Blockbusters are all the rage these days. If you’re a particularly thirsty-for-clicks freelancer, you think there are only blockbusters and the industry has all but killed indies with a rocket launcher. While the truth of the matter may not be so crazy, blockbusters are the real big business for Hollywood studios today. They use the big bet style of gambling. Go for broke.
Now, many of these blockbusters aren’t particularly good. Especially today, with the current fad of shared universes, they tend to be derivative by committee lumps of nothing. But cinema tends to have a big loss-to-win ratio any way. And there were plenty of good in the blockbuster arena this year. Some of which were literal masterpieces. So let’s took a look at the 10 best. And thankfully, there were 10 good ones to talk about. No consolation prizes this year.
10. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Marvel got the uber-popular web head back from Sony after a three-film streak of just absolute nonsense that showcased how little Sony understood Spidey. So after striking that deal, they showed how easily Marvel could handle him in “Captain America: Civil War.” Now, in his first solo outing with the iron strong foundation that Marvel provided, Spidey is back in the majors. This movie was a nice breath of fresh air after the colossal failures of the Andrew Garfield era. For the most part. It has the unfortunate issue of being another Spider-Man movie that has pretty much the same comic influences in it, so there’s a narrative sense of deja vu. Not too much, but it’s there.
Then there’s the lack of any real solid action set pieces. Regardless of the quality of the Garfield movies, there was some solid Spidey centric action in them. Not to mention the next-level action filmmaking on display in Sam Raimi’s work. So they feel really perfunctory in the grand scheme of Spidey history, not to mention the MCU canon as well as comic book cinema in general. But despite some iffy elements, like most first entry comic book movies, it still is a lot of fun. And that’s thanks to the character work that director Jon Watts brings to the movie. He gets this world and these people, and they feel like people.
The cast is all great and energetic and alive. They bounce off each other really well. We feel like we’re watching a heightened John Hughes movie, minus the sociopathic asshole main characters. The aim to be a street level story without world-destroying stakes pays off like gangbusters in a way most of the Netflix shows don’t. Now that he’s back in the MCU, there’s no denying that this is the first entry in a series. No Sony bred failures. And as a first in a series, the pilot if you will, this is a damn solid entry that really builds a world we can’t wait to get back to.
9. Thor: Ragnarok
The MCU has had a serious Thor franchise problem thus far. Despite knocking it out of the park with their casting of the main “Thor” characters, the movies have not been all that good. They aren’t all bad, but they have been fractured and flawed in ways that the other MCU entries aren’t. So with the arrival of comedy auteur Taika Waititi as the director of the final Thor movie titled “Ragnarok,” expectations were high. The movie couldn’t be worse than “Dark World,” right?
Thankfully, it isn’t. Waititi goes for broke with the movie and makes a movie that is truly its own thing while fitting right into the MCU. The movie sets up a lot of big things for the MCU going forward and entertains the entire time. It might be the most purely funny entry in the MCU. Waititi brings his snarky humor to the proceedings to make it a fun ride. It allows Chris Hemsworth to really showcase his immense comedic chops. But all that work in the humor department really handicaps the dramatic stakes at hand.
The movie is constantly undercutting the serious elements it’s laying out, so nothing can ever really land with the weight it deserves. It’s a weird feeling to like a movie this much, but still feel like it leaves a good deal to be desired the way this does. Almost like it’s hollow. Despite some of its dramatic weaknesses, the movie is too fun to be ignored.
8. The Fate of the Furious
It’s still amazing to see where this series is. Growing up with the series before it was really a worthwhile series, it is mind bending to see it as this ideal blockbuster series. Highly stupid, but not brain dead. The filmmakers know exactly what they’re doing. It never pretends to be anything more than it is. There’s a sincere attempt to merge insane action with familial connections.
Now in its eighth entry and they still keep finding ways to keep it fresh. Bringing The Rock in in the fifth entry as an antagonist was a boon to the series and they turned him into a member of the fambly. They did it again with Jason Statham, an antagonist in part 7 and is now a family member in part 8. Turning Vin Diesel against the crew is a great shift for them and allows a different dynamic for the series.
It gives everyone their moments to shine in a different way than the typical ways. It helps to move the series forward and kind of grow out the family and give Diesel a bit more shadings. He gets to play more emotions than normal.
