Chris Lang’s Biggest Media Turkeys, Volume One
In honor of Turkey Day, I’m going to list some of the greatest ‘turkeys’ I’ve encountered in movies, television, and comic books.
I’m referring to ‘turkeys’ in the sense of a media that was a failure in some way, was poorly received, or just wasn’t that great. For some reason, turkeys are a bird that have the misfortune of sharing their name with a term meaning ‘failure’. It’s believed to originate from theatre, where an unsuccessful theatrical production was called a ‘turkey’ (the song “There’s No Business Like Show Business”, written by Irving Berlin, has the line “Even with a turkey that you know will fold”). Mystery Science Theater 3000 used to have its annual Turkey Day Marathons showing plenty of fan-favorite episodes with plenty of ‘cheesy’ movies, and people still use the term ‘turkey’ in this manner today, so this use of the word ‘turkey’ isn’t going away any time soon.
Of course, movies and theatrical flops aren’t the only things that can be labelled ‘turkeys’. Television shows, comic books, and games can be called that as well. So without further ado, here’s my list of Biggest Media Turkeys – Volume One. (I might do another list in the future if I come up with more items).
This 2010 CG animated movie is one that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. Does it want to be a lighthearted animal buddy comedy like Dreamworks’ Madagascar movies? Does it want to be a more serious film about animals fighting back against the environmental damage humans create, like Once Upon a Forest? Does it want to depict some of the harsher realities of animals facing both natural and man-made disasters, such as the deaths of some animal characters, as seen in films and shows such as Bambi, Watership Down, and The Animals of Farthing Wood?
This film tries to do all of the above, and ends up being a complete mess because of it. There’s a lot of A-list actors cast as the voices, such as James Corden as Billy the Meerkat, Stephen Fry as Socrates the Lion, Vanessa Redgrave and Jim Broadbent as the old turtles, Dawn French as Angie the elephant, and Joanna Lumley as Giselle the giraffe, but many of them aren’t given much to do as the film has too huge a cast of characters. Even killing off or sidelining at least a small few doesn’t help much in that regard (and in fact only calls further attention to the fact that the film has more characters than the writers know what to do with). There’s too many tonal shifts causing the wrong kind of Mood Whiplash, and the ending is so over the top that it’d make Captain Planet and the cast of Ferngully blush.
I’m considering doing a full blog post about this one, if I can find the time to watch the movie again and take notes all through it. It really deserves a full analysis of all the ways it tried at being so many things, and failed at all of them.
Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice
What’s there to say about this one that hasn’t already been said? So many things have been said about this movie over and over again on the Internet, but it doesn’t make them any less true. Zack Snyder’s ‘dark and brooding’ distant alien loner approach to Superman doesn’t fit the character, Jesse Eisenberg’s Luthor suffers by comparison to far better Luthors (from Gene Hackman’s in the classic Christopher Reeve Superman movies to Jon Cryer’s in the Arrowverse’s Supergirl series), and the idea that Batman and Superman have these philosophical differences that cause them to fight each other only to put all that aside just because their mothers share the same first name is so ridiculous it’s been mercilessly mocked everywhere (including in the movie Deadpool 2).
But what really bothers me about this movie is that it copies and pastes elements of far better comic book stories in manners that makes those elements feel unearned. Ben Affleck’s Batman is an older version of the character who’s lost a Robin and is more violent, much like the Batman depicted in Frank Miller’s classic graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns. It doesn’t really work for a Batman who’s meeting a Superman who’s still so early in his career the world doesn’t know what to make of him.
And that last part also hurts its shoehorning in elements from 1992’s ‘The Death of Superman’ comic book storyline. That storyline only works if we have a Superman who’s been around for a while and is loved and respected by most of the people. The Superman of this movie is none of the above – in fact, the whole plot is set in motion because people don’t know what to make of him and some are afraid of him, much like the protagonists of the X-Men. Honestly, it should have been saved for a later movie, where it would have felt more earned.
The Dark Knight Returns also had Batman and Superman fighting, but in the universe THAT story is set in, both had been around for a long time and had been forced to react in different ways to the changing politics around superheroics. There, they are two friends forced to reluctantly fight each other, as opposed to two strangers who put aside their differences for a ridiculous reason.
The only good part of the movie was the introduction of Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, who has gone on to appear in two solo movies, Wonder Woman (2017) and Wonder Woman 1984 (released in 2020, sometimes referred to as WW 84), both of which are far better movies which I highly recommend you see.
The Dark Knight Strikes Again
I mentioned Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns as a far better story that Batman V Superman copies and pastes from. Some parts of it have aged better than others, but it’s still far better than the sequel Frank Miller made several years later.
