The comic-book genre propelled back into full swing in 2021 after a brief lull in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. 2022 continued that trend, bringing us six new films. Here, I rank these films in order of my personal preference.
Marvel closed off its Phase Four with three MCU entries. This included the long-awaited Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Thor: Love and Thunder and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the latter film having to reinvent its titular superhero after the sad and sudden death of its star Chadwick Boseman.
In the Sony slate, Morbius released, following last year’s Venom: Let There Be Carnage.
It looked like it would be a bumper year for DC with The Batman, Batgirl, Shazam: Fury of the Gods and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom due for release. The Batman released without issue but the latter two films have been moved to next year, with Black Adam brought forward. Then, Batgirl shockingly faced the unexpected and unfortunate of its production closing, after DC were reportedly not happy with the quality of the film and wanted to save future costs. As you’d expect, this attracted a significant amount of controversy.
There’s a varying degree of quality in this list but for the most part, it was a strong year for the genre, although not up to the standard of 2021. Let’s get started!
The only out-and-out failure of the year, Sony still hasn’t figured out what it’s doing with its Spider-Man supervillain cinematic universe. On paper, the film really works as this is the kind of role Jared Leto excels in and director Daniel Espinosa has proved his hand at horror with the sci-film film, Life. Alas, this was not meant to be and the result is a film with a 1990’s aesthetic and script, that packs no surprises up its sleeve and has surprisingly poor visual effects.
The script is dull and lifeless and Leto is unable to inject his personality to lighten things up. Of the rest of the cast, Matt Smith is poor as the villain and the always reliable Jared Harris is given nothing to work with. There is a bewildering cameo from Michael Keaton as Vulture from Spider-Man: Homecoming, in a vein attempt to bridge the Sony and Marvel Cinematic Universe’s together.
It may be damning with faint praise, but Morbius is an upgrade over Venom: Let There Be Carnage, which had no redeeming features to it. Still, Sony need to do better and I hope Kraven The Hunter will be the film to break the poor streak. With the excellent J. C. Chandor in the director’s chair, behind A Most Violent Year and Triple Frontier, I’m hopeful.
There is now a significant increase in quality…
5) Black Adam
Hotly anticipated after many years of development, Dwayne Johnson’s anti-hero finally hit the big screen this year. Black Adam is a mixed bag and is generally pretty mindless and disposable, albeit reasonably entertaining. Despite a two hour run time, the film never takes the time to breathe and focus on developing its character, instead choosing to prioritise action sequence after action sequence. By the end of the a climactic battle towards the end of the film’s second act, it’s pretty derivative superhero fare but the third act somewhat reframes the first two acts in a more interesting light.
Jungle Cruise‘s Jaume Collet-Serra’s direction is rather anonymous but the hallmarks of a more adult-oriented film are evident. Prior to the film’s release, the studio were required to make cuts to achieve a 12A / PG-13 rating – arguably, a 15 / R rating is just what the film needs to elevate it.
Black Adam isn’t the DCEU’s crowning achievement and it’s a shame it rarely strays from superhero convention. At least it takes a handful of narrative risks in its third act that make it worthwhile and whilst there are inklings of a more genre-progressive film, the framing of the titular character as an anti-hero is an inspired creative choice. Still, Black Adam functions in setting the foundations of the character with Johnson is clearly game in the role and the film is entertaining, even if you’ll forget it shortly after the credits start to roll.
4) Thor: Love and Thunder
Thor: Love and Thunder has attracted some very sniffy reviews and while it’s far from the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best, it’s perfectly watchable and there’s enough going on in it for it to be worthwhile. Some have commented it is a redux of Thor: Ragnarok and I would disagree – arguably the reason why the reviews have been lukewarm is because Waititi once again subverts expectations, but with some mis-steps. In many ways, Thor: Love and Thunder feels more akin to Thor and Thor: The Dark World in exploring the relationship between the titular character and Foster. Returning director Taika Waititi injects a fair amount of heart and clearly revels in digging deeper into their romantic banter.
Chris Hemsworth once again proves his game as the God and successfully balances both the comedic and tragic elements Thor is exposed to. It’s a welcome return for Portman, too, and the pair share a healthy chemistry. Christian Bale is excellent as the villain, Gorr but he’s woefully underused. Waititi’s decision to bathe the character and his surroundings in black-and-white is inspired, affording the vampiric character a Nosferatu quality.
Outside of Gorr, the film is visually a mixed bag. Some of the visual effects are surprisingly ropey for a film costing $250 million and Marvel has attracted controversy over the treatment of its VFX artists, specifically with this film. Despite its flaws and ramshackle construction, Thor: Love and Thunder gets enough right to make it worthwhile.
