Friday, January 6, 2017

Preview of 2017 genre films

The beginning of each year always marked a Cary's Comics Craze tradition when it ran as a twice-monthly column in the NORWALK REFLECTOR newspaper — a preview of the biggest films in the superhero, science fiction, fantasy and action genres.

Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox
And even though CCC has gone strictly online, I want to keep that tradition going. Honestly I can't remember the last time I did this, but given the amazing amount of potential blockbusters and fanboy/fangirl goodness coming out this year, I was inspired to preview the most notable.

Which movies will generate a lot of box office? What flicks will have some staying power? Which ones might struggle to make any money? And what bold predictions is Cary's Comics Craze making about the content of these films? (Even a sequel of one of these sequels!) Find out in CCC's preview of selected movies from the 2017 genre film slate.

"Logan" (March 3): This will be actor Hugh Jackman's final appearance as Wolverine. Yup, it's the end of a cinematic era since he's calling it quits 17 years after he first burst onto the scene (and silver screen) as Logan in the original "X-Men" film, the first of his definitive takes. 

Logan and Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) are the last remaining mutants in a vaguely apocalyptic future. Logan's healing powers aren't quite they used to be, which could be a challenge when he and Professor X must protect a young Laura Kinney — better known to X-Men fans as X-23, described as a Wolverine clone in "Logan" — from an evil organization.

Rated R, "Logan" will face the storytelling challenge of finally getting the spirit of a solo Wolverine movie correct. I'm one of the few fans who enjoys "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," but it and "The Wolverine" simply have failed to capture a lot of the magic of seeing Jackman's character interacting with other X-Men and mutants or even fully embrace the brawler that Wolverine is. Let's face it; as much as a loner Logan is, he's at his best when he's a foil to other characters in the ensemble "X-Men" films such as "Days of Future Past."

The good news for "Logan" is that James Mangold also directed "The Wolverine," so at the very least he's quite familiar with the character. The R-rating is no guarantee of getting it right; a strong script and acting are the keys.

In the end, I expect fans to see "Logan" for two reasons: 1) It's the first superhero flick to come out of the gate in 2017 and 2) they're curious to see how the cinematic Wolverine saga concludes. Fans like me also may wonder if Mangold would dare find a way to kill off (nearly) everyone's favorite mutant. I predict modest box-office success and a short run in theaters — much like its predecessors.

"Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" (May 5): This is the first of three Marvel Studios films being released in 2017. The teaser trailer hasn't shown me a whole lot and isn't terribly original, right down to "Hooked on a Feeling" again played over what's essentially isolated frames from the movie.

Expect Chris Pratt's Star Lord to be as snarky and smart-alecky as ever, baby Groot to be nothing less than adorable and Rocket Racoon (sorry, that's just Rocket) to be disagreeable once again. And quite possibly another killer soundtrack.

As far as the story goes, who knows? It will be difficult for director James Gunn to capture the same magic in the bottle. Call me a cynic, but I expect pretty much a retread of what he did in the first movie — yet a lot less fun. Since the second "Guardians" marks the beginning of the 2017 summer movie season, I predict fans to come out in droves. Just keep in mind that in this case, massive box-office returns don't equal quality, much less original, storytelling.

"Alien: Covenant" (May 19): From the previews I read, this prequel is a remake of the original "Alien" film released in 1979. (The first two installments are equally memorable, scary and suspenseful; both "Alien" and "Aliens" are sci-fi classics.) There's no doubt director Ridley Scott is trying to cash in (literally) on previous success — both of the brand and his success in the director's chair.

"Wonder Woman" (June 2): Wonder Woman holds the distinction of starring in two films this year. And this is the movie I'm most looking forward to.

Gal Gadot is stunning as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman as are the period costumes from the land of the Amazons and World War I. The battle sequences look just as killer, but as I wrote in my review of the second trailer, I have to hope director Patty Jenkins uses slow-mo tehcnology sparingly as it tends to get old fast. And while I think Chris Pine is a fine actor, Gadot's chemistry with his Steve Trevor will be a key to success since the Diana-Trevor relationship is a pillar of the Wonder Woman universe.

"Wonder Woman" is as important to the future success of subsequent solo superheroine films as it is to what DC Entertainment is attempting to do with its cinematic universe (aka the DC Extended Universe). "Man of Steel" gets better with each viewing and lays a great foundation for Superman's importance in the DCE Snyderverse. Sadly, Henry Cavill's noble Superman gets overshadowed by Ben Affleck's charismatic, intense and overly violent Batman/Bruce Wayne in his own psuedo-sequel. "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" does do a massive injustice to handling Supes and epitomizes the idea of almost-but-not-quite. "Suicide Squad" is solid, if brainless, fun.

So here's hoping that Team Wonder Woman finally hits it out of the park for DCE and Warner Bros. If so, this could be the first runaway blockbuster of the year, not to mention a critical darling. There's nothing like a woman showing the guys how to take care of business!

"Spider-Man: Homecoming" (July 7): Like many comic book fans, as soon as I saw how well Marvel and actor Tom Holland handled Spider-Man in "Captain America: Civil War," I looked forward to a new solo Spidey film even more. The "Homecoming" subtitle has a double meaning, as it refers to Webhead coming home to being part of the Marvel Studios film family and probably the annual high-school festivities that Peter Parker will have to endure.

"Homecoming" has a MARVEL TEAM-UP feel to it, as Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark plays a prominent role in the trailer. Downey's scenes with Holland's Parker are a highlight of the footage and their chemistry from "Civil War" will ring through the rest of this film too. Since this is a solo Spider-Man movie, Stark/Iron Man should be a secondary character. But wouldn't it be great to see the Armored Avenger help Spidey defeat the Vulture?

