Blockbuster movies I have seen in the past year and cannot remember anything about the plot

I must be getting old and senile. There is something wrong with my brain. I have seen all of these movies in the past year, and for the life of me I couldn’t tell you what happened in them.

  • Doctor Strange
  • Star Trek Beyond
  • X-Men Apocalypse
  • Suicide Squad
  • Batman vs. Superman

I know I attended them. I recall blurs of cgi, loud explosions, and chaotic stories in which the fate of the world hung in the balance, but I can’t remember, or care, about a danged thing that happened in them. It’s weird, but there are also little snippets of things associated with them that are surely false memories.

  • Tilda Swinton was an old Asian dude? That can’t be.
  • Sabotage defeats the bad guys. Not the act of sabotage, but the song by the Beasty Boys. With lots of cgi.
    Strangely, I can vividly remember the Beasty Boys’ music video of the song, but not what happened in the movie.
  • A confusing ensemble cast re-enacting the plot of The Mummy?
  • A bomb blows the head off a super-character we all cared so little about they didn’t even bother to introduce him.
  • There’s something about Martha? And it disgusted me?

This is also an oddly spotty problem. I can recall everything about Mad Max: Fury Road, for instance.

Either I have to go in for a neurological check-up, or all of Hollywood does. The latter is highly unlikely, right?


  1. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    [changing subject away from Blockbusters]
    Go see Lion, saw it last night and was deeply moved unexpectedly. The story (true story) of an orphan who struggled while finding his birth mother. It lacked all the glitz of Hollywood to focus on his complete story, not just the search but everything leading up to it and surrounding it.

    back OT:

    people who complain about Tilda being a “whitewash” should not see the movie, just stay home. Yeah the character in the comic book was a stereotypical asian man (I smell racism there). So they retconned her to Celtic. Big whoop. It is FICTION.
    Being a Cumberbotch(TM), I focused on his transformation from arrogant surgeon to magic-twister. The twist being his clever paradox to escape the villain.

    The rest of the list I totally agree with. Suicide Squad I only saw to see if lived up to being awful, and it certainly was.
    The other two: pffft
    Star Trek was Beyond to say it is now beyond the mishmash rewriting style of JJ to get back to the Roddenberry style. Not perfect but getting there. Better than Into Darkness (aptly named)

  2. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    I foked that up somehow, all hail tpyo.
    The paragraph about ST goes above the “the rest of the list…”
    tpyo firgove me

  3. doubly says

    Re 3:

    Dr. Strange was, himself, an asian character. As was the Ancient One. Giving both of these roles to white folks is, (believe it or not,) kinda racist. Just because something is “FICTION” doesn’t mean it exists in a social vacuum. And whitewashing really doesn’t need to be in scare quotes. Because that’s exactly what it is.

  4. Reginald Selkirk says

    The remedy: I advise you to go see Arrival. It’s real science fiction, with fewer ‘splosions and more ideas.

  5. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    What I don’t get is why you keep going to those movies. It’s one thing to be occasionally disappointed by a promising movie, but at some point don’t you get the message that Hollywood blockbusters aren’t meant for you? (For the record, I did see any of the movies you listed, though I did see and enjoy the Star Wars movie and Arrival.)

  6. says

    I have a trick: I only pay to see movies that are generally reviewed as not being complete shit. I wait and watch the rest on netflix or airplane on-flight entertainment, or whatever. Hollywood’s entire business model is built on people who think “it’s probably shit but I’ll go see it anyway because I feel this strange compulsion to see it in its opening week.” Stop doing that, and it all dries right up.

  7. says

    It’s weird that for some people it’s as if a movie is more entertaining the first week it’s out.

