We’ve got 12 months of movies ahead of us. Now that we’ve looked back at 2016, let’s see what’s coming out this year that’s got me excited…
- The LEGO Batman Movie (Feb. 10). The first LEGO Movie was one of the most unexpected gems of the last few years. The trailers for this first spinoff look to be unfettered fun.
- John Wick Chapter 2 (Feb. 10). Another unexpected hit was the first John Wick movie. I can’t wait for the sequel.
- Logan (March 3). Hugh Jackman’s final turn as Wolverine looks like it’s going to be a much darker, more intense take on the character than we’ve seen before.
- Kong: Skull Island (March 10). With Legendary planning an MCU-style connection between this and their Godzilla franchise, I’m really looking forward to the new take on King Kong.
- Beauty and the Beast (March 17). Disney’s rash of live-action remakes of their classic animated films has been hit or miss for me, but Emma Watson as Belle is perfect casting. I’ve got high hopes for this one.
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 5). After a thrilling, joyful first film, I’m hoping director James Gunn can do the same with this one.
- Wonder Woman (June 2). It’s almost a crime that it’s taken this long for there to be a live-action Wonder Woman movie. Gal Gadot stole every scene of Batman V Superman, and I can’t wait to see this one.
- The Mummy (June 9). Universal is hoping to revive its classic monster franchise with (again) an MCU-style shared universe. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it works.
- Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7). Marvel and Sony coming to an agreement for Spider-Man is the best thing that could have happened for the character. Tom Holland rocked in Captain America: Civil War, and I’m hoping for more of that in this film.
- War For the Planet of the Apes (July 14). The first two films in the new Apes franchise were phenomenal — deep, thoughtful films with mesmerizing performances. I feel very good about this next one.
- Dunkirk (July 21). Christopher Nolan doing a World War I epic. How can you not be excited?
- The Dark Tower (July 28). Stephen King’s self-proclaimed “Magnum Opus” is a work that has a need personal meaning for me. I want this movie to be great. The casting is spot-on, although the information that’s come out so far leaves me wondering exactly what angle they’re intending to take on the material.
- It (Sept. 8). Another Stephen King adaptation. Although not as personal to me, it’s still a great book that had an okay TV adaptation. Can any film truly capture the novel?
- Thor: Ragnarok (Nov. 3). Although the Thor movies gave the MCU its most charismatic villain, they aren’t quite as memorable as the rest of the franchise. This time out, having Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange along for the ride may finally give us a great Thor movie.
- Justice League (Nov. 17). I’ve been waiting for this movie since I was a kid, and the promotional materials have looked fantastic. I can’t wait.
- Star Wars Episode VIII (Dec. 15). Little independent movie. You probably haven’t heard of it.
In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!
(For some reason, Februaries always seem to be a low-viewing month for me. I don’t know why.)
This week in my podcast, All New Showcase Episode 301, I sit back with my frequent co-host Kenny and talk about what the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier mean for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. How is this going to change Agents of SHIELD? What’s going to be different in the Marvel movies and TV shows from now on? Where do they go from here? We get super-spoilery on everything Marvel has done, make predictions about the films and TV shows already in development, talk about those projects still in the rumor stage, and then give their own suggestions for what properties they’d like to see join the MCU! Plus: what other studios are trying to duplicate the MCU’s success?
If this is in your wheelhouse, friends, I kindly invite you to give it a listen.
And once again, we reach the end of another year. And as usual, I didn’t get to see as many movies as I wanted to. I saw most of the ones I was really excited about, all but one in fact (which wound up not being made at all, sadly). For the record, the ones I didn’t see yet that are still on my to-see list are American Hustle, Wolf of Wall Street and Her, all of which will be readily available after the holidays, what with being award bait and all.
So here, for the second year (here’s last year’s list if you’re interested), the list of movies I saw this year roughly in order of how much I liked them, along with brief comments on a few films. This list includes made-for-TV, direct-to-video, and streaming films, as long as they were feature length. The rankings are based purely on how much I enjoyed watching the movie, and no other criteria. I caution you, though, that my opinions on rankings and such change frequently, so if you ask me to make this same list tomorrow, it may well be slightly different:
1. Saving Mr. Banks. Simply a beautiful movie that hits me hard as a writer. I get where both the characters of P.L. Travers and Walt Disney were coming from, I sympathize with them both, and I found the movie deeply moving. I know that a lot of it was conjured up for the sake of cinema, but I’m kind of afraid to look up how much for fear it would ruin the film for me.
2. Frozen. Disney’s best animated movie in years. I particularly like that the film was undeniably a love story, but at the same time, broke every major rule in the usual “princess” formula.
3. Man of Steel. A controversial choice to be this high, I know, but I don’t care. As someone who’s loved Superman since childhood, I thought this film was a worthy jumpstart for both the character and for DC’s effort at a cinematic universe.
