Ranking The Comic-Book Films Of 2022

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!

6) Morbius

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

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Review)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Florence Kasumba, Dominique Thorne, Michaela Coel, Tenoch Huerta, Martin Freeman, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Angela Bassett
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 161 mins

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is the long-awaited sequel to the superhero’s 2018 standalone outing and is once again directed by Ryan Coogler. Black Panther electrified the superhero film genre, earning seven Oscar nominations and winning three.

I had many problems with the film and found its narrative to be very unfocussed, crumbling in its third act under the weight of a big, mindless CGI battle. Coogler also failed to fully explore the interesting ideas of Afrofuturism, world aid and family that he poses.

This sequel is anything but conventional in its development, following the death of its titular star, Chadwick Boseman, who sadly succumbed to colon cancer in 2020. With Marvel choosing not to recast the character out of respect, this resulted in a rewrite of the film without the superhero. Wakanda Forever opens on the fictional nation mourning the loss of its leader, who dyed from an undisclosed illness. T’Challa’s technologically-minded sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright) is visibly struggling with his loss, with her mother Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) urging her to continue research on a ‘heart-shaped herb’ in order to create a new Black Panther that can defend Wakanda.

When a vibranium-detecting machine (vibranium being the material Wakanda is rich in and supposedly isn’t found anywhere else on the planet) detects a potential deposit underwater in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the CIA and Navy SEALS on-board a vessel are attacked by a group of blue-skinned creatures. They are led by Namor (Tenoch Huerta), King of the underwater kingdom of Talokan which is also rich in vibranium. Following the attack, Namor confronts Ramonda and Shuri and delivers them an ultimatum – deliver him the scientist responsibile for the machine or he will lay siege to Wakanda.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever 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. Letitia Wright carries the film well, with Shuri experiencing a complicated emotional arc. There is always the risk of upgrading what is a side character to centre stage and it not work out. Angela Bassett is terrific as Queen Ramonda, a monarch trying her utmost to carry the country together who has to make some gut-wrenching decisions in the process. Danai Gurira’s fiersome Okoye receives some strong character development and Coogler explores her humanity behind the tight-lipped army general image her character maintains. Although Lupita Nyong’o is absent in the first half of the film, she injects energy in every scene she’s in once she turns up.

After making a strong impression in The Forever Purge, Tenoch Huerta makes for a brilliant villain as Namor, one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best. Namor is a ruler with a tumultous past who has successfully tried to protect his kingdom from the world from discovery. You can really empathise with his position and motivation. I found Namor a significantly more interesting villain than Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger in the original, who despite universal acclaim I had many issues with.

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. Although the underwater Talokan army bear similarities to James Cameron’s Avatar, the character designs are striking and the contrast of the aqua attacks against the African landscape of Wakanda is visually arresting. On that note, Autumn Durald Arkapaw’s cinematography tops Rachel Morrison’s of the original film. Morrison resorted to an inordinate amount of quick cuts in the action sequences and it was often hard to make out what was going on. Arkapaw revels in the colour-rich world Coogler creates and knows when to hold onto a shot.

After winning an Oscar for his efforts on the original, Ludwig Göransson’s score is once again excellent. He interestingly rarely refers to his original themes in the first film, opting to craft new ones and it really works. He deftly fuses the African-rich instrumentation for the Wakandan themes with the more mysterious yet forebodic Mayan-inspired tracks.

Ultimately, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a successful sequel that improves upon the flawed original. With an elegiac quality sustained throughout, Coogler’s sequel balances both a grim tone with the idea of future hope and prosperity for the fictional nation. 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 the decision to introduce Namor and the Kingdom of Talokan is a wise one. It’s streets ahead of both Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Thor: Love and Thunder that Marvel released this year. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a satisfying and exciting end to Marvel’s Phase Four, although I’m not sure future sequels will be able to live up to this, especially as the spectre of Boseman’s death won’t hang over the production to the extent it has on this film.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Terrifier 2 (Review)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Damian Leone
Starring: Lauren LaVera, Elliott Fullam, Sarah Voigt, Kailey Hyman, Casey Hartnett, David Howard Thornton
Certificate: 18
Run Time: 138 mins

Terrifier 2 is the third feature length film to feature the blood-soaked, havoc-wreaking Art the Clown. Once again directed by Damian Leone, this sequel picks up immediately where 2016’s Terrifier finishes. The clown also features in Leone’s debut anthology film All Hallow’s Eve, which I found a mixed bag although not without some fascinating ideas. Terrifier was a properly grisly slasher with many memorable slayings, although the film was predominantly confined to two locations and received criticism for its lack of story. 

