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Top 10 films that failed to live up to potential

The Expendables

We’ve all seen them: films that aren’t necessarily bad, but just should have been so much more. Often, these films are worse than even very bad films because they show the faintest glimmer of hope, of what they could have been. Sometimes they can’t live up to their hype or expectations, other times they fritter inspired talent, special effects, or premises. Dashing high hopes, often in grand fashion, these are ten recent films that settled for mediocre when they could have been so much more.

The Expendables (R, 2010)

While not a bad movie by many measures, the film’s cast – a lineup of action’s elite including Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, and Mickey Rourke – should have, could have, been complimented by considerably better scripting, characterization, and pacing. The film failed to develop any of its intriguing characters, a glaring omission considering the unprecedented potential of developing backstories for its exceptionally strong cast.

While it offered the kind of quick, over-the-top, and mindless action many of its A-list actors are known for, The Expendables just could have been so much more.

The Entire Star Wars Prequel Trilogy (PG/PG/PG-13, 1999/2002/2005)

Sixteen years of buildup and the hopes of thousands of devoted fans rested on the release of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. But rather than the dramatic, rousing battle-between-light-and-darkness Star Wars of yesteryear, fans were subjected to what often amounted to melodramatic, tedious, and illogically weaved backstories and convenient character alterations that ignored the relationships established in the classic trilogy. Oh, and midichlorians. The much fabled, all-encompassing “force” is caused, according to the prequels, by micro-parasites.

Sure, the prequels were more impressive visually than the original films, utilizing modern graphics and featuring more acrobatic light saber duels – a decision, according to George Lucas, to show the Jedi in their prime – and the introduction of classic characters one by one were treats to fans, but the new films failed almost entirely to recapture the qualities that made the original films staples of the science fiction genre.

The new films’ all too frequent light saber bouts were a stark contrast to the original trilogy’s few emotionally driven duels. Although they did contribute a decent amount of fan service to the classic trilogy and each prequel was significantly better than the last, they strayed too far from the revered Star Wars universe to do its fans justice.

Superman Returns (PG-13, 2006)

The original Superman, released in 1978, is the superhero movie by which all others have been compared for thirty years. Its sequel, Superman 2, set the standard for superhero sequels. Although the 3rd and 4th entries in the series were respectively middling and downright terrible, there was considerable hype surrounding 2006’s triumphant return of the Man-of-Steel after a sixteen-year absence from film.

Featuring none of the original cast and greatly updated computer imagery, Superman Returns was supposed to show Superman’s capabilities and heroics in a grander style than the earlier films could, and that it did. But much like the Star Wars prequels, Superman Returns lacked the charm and emotionally connectable story.

Brandon Rourth, taking the reins of the iconic character from the late Christopher Reeves, simply couldn’t deliver the same appeal as Reeve’s naive and flummoxed Clark Kent or his indelibly sincere American boy-scout Superman. Add to that the fact that the Superman franchise has never had an easily introduced villain who posed any threat or challenge to Superman (with the exception of General Zod in Superman 2) and Superman Returns was doomed from the start.

The Edge of Darkness (R, 2010)

Billed as Mel Gibson’s long-awaited return to leading-man status, this tepid thriller had moments of genuine excitement and featured a fine performance from Gibson, but the film never achieved the gritty quality its source material demanded. Despite Gibson’s best effort his character remained consistently difficult to identify with. The film’s disjointed and unsatisfying conclusion, much like many other films on this list, lacked the necessary intensity, rendering moot many of its finer moments.

The Matrix Reloaded/The Matrix Revolutions (R/R, 2003/2003)

It is not an understatement to say that 1999’s The Matrix redefined the science fiction genre. It deftly blended philosophical meaning and straight up awesome fight sequences into a story that ultimately promised more than it could deliver.

The Matrix Reloaded, while nearly as visually impressive as its powerhouse predecessor, lacked that film’s nuanced, thought-provoking drive in favor of frantic, head-spinning action. Reloaded, which deliberately left its characters in limbo to set up the trilogies final installment, introduced interesting characters who demanded more development and ultimately took the series in directions it did not need to go.

The trilogy’s climax, similarly, was a massive letdown to fans of the series. Although the film contained decidedly more depth than Reloaded (and was better with repeated viewings), Revolution’s philosophically heavy handed and decidedly bleak conclusion ended the trilogy on an anticlimactic note.

X-Men 3: The Last Stand (PG-13, 2006)

X-Men 3 was toted as “the last X-men film” before its release. Early trailers hyped the film’s impressive special effects. And although it’s tote blatantly ignored the caveat of prequels and spin-off films (some of which are in production) and its effects were exceptional, its story lacked any real emotional connection or satisfactory resolution, sending X-Men out with a whimper that could have been a roar.

Hancock (PG-13, 2008)

Hancock, it seemed, couldn’t decide what kind of film it wanted to be, and so attempted to tell four independent subplots rather than one fully fleshed out story. Part dark comedy, part superhero origin drama, the film had the potential to be one of the greatest of Will Smith’s career. Consequently, audiences were left with only the vague shadow of what a cohesive, fully realized Hancock, or even two or three Hancocks, could have been.

Settling for Mediocre

Some of these films failed because they were hastily constructed, others because they lacked the emotion to fit their premise, but they all shared a common mistake: not connecting with an audience in a meaningful way. This connection requires an understanding of a film’s audience and is ultimately the difference between a good film and a great one.