4. Pacific Rim. The most underrated movie of the year, in my opinion. Visually exciting and a hell of a lot of fun.
5. Monsters University.
6. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
7. Ender’s Game.
8. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
9. An Adventure in Space and Time. TV film about the original star of Doctor Who, William Hartnell, made in conjunction with the series’ 50th anniversary. I really liked it.
10. Evil Dead.
11. The World’s End
12. Oz, The Great and Powerful.
13. Star Trek Into Darkness.
14. Thor: The Dark World.
15. Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox.
16. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part II.
17. The Rubber Room. Intriguing documentary about the New York public school system, specifically the practice that leaves teachers accused of assorted mistakes stranded without work for months or years without the opportunity to defend themselves.
18. Crystal Lake Memories:The Complete History of Friday the 13th. Good and terribly thorough documentary about the horror movie series. Make sure you’ve got the time to watch it, though – it’s SEVEN HOURS LONG.
19. Iron Man 3.
20. LEGO Batman The Movie: DC Superheroes Unite.
21. The Wolverine.
22. The Sound of Music. Live TV production of the classic musical.
23. Necessary Evil: The Villains of DC Comics.
24. Europa Report.
25. Superman Unbound.
26. Kick-Ass 2.
27. Warm Bodies.
28. Upstream Color. I really liked the director’s last movie, Primer, so I had high hopes for this one. I felt somewhat let down, though. The movie thought it was smarter than it really was.
29. Escape From Planet Earth.
30. Side Effects.
31. A Good Day to Die Hard.
32. World War Z.
33. Mister Scrooge to See You.
34. Jack the Giant Slayer.
35. Iron Man: Rise of Technovore.
36. The Purge. Intriguing idea – a world where all crime is legal for 12 hours a year – but the film is handled poorly, set up on a soapbox, has a horribly predictable ending and is so heavy-handed it’s impossible to enjoy as a thriller.
37. The Host. The only thing I have to say about this Stephanie Meyer adaptation is that I initially mistyped it as The Hose, and I couldn’t help but think that would have been a more interesting movie.
39. Oblivion. I challenge anybody to explain the backstory and plot of this film in a way that does not invite a six-year-old child to point out how outrageously stupid the aliens are. I DARE YOU.
40. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.
41. Sharknado. I know that this TV production was supposed to be bad, but I disagree with those who think it was both bad and fun. I just didn’t enjoy it.
In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!
(Sharp-witted readers may notice the vast majority of these came in the last week, when school was out for Thanksgiving. The first few weeks of November were busy as hell for me. I’ve been trying to make up for lost time.)
1. Ender’s Game (2013), B+
2. Supersonic Man (1979), F; RiffTrax Riff, B+
3. Doctor Who (1996), B-
4. Thor: The Dark World (2013), B+
5. An Adventure in Space and Time (2013), A-
6. Necessary Evil: The Super-Villains of DC Comics (2013), B
7. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013), B+
8. The Wizard of Oz (1939), A
9. Jack the Giant Slayer (2013), C-
10. Side Effects (2013), B-
11. Europa Report (2013), B
12. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973), B+
13. The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978), F; RiffTrax Riff, B+
14. Garfield’s Thanksgiving (1989), A-
15. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1948), B; RiffTrax Riff, B+
16. Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977), B; RiffTrax Riff, B
17. Get a Horse! (2013), A
18. Frozen (2013), A
19. Scrooge (1935), C+
20. The Polar Bears (2013), B-
21. A Christmas Carol (1954), B-
22. A Christmas Carol (1951), A-
23. Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962), B+
24. Rise of the Guardians (2012), B
CHRIS: Hey bro, Happy Thanksgiving!
LIAM: Chris! So good to see you! I know it’s been a while, I’ve been pretty busy, y’know… running around, doing press for Catching Fire… it’s been a hectic month.
CHRIS: Hey, no need to apologize. I’ve been doing my rounds too, pressing the flesh for Thor: The Dark World.
LIAM: Man, the fans can be crazy, can’t they?
CHRIS: Yeah, yeah. Here, have some mashed potatoes.
LIAM: Thanks. (Eats.) So… how’s ol’ Thor doing?
CHRIS: Good, good. We just hit $171 million domestically. That ain’t nothing to sneeze at.
LIAM: No, noooooo…. And, um… how many weeks have you been out?
CHRIS: (Unintelligible mumbling.)
LIAM: What was that?
LIAM: Oh. Oh, well, that’s… that’s fine, you know. Nothing wrong with that. Cranberry sauce?
CHRIS: Of course. (Slurps.) So… Catching Fire?
LIAM: Well, since you asked, we just topped $200 million in our first week. Best November opening of all time and all that.
CHRIS: Hey, that’s great.
