Thursday, January 3, 2013

Top Anticipated Films, 2013 Edition

The geek has inherited the earth.

This is going to be yet another bumper year for blockbuster comic book / science fiction films.

In 2012, I thought we were going to have an incredibly bumper year for tent pole pictures. As it turns out, my excitement was relatively short lived. Only two films truly delivered last year in my opinion. First was the under rated Chronicle (found footage drama of teens accidentally attaining super powers and learning to deal with it responsibly) and Marvel's The Avengers. The latter was a comic book blockbuster that went on to become the third highest grossing film of all time. It signals a trend in blockbusters over the last decade that continues for 2013.


2012's Hits and Misses

2012's best films, from Left to Right: Avengers, Chronicle and Looper

I think it's fair to say that Marvel's The Avengers was the top ticket last year. It racked up an easy 1.5 billion at the box office without even breaking a sweat. It is easily one of my all time favourite films that perfectly captures the fan boy excitement from the original comic book franchise while delivering the goods for newcomers. Avengers was a solid hit, earning a permanent place in my Blu-Ray movie collection as an instant classic. Joss Whedon delivered.

Looper had the potential to be a sleeper hit if not for its hokey ending. It could have been a better picture had the writer bothered to notice the predictably inaccurate assumptions it makes about time travel. Theoretical physics faux pas aside, Looper was in my opinion at best decent and probably got me more excited for it than it truly deserved. It was a decent effort.

A bigger disappointment for me was Chris Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises. While some fan boys lapped it up, even I, a hard core Chris Nolan fan, found it difficult to enjoy for what it's worth. It certainly pales in comparison to The Dark Knight (2008) which in my opinion, is one of the greatest comic book movies ever made. The Dark Knight Rises fell short of the Chris Nolan standard for compelling story telling. The Aurora shootings at its premiere didn't help it either.

Perhaps my biggest disappointment of last year was Ridley Scott's Prometheus. This film is a perfect example of how to make a compelling, beautiful picture that asks big questions of its audience, but does so in such a deliberately infuriating and obfuscated manner that the film loses major points for leaving its audience in a state of bewildered dissatisfaction. Movies with this level of ambition sometimes forget that the entertainment factor is also critical to its success. It was more frustrating than entertaining, giving the impression it was badly written.

These films should have been hits, but missed: Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises and Cloud Atlas

Another decent film from 2012 was the Wachowskis' interpretation of Cloud Atlas. I'm a big fan of fractured story telling (a la Quentin Tarrantino's "Pulp Fiction"), so long as the stories come together in the end and assemble themselves cohesively in the mind of the audience. While the original work which inspired the film is even less cohesive, I was hoping the Wachowskis would have filled in the blanks to make for a more cohesive and ergo, more compelling film. Instead we got a very beautifully shot picture with disjointed stories connected thematically. I suppose this does work on some level. However, it only makes for a less than satisfying epic.

However, the least watched, most deserving epic of 2012 was "Chronicle". As to how it went unnoticed is beyond me. Maybe it was because it came out in the spring (as opposed to the summer) or maybe it was because it employed the now over used found footage technique (a la "Blair Witch Project", "Paranormal Activity" and "Cloverfield"). Either way, Chronicle's story about the arrogance of youth warped through the use of accidentally acquired super powers is nothing short of brilliant. It could've easily been Peter Parker's had he not lost his uncle. Chronicle is a great example of how to tell an exciting story about the fragile human condition.

I'm deliberately sidestepping all the other films that are considered "Oscar Bait" (like "Moonrise Kingdom", "Lincoln" and "Life of Pi" to name a few), because I've never been a fan of movies made for the sake of art over entertainment. While there are some that straddle this line (like "Argo" and "Bernie"), they often lack the replay value of a comparable summer tent pole event.

I'm not even going to touch Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit". That is just a money making farce. There's absolutely no reason why the shortest book in the Lord of the Rings series needs to be stretched out for two or three films. Peter Jackson seems to have a wild obsession with making overlong, sprawling epics that would work just as great if they were shorter. I suppose he is trying to shore up his coffers after that NewLine Cinema fiasco—not falling for it.