    That’s completely backwards when you consider that there are loads of great movies that have been out for decades and are still exciting and wonderful the first time you see them. It’s the first time you see the movie that matters, not when is the first time. If you haven’t seen Blade Runner or Brazil yet, watch those – wait a couple weeks for the reviews for Batman MDCIV or whatever episode they’re on (starring Justin Timberlake and Macaulay Culkin) – if it’s a masterpiece it’ll still be a masterpiece next year. If it’s shit… have you seen The Killing yet? Watch The Killing. Or The Duellists. I met a guy the other day who said he loved cinema but hadn’t seen Harakiri or Seven Samurai. I asked him if I could see his cinema lover’s license because I wanted to tear it up.

    Ben Affleck: if you ever do a good movie, I will be there for you. But, in the meantime, there are actual masterpieces out there.

  8. bojac6 says

    @5 doubly – when has Dr. Strange ever been Asian?

    Swapping around the Ancient One from an offensive stereotype to a white woman shows they were at least aware of the issues with the character. It has other issues, but at least it’s thoughtful.

    While I think Dr. Strange was one of the better Marvel movies, I agree with the rest of this list. Pretty poor movies. Star Trek Beyond especially disappointed me.

  9. marcoli says

    Rogue One was good (I thought), as is The Passengers.
    The latter movie had an actual human interest story (imagine that) about deceiving someone with whom you were falling in love about a very very bad thing that you did to them. The end was totally formulaic, since Hollywood can not resist that, but compared to the rest that you list it was pretty good.

  10. says


    Stephen Strange has been Asian when exactly? Give me the issue number. The character is clearly modeled on Vincent Price, aka a lily white dude.

    As for switching the Ancient One to a Celtic woman, Marvel was on a horns of a dilemma. If you go back to the comics the character is a deeply racist Orientalist caricature. Given the narrative function the character has it’s really hard to over come that problem. So Marvel had choice, whitewash or splash 30’s style racism on the screen.

    Neither choice is without problems but I don’t see any solution and the same people complaining about whitewashing now would be complaining about racism if the other choice was made.

    The film/marvel deserve better than glib indictments and reactionary snark.

  11. petesh says

    PZ, I fully understand the rationale behind smoking pot before watching a feast of special effects, but short-term memory loss is a documented side-effect, and not a cause for serious neurological panic.

  12. auraboy says

    As someone who works as a CGI artist on films, can I just apologise on behalf of my people. But also offer the caveat that we are paid around the lowest wages in the Hollywood machine and we only do what they tell us to do. With so many CGI houses going out of business, we take on fx heavy movies and lobby to put more in – strictly for survival sadly. When movies like Fury Road come along, which purposely make our lives difficult by choosing to use loads of practical on set fx and real stunts we may complain about the technical difficulties, but in our hearts we are grateful that our work will be used to ‘enhance’ the movie, not ‘make’ the movie (or even worse in many cases ‘plaster over the gaping wound where the movie should be’).

  13. auraboy says

    Sorry the above comment sounded pretty whiny – I assure you it was said in a knowingly ironic sense. I am fully aware we get paid a lot more than many hard working people. I am not bemoaning the job – just the rather rote process it’s been reduced to.

  14. mudpuddles says

    @ Mike Smith, #12
    I agree with you except that I think there was another reasonable option; just because the Ancient One in the comics was a racist stereotype (and yes, much of it was just appalling), does not mean that an Asian version of that character in the movies would also necessarily be a racist caricature. I don’t see why a good Asian character, avoiding all the unpleasant nonsense, could not have been written. There are at least a few dozen brilliant Asian women who could have added something great to the role and enhanced the movie. I certainly agree that the switch to a European character was the best of the two choices you mention (whitewash or 30’s style racism), and to make it a female character was a good thing, but I don’t know why Marvel completely ruled out an Asian actor, apart from the fact that maybe they reckon that maybe whiteness sells better to their target demographic. One early draft of the script apparently had the Ancient One change to a new incarnation, Dr. Who-like, towards the end of the movie as part of a longer narrative arc, and that too could have been interesting and allowed for more diversity in terms of the character and its portrayal.

