Every January it’s the same. “Here are the top movies of last year”. “All we get is sequels and remakes”. “Top Oscar contenders”. And worst of all: “This year’s most anticipated movies”. But since hindsight is 20/20, I decided to take a look at the past year’s most anticipated movies. Did they deliver? Were they large-scale flops? Here’s a look back at some of 2015’s most anticipated films.
Ant-man: As always, Marvel Cinematic Universe movies are highly anticipated. Ant-man showed a lot of promise in its developmental phase. Cult director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs The World, and The World’s End) was going to bring his expert perfectionist comedy-action style to the less serious Marvel superhero. It seemed like a match made in heaven. Wright left the project due to “creative differences” just before principle photography, to be replaced by Yes Man & Bring it On’s Peyton Reed. Still, the film turned out fine. I guess we’ll never know what Wright’s Ant-Man would’ve been, but Reed’s was a succesful, funny Marvel flick. A sequel, Ant-Man and The Wasp, (to be directed by Peyton Reed) will be released in 2018.
The Avengers: Age of Ultron: While the first ensemble Avengers movie in 2012, Joss Whedon succeeded in creating an exciting, funny, multi-superhero movie. It wasn’t as great as most of the individual, pre-Avengers flicks, but this “sequel” seemed to have solved most of those problems. Age of Ultron played in a familiar sandbox, but visited new terrain and changed the titular superhero team from a simple, set lineup into an ever-evolving ensemble while planting the seeds for more sequels and spinoffs. Age of Ultron cleaned up at the box office, got mostly positive critical response, and an 85% audience rating on Rottentomatoes.com.
Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times accurately called it “the ideal vehicle for our age of immediate sensation and instant gratification,” and that it “disappears without a trace almost as soon as it’s consumed.” However this is an accurate description, I don’t really see it as criticism, since you pretty much get what you signed up for in a comic book based, superhero spectacle.
Birdman: Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance had cinephiles’ interest piqued from the first trailer release, and that interest paid off… with interest. Birdman is an exquisitely crafted work of art from director Alejandro González Iñárritu, with a single long-take style that puts in on a different plane technically and narratively. The film combines objective and subjective imagery, and ends on a somewhat ambiguous note which will keep the story spinning in your thoughts for weeks after seeing it. His next film, The Revenant, is coming to South African cinemas on 22 Jan 2016.
Chappie: After Neill Blomkamp “burst onto the scene” and was billed as Peter Jackson’s protégé with 2009’s District 9, he set a high bar for himself. He established a cinéma vérité style which had rarely been used in CGI-heavy films before, and produced a powerful debut feature. Elysium disappointed many, with exaggerated fantasy ideas and unpolished script elements. Chappie succeeded in redeeming Blomkamp, with great sci-fi action, different, cultural comedy, and a thrilling pace throughout. It was a flawed movie in many ways (primarily the acting of the rap-gangster main characters), but ultimately delivered what the trailers and popcorn-salesmen promised – albeit in the form of a feature-length Die Antwoord-music video.
The Fantastic Four: I don’t know how Hollywood keeps screwing up The Fantastic Four. This reboot tries to be super gritty and realistic in the first half hour, ends up being completely cartoony in the final half hour, and somehow fails to bridge the gap in between. Rottentomatoes.com reports a rating average of 3.4/10, and Pamela McClintock of The Hollywood Reporter called it “the second biggest box office bomb of 2015” with an estimated loss of at least $80 million. The film had one of the lowest openings of all time for a big-budget superhero movie, which must come down to poor reviews, early reception based on the marketing campaign, or perhaps the bitter taste remaining in viewers’ mouths from 2007’s Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.
Jurassic World: Surprisingly for a pseudo-remake, almost-reboot sequel of a blockbuster movie trilogy with an unpopular third film, Jurassic World turned out pretty good. They managed to make a compelling (though somewhat familiar) disaster movie, reset a franchise to allow for more sequels (the next one is coming in 2018), and even comment on the nature of reboots. Chris Pratt made a great action hero, and even the kids weren’t completely annoying.
