Time after time, I’ve said that Marvel Studios is the new Pixar. It’s not for nothing that right around the time Pixar’s winning streak began faltering, the Marvel Cinematic Universe came into existence. For 16 movies now, Marvel has consistently delivered great movies. How great? Eight of those sixteen got 4-star ratings from yours truly, with another four getting 4½ stars.
Just four movies have been less than great. Captain America: The First Avenger is the Moonraker of the MCU and thus best not mentioned further. And Iron Man 3 was a little too scattershot to really deliver on every front. That just leaves Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming — the two most recent Marvel movies and the first case of back-to-back 3½-star entries in the MCU.
It all comes down to Thor: Ragnarok. Was this recent slip in quality just a blip, a sloppy Ratatouille before the invigorating WALL-E? Or would Marvel go full Pixar, with each continuing entry now feeling like the desperate exhumation of better days?
There’s something about ’90s comedies that, when watched now, seems kind of… quaint. All the demographic-courting PG-13 fare like Wayne’s World, Dumb & Dumber, and Tommy Boy — even more boundary-pushing, R-rated comedies like Clerks. or There’s Something About Mary — still lacks a little of the subversion, intellect, or bravado of the comedies of the new millennium.
I don’t tend to get excited for movies. (You see enough Transformers or Madea vehicles and it’s easier to just let yourself be pleasantly surprised by the gems.) And, sacrilegious as it is to say, I’ve always felt Blade Runner was an overrated movie. Incredibly innovative and paradigm-shifting to sci-fi, don’t get me wrong; but not a perfect film from a narrative point of view.
Yet Blade Runner 2049 has been my most anticipated movie in the back half of 2017. Part of it was the brilliance of the first trailer, part of it was seeing the world Philip K. Dick and Ridley Scott envisioned with modern CGI, but the crux of it was director Denis Villeneuve.
Villeneuve has made three movies. He debuted in 2013 with the fantastic Prisoners, followed it up with the even more intense Sicario, and topped it all off with last year’s Best Picture-nominated Arrival. All three masterpieces, and each better than the one prior. It set the expectations for his fourth, Blade Runner 2049, so high for me the movie couldn’t meet them. But it comes close.
Reserving judgments on how 2017 will ultimately look once the crop of awards movies and late-year blockbusters are out is easier for me this year, as I haven’t seen or reviewed quite as much as in previous years.
Before we tackle the sequel, let’s look back to the original. Was Kingsman: The Secret Service really that good? Sometimes movies that are absurdly over-the-top are beloved simply for how much they commit to the meta winking, overtly or not. I submit to you that the first Kingsman, as fun as it was, wasn’t very good at all. It was an interesting idea taken to an incredible extreme and powered by testosterone-pumping explosions and CGI camerawork. It was Transformers in a tailored suit.
It seems at least once a year, a new movie reminds me of a line from Michael Keaton’s Multiplicity: “You know how when you make a copy of a copy, it’s not quite as sharp as, well, the original?”
When the Boris Karloff-starring The Mummy was remade in 1999, it succeeded by being a riff not just on the 1932 Mummy but also on Indiana Jones and his ilk, which gave it just enough of a distinct flavour, even if none of the ingredients were anything new.
The new Mummy, starring Tom Cruise, is built on the 1932 original, plus Raiders of the Lost Ark, plus the 1999 version, plus Generic Tom Cruise Action Movies. It’s just all too much, preventing the new version from truly coming to life.
Comic book origin movies almost invariably get outdone by their first sequels, because the first movie has to spend most of its time as setup while the second gets to hit the ground running.
What’s more, the extensive exposition and mythology when it comes to superheroes make it difficult for even the best superhero origin stories to be truly great movies.
Of course, none of them have been Wonder Woman.