As superheroes continue to win massive profits at the box office and graphic novels strengthen their literary credentials, the amount of comic book adaptation increase in turn. This year’s crowded slate kicks off on Friday with The LEGO Batman Movie. While the majority of these projects remain dominated by capes and tights, there is some cursory interest in exploring other aspects of the medium. What follows is an overview of 2017’s offerings loosely ranked by level of interest.
NB: My Entire High School Sinks into the Sea has been left off this list as I have already seen it. The animated film is an excellent expansion of Dash Shaw’s distinct voice from page to screen, while at the same time finding fresh approaches to the well-trod genres of disaster flick and high angst. It is a pretty safe bet that a year from now it will appear on my best of list for 2017.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle (Matthew Vaughn), opens October 6th. Normally the prospect of watching a dapper Colin Firth glide through a movie would be enough to motivate me, at least, to watch it via Netflix. However, when what Firth is gliding through is some Mark Millar derived stylized ultra-violence, well, the appeal plummets sharply. If there is one thing I need less of, given the current political moment, it is more stylized ultra-violence. So, yeah, sitting this one out. Hope Mr. Firth enjoys the paycheck, though.
Justice League (Zack Snyder), November 17th. Alright Zack Snyder’s Dawn of Justice was mostly awful. However, it was the least awful of any Snyder film I have seen. In fact, each one has been slightly less awful than the previous. Does that mean Justice League will only be mildly awful? One can always hope. On the plus side, they cast Jane Austin heartthrob Ciaran Hines as the villain. Oh wait they’re motion capturing him? Did they just cast him for his height then? (And what is it with former Austin leads slumming their way through the bottom of this list?)
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (Luc Besson), July 21st. Curious about the legacy of Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres’ Valerian and Larueline comic series but not enough to read the actual books? Well, this summer Luc Besson will unveil his big budget film adaptation. The trailer suggests heavy overlap with The Fifth Element in the design department. As The Fifth Element remains the only Besson film I have ever motivated myself to see that could be a good thing. Valerian could be a cluttered mess, but at least it should be an eye-catching one. Also, it features appearances by both Rhianna and Herbie Hancock. Presumably as musical collaborators? That in and of itself could be a good indicator of the movie’s potential.
How to Talk to Girls at Parties (John Cameron Mitchell), in post-production. OK, confession: I have not seen any of Mitchell’s previous films, nor read the Neil Gaiman prose story the movie is adapting. That said, there is an awful lot of pedigree at work here which makes the project quite intriguing. The cast includes the likes of Nicole Kidman and Alex Sharp (Tony winner for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime). Currently there is no release date but assuming that post-production is not especially arduous, Mitchell could be positioning the movie for the fall film festival circuit. If Mitchell edits quickly enough, it could even be ready for Cannes in May. Either way, its surfacing sometime in 2017 is likely.
Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins), June 2nd. “I have no idea what expect from this, but I want it to be awesome.” The last time I said that it was to summarize my expectations for Guardians of the Galaxy and that project turned out pretty well. Hopefully Wonder Woman will as well. Wonder Woman is a rich character with a powerful legacy, which is as relevant today as it was 76 years ago. Even before the election, there was a lot of social context weighing on this film; now there is more than ever. In short, I do not envy the massive expectations weighing on director Patty Jenkins as she pulls together a final product. Unfortunately Gal Gadot failed to impress me with Diana’s Dawn of Justice debut. For her solo feature, Warner Brothers has surrounded Gadot with a talented supporting cast; Chris Pine and Lucy Davis as Steve Trevor and Etta Candy feel particularly spot-on. Yet while the trailers have their moments, they still feel more like another Zack Snyder film than anything else. (Snyder shares screenplay and producer’s credit for the movie). The hope remains that Jenkins has been able to fashion something distinctive which can snap the DCCU out of its current doldrums.
Spider-Man: Homecoming (Jon Watts), July 7th. In Captain America: Civil War, Tom Holland nailed Peter Parker/Spider-Man, expressing the anxiety behind Peter’s habitual quipping in a manner no other actor has. His moments in the film were some of the most memorable. So, it was a bit disappointing when the trailer for Homecoming felt so by the numbers. Also, it leans way too heavily on Tony Stark to the point of even having to tease Iron Man stepping into action alongside the web-slinger. Still, Michael Keaton’s Vulture looks promising as well does the fresh focus on Peter’s high school experience. Hopefully the final product will be more entertaining than derivative. It would be a shame to waste Holland’s natural talent.
Wilson (Craig Johnson), March 24th. Craig Johnson’s previous film, The Skeleton Twins, opened with a pair of twins attempting suicide on the same day. Anchored by strong performances by Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig, Johnson’s film was a low-key drama which successfully avoided many of the clichés of mental illness/family dysfunction. He is back this year with an adaptation of Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel Wilson for which Clowes wrote the screenplay. The movie stars Woody Harrelson and Laura Dern, while also featuring Judy Greer and “Beloved Character Actress” Margo Martindale. Initial critical reaction from Sundance was muted, but still there should be enough talent at work here to turn out something worthwhile.