Mad Max – Fury Road: Without a doubt, Fury Road is one of the most important films of the year. It’s a blast of gritty over-the-top action, which mostly opted for in-camera stunts over computer generated effects. It’s a simple yet effective barebones plot with some important cultural choices that created conversations outside of the movie. While we’ve been to this specific post-apocalypse before, this time the world consists of even more layers of rich and intricate dirty dieselpunk detail than usual.
The Martian: The Martian was geared for success from the get-go. It’s based on a popular novel by Andy Weir, had sci-fi legend Ridley Scott helmed to direct, and superstar Matt Damon cast in the lead. And for once, all those bets paid off. The Martian was a financial and critical success. Scott made a beautiful film which stayed surprisingly thrilling and intense considering that the story takes place over a span of many months. Rottentomatoes.com reports that 93% of reviews were positive, with an average rating of 7.9/10.
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation: Even though Tom Cruise’s much-publicised hanging-onto-an-aircraft stunt wasn’t as big of a deal as the marketing department made it out to be, Rogue Nation still impressed fans of the series and fans of the genre alike. It was a cool sequel to the spectacular Ghost Protocol, but also went back to the series’ roots by focusing more on the spy thriller aspect of the series than on the action blockbuster side – while still delivering spectacular nailbiting setpieces.
Spectre: Spectre was never going to match Skyfall’s 93% “certified fresh” rating on Rottentomatoes.com. It ticked most of the classic Bond boxes, delivered a compelling and exciting action thriller. There might be a few too many throwbacks of old Bond films, and the ejector seats, casual parachute jumps and “super blood” drag the film (and franchise, possibly) from spectacular to slightly silly.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens: This record-breaker of a film (fastest film ever to reach $1 billion gross, biggest opening weekend gross, and many more) took Star Wars back to its roots. By revisiting the classic characters from the original 1977-1983 trilogy, and aesthetically matching those films rather than the CG showcase that was the 1999-2005 prequel trilogy, JJ Abrams and Lucasfilm (now in the hands of Disney) won fans over. They introduced amazing new stars in John Boyega and Daisy Ridley, and promised some amazing Star Wars movies to come in the next five years.
Terminator Genisys: The Terminator franchise has been a rollercoaster. At first, a really successful, thrilling one. But after 1992’s T2: Judgement Day, we got a boring retread, and then a pseudo spin-off in Terminator Salvation. Terminator Genisys takes us back to the events of the first film, setting up an alternate timeline in the same vein as 2009’s Star Trek reboot. It still doesn’t compare to the first two classics, and the odd marketing campaign gave away a big plot twist, but it’s a fine sci-fi action flick. It might be relatively average, but at least it’s not as average as Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Financially, the film definitely didn’t do as well as expected, and might not have been profitable, but it’s very likely that more sequels are still on its way.
Tomorrowland: While everyone’s waiting for Pixar’s Incredibles 2 (coming in 2019), all the fans of director Brad Bird, was ready to be blown away by Tomorrowland. After proving himself as a very capable live action director with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Bird was set to stun audiences everywhere and rake in the box office money for Disney. Unfortunately, Tomorrowland turned out to be a bomb, losing up to $140 million. Critics also weren’t crazy about the film, awarding it an average score of 5.9/10 (according to rottentomatoes.com). It’s interesting to note that A.O. Scott of The New York Times said that it is “important to note that Tomorrowland is not disappointing in the usual way. It’s not another glib, phoned-in piece of franchise mediocrity but rather a work of evident passion and conviction. What it isn’t is in any way convincing or enchanting.”
The Visit: M. Night Shyamalan’s return to horror had many fans of his classics excited, but this found footage flick failed to blow anyone away like The Sixth Sense did. Still, the mixture of scares, a creepy atmosphere and occasional laughs impressed many fans and critcs, and did decent business at the box office, making back nearly 20 times its reported $5 million budget.
Whiplash: Whiplash investigates the difference between a sociopathic bully and a successful mentor – specifically in the world of Jazz musicians. Miles Teller and JK Simmons’ performances were raved about (JK Simmons won the Best Supporting Actor award at the 87th Academy Awards) and the film was received well by most. It’s an intense and somewhat disturbing look at motivation, mentors, and what it takes to push yourself to truly be great. A great success for director Damien Chazelle and all involved.
Watch this space for regular updates in the Movies category on Running Wolf’s Rant.