Our Ten’s List: Fumbled Fourth Films.
Few properties make it to a fourth film. These franchises demonstrate why that probably is not so bad.
While this weekend’s big attraction, Avengers: Endgame, is the 21st film in the MCU franchise, it is also technically the fourth Avengers film. That got us thinking about other franchises that managed to make it to their fourth entry. Looking back over the list, we came to an inescapable conclusion: most of them are really bad.
Well, we’ve never been scared to talk about bad movies here. We’ve tackled sequels so bad that they sank the series. We’ve looked at terrible third films in a trilogy. This week we go one better and look at the failed fourth efforts from some of the longest running movie franchises. For those worried that we’re pre-judging Endgame, fear not. After we get a chance to review the film, we’ll see if it fits on our next list – Fantastic Fourth Films.
10. Jaws: The Revenge.
The widow of Amity Island sheriff Martin Brody, Ellen Brody (Lorraine Gary), cannot seem to escape the murderous great white shark that has plagued her family. The fear of it contributed to her husband’s death, and a shark was responsible for the death of her youngest son. Still in mourning, she travels to the Bahamas to visit her surviving son, and meets a charming tour boat captain (Michael Caine). Her blossoming romance is cut short when a giant great white shark begins killing people in the waters around the resort. Convinced that it is the same shark that claimed her loved ones, she convinces the captain to take her out to hunt the son of a bitch one last time.
Where to start? Jaws The Revenge is so bland and boring in its rehashing of the first two films, it feels like an “In Memoriam” for Roy Schneider…which is kinda creepy since he was still very much alive in 1987. There’s nothing to this film but pale imitation of the series’ much better early entries. The middle of the film just drags on tediously, reducing the shark hunting movie to a tired travelogue of two bored old people on a boat. There isn’t even any chemistry between the leads to make the ho-hum romance spark. When we said that Jaws 3D sank the series, we were being wistful. We wish that film had killed the series, so we didn’t have to sleepwalk our way through this awful fourth film.
9. The Next Karate Kid.
Mr. Miyagi heads to Boston to attend a military reunion. There, he meets Julie (Hillary Swank), a recently orphaned young woman who is haunted by survivor’s guilt and bullied by the boys in her school. Miyagi agrees to continue her karate instruction in order to help her work through her grief and to stand up to the bullies around her.
It seems like this end of the list is reserved for pale imitations. While Hillary Swank is much better at the physical fight scenes than old Daniel San ever was, she is nowhere near as likable. Pat Morita is just kinda phoning in another Miyagi outing, turning the aging karate master back into a bland enigma. All the rest of the film is barely reheated servings of the first Karate Kid, minus the charm. It’s not as bad as the reboot -which couldn’t even get the “karate” part right of making a “Karate Kid” movie – but it’s not going to make you want to sign up to Miyagi dojo any time soon.
8. Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol.
With the bumbling cops of the Police Academy taking their mayhem to the streets, the department is desperate to find a way to reign their hijinks in. Some genius proposes to pair the officers with citizens, doubling the chance of the department’s liability. This plan suits Captain Harris, who hopes that a spectacular failure will dislodge his rival Sgt. Mahoney (Steven Guttenberg) from the force. Eager to embarrass the captain, Mahoney actually does everything he can to make the harebrained program work.
The Police Academy franchise wobbled back and forth between amusing and unbearable. The first and third movie were pleasantly silly, and they mostly worked since they actually took place at a Police Academy. The second and fourth film fell on their face by taking the dumbbell cadets out of the academy and putting them on the streets. The whole slobs versus snobs trope of the odd numbered films evaporated, despite the series managing to get G.W. Bailey back as a devious nemesis for Gutenberg’s Mahoney. The continued rivalry between those two characters is the only real highlight of the film. As Guttenberg fled the series after this film, this fourth entry really was the dagger in the back of franchise…despite it lurching around for another three needless sequels.
There’s not enough tomato sauce in the universe to dress up the pile of spaghetti that is this movie’s plot. It’s more Michael Bay crap, but with a good does of mean-spiritedness to it. In addition to the crazy bananas nonsense plot and the usual shiny and hollow action, there’s delightful additions like Optimus Prime being a grumpy and murderous anti-hero, and a delightful running gag about statutory rape. What fun!
6. Hannibal Rising.
We learn about the horrific circumstances that turn a brilliant but troubled young man into the sociopath cannibal, Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
No Anthony Hopkins is the first sign that this film is nothing but trouble. The young man that plays Lecter seems to have been directed to just leer creepily at the camera all film long, as if that was what people found intriguing about the character. It also doesn’t help that he looks more like Andy Samberg than Anthony Hopkins. Prequels are notorious for filling in details that the audience doesn’t want filled in, cramming in implausible elements that cheapen the mythos. The shame of it all was that Anthony Hopkins himself had worked on a script to send the good doctor off in style for a fourth film, but it never got made.
5. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.
Long ago in a galaxy far, far away, we learn that the most feared villain in cinematic history was a mop-topped, mealy-mouthed tot who matched Obi-Wan’s description of Anakin Skywalker in only the most literal and technical ways.
I feels like a bitter irony that a movie I paid to watch at least seven times in theaters is the half-way mark on this list of bad fourth films. Despite some fantastic thrills – almost all courtesy of a criminally discarded Darth Maul – this film is dull as dishwater once the “first Star Wars in decades!” shine rubs off. From mind-numbing space politics to a truly soul killing hour of waiting to get off Tatoine, the film has become painful to even sit through. Hell, back when the excitement was fresh, I still took that middle hour to go slam a few beers in the parking lot while waiting for Darth Maul to make his scheduled return. Add in cockamamie explanations of Star Wars lore (see the above gripe about prequels over explaining stuff) and you get a film that made you realize that the franchise was mortal after all.
4. Alien Resurrection.
Despite her heroic sacrifice to destroy the last xenomorph, the Weyland Yutani corporation is able to bring back Lt. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) – and the alien queen she had been carrying inside her.
What a goddamn mess this film was! Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s quirky and macabre style was a complete tonal mismatch for the franchise. It was flippant and jokey where it needed to be serious, and horrific and bleak where it needed to be engaging. Our series protagonist goes from a pragmatic survivor to a nasty jerk. The supporting cast was fine, but couldn’t do enough to make the snarky script match the feel of an Aliens movie. The special effects were ghastly. It felt like Jeunet was deliberately trying to make the film thoroughly unlikable. As many problems as Ridley Scott’s follow ups have had, they at least feel like an Aliens movie.
3. Batman and Robin.
Batman, Robin, and “apparently not good enough to be in the title” Batgirl team up to defeat Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy.
It seems that film critics have mellowed on this film since its release. Not me. This film sucks. It is nonsensical, cheesy, filled with groan-inducing dialogue and with seizure-inducing visuals. Joel Schumacher managed to take the camp of the TV series, the weirdness of the Burton films, and the aesthetics of old funny-paper serials and derive none of the charm that those elements possessed in isolation.
George Clooney’s Batman seems to know he’s in a stinker and occasionally looks with incredulity and pity out at the audience. The only person who seems to be having a good time is Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is just chewing the high holy hell out of the scenery as Mr. Freeze. It’s frankly bizarre: you take an actor famous for playing an emotionless killer and cast him as a character who is an emotionless killer…and he spends the whole run-time gleefully spouting ice puns and mugging for the camera. Maybe he was high on the fumes of all the glitter paint he was wearing?
2. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Famous tomb raider and archeologist Indiana Jones must race against agents of the Soviet Union in order to find mysterious artifacts with the power to destroy the world.
The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a weird bird. On one hand, I don’t think its an awful movie. Yes, it’s terrible in places, but it’s mostly just OK. On the other hand, I do think it’s a horrendous Indiana Jones movie. When the rest of the series is pretty much made of living legends, being the worst entry in that series goes a long way to making your way high up on this list.
The story is half-baked tabloid trash involving aliens. The characters are mostly less interesting knock-offs of the better entries, right down to the Nazi-lite baddies. I have a soft spot for Shia LaBeouf, but he’s as out of place in an Indiana Jones film as the aliens. Cate Blanchett and John Hurt are completely wasted. Harrison Ford seems game, but is obviously past his prime. The stand-ins and body doubles are glaringly obvious, such that I nearly choked on my popcorn laughing at them. The CG is a train wreck. For all that, it’s got just enough of the old glory to get you through the two hours, if just barely. For leaving the franchise on such a wet fart of a finalé, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull deserves to be stricken from the record books and buried alongside wherever the Ark of the Covenant wound up.
1. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
After having resurrected their science officer, Spock, the crew of the USS Enterprise are in hot water for breaking several regulations. On the way home to face the music, they learn that an alien probe is causing havoc on Earth, apparently searching for now extinct whales. The crew use a gravity well to travel back in time to retrieve whales that will appease the aliens.
The Voyage Home is nearly unwatchable. The tone veers between stuffy moralizing and an almost vaudville-style of broad humor. Everyone feels like a silly impression of themselves. The story is not just outright bad, it’s lazy. While the series dabbled infrequently with time travel, the use here feels like a rookie screenplay gimmick. A few nice visual elements and practical effects actually make the proceedings duller, as you realize how little it actually going on in this film.
Directed by Leonard Nimoy, the film feels like one long inside joke, made for the cast alone to enjoy. Perhaps they got tired of playing the same characters over and over and decided to break up the monotony. Unfortunately, it comes off as self indulgent. Overall, the film is campy and self important, while seeming to delight in being as unlike a traditional Star Trek as it could get.