LIAM: And… oh gee, I’m sorry. Looks like that knocks Thor: The Dark World down to tenth.
LIAM: Yeah, all the other spots are Harry Potter, Twilight and James Bond*. Sorry, bro.
CHRIS: Well, that’s all right. I mean, you’ve got to work it all in, since you’ve only got two movies left in the franchise. Thor, y’know, he could go on forever… Thor 3, Avengers 2 and 3… guest-spots in other Marvel movies… I could ride this train for the rest of my life.
LIAM: Until your hair starts falling out?
LIAM: Nothing. Stuffing?
LIAM: True, it’s not like there’s any history behind Thor. I mean… the character has only starred in comic books since 1962. And, y’know, thousands of years of being worshipped as an actual mythological god. Not like anybody had a chance to find out about him.
CHRIS: At least I’m the star of my movie. People only go to your movie to see Jennifer Lawrence!
LIAM: People only go to your movie to see Tom Hiddleston.
CHRIS: Okay, that’s it. I’m taking this drumstick and going all Mjolnir on you!
LIAM: Sure you can pick it up? Your Box Office receipts don’t exactly look “worthy” if you know what I mean.
CHRIS: HAVE AT THEE, KNA–wait, hold on a second.
CHRIS: Why are we even celebrating Thanksgiving? We’re Australian.
LIAM: Oh. That’s right. I forgot.
CHRIS: Sorry, mate.
LIAM: No worries. Pass the Vegemite.
CHRIS: Didgeridoo a wallaby and all that.
LIAM: The guy writing this doesn’t know anything about Australian culture, does he?
CHRIS: Nope. (Kills 15 deadly spiders, snakes, and a koala bear.)
LIAM AND CHRIS: Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!
*Source: Box Office Mojo.
And what’s cool this week? Jason is enjoying season two of Revolution, while a jury duty-bound Blake hasn’t had time for anything but the six-minute short “The Night of the Doctor,” the prequel to next week’s Doctor Who 50th anniversary special.
Twice a year my podcast, the All New Showcase, devotes an episode to movie previews. This week, my fiance Erin and I look ahead at all of the big releases coming out in the months of November and December — which ones we’re excited by, which ones we’re passing on, and which ones look utterly ridiculous. If’n you’re so inclined, give it a listen.
Fans of DC Comics’s Justice League franchise saw what seems to be another setback this week, when word leaked the script that has been in development is being scrapped entirely. For those who just want to see the damn movie made already, this is obviously distressing news. But my approach is slightly different. I absolutely want to see a Justice League movie, but I want to see a great movie. So if Warner Bros recognized that the script they’re working with is crap, by all means, start over and do it right.
Earlier this week over at CXPulp, I wrote about how Disney seems to be planning to apply the lessons of Marvel Studios to their recently-acquired Star Wars franchise. (For those of you who may not follow this stuff the way I do, let me briefly explain that Disney bought Marvel in 2009 and that Marvel and DC have been the two biggest publishers – and therefore the two biggest rivals – in American comic books for decades). Marvel created films for several of their characters, brought them together in their mega-hit The Avengers, and are now breaking them off into smaller films again before the next combined go-around. Comic book fans, delighted with what Marvel is doing, are asking why the hell the movies based on DC Comics – the Justice League, Superman, Batman, and many more — can’t do the same thing. Although DC Comics, for a long time, had properties with more mainstream recognition than Marvel, in the past decade Marvel has dominated superhero movies. The only hit from the DC Universe in recent years has been Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, while Marvel’s X-Men, Spider-Man, and Avengers-related films have become legitimate powerhouses.
The reason for this, I believe, goes back to the late 90s. Marvel, at the time, was still an independent company, although one reorganizing after a bankruptcy. DC, however, has been wholly owned by Warner Bros for a very long time. That means Warner Bros is the only game in town to make a DC movie. If Warner Bros isn’t interested, it won’t happen, and if Warner Bros doesn’t understand what makes the property work, we get crap like Steel and Catwoman. Marvel, on the other hand, had the freedom to shop their properties around. Universal doesn’t have the right feel for Spider-Man? Take it to Sony. Paramount can’t give us a decent X-Men film? Bring them to Fox. Granted, this system turned out its share of clunkers too (let’s not forget that some genocidal maniac gave approval to not one, but TWO Ghost Rider movies starring Nicolas Cage), but their batting average over this period, beginning with Blade in 1998, is pretty damn good.
Things are different now, of course, since Marvel is owned by Disney. But by the time of that purchase in 2009, Marvel had already launched their own film unit to make movies with the characters other studios didn’t have – Iron Man and Incredible Hulk had both already come out and production was underway on Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. By the time Marvel was a Disney property, they’d proven that they could make great films on their own, and Disney has wisely stayed the hell back and let them do it, the way they did when they bought Pixar in 2006. (Disney seems to have a three-year cycle for buying other companies, they got Lucasfilm in 2012. That means I have until 2015 to create a franchise with lucrative enough IPs that I can sell them to Disney and retire in luxury.)