Leone has clearly taken this feedback on board and Terrifier 2 is a slasher epic running 138 minutes. The film introduces a new protagonist, Sienna Shaw (Lauren LaVera), a teenager who is busy crafting a Halloween costume that was designed by her recently deceased father. She lives with her insurance adviser mother, Barbara (Sarah Voigt) and quirky brother, Jonathan (Elliott Fullam), who has a habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

When Sienna dreams of Art the Clown in her sleep and a fire ensues in her bedroom, she becomes convinced that the two are destined to cross paths and she tries to escape her fate and protect what she has left of her family. 

Terrifier 2 has received a fair amount of media attention for its gory murders, with reports of some viewers vomiting and fainting. The first film had its fair share of gruesome killings, most infamously an extended sequence where a character is sawn in half. 

Not only does Terrifier 2 lives up to its gory hype but Leone has also crafted a gleefully riveting and original horror epic. Leone has demonstrably grown as a filmmaker and although there are some holes in the narrative, the time taken to develop the characters is a welcome one and sets the stage for events to unfold. 

I particularly appreciated the hallucinatory, dream-like elements, which afford a tangible scope to the story. The practical effects and make-up are brilliant and although it’s a bloody film, there is a sardonic edge to the kills. Terrifier 2 reaches creaky territory in its conclusion, where it starts to introduce some fantastical elements. While I got on board with it and appreciated the over-the-top execution, others understandably won’t. 

The cast are uniformly excellent, with Lauren LaVera proving a commanding screen presence, injecting much-needed humanity with a ‘final girl’ quality. She is surely destined to receive inundations of role offers following her work here. David Howard Thornton is, once again, endlessly expressive as the demonic clown. He is particularly depraved this time around, covered in blood throughout most of the run time and isn’t satisfied with simply ending someone’s life – he then likes to go on to eat or play with body parts. Art the Clown is joined by The Little Pale Girl in this film, who he initially seems to hallucinate but becomes more and more real as the film progresses.

Of the rest of the cast, Elliot Fullam makes a strong impression as the misunderstood brother. Casey Hartnett is also brilliant as the charismatic Allie, one of Sienna’s best friends. Sarah Voigt is fine as the mother, although there are some scenes where she has to discipline her children where her delivery is hammy. 

In keeping with his work on the original, Paul Wiley’s score is once again excellent. George Steuber’s cinematography is brilliant and he crafts some genuinely haunting images of Art the Clown. Many have labelled the film as on the indulgent side and while it could be cut down further to service the story, the long edits of each scene allow the striking visuals to shine. 

Terrifier 2 is an excellent slasher that outdoes its predecessor in pretty much every single way, other than the gnarliest kill which I think still belongs to the first film. It’s superbly directed, the increased character development compliments the gore and Leone crafts some arresting images. If Leone proceeds with a Terrifier 3, which an ambitious mid-credits scene alludes to, he has his work cut out to create a sequel that can better this. 

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Barbarian (Review)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Zach Cregger
Starring: Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, Justin Long, Matthew Patrick Davis, Richard Brake

Certificate: 18
Run Time: 102 mins

Barbarian is the directorial debut of Zach Cregger, most famous for his acting career. This is a high-concept horror-thriller that packs plenty of satisfying surprises up its sleeve throughout its run time. 

The film opens with Tessa Marshall (Georgina Campbell) parking up at an AirBnB rental home in the outskirts of Detroit the night before a job interview. The house looks like the only furnished property on the street, with the rest of the community visibly well past its heyday. Strangely, she discovers a young man named Keith Toshko (Bill Skarsgård) is also at the house, claiming that he too is renting the property. 

Initially unnerved by Keith (who wouldn’t be after Skarsgård’s deranged portrayal of Pennywise in It?), Tess decides to try and find someplace else but he dissuades her from doing so, rightly criticising the state of local community. What impresses out of the gate is the fact Tess acts like a typical human, unlike in many other horror films where characters make baffling decisions to advance the story.  She duly asks to see Keith’s documents and identification and considers every decision twice. To reveal anymore of the plot would be to spoil the film, but needless to say, Cregger leaves you constantly guessing the narrative’s trajectory. Horror veteran Justin Long rounds out the cast as AJ Gilbride, a sitcom actor accused of raping a co-star.

