It’s that time of year! The Multiversity Year in Review is here, and from now until Friday, December 22, we will be talking about favorites in a variety of categories. Let us know what we missed in the comments!
2017 was an excellent year for the superhero film. One that showed the Western-like expansion into other film genres and conventions, even if their commerciality makes shaking off their true blockbuster cores easier said than done. Logan, from director James Mangold, with co-writers Scott Frank and Michael Green, showed how far this type of film has come in making the first truly revisionist superhero film.
Postmodern and revisionist thematics aren’t entirely new to these films, recent offerings like Captain America: Civil War, Batman v Superman, Deadpool, and even Watchmen, all played with them on various levels. But all of those were using a comic text to access these ideas as part of an adaptation. They weren’t using film as a medium or the genre’s history, to reflect on itself. In Logan, Mangold uses the Western and the audience’s history with actors Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, as the foundation for this family road trip. Like Clint Eastwood as William Munny, Jackman and Stewart’s performances carried the unspoken weight of six films and 16 years with audiences. Even if this existed in an Elseworld, when Logan says that the “Statue of Liberty was a long time ago,” it really was.
Most joyous of the many things Logan offers is how even though it is a violent, gory, dark, emotionally draining, experience, it never falls to pretentious cynicism or “seriousness” often associated with these types of stories. Mangold manages to keep the spark of sentimentality necessary when dealing with these spectacular figures and their histories. For all the generic subversion Logan is at its core an X-Men film, one that is hopeful and trying to make tomorrow a better day for the next generation even in the face of dystopia. All the while recognizing that being an X-Man isn’t what it is cracked up to be in the comics or the movies. This recognition shines in the achingly human performances of Jackman and Stewart.
Everyone involved get their moments. Mangold gets a signature film that shows his less showy but still pastiche centered process of filmmaking. Patrick Stewart gets a chance to show all facets of Charles Xavier. Hugh Jackman runs with the material to deliver the best performance of the character that made him a bonafide movie star. Dafne Keen held her own in a role Hollywood is incapable of producing often. And for Logan, it gave him a fitting end.
It is fitting that the film franchise that started the modern era of superhero film be the vehicle that reflects on the past decade and a half of Hollywood dominance. – Michael Mazzacane
1 (tie). Wonder Woman
Cut through all the hype, set aside the numerous think pieces, ignore its record setting box office sales and at the very center of the Wonder Woman phenomenon lies a simple, well crafted movie. With consistently great costumes and scenic design, excellent cinematography, solid acting, decently choreographed battles and believable on-screen chemistry between the two leads, it hits all of the right notes while avoiding overindulgence and cinematic self importance. Is it perfect? God, no! Any movie whose heroine mingles with German officers at an elegant cocktail party deep inside enemy territory while the ornate hilt of her god killer sword conspicuously protrudes from the low-cut back of her dress is not without its obvious flaws. And yet, it’s the movie’s lack of pretension and even naiveté that make it so damn entertaining and disarmingly refreshing.
Obviously, the movie primarily functions as the origin story for Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) and the inevitable franchise to follow. Even so, screenwriter Allan Heinberg also mixes in enough “fish out of water” beats to punctuate the potentially lengthy exposition with lighter, more comedic moments that underscore Diana’s almost childlike sense of wonder and genuine confusion about the world beyond Themyscira’s shores – subtly reminding viewers that superhero movies are not only supposed to be epic, but fun.Continued below
It’s this organic sense of playfulness that not only keeps us on our toes, seeing the world through Diana’s eyes, but also helps us suspend our disbelief. So, when the newly arrived Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) asks about Diana’s father, her unintentionally candid answer is both funny and revealing. “I had no father,” she deadpans. “My mother sculpted me from clay and I was brought to life by Zeus.” In a lot of other contexts a line like that might fall flat, sounding wooden and contrived. Here, it succeeds beautifully, making the mighty Amazonian warrior more relatable, well rounded and human, despite her mythical parentage.
