4. Incredibles 2
Pixar is once one of our top-tier storytelling machines and “The Incredibles” was one of their best movies, a superhero flick released before those were a completely accepted form of mainstream storytelling. But then Pixar fell into the sequel game and tarnished their luster, yet somehow took 14 years to make a follow-up to “The Incredibles,” which is the only real movie they have made that is ripe for sequels. But regardless of the time between entries, Brad Bird returns to this world and delivers a hell of a flick that could be argued is as good as that original movie.
Set almost immediately after the first movie, we follow the Parr’s as they have to navigate a world that is still a bit wary of heroes. But when a big-time CEO decides to help make a push towards hero legalization, it puts the family back into crosshairs of a villain out to degrade the idea of heroes.
Flipping the narrative this time to have Elastigirl into the role of hero on the town and Mr, Incredible as the one dealing with the family at home, helps to keep things fresh and not a stale retread of the first movie’s narrative. Bob is still a glory whore but is more than willing to be a stay-at-home dad so Helen can reach the heights they need to fix the world. He never feels any ill will towards Helen. Bob just wants to be a hero again.
Bird takes the tech advancement of the intervening 14 years to make a stunning looking movie that contains some of the best superhero setpieces in the entire industry. And who can’t love little Jack Jack becoming a Russian nesting doll of constantly revealing powers that peaks in a fist fight with a punchy raccoon. This is a great movie for all ages, but one that definitely plays well for those of us who have aged in the years since the original, those where life has weighed heavily on us and have families and know the weight of that.
3. Black Panther
Ryan Coogler is seriously the truth. After coming in to make arguably the best Rocky movie with “Creed,” he comes in and brings a much-needed shot of diversity to the lily-white color scheme of the MCU with arguably its best movie. I’ll just get it out of the way and say I don’t think it’s their best movie because it still has that feel of being a first movie that has to introduce its world, that classic feeling of “hey this is amazing but also the next one will be so mind melting when we don’t have to craft a whole world that makes sense.”
But otherwise? This movie is amazing. It’s not just a movie that is diverse to be diverse. It’s not colorblind filmmaking. Coogler takes the very idea of Black Panther and Wakanda and delves into the real world implications of that idea. What is this promised land of black living when the rest of the world has treated black citizens with outright contempt? Are they responsible for this? Do they have a responsibility to make the world a better place, or just worry about their own within their borders?
A movie that feels like a revolutionary act just on the basis of its casting is made even more so by being such an openly political movie that spits in the eye of anyone against globalism. Its work with Killmonger is brilliant, an angry revolutionary that is right with his words but is wrong with his action. He alone makes the audience question their place in the world.
There’s the world building of Wakanda, and amazing piece of imagination on display. It feels real. The cast is amazing. The story is wonderful and brilliant and doesn’t play it safe. Everything works in tandem to craft a masterful piece of superhero cinema that really helps push the medium forward not just in its push for diversity, but for its mature storytelling that is just as politically insightful as any “grown-up” movie. Maybe even more so, since it’s almost nakedly saying something about our world.
2. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Spider-Man was never my guy. I didn’t dislike him and could read his stories without issue, but I never understood the massive popularity. It didn’t help that three movies in a row just stunk up the big screen and really tested my resolve in seeing any superhero movie. His comics hit a rut too. It was just a bad time for the ole webhead, with market saturation taking its toll on him. But once the MCU got Spider-Man back and cast Tom Holland, who stole the show in “Civil War,” things turned for the better for Spidey.
“Homecoming” was a breath of fresh air buoyed by the might of Holland’s turn. 2018 was a banner year for Spidey. His comics got good again! He was magnificent in “Infinity War,” delivering some of the best lines and also the most heartbreaking moment. He had a PS4 game come out that was an immense success, maybe the best pure story Peter Parker has ever had told.
So leave it to Sony to come in with an animated movie helped brought to life by Lord and Miller at the end of the year to make arguably the best thing Spider-Man ever. It’s definitely the best movie bearing his name. What was easily the smartest decision was by moving the focus away from Peter Parker, so saturated in pop culture, and bringing Miles Morales to the big screen for the first time.
And it’s like “Black Panther” where the change isn’t just a visual change; the focus of Miles informs the story. It informs who he is and the world he lives in. He isn’t just living the same life as Peter Parker but as a black kid. This is the well-informed and honest life of a black teen in Brooklyn. The narrative uses this to show how he is different yet also the same as the other Spider folk from other dimensions to get to the ultimate point that anyone can be a hero.
It’s a big and wild story that doesn’t dumb itself down for mainstream folk. They go big with the sci-fi. And it’s funny to boot. It isn’t too dissimilar from “The Lego Batman Movie,” a movie that can poke fun at the history of the character it’s portraying while also being filled to the brim with love for this world. And like “Lego Batman,” the visual aesthetic is wonderful. But unlike that movie, this is truly something we haven’t seen before.
This isn’t just a Pixar ripoff with puff boy character designs. The next level work they did with this visual aesthetic is insane, truly getting across what it’s like to read a comic. Just mind bending. It’s so unique that there have been complaints in movie theaters that the 3D filter is on. People aren’t used to seeing something so unique. This movie is truly something special.
1. Avengers: Infinity War
I truly didn’t think they were gonna be able to land this big bird successfully. Ten years building up to this, an unprecedented move in cinema history, was such a big proposition that who knew if they could come up with something that made it all worth it. Balancing all these characters we’ve come to love that they’ve created in these 10 years while telling a clear and concise story was gonna be a tough, especially since the Russos didn’t show much grace in balancing a lot of characters in “Civil War.” Then there was the big elephant in the room, which was Thanos.
Despite some teases throughout the years, he was never really a character. It was kinda to the point that he was coming off like more of an incompetent goon than a threat that could level the Avengers. Could they make him a well-rounded threat and a character in this overstuffed part one of the finale? I was wary, mainly because the Russos haven’t lit my fire in their Captain America movies. But to my absolute surprise, they did it.
And not only did they successfully make this work: they crafted a killer movie that works on every level. It’s a masterpiece and quite frankly a miraculous piece of writing/directing. Everyone fits into the story. The sizes of their roles are different than others, some larger than others, but everyone fits.
Thanos is not only turned into a well-rounded character, he became an instant villainous icon. He plays well as a companion to Killmonger earlier in the year as a character who is essentially right about the overpopulation and gluttonous way life is destroying the universe, but goes about it in such a wrongheaded way. That he isn’t just some mustache-twirling villain, but a real man with a heart.
A diseased heart, but one that feels real to anyone who has met an abusive father. That the movie starts running and keeps picking up steam as it goes and never gets boring and still finds time to put in some truly great emotional writing into this big blast of event-sized mayhem is something to behold. This movie doesn’t just work. It’s a monument to everything Marvel has done in 10 years and a promise that if they can make this payoff work, they can do anything. Just an insane achievement.