    (On that note, maybe Ming-Na Wen or Gong Li could be the next Doctor when Peter Capaldi ends his run this year…)

  15. microraptor says

    My biggest problem with Dr Strange was that it was yet another origin story movie. Personally, I think that comic book movies should stop doing this: start the character out after they’ve already got the powers and the costume already.

  16. robro says

    Either I have to go in for a neurological check-up, or all of Hollywood does.

    Hollywood spends a fortune of neurological check ups to no avail. You see the results.

    I feel blessed by the sky fairy that I saw none of these movies. I seem to recall seeing a movie this year, but I can’t remember which one and I may be thinking of the Star Wars movie, which I actually saw in 2015. So, I may not have seen any movies this year. Yet another banner year in my books.

  17. says

    I go to these movies because I like going to movies, and in Morris, I have zero choices: one theater with a single screen. Because of the booking policies of movie distributors, they often tie it up with long engagements (Rogue One played here at the cost of being the sole movie the theater was allowed to show for a long, long month). So sometimes I have to go see crap because I’ve been deprived for so long.

    For an alternative, I’d have to drive almost an hour to Alexandria to find a theater with multiple screens.

    I have a similar policy to Marcus’s, though: many of the worst offenders I saw as in-flight movies.

    I saw Arrival. I liked it, although the original story it was based on was far more interesting.

  18. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    I generally find that not having made up my mind to have a movie before I even see a trailer or buy a ticket improves my experience of it.

  19. doubly says


    Ditko created Strange as an asian character, over time this got glossed over. And an asian Dr. Strange makes an asian ancient one cease to be a weird colonial narrative.

    Historically roles for poc were heavily stereotyped, but the idea that you can avoid writing racist characters by just making everyone white isn’t really a step in the right direction.

  20. ck, the Irate Lump says

    mudpuddles wrote:

    I don’t know why Marvel completely ruled out an Asian actor, apart from the fact that maybe they reckon that maybe whiteness sells better to their target demographic.

    It’s definitely true. From what I understand, it all came down to the Chinese government. Marvel enjoys quite a bit of success in China with their movies, and the Chinese government would not have allowed it to be shown if it depicted Tibetan culture (or anything that might be understood as such), so the character had to be changed. I suspect they didn’t need to go as far as they did in rewriting the character to satisfy the Chinese censors, but no one is going to cry about depictions of Celtic mysticism, so it was probably an easy out.

    I don’t think this makes things better, though. It’s either simple racism, or cooperation with a government which is trying to erase a culture. The latter might be a bigger problem in the larger scheme of things.

  21. magistramarla says

    We just saw “Hidden Figures” yesterday. It was an excellent film, and the perfect choice for MLK weekend.
    I would recommend it to everyone.

  22. llyris says

    You could make some popcorn and sit in the dark staring at your TV for a couple of hours. You could even sit in the dark watching Netflix while snogging your wife. The only downside is having to clean the popcorn out of your couch.

  23. birgerjohansson says

    Sometimes, “difficult” movies are really rewarding if you give them the chance. Tarkovsky’s 3-hour version of Solaris, for instance.
    And even failed films can be interesting failures. Example: The Hunger, with Susan Sarandon and David Bowie.
    Just a bit of fx: Dark City was a bit surreal but still viewable.
    And delibrately overloading a parody with FX like in King Fury can be fun. I liked the laser raptors.

  24. birgerjohansson says

    The Sticky Fingers of Time was a low-budget SF film without fx. Time travel made interesting instead of boring.

  25. cherbear says

    PZ I have to drive almost an hour to see any movie. Or buy groceries. Don’t think of it as a hardship. Think of it as a roadtrip. As far as movies go, I saw Assasin’s Creed with my niece and it was a lot better (and somewhat sillier) than I expected.

  26. dragon says

    magistramarla @30

    I saw Hidden Figures on the first Saturday after release with friends. I will be taking the kids today. I wouldn’t have waited for MLK day, but they weren’t all available before now. I think it is both appropriate for today and that I shouldn’t only celebrate great movies with this theme on MLK day.

