I don’t know what it was about 2018 that made movie studios stampede in and decide that this would be the year, that this would be their grand artistic statement to the masses, but for some reason, they went and did it.
They made an entire year filled to the brim with idiot movies for morons. Gigantic, mega-sized movies consisting of dumb bullshit and gleefully stupid nonsense. Blockbusters whose only purposes were to entertain and to befuddle.
And it was fairly amazing, I will admit.
Perhaps the studios collectively decided to punish us for our transgressions against smart, ambitious blockbusters that had continuously flopped throughout the 2010s. Practically nobody saw Cloud Atlas, and when Jupiter Ascending came out its increase in silliness led to an even worse result. Scott Pilgrim was a flop, Dredd was a bomb, and while Interstellar and Arrival were decent successes for how bold and original they were, Blade Runner 2049 completely died on us. Valerian had some of the most inventive action scenes of any blockbuster, and it made less money worldwide than friggin’ X-Men: Dark Phoenix.
So if audiences were no longer going to flock to smart, or at least extremely interesting blockbusters, studios decided that they were going to test out the opposite: just how stupid can they make a movie and it still become a hit?
2018 was the apex of this concept, but it had been simmering for a while before. 2017 gave us a test with the absolutely ridiculous Kong: Skull Island, whose visual flair and exciting setpieces were matched only by just how low-IQ the whole affair ended up being, and xXx: Return of Xander Cage, one of the most bombastically dumb action movies this side of the 21st century. Both of those movies were hits around the world, and essentially gave the OK to every studio to begin the true test.
If we were tested on our ability to sit through some of the stupidest shit ever throughout 2018, we as a collective society passed with flying colors. There are eight movies that came out in 2018 that I would qualify as Big Dumbass Movies, and seven of them were financial successes. Only one of them was a critical success, but that didn’t stop each of them from becoming far bigger than they had any right to be.
Let’s go back through our memories of 2018 and find just how idiotic our movie selection was…
Pacific Rim Uprising
Any movie sequel with “Uprising” in the subtitle was always going to be really stupid, but Pacific Rim Uprising proved itself to be especially so. It’s actually unfortunate that the movie ended up being so dumb, because the original Pacific Rim, one of my all-time favorite films, struck the perfect balance between a cartoonishly silly premise and some actual emotional depth with dynamic, memorable characters. Pacific Rim Uprising, the feature film debut for its director, lost most of the original’s charm, shed most of the original’s cast, and lost any intelligence along with it. It’s the pilot to a Netflix animated series more than it is an actual movie, and it acts accordingly.
Sadly, Pacific Rim Uprising was the only movie of these to flop. It made money in China, but not enough, and it made significantly less in the United States than expected. We’ll probably never see a third one thanks to how poorly received this one was, so that inevitable Netflix animated series better count.
Ready Player One
The smartest movie on this list thanks to being directed by Steven Spielberg, Ready Player One is still very, very dumb. It’s essentially a roller coaster ride teleporting you from setpiece to setpiece, and WOW are they amazing setpieces, but it makes zero attempt to disguise that it is anything more than that. There’s some genuinely moving moments scattered throughout, and a moment in the climax that has made me tear up once or twice, but the whole of the movie is just as dumb as it is huge. I’ll have a bit more to write about this in a couple future blog posts.
The first Deadpool was a small-scale, low-ambition superhero origin tale filled with silly jokes and not much else. My friend Kenny wrote all about this back in the day, but it was a legitimately refreshing film for how its budget wasn’t massive and neither was its scope. It wasn’t incredibly memorable or anything, but it was a good time.
Deadpool 2, on the other hand…
First off, it’s like they doubled the budget from the original. Everything is so much bigger, so much grander, and while the stakes are still surprisingly small, every single aspect is seemingly designed from the ground-up to be far bigger than its predecessor.
Second off, being a movie about Deadpool and Cable, it’s genuinely idiotic, and in the best way. The movie’s X-Force sequence, hyped up in the marketing as a backdoor pilot for the tragically never-to-be X-Force movie, is a shining example of what kind of movie we are getting here.
Basically that, but for two hours. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
The title alone gives us an idea of the madness to come. Like, holy fuck, this may be the dumbest movie on this list, and this is a list that includes (spoiler alert) Venom. What the hell does “Fallen Kingdom” even mean? In the context of the movie, I have no idea.