This, more than anything else, is what Warner Bros needs to learn in regards to any DC Cinematic Universe. It’s not about copying Marvel’s storytelling or casting tricks or format. It’s about letting the people who know the characters do what they do best and getting out of their way while they do it.
Marvel needed to raise the profiles of their lesser-known characters or Avengers never would have been the hit that it was. DC has a different problem. Ten years ago, nobody who wasn’t a comic book fan knew who Iron Man or Thor were. DC’s problem is that everybody knows many of their characters – Wonder Woman, Aquaman – but they fundamentally misunderstand them. Aquaman is a punchline, he’s “the guy that talks to fish.” But as writers like Geoff Johns and Peter David have shown us, he can be so much more than that – a tragic monarch, a man who struggles with the responsibility of protecting two-thirds of the surface of the Earth… not to mention the fact that the physical changes necessary to allow a person to survive on the ocean’s floor would make them pretty strong and otherwise badass on land. Putting Aquaman in a movie doesn’t necessitate that you explain who he is, it necessitates you explain what makes him awesome.
So if I was in charge of the Justice League movie, this is what I would do.
First, start with this summer’s Man of Steel. The film is generating some positive buzz and I’m excited about it. I’d work in a small reference to a larger DC Universe – have some news report about Green Lantern in the background, or a page of the Daily Planet referencing the chaos in Gotham City that happened during The Dark Knight Rises. Nothing that would really influence Superman’s story, but enough to nod at the fact that he’s not – as Nick Fury said in the first Iron Man – the only superhero in the world.
Then, I’d work on putting together a phenomenal Justice League story. I wouldn’t start with the big bad that was in the previous script, Darkseid, for two reasons. First, Marvel is already using Thanos in their movies, and although Thanos was largely a Darkseid rip-off when he was created in the comics, movie fans won’t get that and will think it’s the Justice League that’s being derivative. Second, he’s too big for the first movie. Where do you build from there? You need a threat big enough to justify bringing all of these characters together, of course, but they shouldn’t go up against the biggest threat in the universe their first time out.
Next, get the recognizable aspects from the current DC films and put them together: Henry Cavill as Superman, build off the end of The Dark Knight Rises (as a spoiler consideration I won’t be more specific than that), and yes, I’d get Ryan Reynolds back as Green Lantern. That movie had problems, but his casting really wasn’t one of them. Then I’d add the characters that the public has heard of but doesn’t understand – Wonder Woman, Aquaman, the Flash. Use this movie to showcase them the way Avengers suddenly turned everyone in America into fans of the Hulk for the first time in decades.
Don’t bother with everybody’s origin. It’s a convention of the superhero genre, true, but it’s often the least exciting part of it. You don’t need to know why John McClane became a cop to enjoy Die Hard, so why do I need to see Barry Allen get struck by lightning when I’ve already accepted a world with a man from Krypton and another guy with a magic ring? After Justice League, we’ll start spinning the other characters off into their individual movies – if necessary, work in the origins there. There’s no rule that says they have to take place after the Justice League movie just because they’re made in that order, although even then, I think a quick flashback would probably be more than sufficient in most cases.
Finally, make it clear that the Justice League isn’t the be-all and end-all of the DCU. Marvel can’t reference Spider-Man, the X-Men, or the Fantastic Four, because the rights to those characters are still tied up with other studios thanks to deals they made before they were purchased by Disney. DC doesn’t have that problem. Guillermo Del Toro is working on a movie featuring some of DC’s supernatural characters like Swamp Thing and Deadman – a Justice League movie could drop in a reference to them. Give us veiled hints or rumors about other Leaguers from the comics like Zatanna, Plastic Man, Firestorm… characters that have potential for their own films in the future, assuming of course that they’re done right. Even better – if you have some sort of huge battle for the end piece, the sort of thing that the public can’t help but notice (like the battle of New York in The Avengers, and it just shows how great that movie was structured that it keeps being the best analogy), give us glimpses of some of these other heroes fighting their own battles while the League takes on the Big Bad, whoever it happens to be.
And most importantly, make sure that the story is one that satisfies the fans but is broad enough to grab people who don’t know all of the characters. This is what Marvel has done brilliantly and what Warner Bros has prevented DC from doing for years. If you can pull off that trick, we’d have a movie that could launch not just one franchise, but an entire universe.
Of course, that’s what I would do. But what do I know? I’m just a guy who reads comics and watches movies. It’s not like I’ve got the pedigree of the man who gave the green light to Jonah Hex.
(If that line isn’t enough to convince people I should be running the show, nothing will be.)