The redemptive nature of the series comes out strong here, pitting them against someone so far gone that it allows a bad guy like Statham to be revealed as a better man than we thought. Not to mention that they manage to kick up some crazy action. The series’ ability to top the prior one without tipping into absurdism is commendable. The series may not be at the peak they were in 5 and 6, but they’ve still got a lot of fire in them.
7. Wonder Woman
This was a blockbuster the world needed. In a field that was dominating the blockbuster game, comic book cinema was becoming inarguably a sausage fest. Women were frequently just window dressing in the movies where mopey men with daddy issues try to dominate any problem with their fists. Problems usually traced back to their mistakes. Women have felt like they were being ignored, despite accounting for 51 percent of the population and being a massive source of box office income.
So it comes with no amount of surprise that the massively struggling DCEU would be the one to not only come out with the first massive comic book blockbuster with a female lead, but that it would arguably be one of the best comic book movies ever. What may be the biggest element to its success is that it is not a movie that just transposes a female character into a role that could have been played by a man. This is a movie about women, about femininity and the power of hope.
Wonder Woman is a warrior, but she is not cruel. Not bloodthirsty. She understands the need for violence but is also more geared toward the optimism of humanity. She understands the need to take down the one to save the many. And in her quest from naivety to world weary, she never loses sight of her inner goodness. Throwing her from a land of only women to the mind numbing chaos of World War I is a great choice, as that war isn’t easy to understand. It perfectly encapsulates the messiness of the world. Her journey to true heroism is wonderful (I’m not sorry).
Gal Gadot kills it. She is Christopher Reeve perfect. Gadot nails the grace and the femininity and the warrior’s spirit with ease. The rest of the cast is solid, but Chris Pine is the true equal in his supporting role. He’s never condescending to Gadot. He understands pretty quickly that this is the new reality and that Gadot is his superior. But he also understands that she has a blindspot about the world that he doesn’t. So that little push-pull is interesting to see pay off and her absolute faith allows him to make the sacrifice that pushes her into her true self.
Nothing perfectly sums up the movie better than the No Man’s Land sequence. It’s a true action classic, all the images and sounds coalescing into the perfect action set piece. It’s geographically and choreographically perfect, all to a thematic point. In a world where men force things into a bloody stalemate, only a woman can come in to fix the day. Which is a pretty apt metaphor for the state of comic book cinema.
6. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
James Gunn pulled off a miracle with the first “Guardians” movie. The first cosmic entry in the MCU that focused on comic book characters that made even the most hardcore fans go “…who?” But it worked like gangbusters, a shot in the arm in the same way that “Iron Man” did. It honestly felt like the new generation’s “Star Wars,” filled to the brim with imagination and a snarky sense of humor masking a giant beating heart. Returning to the world he built wasn’t a real worry, as the confidence on display showed that Gunn was doing his own thing and not beholden to corporate overlords like the other MCU entries.
Trying to repeat a win is always a shaky proposition, but Gunn did it again and managed to make a movie that is much richer and funnier and and smarter and more thrilling that the original. Yet it doesn’t reveal itself as such on first viewing because the first movie is so ingrained on our minds that we expected something much different than what Gunn delivered. He didn’t deliver a rehash of past glories. He made a denser and more layered movie that may throw people.
It’s a big ol’ blockbuster that has a long stretch where it plays like a chamber drama, with the characters all spread out into different rooms where they have to interact with others that reveal the abuse and abandonment they have suffered. It becomes a smaller movie until it explodes into a literal world-shaking finale where Star Lord has to overcome his father, a literal god who abandoned him and ruined his life.
Star Lord is the ultimate personification of this theme. Gamora and Nebula have the shared torture of being fathered by Thanos. Mantis is an orphan with no idea of how to interact with life. Yondu was abused so hard he became a cold-blooded pirate that could never hide the heart underneath with regards to Quill. But Rocket becomes the emotional crux, as the movie ends with his realization that despite his horrific origins at the hands of apathetic doctors, and despite his harsh personality designed to push people away so he doesn’t have to feel hurt again, he is loved.
People will mourn his death and maybe, just maybe, the universe isn’t as empty and godless as he thought. It’s a perfect package and one of the best in the MCU. In terms of blockbusters this year, it’s insane that it isn’t number one.