There is now another step-up in quality…
3) Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
The sequel to Scott Derrickson’s excellent Doctor Strange saw the director replaced by horror maestro Sam Raimi following creative differences early into the project. The result is a well-directed and generally entertaining sequel that takes ambitious risks in its narrative with its characters. From a directorial standpoint, Raimi mostly succeeds with putting his signature stamp on the material such as the exploration of the themes of possession, witchcraft and apparitions. There are a handful of jump scares too, which is novel for a Marvel entry, although they are relatively tame for a mature audience. The film is often visually arresting and the cinematography by John Mathieson is interesting. Like his work on Logan, Mathieson prefers to hold onto a shot than resort to quick cuts and the camera movement is often disorienting and kaleidoscopic.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ most significant downfall is its ramshackle construction. It is all over the place narratively and not everything sticks. For every bold choice, there is a regressive counterpart and the film isn’t paced particularly well. It comes in at a reasonable 126 minute run time but there is a lot of narrative to get through and some scenes race through character beats whilst others are tiresome.
The film is ultimately a bit of a hodgepodge of a sequel, but an often entertaining ride and Raimi is able to put his personal stamp on the material to a degree. I wish Raimi was allowed even more free rein and leaned harder into the horror angle, as that feels like a natural tone for the material. There will always be a part of me that wonders what Scott Derrickson had in mind, as he also wanted to head down the horror route. Had he been able to deliver the film that he envisaged, it could have been very special.
Deciding between the final two was particularly difficult, but the runner-up is…
2) The Batman
The Batman is a new rendition of the Caped Crusader by War For The Planet Of The Apes director Matt Reeves, positioned outside of the DCEU canon, and sees a younger Dark Knight (Robert Pattinson) in his second year of crimefighting and Reeves hones in on his detective skills. It is an interesting, if flawed, depiction of the Caped Crusader. Reeves’ take on the character is certainly admirable. It very much owes a debt to the Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder aesthetic in that it is a darker and grungier interpretation. Experiencing Batman as a detective figure is refreshing. The notion of Batman providing narration is also innovative, yet uneven in that it’s not sustained throughout the film. The extended run time of 176 minutes isn’t to the film’s detriment. It’s always promising to see a director allow a film breathe when it warrants it rather than resorting to quick cuts.
Pattinson’s portrayal of Batman is expectedly excellent, although his Bruce Wayne needs some work. This is more a choice of the script rather than any wrongdoing by Pattinson as Bruce Wayne doesn’t receive a particularly meaningful arc so he isn’t granted the opportunity. Other highlights of the cast include Colin Farrell, who is almost unrecognisable as Oswald Cobblepot in his early Penguin days, and Jeffrey Wright is effortless as James Gordon.
Paul Dano’s Riddler is an interesting villain and poses a genuine threat to Batman throughout much of the film but his character arc is severely let down towards the end of the film to the point where he doesn’t pose a threat and his performance borders on being laughable.
The score by Michael Giacchino is really excellent and he establishes very memorable themes for the characters, although the score doesn’t always fit in with the scenes they are inserted in. The cinematography by Greig Fraser is beautiful, hot on the footsteps of his similarly excellent work on Dune.
The Batman is a strong interpretation from Reeves and I’m looking forward to see where future instalments could go, although I have some reservations with the teases. However, it’s not quite the masterpiece that some have proclaimed it to be and Reeves is just not as competent a director as Nolan or even Snyder.
And the best comic-book film of 2022 is…
1) Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
After Black Panther electrified the superhero film genre, earning seven Oscar nominations and winning three, to say Wakanda Forever has its work cut out for it would be an understatement. Not least by the sudden death of its titular star, Chadwick Boseman, director Ryan Coogler had to effectively chuck out the original script and rewrite it to reframe the narrative on the character’s passing.
The result is a significant improvement over its predecessor and Coogler has delivered an intelligent, sombre and politically charged sequel. Coogler makes a strong choice to fully explore the characters and how they react to T’Challa’s death, very much mirroring how audiences have mourned Boseman in reality, recreating a scenario we all understand. In a refreshing change of pace for Marvel and a trait that has plagued many of its films, Coogler retains the sombre tone throughout and doesn’t resort to cheap and disposable quips.
The performances are uniformly excellent, with Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett and Danai Gurira the highlights, as well as Tenoch Huerta’s fiersome yet empathetic villain, Namor. You can really empathise with his position and motivation and this makes him one of Marvel’s best villains.
The action sequences are much better this time around and the third act doesn’t succumb to the usual mindless CGI-fest many comic-book films descend into. The film is crisply shot by Autumn Durald Arkapaw and the score by Ludwig Göransson is once again excellent.
The extended 161 minute run time wasn’t an issue for me and the film kept me engaged throughout. This is much more of a slow-burn, which I appreciated, and Coogler deftly balances a grim tone with the idea of future hope and prosperity for the fictional nation of Wakanda.
What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments or tweet @TheFilmMeister