    Great movie. I recommend it highly.

  27. latveriandiplomat says

    I don’t see why a good Asian character, avoiding all the unpleasant nonsense, could not have been written.

    FWIW, there was a character like that in the movie, Wong.

    The difference in the handling of these two characters points to the genuinely problematic area. In the comics, the Ancient One is Tibetan. China is a huge market for the Marvel movies, Marvel weren’t willing to pay the price of controversy over a major character being Tibetan (they also moved the Ancient One’s sanctuary to Nepal), so they were going to change the ethnicity of the Ancient One regardless.

    I’m not defending that decision, just trying to clarify what actually went into it.

  28. atgc says

    Not to suggest that Professor Myers needs a neurological checkup, but I think there’s a simple reason why Fury Road is more memorable (or more accurately, more easily remembered): because the narrative hinges on a simple premise, namely a 2 1/2 hour chase. Obviously there’s more to it that that — great characters, a fantastic score (Junkie XL is tremendous here), and sharp dialogue. But really, all you need to know is that the good guys escaped the bad guys and then decided to return and kick ass.

    The other films in this list are laden with more complex plots. I say ‘laden’ because they don’t always work — Suicide Squad is a hot mess, and Batman v. Superman is just a regular mess. ( Junkie XL is back in fine form with soundtrack. Although it’s very odd that he’s teamed up with the great Hans Zimmer, and in a way the score ends up as disjointed as the plot.) But there’s a lot more going on in all of these than in Mad Max.

  29. Dark Jaguar says

    Part of it is generational. Some of those movies were in “not bad” territory for me, but they were also pretty formulaic.

    Fury Road being good enough that it crosses that generational divide? I’m glad to hear it. That really was the biggest highlight of the year.

  30. anbheal says

    I saw all but Suicide Squad, and the only plot I remember is the absolutely senseless one in Star Trek, when Lizard Man attacks the Federation because he once got stranded. And then suddenly develops the ability to shape-shift into human form as soon as they trap him on Earth. Where Spock plays Frogger on levitating subway trains. It made so little sense it was actually memorable. Fairly good 3-D, too.

  31. waydude says

    STB was just bland goofy funthat made no sense at all.
    I still Don’t know what was going on in SS, but my girlfriend once ran over Jared Letos foot so were even now.

    Doctor Strange was, idk should’ve smoked weed or something.
    BvS was great when WW showed up and then something something smash.
    XM:A was a movie. I’m almost certain.

  32. says


    I asked for an issue number not a vague assentation about one of the co-creators. The character is visually modeled on Vincent Price. There’s literally no other reason why Strange’s middle name is Vincent. The two strongest non-comic influences on the character are Chandu the Magician (radio show and 1932 movie starring Bela Lugosi) and The Mad Magician (1954) starring Price. In both cases the mystical character is vaguely in yellowface. Sooo, it doesn’t surprise me that Strange at time looked vaguely Asianish despite being meant to be a Westerner.

    And the problem I mentioned goes beyond stereotyping. Dr. Strange’s origin story is inherently, irredeemably colonialist. The entire point of the character is to have the arrogance of the rational, scientific man (i.e. the West) be humbled by Eastern mysticism (i.e. emotion, intuition). There’s no way to do the origin story without this baggage occurring. It’s a strange (pun intended) mixture of condescension and objectifying eroticism.

    It’s very possible that they could have written an Asian character that wasn’t a walking stereotype but he STILL would be the Oriental Sage. It’s inescapable. Even with the gender/ethnicity the mind goes there anyway. By switching it the film kind of (but not really) gets to be colonialist without appalling disgust.

    And my argument is limited to Dr. Strange not any other case example given all of the surrounding text and intertextuality at play.

    I don’t care why the character was switched…it’s almost certainty was to get all the money from China…it ended up working really well.

  33. says

    FWIW, Wong in the film is basically not Wong from the comics. The character was heavily changed and more to the point his narrative role switched completely.