None of which is to suggest that Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince is anything close to a wide-eyed ingénue who’s simply along for the ride. She may be a stranger in a strange land, inadvertently funny and mystified by her surroundings, but she’s also smart, fierce and unyielding. She’s not a mere tagalong, following her man wherever he goes. She came to kick some ass and doesn’t need anyone’s permission to do so. In fact, she repeatedly demands to be taken to Ares, the god of war, and refuses to relent until she defeats him in battle and brings peace to the planet. Everything else is just a tangent, a distraction from her true mission and solemn vow. And that, right there, might be the true genius of the movie: the ultimate antagonist is not merely another villain, it’s the very concept of war itself. Diana comes to realize that inside every human there is both darkness and light and yet she refuses to quit in her quest for peace. Whether that’s naiveté or boundless optimism, Wonder Woman is here to stay. – John Schaidler
1 (tie). Thor: Ragnarok
Thor: Ragnarok might be the best movie Marvel has produced. It also is the first movie Marvel has produced that truly and deeply feels like a superhero comic book. It embraces its preposterousness, aims for being over-the-top then tries to go higher, and overall delights in being a hyperbolic spectacle. And despite its sense of humor and absurdity, its love of color and design, its willingness to let Chris Hemsworth finally let loose, Thor: Ragnarok actually had something on its mind.
A lot of the film’s success can be attributed to Taika Waititi, the New Zealand director making an American blockbuster debut. Waititi cut his teeth on Flight of the Conchords before branching into film, with the Academy-nominated “Two Cars, One Night,” the indie comedy-drama, Boy, and the wonderful Hunt for the Wilderpeople, which, incidentally, is the highest grossing film in New Zealand so far. Most impressively of all, Waititi was able to find a balance between making a movie Marvel was happy with but which still retained a lot of his voice and style.
He pushed the movie to feel more light-hearted and fluffy, calling on some of the energies of the Guardians of the Galaxy pictures while exorcising the more uncomfortable bits, like James Gunn. He threw up Kirby-esque designs wherever he could, finally putting these looping, winding, cross sections of details on the big screen. The cast feels looser under his direction, more comfortable in their roles. Hemsworth kills it, especially now that he isn’t relegated to being only stoic or commanding or Shakespearean or however else Thor has been presented in previous appearances. More than that, he also made a movie with consequences. A lot of characters end up dead by the end of it and the Asgardians find themselves completely without a home. The premise is built on the idea of colonialism, of what happens when a superpower starts falling apart, so loss permeates all through this thing.
Is the film without its flaws? No. It suffers from the typical Marvel’s typical structural problems. Hela looks cool and Cate Blanchett’s performance makes her the best villain in the MCU, but her motivations are still bland and stakeless. Some deep and humbling moments are undercut by a quick jokes because God forbid there be any weight to anything.
Thor: Ragnarok is one of the most fun and funny superhero movies produced. It’s exciting, it’s zippy, it’s filled with so much spectacle and flair and confidence. No matter how many times you see it, it’s difficult not to get pumped when Thor lands on the bifrost and starts plowing through an army of undead disposable CG characters to “Immigrant Song.” It’s a package movie, a complete experience. – Matt GarciaContinued below
Brian: I find it really interesting that last year, 2/3 of our picks were TV shows, and this year, our voters were no where near as enthusiastic about the comics TV output. Coming in fourth place was Riverdale, which is technically adapting Archie’s slate of comics, but is more of a CW show than a comics adaptation, really.
But this list represents something I think is really important in comics adaptations: for the most part, ‘superhero’ wasn’t the genre, even when they were the stars. Wonder Woman was the closest to a straight up heroic tale, but it was set in a period piece. Thor: Ragnarok was an 80s action film that happened to take place on Asgard. And Logan was a western, doing the classic ‘old cowboy doesn’t know when to quit’ story. It’s refreshing to see, even if I’m probably overselling the idea a bit.
Also, The Lego Batman Movie was robbed.
Matt: I think an interesting thing about these three movies is how they each show something different about the superhero genre. Logan‘s darker (I gather, I’ve never seen it) revisionist approach. Wonder Woman tackles how our heroes can inspire us. Thor: Ragnarok just wants the audience to have a great time while sneaking some witty commentary in there. I think we were all trying to figure out a way to get Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi into this, but alas.
Alice: I was, personally, extremely shrug emoji on all three of these picks. I appreciate the unique tone of Thor: Ragnarok, but I could never buy into Chris Hemsworth’s portrayal. I appreciate Wonder Woman‘s unique setting, but it felt just like every other DCEU film (tonally inappropriate, lacking in a genuine antagonist and ashamed of its own heroism) to me. And Logan was a perfect send-off to Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, its shame over the source material intact the whole time.
Still, compared to the like of Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (which came out six years ago, in April) and Justice League, these are the crown jewels in a (to me) underwhelming year.