And doesn't Michael Keaton look spot-on awesome? If you've ever seen "Pacific Heights," the "Robocop" reboot and "Desperate Measures," you know Keaton plays an intense and sleazy villain. I expect no less from his interpretation of the Vulture.

I predict a good time watching "Spider-Man : Homecoming" and big box-office returns. (And yes, once I find some time, I still plan on doing a nearly second-by second breakdown of the trailer. So keep checking CCC!)

"Blade Runner 2049" (Oct. 6): I just can't imagine anybody but a true curiosity-seeker who has nothing else to do seeing this sequel, set 30 years after the original. The first "Blade Runner" masterfully blends film noir into science fiction. "2049" stars Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling, but despite their star power and ability to attract audiences, I predict a massive flop.

"Thor: Ragnarok" (Nov. 3): Could Marvel have chosen a worse subtitle? Could they at least give us an idea on how to pronounce that name? (I have a hard enough time remembering how to spell it!) I guess it takes a bigger nerd with a more comprehensive knowledge of Thor's recent publication history to know the significance, but my Spidey-sense tells me doom and gloom is on the way for the Norse god and Asgard.

Mark Ruffalo's Hulk and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) are interesting additions to the Thor cinematic mythos. What Loki will have up his sleeve is anybody's guess; the details on what this story entails is equally mysterious. If nothing else, I hope we will find out what has happened to Odin, who was replaced by his adopted son Loki at the end of "Thor: The Dark World."

Much like Jackman's Wolverine, Chris Hemsworth's likable Thor shines best in ensembles. The good news for the Norse God of Thunder is his two solo adventures have much been much more enjoyable and received much more critical acclaim. "Thor: Ragnarok" should perform well in the fall until …

"Justice League" collage courtesy of MovieWeb
"Justice League" (Nov. 17): This film is redemption time for director Zack Snyder.

As I mentioned earlier in this preview, Snyder dropped the ball in establishing Superman as the central, sympathizing character in the DC Extended Universe in "Batman v Superman." Even more importantly, "Justice League" is a chance to prove DCE and Snyder can have fun with their characters onscreen and effectively introduce likable heroes while still taking everything seriously. So in the opinion of this critic and lifelong comic book fan, Team Snyder has a lot to accomplish here.

The teaser footage/trailer released in July gives us all indication that "Justice League" has the potential to deliver some great cast chemistry and be at least as much fun as "Suicide Squad" — as I wrote in my review.

Batman and Wonder Woman are recruiting metahumans (Aquaman, Cyborg and the Flash) to face the threat of "an even greater enemy," according to the summary listed on IMDb. All indications are the big baddie is Steppenwolf, a New God created by the legendary Jack Kirby, and "Justice League" will feature the return of Cavill's Superman from the dead. The resurrected Man of Steel is the perfect time to return Supes to being the dynamic, charismatic and likable character with a passion for truth, justice and American way that we've known for countless decades — not the flat and mopey guy Cavill has been playing. I predict we'll finally be introduced to Green Lantern, but maybe not until much later in the story.

The New Gods always have left me flat and given that Supes' sacrificial death in "BvS" didn't have the emotional impact it should have, I'm taking a wait-and-see approach for the success of this film. A strong final act, great word-of-mouth and consistently strong reviews from critics are critical.

I'm crossing my fingers that Snyder can get out of his own way, not make "Justice League" too dark and deliver the fist-pumping, exciting and fun-filled ensemble film that DCE and its fans so richly deserve. If Snyder can't deliver the goods, this should be his last chance to play in the DCE sandbox. The Powers That Be should kick his sorry ass to the curb and look for directors committed to showing the proper respect for DC's characters and telling interesting movies.

"Star Wars Episode VIII" (temporary title) (Dec. 15): And here, of course, is your biggest moneymaker for 2017. Prepare to see the box-office records to be rewritten. Again!

The eighth installment of the "Star Wars" saga — not counting the tremendous standalone flick, "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" — has no title and no footage and/or photos have been released or leaked. But look for the franchise to once again go all "Empire Strikes Back" in tone and character developments in this sequel.

I hope to see Luke Skywalker training Rey as a Jedi Knight and come to terms with losing Ben Solo to the Dark Side of the Force and becoming Kylo Ren. Besides answering the burning question of "who is Rey?," fans want to know if she has a last name, more about Finn and what dastardly plans the New Order has in store for the galaxy. I expect "Episode XIII" to have a much more original storyline than "The Force Awakens," which in large part was an homage to and borrowed from the original "Star Wars" film.

My theory is the thrust of the "Force Awakens" trilogy is Kylo Ren's struggle with his pull to the Light Side and his allegiance to remaining a Dark Jedi (as opposed to Anakin and Luke Skywalker being tempted by the Dark Side in the prequel and classic trilogies). Since Kylo Ren/Ben Solo is Luke's nephew, this would cement George Lucas' original vision that the entire "Star Wars" saga is about the Skywalkers.

Sadly, this is the last film for the late Carrie Fisher as General Organa/Princess Leia. While it's unknown what exactly this means for Leia's future, I predict her death will be written into "Episode IX" in the opening crawl as a sacrificial death in a crucial, offscreen battle against the New Order. This would force Luke Skywalker, Rey and Chewbacca to deal with her passing as a plot point in the final chapter of this trilogy. Recasting Leia is out of the question.

Regardless of how Luscafilm handles Leia's fate, I'm confident it will be handled with class. Fisher's untimely death makes it all the more bittersweet to see her onscreen one last time with her good friend and cinematic brother, Mark Hamill in "Episode VIII."

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