A lot is missed when we measure movies in good/bad binary or pass fail metrics. At the end of the year, between our “best” and “worst” lists, film culture often excludes discussion on great filmmaking that falls somewhere in between. Movies are complex, all of them, and our standardization tendencies often sell us short on the final conversation.
That’s why, before we file away 2017, we want to have a quick look back at the best scenes from movies that didn’t break the famed tomatometer. Here are some of our favorite scenes from less-than-perfect movies this year.
The Boss Baby – Welcome to the Jungle
The Film: While often the butt of jokes for its mere existence, The Boss Baby bolsters obtuse Hanna-Barbera style animation with modern CG sheen. A baby that is also a boss? Ridiculous. But that art direction is continuously inventive, particularly in sequences involving the perspective of a child’s imagination.
The Scene: The opening sequences of The Boss Baby are animation overload. A barrage of sights and sounds, elastic cartoons juxtaposed with fantastical imagery. We are in the thicket of imagination, where the bounds of make-believe are limitless and joy is a child playing with his parents. Through forbidden jungles or the deepest oceans, playing pretend is the life. At least until The Boss strolls up in a taxi with an unhealthy dose of reality. – Diego Crespo
Geostorm – Geostorm Harder
The Film: Mindless action blockbusters will always have a special place in the hearts of audiences everywhere. Mileage may vary, especially when a movie involves a series of satellite technology launching a global attack to reconstruct the face of the planet. Luckily, Gerard Butler is here to save the day.
The Scene: Characters decide to orchestrate a kidnapping of the sitting U.S. President, Andy Garcia, to convince him of the true threat in the film: a hostile takeover by the Secretary of State Ed Harris. In a chase sequence set against the backdrop of an explosive lightning storm, a young analyst and a secret service agent attempt to drive the President to safety. At one point, the car flips around as multiple cars exchange gunfire. Forward, backwards, and explosions abound. It may be the dumbest thing you will ever witness in a theater and you’d be hard pressed not to enjoy every second of it. – Diego Crespo
Justice League – Head Turn
The Film: The DC Extended Universe has seen multiple flops, and though Justice League is flawed, it is not a bad movie. Still, its bland villain, low stakes, and willful ignorance of the previous films’ setup of Superman’s character add up to making something that doesn’t really need to be remembered.
The Scene: One of the greatest superhero movie moments of the past two decades. Superman has gone rogue, Batman’s gathered super-pals try to subdue him, the Flash is running at super speed, the world is slowed down with him, and then it happens. Superman turns his head. This moment, both showing off the powers of both Flash and Superman and playing as a chilling taunt, is sudden, unexpected, and more memorable than the rest of the movie. -BC Wallin
Kingsman: The Golden Circle – Take Me Home, Country Roads
The Film: Following up the widely loved Kingsman: The Secret Service, the new film, The Golden Circle misfired, killing off characters and trying to repeat the success of its predecessor, coming away with a mess in the end. The central relationship of the film based itself off a weak joke at the end of The Secret Service and it, along with nearly every other relationship in the film, lacked the emotional depth that viewers could get behind.
The Scene: Taking an opposite direction from the flaws of the film it is within, this scene has Mark Strong’s character Merlin, the Kingsman universe equivalent of James Bond’s Q, in an emotional scene that matters. The stakes of other deaths in the film are nonexistent, as the relationships have little to no setup and feel disconnected. It is in Merlin and his relationship to protagonist Eggsy that a warmth can be found. Strong’s performance of the song “Take Me Home, Country Roads” is played for ridiculousness and emotional depth, as Merlin stands on a landmine, sacrificing himself for his friends and taking down some henchmen in a powerful way. -BC Wallin
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – Viking Story
The Film: Offering the stylization of director Guy Ritchie that his fans seek, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword had difficulties in taking itself too seriously, offering featureless villains awash in Nazi imagery and an uninteresting protagonist, brash masculine symbol that he is.
The Scene: Arthur, not yet king, is confronted about an altercation in the market with a group of Vikings. Here, Ritchie uses his style and has fun with it, going back and forth between the story and its tellers, jumping around within the story itself. This scene recalls other excellent moments like the weed story in Reservoir Dogs, the meet-cute in Le grand amour, and the job rundown in Ant-Man. – BC Wallin
Kong: Skull Island – Raining War
The Film: With Kong: Skull Island, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts takes a pitch of Apocalypse Now meets King Kong. It’s a monster smorgasbord with heavy anti-war themes and a nihilistic edge. Faulty editing and odd scene construction render some bold ideas moot. Skull Island is filled to the brim with our best working character actors but too many characters and not enough story to go around. But dang it, if the pre-vis action set pieces don’t pay off.