A Changing Dynamic

With that said, just like last year, I have big hopes for this year's epics. Hopefully they will not be as disappointing as much of last year's were. It is notable that for the last decade, comic book science fiction fantasy films have really taken off at the movies. They are now certifiable billion dollar epics and studios are ploughing serious resources into this money making machine. It is truly understandable why. Yesterday's kids who grew up on Star Wars are now today's adults who have access to better technological tools — but that is not the only thing.

Decades ago, geeks were social outcasts in high school. While everybody loved Star Wars, geeks worshipped the genre that Star Wars created. Science Fiction was always a big genre, but Star Wars proved that science fiction fantasy was even more compelling. This laid the ground work for the mass of blockbusters we're seeing with greater regularity today. Along with yesterday's kids, yesterday's geeks are today's movie directors. Make no mistake: The geek has inherited the earth. 2013's blockbusters are proof of this changing social dynamic.

Of these, the following are my top five picks:

1. Man of Steel 

It's directed by Zach Snyder who has successfully adapted two other comic book epics ("300" and "Watchmen"). Snyder helms up this reboot of what is arguably the greatest (if not oldest) comic book character ever created: Superman. The trailer suggests that this will be a sprawling mega epic that plays out more like a character driven plot (in the same vein as Chris Nolan's The Dark Knight). If done right, this could easily be 2013's Avengers — that is a BIG if.

Why it could flop

It's directed by Zach Snyder who has also unsuccessfully written and directed "Suckerpunch". Remember that piece of crap? Yeah. Snyder has earned a reputation for going for "cool" over "substance". Luckily, Chris Nolan is on board as a producer and has assured us that he has guided Snyder away from the atrocity that otherwise decent director Bryan Singer attempted with "Superman Returns" (2006). Then again, The Dark Knight Rises was more about breaking Batman than Batman being... well... Batman. I'm keeping my fingers very crossed on this one.

2. Star Trek: Into Darkness

This sequel to the wildly successful 2009 science fiction reboot is again directed by J.J. Abrams. I have every bit of faith that this will be a strong second place contender if Man of Steel actually takes off, and if not, will utterly blow it out of the water. Abrams is well known as a character director. He's brilliant at bringing out the human qualities of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances and is very sensible in how he approaches stories of this genre.

Even better is the fact that the entire cast from the original, including Zachary Quinto, Chris Pines, Zoe Saldana and many others return along with master British thespian, Benedict Cumberbatch (of Sherlock fame) who plays this outing's villain. As if that wasn't good enough, master sci-fi scripters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman are on writing duties. With that many chops in production, to say this will be epic is an understatement of utterly Biblical proportions.

Why it could flop

Imagining this flopping is like imagining the existence of something equally as ridiculous as gay Republicans or a black white supremacist or a male feminist. I'm not saying that these things can't exist, I'm just saying that they are highly improbable. To be fair though, J.J. Abrams did direct the lukewarm monster movie "Super 8" which had a most anticlimactic ending. Suffice to say, the only way Abrams could actually ruin this, is if the ending sucked. That is very possible.

3. Iron Man 3

Fresh in the wake of the immense success of The Avengers, this immediate follow up (like a cross book arc in the original comics on which it is based) is directed by Shane Black (Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang). It promises to take a much darker direction in the iconic Avenger's story based on his strongest comic book villain. Based on the history of the director alone (Black also wrote the scripts behind the Lethal Weapon series), Iron Man 3 may prove to be the much needed redemption that the franchise deserves after an only moderately successful sequel in 2010.

Why it could flop

This film will not flop at the box office. Its predecessors and Avengers have already seen to that. However, it could flop critically. It is obvious from the trailer that Iron Man 3 is taking a very similar route to Nolan's "The Dark Knight Rises". If 80% of the film is about Tony Stark recovering from the events of the trailer or if we don't get the tongue in cheek arrogance that Shane Black is well known for creating in characters played by Robert Downey Jr. (see Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and previous Iron Man films), then this will easily sour with most audiences. Also, what is the Iron Patriot doing in this story arc? He's not in this arc—so I'm a little worried.

