Happy New Year! That’s 2016 over and done with, and I want to try and think positively about what we’ve got coming up this year in the field of something that disappointed me immensely last year; big studio franchise films.
Glancing at a list of the top grossing movies of the year, you’ll yet again see that franchise films – sequels, remakes, reboots, prequels, spin-offs etc. – are dominating it. They’re still among the most consistent earners in the business, which doesn’t look likely to change anytime soon, but I think that 2016 was an especially weak year for these films in terms of quality, and most people will probably agree with me there to some level. When at the end of a long summer (which in movie season terms appears to run from March to October now), you can look back and say that the solid-if-unspectacular Star Trek Beyond was easily the best blockbuster, it can’t have been that impressive of a year. For me it was disappointments week after week, and yes I am including Captain America: Civil War in this, a film whose wide acclaim continues to mystify me (I genuinely liked X-Men: Apocalypse more).
Despite all this negativity, I now find myself in a strange position of being strangely optimistic about the New Year’s offerings. I make ‘most anticipated’ lists at the start of the year and realised that this year there are so many franchise films I’m looking forward to that I can essentially make a whole separate article just about those. (I know not all of these are ‘big budget’ movie but they’re all part of series)
But what really stood out to me is that there are a number of examples of films where I’m not eagerly anticipating them because of the strength of their predecessors, in fact there are plenty that are quite contradictory to that. So I’m breaking this piece down into four categories; films I’m looking forward to despite their predecessors, the more standard films I’m looking forward to because of their predecessors, films that in principle I think shouldn’t be made yet am looking forward to anyway, and then films I’m not too invested in but I still think should be good.
Part 1: Films I’m Looking Forward to Despite their Predecessors.
So this was the line of thinking that really got me wanting to write this piece; that there are several examples of films I’m really looking forward to despite their forerunners not being up to much. The biggest example of this would of course have to be the DCEU’s Wonder Woman. Batman v Superman was a colossal disappointment on a number of levels, but it did at least have one good aspect that everyone seemed to agree on; the brief appearance of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. It seems beyond ridiculous the number of lesser-known male superheroes that have all had multiple movies made but the world’s most iconic female one still hasn’t but that will all change in 2017. On top of that though, this film looks fantastic, Patty Jenkins (who made the incredible Monster back in 2003) is directing, and has said the film is drawing more from 1978’s Superman, a joyful, optimistic film that contrasts greatly with the grimness of Batman v Superman, even putting a wonderful reference to it in the spectacular trailer. On top of this, its World War 1 setting should help it stand out from the crowd of superhero movies even further.
There is also the Justice League movie coming out at the end of the year which I so hope will be good, but am somewhat more sceptical. I would really love them to do some justice (no pun intended) to Superman though, who looks to be getting more of a raw deal. But again, the trailer promises it will be lighter, and Ezra Miller’s take on The Flash may well be a scene stealer. In another brief bit of DC comics-related news, they have an animated movie of Justice League Dark coming out soon which looks to be featuring John Constantine in a major way, which I’ll be happy to see as well.
Switching to Marvel, Thor: The Dark World is often cited as being one of their weakest movies, it’s certainly not all that memorable, and since Marvel seems to have put a lot less emphasis on Thor, with him sitting out Civil War, the second (nominal) Captain America movie that’s been released since he last got a solo film. However, Thor: Ragnarok is now sounding like it could be my favourite Marvel movie ever, it’s directed by Taika Waititi, who made the hilarious vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows and this year’s wonderful Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Whether he manages to retain some of his distinct humour or gets sucked into the Marvel machine remains to be seen but the highly entertaining promo short that was released (featuring Thor and his Australian roommate) suggests the former. On top of that, the cast for this movie is outstanding; in addition to all the Thor regulars, the film has nabbed Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Jeff Goldblum and Sam Neill. That’s right, this film could potentially reunite Jeff Goldblum and Sam Neill!
In non-Marvel studios Marvel movies, we have Logan, the third Wolverine film and supposedly the final time Hugh Jackman will play the character. The first Wolverine movie is easily the worst in the X-Men series and though the second was a considerable improvement, I don’t think the world was crying out for another one, particularly as he played a key role in Days of Future Past. However, Logan actually looks completely different from any of the previous movies, with the trailer selling something of a post-apocalyptic western vibe. The fact that it’s actively attempting to do something new with a superhero movie is something I’m looking forward to seeing.