Barbarian is an excellent horror-thriller and a barnstorming debut from Cregger. This is a taut, claustrophobic and mostly satisfying piece that had me hooked throughout. It runs out of steam a little in its last ten minutes, where the ending is not quite as subversive as the rest of the film and Cregger feels the need to overexplain a little too much. However, this is forgivable considering how reserved the rest of the film is at showing its hand. Cregger balances the horror elements with pepperings of comedy, a notable highlight being Justin Long bringing a new meaning to measuring the square footage of a property. Barbarian is further elevated by its rich exploration of social commentary too, with plenty to say on the state of America, gender and race. 

The performances are uniformly excellent, with Campbell proving a domineering yet sympathetic lead – we want her to survive whatever it she is getting herself into. Campbell is surely destined for future greatness. Cregger plays on Skarsgard’s creepiness and we’re not sure whether he can be trusted or not and Long’s over-the-top horror shtick offers a biting and satirical edge. 

There’s a great score by Anne Dubilich too, full of foreboding and portentous cues and the film is very well shot by Zach Kuperstein. Kuperstein’s camera peers around corners and corridors, keeping us in the dark shadows as much as Cregger withholds information to the last moment.

Barbarian joins the club in 2022 as another excellent horror film with films such as The Black Phone, X and Nope. It’s a terrific debut from Cregger and I can’t wait to see what he does next. Barbarian is one of a few films I can remember recently that has gripped me throughout and it will be interesting to pick up on the smaller details on subsequent rewatches.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

The Banshees Of Inisherin (Review)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 114 mins

The Banshees of Inisherin is the latest by writer-director Martin McDonagh, whose three film track record is untarnished so far. Both In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths are melancholic masterpieces, up there with some of my favourites from the last decade and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is also a very fine piece and attracted awards attention

Reuniting In Bruges stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, McDonagh’s latest is set on the fictional island of Inisherin, off the coast of Ireland in 1923, set during the Civil War. Farrell plays Pádraic Súilleabháin, who is quite content living with his sister Siobhan and his animals in a cosy house. Gleeson plays Colm Doherty, a more contemplative individual who finds peace in writing new music and poetry. Despite their obvious personality differences, we learn that the two of them have enjoyed an inseparable friendship over the years. When Pádraic goes to Colm’s house to invite him out to the pub, which we’re led to believe is an everyday occurrence, Colm ignores Pádraic’s knock. Pádraic, not thinking anything is wrong, heads to the pub and when Colm enters, he bluntly informs Pádraic he doesn’t like him and doesn’t wish to speak with him anymore and the narrative escalates from there.

The Banshees of Inisherin is another excellent McDonagh feature. The script is full of the director’s signature black, dry humour and the first half of the film is full of comedic moments. The film gets progressively grimmer and McDonagh deftly balances the initial laughs with the heavier subject matter and tone. There’s a lot of substance to the story, McDonagh being both critical and drawing parallels of the events on-screen with the Civil War, infused with a Shakespearean quality.

Both Farrell and Gleeson turn in excellent performances. 2022 has proven a hat-trick for Farrell with brilliant performances also in The Batman and Thirteen Lives. He’s saved the best for last though as Pádraic, described by the other islanders as nice but dull. The ruminative transformation he undertakes through the course of the film is brilliantly delivered. Gleeson’s character doesn’t have quite as much to say but he turns in another searing performance, expressing more through his body language and actions but he also gets some excellent lines.

It’s not just the central duo who make an impression. McDonagh constructs a memorable and unique community, with each character having their quirks. Kerry Condon is brilliant as Siobhan, showing compassion to others and acting as an intermediary between Pádraic and Colm, but she also has her own issues. Barry Keoghan plays the dim and tormented Billy, who just wants a companion to navigate life with and escape the clutches of his pig-headed policeman father (Gary Lydon). The landlord of the pub, Jonjo (Pat Shortt) is another highlight, acting as an intermediary between Pádraic and Colm. The unnamed priest (David Pearse) gets some cracking lines too and old woman plays a Shakespearean witch like character.

McDonagh’s regular composer Carter Burwell helms the score and it’s very fitting and memorable, resorting to a variation of themes that are developed as the film progresses. The film is gorgeously shot by Ben Davis, who beautifully captures the Irish landscape and vistas, as well as the pets and animals of the island and their innocence. 