While most people remember TDKR for its aging Batman called out of retirement to fight alongside new Robin Carrie Kelly, its take on the final confrontation with the Joker, and the fight with Superman at the end (which is handled better than Batman v. Superman for reasons stated above), there was also a lot of very unsubtle political satire in its segments depicting the media. By the time The Dark Knight Strikes Again came out, it was the year 2000, and Frank Miller was already starting to degenerate into self-parody.
So the unsubtle satire (which had been under control in TDKR) becomes seriously distracting in The Dark Knight Strikes Again, with ridiculous and over the top media parodies. Just about every superhero other than Batman is pretty much a helpless pawn of the government and/or supervillains such as Luthor and Brainiac, and Wonder Woman is reduced to being Superman’s love interest (don’t get me started on that). It’s pretty similar to the notoriously bad Elseworlds graphic novel JLA: Act of God in how it elevates Batman at the expense of other DC heroes.
I pretty much quit after the first chapter of it. Others, such as Linkara of Atop the Fourth Wall, have mercilessly trashed it, and it deserved it. As does the next item on this list.
All-Star Batman and Robin
In the mid 2000s, DC invited creators to do their own stories featuring established characters set outside the main DC reality at the time. Grant Morrison did All-Star Superman, which is very highly regarded, and Frank Miller did All-Star Batman and Robin, which is NOT highly regarded and quickly became an Internet joke not long after its release.
At this point, Frank Miller had degenerated completely into self-parody, with characters being greatly exaggerated, repetitive dialogue, the whole pseudo-noir lines sounding cartoonish, and the artist on the work being explicitly told by Frank Miller to over-sexualize Vicki Vale to make the heterosexual male readers drool. Worst of all is its depiction of Batman, who comes across as (at best) a ridiculously exaggerated parody of Millers’ previous depictions whose dialogue was co-written by some immature middle schooler who Frank Miller asked to help with the dialogue. No decently written version of Batman would ever use the word ‘retarded’ as an insult, yet here we have one who says the infamous line “Are you dense? Are you retarded or something? I’m the goddamn Batman!”
Sounds more like something an immature tween kid (who was likely the school or neighborhood bully) playing Batman on a school or neighborhood playground would say, rather than something ANY version of Batman prior to this would ever say. It’s no wonder the line got mercilessly mocked in Internet memes, earning a place in Internet fan culture alongside Darth Vader’s Big No in Revenge of the Sith for lines that were not meant to be funny but were just so ridiculous that no one could take them seriously. At this point, I was one of the sensible people who stopped reading this insane waste of paper, so I was spared the later insanity of its version of Wonder Woman, the whole Green Lantern scene, and Robin being forced to eat rats.
Linkara on Atop the Fourth Wall stopped calling this comic’s protagonist ‘Batman’ and instead referred to him as ‘Crazy Steve’ in all of his reviews of the series, and he was right to do so, as this Batman is such a distorted exaggeration we can’t consider him the ‘real’ Batman. In any case, this series deserves all the bad reviews Linkara and other comic book reviewers have given it over the years.
The Legend of the Titanic
I already did a whole series of blogs about the animated Titanic movies, focusing on Titanic: The Legend Goes On and The Legend of the Titanic. Of the two animated knockoffs of James Cameron’s Titanic, I have to say that The Legend of the Titanic is the worse one.
As I say in the articles, even if you took out the Titanic and replaced it with a completely fictional ship invented for the movie, it would be a ridiculous nonsensical mess about an evil whaler who somehow forms an alliance with an evil gang of sharks to sink a ship to secure whaling rights from a Duke who refuses to give him those rights. But when you make the ship in question the Titanic, thus working in an actual disaster that REALLY happened in which 1500 people died – and then have everyone saved by a giant octopus – then it becomes a LOT worse.
I don’t really have much more to say that I haven’t already said in my ‘Titanic Turkeys’ series of blogs. Starting with my review of Titanic: The Legend Goes On, continuing with my review of The Legend of the Titanic, and finishing up with my list of the Top 12 Most Ridiculous Moments in the Animated Titanic Movies.
Tentacolino, aka the Search for the Titanic
Can you believe The Legend of the Titanic had a sequel? This sequel actually doesn’t have much to do with the Titanic, so at least it isn’t as insulting to history and to the people who died in the actual disaster.
But it’s still insane, nonetheless. The film begins with a bizarre rap song sung by the leader of the evil shark gang from the previous movie, and only gets weirder from there.
