I recently wrote a piece talking about some of the standout shows from the first half of 2017. Most of which came from out of left field for me. For example, I didn’t expect to love The Handmaid’s Tale as much as I did. Much of TV in the first half of the year was a pleasant surprise. That being said, I'm sure you're wondering why I’m talking about TV in an article about movies. Well, I bring this up because I find that with film, my standouts for the first half of the year were much easier to predict. Most of what I expected to be good turned out to be pretty good, and ones I thought might be a bit rough were… a bit rough, to say the least.
So without any further ado, here are my top 3 movies from the first half of 2017 (and one flop).
The Lego Batman Movie
What a lovely way to kick off the year. Will Arnett's Batman returned to the screen with a bang, and just like The Lego Movie that came before, I loved this picture. It’s everything a lighthearted take on Batman should be: Smart and Funny - all with a heaping helping of DC comics Easter Eggs for all the comics nerds in the audience.
Some critics have said that this was their favourite take on Batman ever put on screen. I don’t think I can go that far, but I can certainly agree that The Lego Batman Movie, using satire, did a better job exploring Batman’s character than almost any other major motion picture (with maybe Mask of the Phantasm being the exception).
If you are at all a Batman fan and haven’t seen this movie, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
After Lego Batman, Logan takes us to the other end of the superhero spectrum. If you’re looking for jokes, you’ve come to the wrong place. Logan is rated R, and it earns every inch of that rating. Inspired by the Mark Millar graphic novel Old Man Logan, the film features bloody violence and strong language. This is a movie that knows what it is and revels in it. But the true brilliance of Logan is that it has a heart. Anyone can make a movie about a man with knives on their hands and show you blood, and while Logan certainly has that, at its core it’s much deeper
Hugh Jackman has been playing the role of Wolverine for what feels like forever and Logan is a beautifully shot and impeccably acted swan song for him and Sir Patrick Stewart’s Professor X. In some ways, this is a movie that couldn’t exist without the almost two decades of history we have with these actors. It enhances every moment between the two of them and adds a weightiness to the film that drives home it’s sombre tone.
Logan is a movie that may go down as one of the greatest of its genre, and rightfully so. It will likely, and deservedly, get a nod or two from The Academy at the end of the year and is easily the best movie I’ve seen so far in 2017. Watch it.
Moments before sitting down to write this piece I learned that Wonder Woman had taken over the top spot for the highest grossing film in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). It took this female-led superhero film just about a month to reach that mark. Beating out the lifetime grosses of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS), Suicide Squad and Man of Steel and it’s easy to see why. Wonder Woman is fun, funny and sincere (the guys as over at Just Write have a great video explaining this). It’s everything that the rest of those movies I just mentioned are not.
It’s the first step in what has been a widely publicized course change for the DCEU. Shifting away from the overly dark tones of BvS and into something much closer to what Disney has been crafting with it's a Marvel Cinematic Universe. Early on I was a fan of the grittier take on my favourite heroes. I liked Man of Steel, but after BvS it was clear they had lost touch with their characters. So although it saddens me to some degree to see the further homogenization of summer blockbusters, I have to agree with the box office on this one, it made for a better movie.
I guess I didn’t realize how badly I wanted a Wonder Woman film until it arrived. But from the first moment, we see a young Diana defying her mother on the beautifully realized island of Themyscira I was in. Gal Gadot as Diana/Wonder Woman, who I had originally had my reservations, does a great job anchoring this film along with the always charismatic Chris Pine as Captain Steve Trevor. Wonder Woman does a lot of things well, in particular, its action scenes are beautifully choreographed and inventive, especially when her famous Lasso of Truth is involved. The WWI setting also feels fresh and fits the narrative well (even if it leaves somewhat of a plot hole concerning WWII). As for criticisms; the final act and main antagonist leave a little to be desired. However, it’s not as though Wonder Woman is alone in that criticism when it comes to superhero films.
I would be remiss not to mention how important this movie has been for so many people. There hasn’t been a female-led superhero movie of quality for something like 30 years, which in and of itself is pretty crazy. It’s a movie that has earned every bit of praise it’s been given, and it’s no small thing to have Wonder Woman at the top of the DCEU box office.
Ghost in the Shell
Speaking of female-led blockbusters; Ghost in the Shell might be a great lesson on how NOT to do one. But before we get too far into it I should mention that I debated putting Transformers: The Last Knight in this spot but decided against it. Much like the franchise itself, the idea of taking apart the fifth Transformers movie is, by its very nature, tired.
The worst part about all of this is that I was genuinely excited about Ghost in the Shell. A cool looking sci-fi flick, starring Scarlett Johansson, based on a beloved 90’s anime? It seemed to have all the right ingredients. Unfortunately, this is a movie that ends up being lesser than the sum of its parts. The biggest crime this movie commits is that it’s boring. It’s also instantly forgettable, with the most memorable aspect being the whole whitewashing controversy which surrounded the whole production.
Someone much smarter than me online said about Ghost in the Shell that this a movie about finding your soul that entirely lacks any actual soul. Nowhere better is this exemplified than in the lead role. Scarlett Johansson plays a type of cyborg in the movie and she might have taken that idea a bit too far. As the main character she lacks heart and her acting, even at its best, is full of odd choices. As for things it does well; some of the action sequences are visually interesting, but that's something it mostly borrowed from its source material. Ultimately this a movie I can not recommend.
The first half of the year wasn't as jam packed with as many hits as I would have hoped. Luckily we can look forward to the rest of the year that features a few big names in Star War: The Last Jedi, Thor: Ragnarok and Spider-Man: Homecoming, just to name few. 2017 still has a lot of life left in it and I for one can't wait.