of the piece. She spends most of her time stuck onboard her airplane hacking phones, cars and computers like a cliché, and the film does little work to make her compelling. The reported on-set drama between many of the actors, especially Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson, becomes all too obvious when you can tell they aren’t sharing scenes together at all, and all of this contributes to damaging the film.
While the soapy drama we’ve all come to expect from the franchise is evident, along with the absurd action and stunts, some of the heart has been lost and might never be rediscovered. Fast and Furious 8 is not the weakest movie of the year by any stretch, but when it comes to films that have failed to live up to expectations, this one, unfortunately, is the first to come to mind.
Dishonourable mentions: Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge, The Great Wall, Justice League, Iron Fist (S1), The Defenders (S1).
‘ALIEN: COVENANT’ by Davide Prevarin.
I have successfully avoided most of the worst reviewed films of the year. For the purpose of this list, it may be unfortunate that I missed the various Daddy’s Home 2, Fifty Shades Darker, Power Rangers, Justice League, and obviously The Emoji Movie, but I’m sure my brain thanks me for that. I can still pick the film that disappointed me the most without hesitation, though: it’s Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant.
After suffering through Prometheus in 2012, I knew that the English director’s plan to meddle with the Alien franchise again was a huge red flag. Since then Scott had also directed The Counselor (2013), which was poorly received, and Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014), of which there is still hope future advancements in the medical field will allow us to surgically remove any memories. The release of The Martian in 2015, however, reversed the trend: the Matt Damon-starring sci-fi flick made my top ten of that year, and definitely played a big part in convincing me to give Scott another chance. Mistakenly, alas.
As always with his films, I have quite vivid memories of Alien: Covenant’s visuals: the darkness of the planet where the action takes place and the death surrounding the town where android David (Michael Fassbender) lives are grandiose settings, perfectly photographed by Dariusz Wolski. On the other hand, the plot points about how his ship landed there, his motives and his actions lack any coherence; when they are explained or referenced, it’s never without confusing, unforgivably non-ironic and insufferable preachings about Gods, life, and death.
There is a lot of potential in what Alien: Covenant wants to achieve: it wants to be an old-fashioned horror like Alien (1979), it wants to be action-packed sci-fi like Aliens (1986), but it also desperately wants to be something more, which nobody has yet understood clearly — probably not even Scott himself. Is it about the origin of life? Is it about artificial intelligence? Is it about the future of humankind? It feels like all of the above, messily slapped together to give a vaguely original profile to a film that would otherwise be too easily identified as a pointless money-grab sequel. In the end, all we can see on the the screen are implausible, goofy deaths (yet another guy sticking his head in an alien god-knows-what, yes, again!), sketchy xenomorphs running around stabbing randoms, and the cheapest, most unimpressive switch of identical characters that I can’t believe got anyone fooled. Scott should consider giving up this franchise to Denis Villeneuve too.
Dishonourable mentions: Designated Survivor (S2), The Snowman & Murder on the Orient Express.
‘STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI’ by Alex Mullane.
To be clear, this isn’t a film I thought was bad, just disappointing. Star Wars: The Last Jedi avoids disaster, but it left me cold. The main plot thread—everything with Rey (Daisy Ridley), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and Luke (Mark Hamill)—was terrific and boasted emotional resonance through layers of internal conflict. The acting was great and, of course, everything looked gorgeous. The climactic battle, set upon salt flats that puffed up vivid red dust, was a thing of unrivalled beauty. But everything else? Everything else kinda sucked.
Perhaps the biggest crime was wasting Finn (John Boyega), who was lumbered with a subplot that played out like a half-baked Doctor Who script that Steven Moffat left on the bus. Hell, he and Rey don’t even exchange a single line throughout the entire film! After their dynamic was shown to be so strong during Star Wars: The Force Awakens, that feels criminal.
And while Oscar Isaac was great as Poe Dameron, Laura Dern as his antagonist was so inconsistently written it was difficult to buy into anything happening. She was an obstacle because the script decided Poe needed one, not because of any inherent characterisation. And you can argue about what the Force can or can’t allow you to do in this universe until the Porg’s come home, but Leia (Carrie Fisher) flying through the vacuum of space unharmed was just dumb whichever way you want to pitch it.