4. Elysium

Matt Damon stars as a man trying to bring equality back to earth.
In the year 2159, the world's elite live on a space station called Elysium, while the rest of humanity is left to rot on the decaying planet. Matt Damon plays a man who takes it upon himself to bring back equality to the grand scheme of things. Why am I excited to see this epic? Because of who is directing: Neill Blomkamp. If that name doesn't sound familiar, then allow me to refresh your memory: Do you remember a sleeper hit in 2009 entitled "District 9"? 

Yeah. Enough said.

Why it could flop

This one is hard to predict since no trailer yet exists and very little information has been released to the public. The film is still in post production. Suffice to say that every great director has a miss every once in a while. However, this is only Blomkamp's second picture and I doubt that the intrepid South African director will make a mess of it given District 9's success.

With that said, District 9 did ditch the story telling for a wild shoot out in the last 20 minutes. Hopefully, Blomkamp won't compromise the story telling for slick action sequences here. If that happens, then the film will pale in comparison to the likes of Star Trek: Into Darkness and be lost in its shadow in the same way District 9 was similarly lost in its prequel's shadow in 2009.

5. Now you see me

I am filled with all kinds of insane excitement for this film. I see a GREAT deal of potential for this to be the knockout hit of 2013 if it is done with the same level of skill of Christopher Nolan's "The Prestige". This Louis Leterrier directed heist picture has a very tantalizing plot that has never before been utilized: What if magicians decided to rob a bank at a live show? Just the plot alone is enough for this to be a smash hit. There are many ways this could rock.

If that weren't enough, this picture features a stunning array of cast members, including Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine (The Dark Knight), Mark Ruffalo (Avengers) and the indomitable Woody Harrelson. Just the cast alone is probably worth the price of admission. It's a pity it isn't being directed by Chris Nolan. So if you asked:

Why it could flop

It is not being directed by Chris Nolan. This is a hugely worrisome factor since Nolan has demonstrated his finesse with similar source material ("Inception", 2010 and "The Prestige", 2006). Furthermore, the highest rated film in Leterrier's portfolio thus far, is "The Incredible Hulk" (2008). While that was a decent take on the Marvel Jekyl/Hyde green monster, it also shares company in Leterrier's career with atrocities like "Transporter" and "Clash of the Titans".

Make no mistake, Leterrier appears to be very visually competent with filming spectacular action sequences. It's just that he's shown a history of favouring action over plot. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is what the movie turns out to be: another clothesline for stellar action sequences wasted on a perfectly brilliant plot. Hopefully, the fact that those cast members signed on at all suggests that the plot is actually well handled. Otherwise, this could turn out to be a low point in all of their careers. Also, there's one more thing this film needs:

An "Oh sh!t" ending (see Inception, 2010 and The Prestige, 2006).

A plot this big needs an ending that is an ultimate mindf*ck. It needs to end in such a way that audiences are forced to completely re-evaluate the film they just saw. It should be such a tantalizing climax that you are forced to watch the movie again and again just to see what you might have missed. I love those kinds of movies. They are far too rare. If "Now you see me" doesn't have an ending like this, then this may turn out to be one of the biggest flops of 2013.


I would do well to recall that I was just as excited at the beginning of last year for its offerings, where only one turned out to meet my ridiculously high expectations ("The Avengers") while the rest languished in the lukewarm deluge of obscurity ("The Amazing Spider-Man", "The Dark Knight Rises", "Prometheus", "Cloud Atlas"). So by all indications, I really should calm down. Only one of these is sure to be a hit (Star Trek) while the others are tentative at best. So keep your fingers crossed. When they open, I will see you at the movies.

E-mail: accordingtoxen[at]gmail[dot]com

1 comment:

  1. Holy crap, I've never heard about Now You See me till I read this, and having watched the trailer I am properly excited... However I do think you're giving the actors more credit than is truly due. While I agree that Caine, Freeman and Harrelson (and to a lesser extent Ruffalo) have shown their acting chops, the main members of the cast have had their ups and downs. I say the main members becuz it doesn't seem like Caine and Freeman have any major role to play other than really smart black guy and rich white billionaire who was robbed (similar to Andy Garcia in the Ocean's movies, who barely saw 10 mins of total screen time)... Also hearing its the same director as clash of the titans further depresses me. But I'm willing to give it a chance though, I like the concept and have always been a sucker for interesting concepts.