The real heartbreak in a mediocre movie, or a bad movie, or a just okay movie, is seeing the potential that was wasted. Even in the most disappointing movies, there’s usually one thing that you can point at and say, “Wow, this really worked.” So here, I’ve selected a few movies that I think are just okay (none of these are very bad) that have scenes that I think are absolutely excellent.
All in all, Thor was fine I guess. (It’s still the second best Thor movie.) I honestly don’t have too much to say about the rest of the movie, it’s all just kind of fine. Most of the scenes while Thor is on earth don’t really interest me. Jane and Thor’s relationship is passable and Loki’s ruling over Asgard is only slightly better. But one of the high points of the movie? Thor’s quest to get his hammer back.
The beginning of this scene is just a very basic action movie beat-em-up kind of sequence that is very well-choreographed and exciting. All the SHIELD agents seem to be fairly disposable, but that doesn’t make the sequence boring. The last guy is clearly a mini-boss kind of character that you’d see in Indiana Jones, which always provides a little bit more of a challenge for the hero without upping the stakes too much.
One of the strengths of this sequence is how a lot of work had already been done to set up the fact that Thor is the only one who is worthy to pick up his hammer. So when Thor finally gets to his hammer and can’t pick it up, it’s a tremendous payoff and honestly heartbreaking. This is made even better by the fact that when Thor surrenders himself, you can see that for a fleeting moment, his hammer has his symbol on it – meaning he can lift it again (4:23-4:28 in the above video). He’s so humbled by the situation that for a second, he finally becomes worthy again. It’s a very compelling turn of events.
Plus, this marks the first (though perhaps not very meaningful) appearance of Hawkeye. Maybe it’s a cool display of how interconnected this universe is, maybe it’s just heavy-handed. I don’t know. I thought it was neat.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Every Harry Potter fan has their own subjective ranking of the books and the movies that they will gladly rattle off at any chance they get. I, for one, think that Order of the Phoneix isn’t the best Harry Potter movie. Again, it’s not bad, but I feel like there are a few scenes in it which really outpace the rest. And the foremost among them is this delightful little scene:
Everything about this scene is perfect. The lights and the score are wonderful, but of course, the thing which really makes it is the comeuppance. You’ve spent all this movie learning about how awful Umbridge is, and now you’re finally getting to see her and her cronies get what they deserve. This scene is less about its plot significance and more just about the way it makes you feel – absolutely wonderful.
Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
I actually considered writing about this in last week’s post, which ranked the Wes Anderson filmography. But since I wanted to keep that post spoiler free, I decided to save it for another post. And again, most of Life Aquatic just doesn’t work for me. I can’t do too much to explain why. None of the cast really seems to be giving it their all – at least, not before this last scene:
First, the blocking is really cool – having so many people crowded in the submarine is the kind of quirky and off-beat shots that West Anderson is known for. But the thing that really makes this scene is the performance and the raw emotion. Bill Murray quietly says “I wonder if it remembers me,” and then looks as though he’s about to cry and it’s such a melancholic and pained look. This is probably the height of Bill Murray as a dramatic actor. It’s a moment that could make you cry even if you weren’t loving the movie up to this point.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty tells the story of a regular man who has aspirations to live a life full of adventure and romance and excitement. The title character’s daydreams are pretty much the gimmick of the movie. There are moments when the every day office-type will picture himself as a hero in some great and thrilling moment. At its worst, this becomes extremely cheesy and hinders the movie, as in this fight/chase scene. But at its best, Walter’s daydreams are downright inspirational, just as in this scene:
This scene is so exciting and beautifully shot, and perfectly punctuated by the music and the inclusion of the mission statement of LIFE magazine – “To see the world, to draw closer, to find each other, etc. That is the purpose of Life” – which really ends up being the film’s thesis statement. And this is the turning point of the entire movie; it’s where the daydreams start becoming a reality, and Walter starts really living life. It’s an amazing and inspirational moment that can really bring chills to the audience. And okay, yes, the picture of Sean Penn inviting him in is a little bit much, but this is really where the surrealism-daydream gimmick really starts to pay off.
A Walk in the Woods
2015’s A Walk in the Woods was the critically panned adaptation of a much-beloved Bill Bryson book of the same name about hiking the Appalachian Trail. I loved the book, and have to admit that the movie was something of a (foreseeable) disappointment. But one scene around the 50-minute mark that really just gets it.
The two characters – Bryson, played by Robert Redford, and Katz, played by Nick Nolte – are old friends hiking the trail together, and on their way up a mountain try to have a real discussion about why they’re trying to hike the trail. Katz tries to suggest that Bryson is going on this long-distance hike because he needs to live a little more, and Bryson suggests that Katz has perhaps lived a little too much. The discussion gradually goes from friendly to aggressive, as they make personal jabs at each other.
And then, right at the height of their argument, they make it to the top of the mountain and are overcome with a wonderful vista of the Smoky Mountains. Suddenly, their argument doesn’t matter because they’re overwhelmed by the natural beauty of the mountains.
It’s a moment of tranquility in nature that really resonates with the outdoor enthusiasts this movie was meant for. Not every moment in A Walk in the Woods is a success, but here was a moment where the film truly understood its characters, its subject matter, and its audience.
Questions for the readers:
- What’s your favorite great scene from a mediocre/bad movie?
- Since I mentioned it, what’s your ranking of the Harry Potter movies? And am I entirely wrong about Order of the Phoenix being one of the not-as-great HP movies?