The other major film in this category for me is Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant. I’m not someone who’s entirely negative on Prometheus, thinking it to be very well directed but badly written, but it was an unusual prequel in that it wanted to distance itself from the very series it was part of. Now though, Alien: Covenant appears to be doing the opposite, with it’s incredibly striking poster selling it as Ridley Scott making another Alien movie. With Scott getting his directorial mojo back with The Martian in 2015, I’m excited to see if he can deliver another great sci-fi horror.
Also, I’ve mentioned before that the live action remakes of animated fairy tales is one of my least favourite trends in cinema today, but as soon as I heard the new piano arrangement of Alan Menken’s score that accompanies the Beauty and the Beast trailer, I knew I wasn’t going to skip this one.
Part 2: Films I’m Looking Forward to that had Decent Predecessors.
While I’ve already mentioned a bunch of superhero movies in the previous segment, the superhero film I’m most excited for is without doubt The Lego Batman Movie. I do love the fact that DC are prepared to license their most famous character for a film that will constantly mock him, and any doubts I had that this film might hold back were obliterated by its hysterically funny first trailer. Whether it will have a larger theme to it like The Lego Movie did or just be a straight comedy remains to be seen, but this looks hilarious in any case.
Switching to Marvel yet again, the other two movies they have out next year are Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming. The first Guardians remains one of their best movies, and with a lot of the same people involved, I hope that Vol. 2 can live up to it. I’m less excited about yet another Spider-Man reboot, particularly as it’s set in high school again, and the trailer had more Iron Man than Spider-Man in it, but who knows, at least it looks like they’re not doing the origin again so maybe this could just be a fun Spider-Man movie. Let’s hope so, it’s not as if it can be worse than The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
2017 also brings us the next chapter in one of the best modern movie series with War for the Planet of the Apes. This reboot has been defying expectations from moment one, and has yet again overhauled its human cast, concentrating that this is Caesar’s story, with him now facing up against a scary looking Woody Harrelson. Dawn director Matt Reeves returns for this instalment, which looks like the best bet to defy the weaker third chapter trend, which I sincerely hope it does.
We also have Kingsman: The Golden Circle due this year. I hugely enjoyed Kingsman for the most part, and while I don’t think it especially required a sequel, returning director Matthew Vaughn has assembled a tremendous cast for this, including Julianne Moore as the primary villain, along with Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum, Pedro Pascal and Halle Berry. I hope that Vaughn and Jane Goldman have come up with a concept as novel as first to keep this feeling fresh.
It’s funny how now I can list a Fast & Furious movie in this category, as it’s the textbook example of a franchise that managed to turn itself around. Following up the billion dollar grossing Furious 7 is The Fate of the Furious, in which this ridiculous series apparently makes Vin Diesel the bad guy. Oh and Kurt Russell breaks sworn enemies The Rock and Jason Statham out of prison to make them work together, and if that doesn’t make you want to see this film then there’s something wring with you. That picture there alone should do it.
Speaking of ridiculous fun action movies, we have only a few weeks to wait until Keanu Reeves unleashes John Wick Chapter 2 upon us. If the film can deliver another action scene even half as good as the club shootout in the first one it’d still likely be a highlight of the year for action fans, but I’m hoping it one-ups it. And as a bonus, this features Laurence Fishburne in a Matrix reunion.
There is also a new Cloverfield movie coming out, currently called God Particle, which it now seems that JJ Abrams is using as some sort of banner title for original sci-fi horror movies. That’s all fine by me. I never much cared for the original Cloverfield but 10 Cloverfield Lane was great, and Abrams using his clout to give a platform to new filmmakers is a very pleasing thing to see.
And finally, we have Paddington 2. I think Paddington is second only to The Lego Movie in terms of film I did not expect to love as much as I did. It’ll be a bit different going into a sequel now, which has a tough job of living up to the wonderful first movie, but Paul King is returning to write and direct, so I’m hopeful.
Part 3: Films that in principle I think shouldn’t be made yet am looking forward to anyway.
The other thought I’d been having going into this piece is how there are a handful of movies arriving in 2017 that in principle sound like very bad ideas, yet I can’t deny that I’m now sold on. The main one of these is Blade Runner 2049. Now I think that Blade Runner is probably the best sci-fi movie ever, and the idea of making a sequel to it 35 years down the line seems doomed to failure; but just look at who’s involved. Ridley Scott in on board as a producer, but the film is directed by Denis Villeneuve, who made my number one film of 2016 (Arrival), along with a series of excellent ones before that. The guy hasn’t put a foot wrong yet, and many of his regular collaborators, such as master cinematographer Roger Deakins and innovative composer Jóhann Jóhannsson are on board as well. If this group of people, along with stars Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford were all making an original movie it would be almost a certainty for the number one spot on my ‘anticipated movies’ list. The fact that it’s Blade Runner does give me a little more caution, but then the stunning teaser trailer dropped revealing a vision that seems unique to this film, rather than just a re-creation of Scott’s 1982 one. This film looks incredible and I sorely hope it delivers.
