Once upon a time all Hollywood made was westerns, but in 2016 it seemed that every other offering from the dream factory was a crash-bang-wallop comicbook film featuring buff men in wrestling costumes. Some were good, some were average… and then there was Suicide Squad.
Captain America: Civil War
With the Avengers split down the middle on the issue of government legislation of superheroes, the battlelines were drawn for an almighty dust-up, but directors Anthony and Joseph Russo never forgot to focus on the human qualities of the superhuman cast amid all the beautifully rendered set-pieces.
And while it was a joy to witness the first appearance of Giant Man and Black Panther, the film boasted another big screen debut within the Marvel Cinematic Universe that really got the fanboy juices flowing. He’s barely on screen for more than ten minutes, but young British actor Tom Holland very nearly stole the show from under Cap’s boots as the fledgling Spider-Man.
With a twirl of his levitating cloak and a hearty dash of 2001-inspired cosmic visuals, the newest big screen superhero to step off the page of the Marvel comics was funky as an infinity gem-powered lava lamp, the haughty, high-collared Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Stephen Strange.
Cumberbatch, always at his best when playing a charismatically dislikeable swine, was perfect as the seductively arrogant Stange, while Tilda Swinton, all polished dome and marble cheekbones, has never looked more beautifully alien than in the role of Strange’s ancient mystic mentor.
Not so much breaking the fourth wall as blowing a hole in it to hurl smutty popcorn at the audience, the best comicbook movie of the year to feature X-Men was funny, filthy and violent, yet once all the blood and muck was cleaned off what was left was a simple origin story, as Ryan Reynolds’ Merc with a Mouth beat the bad guy and got the girl, while (kind of, sort of, nearly) getting in touch with his inner hero.
Batman Vs Superman
… versus the critics, as DC’s first proper attempt to lay the seeds of a universe-building franchise got critically trounced due to a mess of ideas that never fully collated into narrative clarity, not to mention murky character motivation and just plain visual murk. Still, the extended cut of the film filled in a number of plotholes, and against all the odds Ben Affleck proved to be the best big screen Batman yet (sorry, Adam West), ably assisted by Jeremy Irons’ cracker-dry Alfred. And the lovely Gal Gadot cut quite a dash as Wonder Woman, replete with her own rockin’ 70s-vibed twangy guitar theme tune.
Imagine a Mercedes that’s been broken down to its nuts and bolts and then restructured to resemble a different car. Got that image? Now imagine someone else then takes the original Mercedes, and the restructured version, and mashes both together into a monstrous Frankencar abomination. Can you picture that, a bastardised mess of tonal incongruity and jarring lumpy angles? Well, that’s Suicide Squad, a studio-mangled comicbook film so bad it makes Batman Vs Superman look like Kramer Vs Kramer.
2016 also saw the release of a number of films that tapped into childhood nostalgia, with cinematic icons from the 70s and 80s returning to our screens.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
If Audrey Hepburn can hawk ice-creams from beyond the grave, maybe it isn’t so unsavory for Peter Cushing to return from the crypt to reprise one of his last, great screen roles? Arguably, the decision to use a Cushing CGI-zombie to bring Grand Moff Tarkin back to the screen was an unnecessary flourish, one that distracted from the otherwise earthy splendour of Gareth Edwards’ Star Wars spinoff/prequel, as did the inclusion of a few misappropriated snippets of material from 1977’s A New Hope. Fanboy grave-robbing aside, Rogue One was a dark and grimy war movie in dirty sci fi togs, recounting the tale of the ragbag group of Rebels who steal the Death Star plans, plans which are destined to one day find their way into the hands of a certain adventure-seeking farm boy from Tatooine.
Delivering his most soulful performance since the original Rocky all those years ago in 1976, Stallone’s geriatric return to his signature role brought a tear to the eye of even the hardiest boxing movie fan, as his out-to-pasture pugilist was tempted back into Mighty Mick’s Gym for one last time as mentor/father-figure to up-and-coming young fighter, Adonis Creed.
The steadicam fight scenes were brutally immersive, yet oddly more stagey than any of the previous outings, the clever-cleverness of the one-take styling drawing too much attention to itself and losing some of the punch.
No one asked for it and quite a few took to the internet to rant furiously against the gender-swapped roles, but when the dust had settled the new Ghostbusters was generally considered to be… not awful. Meh. Better than the recent remakes of Robocop, or Total Recall, or The Magnificent Seven, anyway. Which isn’t really saying much.
And for a his and hers double-bill of gratuitous violence and cuddly feelgood laughs...
The Hateful Eight
In this, his eighth film, second western, and longest work to date, Quentin Tarantino’s love of All-American violence saw him blot his copybook like a sniggering teen. After a beautiful first half spent carefully arranging all his gnarly chess pieces into place, he then proceeded to machine-gun the chessboard to a bloody pulp of missed opportunities and video-nasty gore, not to mention unsettlingly misogynistic cruelty, in the final act of a three-hour movie that somehow managed to be both rushed and overlong.
Still, a great cast gave some stellar performances chewing over that trademark grandiloquent dialogue - Walter Goggins’ white-cracker sheriff and Samuel L. Jackson’s ex-Union major are a terrific double act - and it's always fun going round to Quentin's bedroom to listen to his record collection.
Bridget Jones's Baby
One to be enjoyed with a glass of prosecco and a box of Thorntons. I won’t pretend I’ve seen it, because I’m not a woman. Not as good as Rogue One, that’s for sure, but for those who don’t much care for lightsabers and spaceships, Renée Zellwegger’s third outing in Bridget’s big pants was the best film of the year. Probably.