The Scene: There’s a shot of bombs dropping on Skull Island that is the stuff of legend. Explosions reign across open terrain, fire reflects off the sunglasses of a helicopter passenger. Animals run away from the maw of war. A palm tree pierces a helicopter. Kong, king of the island, has arrived. In a sequence as frenetic and stylized as a vivid fever dream, Kong swoops and dashes at a fleet of choppers as they crash to the earth with nearly biblical ferocity. It’s a standout sequence in one of the more divisive cinematic entries of 2017. – Diego Crespo
Life – First Down
The Film: In an experience almost as stressful and disappointing as actual life in 2017, Deadpool writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick re-teamed with Ryan Reynolds for this claustrophobic sci-fi horror exercise. When a group of astronauts discover a starfish-like organism, they decide to bring it back to earth for further study. Essentially Gravity meets Alien but with a meaner streak than both, Life lacks the necessary early act one establishment of characters to truly pack a punch once the bodies hit the floor. With the exception of one scene, anyways.
The Scene: Early on in Life, Ryan Reynolds’ character locks himself in with the alien creature in an attempt to burn it to death. Billed as one of the three leads alongside Rebecca Ferguson and Jake Gyllenhaal, Reynolds seemed untouchable. Audiences quickly realized that was not the case as the tiny multi-celled organism dubbed “Calvin” would plunge itself down Reynolds’ throat and devoured his innards. Bone crushing sound design and grimey CGI blood leave a disgusting impact the rest of the film could never replicate. – Diego Crespo
Person to Person – The Bike Chase
The Film: Person to Person tells sweet stories of a small-scale New York, where the newsroom is a mostly quiet office and a shopkeeper calls his customer giving tips on where to buy a rare vinyl album. The most distinct flaw of the film is in its characterizations, delivered as monologues not far away from saying “I’m the type of character who [insert character description].” The film lacks direction, tossing together multiple stories with little connection and inserting the old-time style of its 16mm film and vinyl-obsessed character for no reason other than the fact that director Dustin Guy Defa liked those types of film and music formats.
The Scene: After discovering that he bought a fake Charlie Parker record, Bene, one of the characters, chases after the shyster who sold it to him. In its small-scale style, the film has Bene chasing after the other on bike, while jazz plays in the background. The chase, played out over multiple scenes intercut within the film, is full of lazy and gentle movement, hilarious in a way that transcends the mediocrity of the surrounding film. One of its best laughs comes from the two carrying their bikes down the stairs from a bridge, as it subverts the traditional high-stakes chase with a perfect touch. – BC Wallin
Power Rangers – The Morning After
The Film: From the leftovers of the YA adaptation era and roots of our current influx of superhero stories, Saban’s Power Rangers arrived to remind you all how movies need not be a complete homerun or a complete misfire. Sometimes, they’re tucked nicely in the middle of quality. Not particularly memorable and neither offensive in any way, it’s no surprise why this couldn’t launch an ongoing series of films. But the characters were a consistent highlight. Never more so than their realization of their newfound superpowers.
The Scene: The morning following their inciting super-powered incident, the various students and soon-to-be friends wander their small town trying to get a grasp on their abilities. They run from hallway to hallway, across town and over ravines until their differing personalities bump into one another, and they receive a higher calling. The highlight of the sequence: RJ Cyler as Billy Cranston, an autistic and reserved teenager who gains the spotlight on campus with his empowered persona. – Diego Crespo
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – Market Chase
The Film: Critics were split on Luc Besson’s 2017 film, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. The two leads, Cara Delevigne and Dane DeHaan, offer deadpan deliveries and a romance that is hard to empathize with. The dialogue is on the nose and the moral statement of love feels forced. Even the advertised visuals fail to live up to the level of breathtaking.
The Scene: Telling a story on two visual levels, the scene is a chase in a market where customers use technology similar to VR to go shopping in another dimension. DeHaan’s character, a law enforcement officer, gets his hand stuck in the other dimension and the camera shows both worlds. Like watching a silent disco with earbuds out, watching this scene is especially entertaining as DeHaan stumbles around a desert plain, avoiding people that aren’t there, and running into a wall in another dimension.