According to the Chinese Zodiac, 2016 was the Year of the Monkey. For cinema from Hollywood and beyond, it was the Year of the Mediocre Film.
2016 saw the release of many films that were either mildly impressive or mildly disappointing. There were few spectacular successes or failures, which is probably evidence of the maturity of contemporary cinematic craft and the global perfection of Hollywood economic policy. The “entertainment industry” seems to fully realise, now, that the best way to generate profits is to make anodyne productions that alienate a minimal number of viewers.
So we had Hollywood productions like The Nice Guys, Gods of Egypt and The Purge: Election Year: slightly better than anticipated, not quite middle-of-the-road films that left a minor sense of satisfaction in the viewer.
The Nice Guys, written and directed by Shane Black, wouldn’t hold a candle to the films he wrote in the 1980s and 1990s – gems of the action genre like Lethal Weapon (1987), The Last Boy Scout (1991) and one of my Christmas favourites, The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) – but it was passably amusing nonetheless, with a classic LA-noir plot maintaining our interest.
I expected Gods Of Egypt to be the kind of unwatchable, tedious epic indicated by its name, yet it proved to be an enjoyable adventure that, unlike most of its ilk, avoided distracting the viewer with needless fetishisation of visual effects.
The Purge: Election Year wasn’t nearly as good as The Purge (2013) – a brilliant analysis of the violence underpinning all law and its relationship to the American security society – but it was better than the second Purge film.
Creepy, low-key supernatural horror film Lights Out, comic nostalgia trip Independence Day: Resurgence, and the suitably didactic The Big Short also fell on this side of slightly better than ordinary. Nocturnal Animals was an engrossing, intense thriller, but the ending seemed out of sync with the rest of the film, and was therefore dissatisfying.
The mildly disappointing
Mildly disappointing fodder was just as plentiful. The premise of Nerve was excellent, and it should have been – like Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive (2011) – one of those zeitgeist films discussed for years to come. Despite appealing performances from a cast led by Emma Roberts and Dave Franco, it failed to develop its potential as a dissection of new media’s colonisation of physical space. It was further let down by a fatally stupid ending in which the tension of the entire narrative was resolved when a bloodthirsty multitude walked away from their violent apotheosis because they were asked to be nicer!