Then there’s our other long-in-the-making sequel; T2: Trainspotting, as they’ve annoyingly called it. I remember hearing Danny Boyle talking about this film as long ago as 2002, and while it might sound like a thankless task to follow-up the iconic original, the fact that it’s taken Boyle and his collaborators so long actually gives me more confidence in this film, as they seemed hesitant to make it unless they thought it would be good enough. Again, the trailer is fantastic, suggesting that Boyle can easily return to the energetic filmmaking that made his name after a few years of dabbling in Awards-friendly ‘prestige movies’.
The other film in this part is a horror reboot, Saw: Legacy. Saw is the latest series to have advertised an instalment as “The Final Chapter” and then turned it around a few years later. I think most of the Saw sequels are pretty poor, the original still holds up well, but after movie number seven putting it to rest sounded like a good idea for everyone. While my initial reaction to this revival was to roll my eyes at it, I’ve now learned that the film is being directed by Michael and Peter Spierig. The Australian duo have been improving with every movie and their previous one, time travel thriller Predestination is an excellent and criminally underrated piece of sci-fi. That they’re taking on this series makes me infinitely more optimistic that this might actually have some inventiveness and ideas behind it and not be just another torture-fest.
Part 4: Films I’m not too invested in but I still hope will be good.
As I referenced in the Saw: Legacy bit earlier on, probably the most famous franchise to erroneously use a ‘The Final Chapter’ subtitle is Friday the 13th. I’ve never cared for this series at all, but it has it’s fans, and is now being rebooted for the second time. However, the director is Breck Eisner, who’s hit and miss but did direct one of the better modern horror remakes in The Crazies. I can’t really remember the last time I saw a good sold, new slasher movie so maybe, just maybe he can inject some life into Friday the 13th.Similarly, though I thought The Conjuring spin-off Annabelle was a waste of time, Annabelle 2 is being directed by David F. Sandberg who made a really solid little horror movie last year with Lights Out. He certainly knows how to get a good jump scare, which could be exactly what this Conjuring spin-off sequel needs.
A film that’s looking more promising is Kong: Skull Island. Legendary pictures have announced that this is to be part of a shared giant monster universe that will include 2014’s Godzilla reboot, as such, Kong has been sized-up to match Godzilla, giving us the biggest Kong ever. Again, the trailer sells this really well, suggesting that it’ll mix some more light-hearted character moments with the big action scenes, (and hopefully have a few actual human characters worth caring about, unlike Godzilla). Surprisingly, this is coming from The Kings of Summer director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, so let’s see what he can do with a big budget, as this will be leading to a Godzilla/Kong face-off in 2020.
Another long-in-development project that will finally hit the big screen this year is The Dark Tower. Despite reading a fair amount of Stephen King, and this series sounding like the sort of thing I’d like, I’ve never gotten around to reading any of the Dark Tower books, finding the overall length of the series rather intimidating for a slow reader like me. This long-mooted adaptation started then stalled multiple times throughout the years, with JJ Abrams and Ron Howard each taking a stab at one point but it’s Danish director Nicolaj Arcel (who made the tremendous A Royal Affair) who’s finally pulled it off. Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey star, and I’m really interested to see how this winds up.
And lastly, there is of course another Star Wars movie coming out this year, as there will be every year for the foreseeable future, currently only called Star Wars Episode VIII. I know this will be many people’s most anticipated movie of the year, and will almost certainly be the year’s top grosser, but I’m not a big Star Wars guy, I enjoyed The Force Awakens somewhat but didn’t much care for it on re-watch. I’m still more confident about this film though, firstly as it’s directed by Rian Johnson, a far more interesting filmmaker than JJ Abrams, and it’s free from the task of having to re-introduce the Star Wars universe. Hopefully, this will give Johnson a chance to explore some new territory with this storyline wise, and take the new characters in a fresh direction. Who knows, maybe it’ll turn out to be a shameless re-tread of The Empire Strikes Back, but I have more confidence in Johnson, and of course, there’ll be a tragic element to it now as we’ll all be going in knowing it’s the last performance Carrie Fisher gave.
Of course, it’s not all good news, we’ve also got new movies from Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean, Pitch Perfect, Fifty Shades of Grey, xXx and Resident Evil (which uses the aforementioned Final Chapter name), but let’s focus on the positives for now.