After this bizarre scene with the rap song and its chorus of clams, we get the protagonists of the first movie (Elizabeth, Don Juan, the dog Smiley, and the mice Top Connors and Ronnie) in a diving bell searching for the Titanic, when they have an accident. Their old friend Tentacles the octopus (who saved them AND everyone on the Titanic in the previous movie) tries to help, and then they’re taken to a very bizarre version of Atlantis with animate toys. Oh, and Maltravers (the evil whaler from the previous movie) is somehow still active though he’s under a different name this time.
Things get even crazier, culminating in a bizarre battle with the sharks in which Smiley (previously a normal dog) suddenly gets the ability to fire a laser gun and drive a chariot. I honestly don’t know where to begin describing this movie, as it’s just so insane. I probably won’t be giving it its own blog feature any time soon. But in any case, the existence of this movie is incredibly baffling. Were there audiences REALLY demanding to see more adventures of Top Connors, Ronnie, Tentacles, and the rest?
Spider-Man: The Gathering of Five/The Final Chapter (1998)
I’d say I saved the worst for last, but when All-Star Batman and Robin is also on the list, some might argue. But this IS, however, the worst Spider-Man story I have ever read, and the precursor to the infamous One More Day.
Now, as many may know, the infamous Clone Saga of the Spider-Man comic books in the mid-90s ended with Norman Osborn, the original Green Goblin, being revealed as the mastermind behind it all. This was due to editorial decree, as editor Bob Harras insisted on Norman Osborn being the mastermind since he had the resources to pull it off and an understandable motive. Of course, since the writers jumped through a bunch of continuity-related hoops to bring Norman Osborn back in the present-day Spider-Man books, they had to keep using him, and so they did, in an ongoing storyline where Norman Osborn bought the Daily Bugle and became a Villain With Good Publicity.
However, Norman Osborn couldn’t remain the books’ Big Bad forever, even if they weren’t planning on relaunching Amazing Spider-Man and Peter Parker: Spider-Man with new number ones (which they were – that’s a rant for a whole other blog). So they had to bring the storyline to a close.
Unfortunately, they did it in the most ridiculous, insane, and half-assed way possible. Linkara said the thing that bothered him the most about One More Day was the complete rejection of effort, and said even the infamous ‘deal with the devil’ could have been made to work if they’d put more thought and effort into it. There’s even LESS effort in ‘Gathering of Five/The Final Chapter’, involving Norman Osborn and four other individuals meeting each other for a ceremony in which mystical artifacts will grant each of them one gift: Power, Immortality, Intelligence, Madness, or Death.
First off, the ‘Gathering’ doesn’t even happen in the actual part titled ‘Gathering of Five’, which is mostly filled with a lot of pointless filler that doesn’t advance the story. Some plot elements (such as where Spider-Man finds the artifact he gives to Madame Web) are kept off-panel, and aside from some setup, very little actually happens. But when ‘The Final Chapter’ four-parter rolls about, that’s where things get really bad, and insulting.
We get lots of horrible dialogue and terrible characterization, some bizarre WTH moments (why does a henchman think Norman Osborn thinking of himself as a god could be a good thing? Why encourage a megalomaniac to be an even bigger megalomaniac?), and a bait-and-switch resulting in the worst explanation for a character’s return from the dead since Bobby Ewing stepped out of the shower on Dallas. (And no, I never watched Dallas, but that moment is so infamous it’s been the subject of mockery even decades after the fact). Many characters regress to their two-dimensional Silver Age roots, and it ends up being a nonsensical mess that insults the reader’s intelligence.
I actually HAD a series of blog posts about it prepared, and ready to post once I’d written blog posts about the stories prior to it, but sadly I didn’t save them anywhere else and they were lost with Manic Expression 2.0 (don’t ask – you don’t want to know). Meaning I’ll have to re-read the worst comic books I’ve ever read once again, and re-type the articles from scratch, if I want to post them on the current site or elsewhere. And that’s something I am NOT looking forward to.
Anyway, ‘The Final Chapter’ paved the way for ‘One More Day’ in the sense that it’s Spider-Man comics at their absolute worst: When editors force certain goals on the writers and don’t care if the stories are ridiculous or insulting to people’s intelligence, as long as it gets the editors what they want, which in both cases is a reversion to a prior status quo. Spider-Man comics have had their great moments, but when it comes to Spider-Turkeys, ‘One More Day’ and ‘The Gathering of Five/Final Chapter’ are the greatest Spider-Turkeys of all.
Anyway, this is my 2021 list of the greatest movie and comic book ‘turkeys’ I’ve run across in media. If I can think of any other really bad ones that’ll make another list, I’ll probably do another one in later Thanksgiving seasons.