Logan (James Mangold) March 3rd: James Mangold ambled onto the independent film scene with his 1995 debut Heavy. Heavy was a fine, though, rather unremarkable movie, an observation which can pretty much be applied to all his efforts since then, such as Girl, Interrupted or Walk the Line (except the Joaquin Phoenix musical performance scenes in the latter, which are pretty outstanding). Yet, here he is directing his second straight Wolverine solo film, which also promises to be Hugh Jackman’s last outing as the character. The idea of giving finality to a film franchise is always intriguing. The X-films might continue without Jackman but the possibility of truly giving Logan’s journey an ending could lend the film a poignancy this genre often lack. Fittingly the trailers have been small scale, character driven and rather grim. This aesthetic shift away from the over reliance on muddled CGI, which helped sink Apocalypse last year, bodes well too. Threequels are tough, but perhaps this is the one that clicks.
The LEGO Batman Movie (Chris McKay) February 10th: Yes, The LEGO Movie was awesome and one of the reasons was Will Arnett’s performance as Batman. So of course, while we wait for the inevitable LEGO sequel (currently in rewrites) there is the inevitable Batman spin-off film. Normally I would be skeptical of this sort of thing, but the previews have been charming and the acting talent involved is first rate. In addition to Will Arnett returning as Batman, there is Michael Cera, Ralph Fiennes (sounding as though he was born to play Alfred), Jenny Slate, Rosario Dawson, Zach Galifianakis and Billy Dee Williams (reprising Harvey Dent/finally getting his chance to do Two-Face). It is possibly the most stacked cast for any superhero film this year and I cannot wait to hear the results. I mean, yes, Mariah Carey is in it too, but, as the movies have taught us “nobody’s perfect.”
Thor: Ragnarok (Taika Waititi), November 3rd: The other candidate for most impressive cast would be Ragnarok. Besides Asgardian regulars, there is Mark Ruffalo, Tessa Thompson, Jeff Goldblum, Karl Urban, Benedict Cumberbatch and Cate Blanchett as Hela. In addition, there is director Taika Waititi. In the early years, Marvel Studios seemed to actively discourage directors from investing the films with their own personality, though after James Gunn’s success with Guardians of the Galaxy that appears to be shifting a little. The various movies are being allowed more room to breathe on their own terms. Not too much of course, but enough to allow hope that Waititi’s eccentric, odd-ball vision will be recognizable in the final product. They allowed him to hire Mark Mothersbaugh to write the score after all. Roll that around in your mind once more: a Thor movie is getting a score from a member of Devo who wrote the music for Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, a quirky harpsicord based score which is one of the best from any film of the past two decades. As with the above mentioned Wolverine films, threequels are tricky, but, also similar to Wolverine, this particular line of solo adventures has a mixed record. Perhaps the moment has arrived for Thor to leave his mark on the MCU, especially if my personal theory about a certain Mad Titan popping up proves correct. Either way it should be a lot of fun to watch. And just maybe, Waititi can finally give Jaimie Alexander’s Lady Sif something meaningful to do.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (James Gunn), May 5th. The first film was one of the brightest moments for the MCU to date which means expectations could not be higher for the sequel. James Gunn needs to prove that the shtick is not tired the second time. The first previews have been promising, delivering the mixture of off-kilter humor, appealing characters and cosmic imagination that made the initial outing such a success. The cast looks as game as ever, while unsurprising Kurt Russell’s Ego is being kept under wraps for the time being. Most importantly, the vibe seems intact, suggesting that lightning may indeed be able to strike twice. Assuming that all the jokes were not used up in the trailer. Seriously though, try not to laugh during that Rocket/Groot conversation. We shall soon live in a world where one of the highest grossing films of 2017 will probably feature Mantis and Ego the Living Planet. Anyone see that coming 5 years ago?
Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson), December 15th: Yes, yes, not strictly a comic book film, but did you not expect it to be on this list? Or, honestly, not occupying the top slot? The mere fact that it contains Carrie Fisher’s final performance as Leia Ogana in itself makes it highly anticipated, as well as poignant viewing. However, Last Jedi should offer fans more than wistful nostalgia. Episode VII was a thrilling success which reinvigorated the franchise, honoring its past while nudging it into the future. Now two years later, audiences will have the chance to see what happens next in the characters’ evolution. Writer/director Rian Johnson has indicated that there will be no time jump between episodes so that viewers will see exactly how that final cliffhanger resolves itself. Episode VII spent a lot of time laying the new trilogy’s narrative groundwork, as did A New Hope 40 years ago, which should allow Last Jedi, like Empire Strikes Back, to leap headlong into the action without abandoning the character beats. Johnson has hinted that he is heading off into less familiar Star Wars territory this time. What that means remains largely unknown. While Disney is taking their time releasing any footage, the question remains how much they really need to at this point. Adam Driver recently commented that Disney should pull a Beyoncé and just drop the film without advertising. While such drastic action is unlikely, it does raise the question of, beyond announcing a release date, how much info do fans need at this point? Yes, Episode VIII will never, nor is expected, to match the box office of Force Awakens, which was a once in a decade phenomenon. Yet, as the success of last year’s anthology film Rogue One has demonstrated, there is plenty of demand out there for further tales from a galaxy far, far away. I for one cannot wait to see where Rey, Luke, and all the others swirling around them go next.
In the meantime, though, I should finally watch Johnson’s Looper . . .