All this bullshit about cloning and genetic warfare and corporate sabotage and whatever is just filler for the absolute trash-tier hilarious antics throughout the runtime. The first half is this really insane rescue mission volcano-erupting volcano ride, but the SECOND HALF is where the movie shines. They turn Jurassic Park into a slasher movie where an evil laser targeting dinosaur wreaks havoc across a gothic-style mansion. There’s other dinosaurs around too, but they exclusively kill the bad guys because of their intrinsic moral understanding of which humans are good or bad, apparently.
They couldn’t have made a movie this stupid in the Joel Shumacher Batman days. It took guts and gumption to make Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, and I am glad it was made.
The real secret behind 2018’s Big Dumbass Movies saga is that China’s box office boom had finally taken over Hollywood. Since 2013, when Iron Man 3 did gangbusters there, China has increased its movie-watching audience every single year, and more and more movies have become huge hits thanks in large part to appealing to Chinese audiences.
So most of these dumb movies were actually mainly just created to appeal to Chinese audiences, with American ones as an afterthought.
The Meg, with transparency in mind, decides to eschew the idea of appealing to Chinese audiences covertly and just out and makes it a Chinese movie set in China and with a half-Chinese cast. The ensemble is rounded out by Jason Statham, Ruby Rose, and that one guy from The Office, but it’s a movie for China almost exclusively.
And yet it became a big hit in America anyway because it’s about a giant prehistoric shark that eats at least one person per fifteen minutes and then goes on a rampage killing the brightly-colored consumerist middle class on the beaches of Shanghai. Never has a shark been such a class warfare advocate as in The Meg.
Tom Hardy should have won an Oscar and a Razzie for his performance here. Playing in the ultimate gay romance buddy comedy against a CGI parasite, also voiced by him, is an incredibly tough role, and he pulled it off like nobody but Tom Hardy ever could.
My word, Venom is something special.
Finally, rounding out our year of idiocy, we get Aquaman, which is certainly the BIGGEST of these movies—the climax consists of an undersea mega-war that rivals the Lord of the Rings movies for sheer scope—but squarely in the middle in terms of dumbness. The plot is extremely simplistic, the characters are broad stereotypes, and there’s not a bit of emotion within. But my oh my does this movie have SO MUCH ACTION.
After thinking about why all of these movies (except Pacific Rim Uprising) succeeded, it’s clear that the common factor in linking them is their sheer size. With TV (unfairly) having taken over for character dramas and riveting thrillers, movies are all about the spectacle. In this age where CGI is better than ever and easier to make than ever, the mere act of having big special effects moments is not enough to propel a movie to success (just ask Valerian). These movies have to be BIG, they have to be LUMBERING, and they have to be REALLY STUPID. Audiences like cheesy bullshit. Audiences want to see really dumb shit fly across the screen for two hours while characters crack jokes. And audiences don’t want to be condescended to by films that pretend to be more than they are.
That brings me to one more example. These films were listed chronologically except for this next one, which I want to single out:
I liked all of the above, but I did not like Rampage. It was big, it was dumb, and it was filled with action. So why did I dislike it?
It’s because it takes itself seriously. It’s based on a game where a giant gorilla, lizard, and wolf tear down buildings together. But the movie is about this “realistic” sci-fi concept of gene editing that turns animals into monsters, and this familial bond between The Rock and an albino gorilla at the zoo.
It’s all about “heart” but it’s super shallow, and it’s all about “plausibility” despite all of the explanations being garbage. The movie is too stupid to realize that it’s a stupid movie and doesn’t treat itself like one. Rampage should have been a ridiculous cartoon, but instead, they turned all the monster designs into vaguely realistic giant animals and had The Rock save the day with the power of love! What kind of nonsense is that?!
The Future of Big Dumbass Movies
2019 had its fair share of low-IQ, high entertainment films, most notably the fourth Avengers movie which went absolutely bonkers at the expense of any amount of storytelling logic or emotional impact. But I highly doubt we’ll get another year like 2018. The brain can only handle so much dumb in a row, and that year was dangerously close to sending human society over the edge.
Venom 2, baby…
Venom 2 is coming…