The Banshees of Inisherin is another knockout from McDonagh. Having seen the film twice, it gets better on a rewatch as you start to pick out the smaller minutatie and the foreboding signs of the narrative direction the film is heading in. It’s definitely McDonagh’s grimmest watch to date and the film leaves you stone-cold in its closing moments with characters that have lost their way. The film isn’t quite perfect though – it doesn’t seem to have quite as much substance as McDonagh’s first two films and the film’s pacing sags briefly just before it enters its final act. Still, The Banshees of Inisherinis one of the best films of the year and deservedly is likely to receive awards attention later in the year.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Black Adam (Review)

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Aldis Hodge, Noah Centineo, Sarah Shahi, Marwan Kenzari, Quintessa Swindell, Mohammed Ammer, Bodhi Sabongui, Pierce Brosnan
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 125 mins

Black Adam is the latest in the DC Extended Universe and with Dwayne Johnson attached to play the titular character since September 2014, it’s taken quite some time to reach the big screen. The film was delayed for a number of reasons – Johnson was originally to star in a film opposite Shazam as his nemesis but DC decided to let Shazam have his own film first and then introduce Black Adam. The production was also not helped by the coronavirus pandemic and DC’s own inner turmoils surrounding their film slate. 

In the director’s chair is Jaume Collet-Serra, responsible for a cluster of Liam Neeson action vehicles and last year’s reasonably fun-in-the-moment yet utterly disposable Jungle Cruise

Black Adam opens with the titular character’s origin in 2600 BC before jumping ahead to the present day where he is awoken via a spoken incantation. The character was believed to have been the rescuer of the fictional country Kahndaq, which is now being oppressed by Intergang, an organised crime syndicate. University professor and resistance fighter Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) and her teenage son, Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) function as the audience’s insight to the country. 

The film also introduces the Justice Society team, consisting of Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and Ant-Man rip-off Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) to take Black Adam into custody, as they believe him to be a societal menace. They are sent into action by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), who was last seen managing The Suicide Squad, who has somehow been shoehorned into managing this team. 

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.

Crucially, Johnson’s great in the titular role and it will be exciting to see his anti-hero come face-to-face with other DCEU characters in the future. Of the other performances, both Shahi and Sabongui make for solid reference points to Kahndaq, and Mohammed Amer gets some rousing lines as Amon’s Uncle. 

The Justice Society are particularly problematic, saddled with poor dialogue and cliche-ridden. An eye-openly poor opening sees them convene after receiving orders from Waller to locate Black Adam and the manner in which they leave Doctor Fate’s mansion on a fighter jet is lifted straight from X-Men. Hodge puts in a good effort as Hawkman, both Centineo and Swindell fail to leave an impression and Brosnan is just here to pick up the cheque.

The visual effects are often ropey, considering its sizeable $200 million budget and the film is far too reliant on CGI. Despite sterling work on Joker, Lawrence Sher’s cinematography is also disappointing, resorting to quick cuts. Lorne Balfe’s score is certainly loud but not particularly memorable.

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. 

There’s also a mind-boggling reference to Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in which Collet-Serra contrasts a Mexican standoff with Black Adam’s superhero ability, which is unforgivable. 

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. 

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Halloween Ends (Review)

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: David Gordon Green
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Andi Matichak, Rohan Campbell, Will Patton, Kyle Richards, James Jude Courtney
Certificate: 18
Run Time: 111 mins

Halloween Ends is the final film in the new trilogy directed by David Gordon Green and set after the events of John Carpenter’s original 1978 film. The series had previously experienced a rather rough life until Green’s innovative 2018 sequel that decided to ignore all that had come before and pick the story up forty years after the original. 

It was brilliant – both Green and comedian Danny McBride, who collaborated to pen the script, demonstrated a clear understanding of the elements that made Halloween (1978) work. Unfortunately, despite Green and McBride saying it was the plan all along, shortly after the success of Halloween (2018), it was announced they would bring two more films to form a trilogy. 

Halloween Kills, the first sequel, was a retrograde abomination, undoing most of the good work of its predecessor. The story, characters and script were all laughable and the film suffers badly from middle film syndrome. Naturally, expectations were rather low for this trilogy capper. 

Halloween Ends is set three years after the events of Michael Myers’ last killing spree in Halloween Kills, who has since vanished. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is living with her granddaughter, Alysson (Andi Matichak) while writing a memoir of her experiences. 

Green introduces a new character, Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell), who is accused of murdering a boy he was babysitting, before being exonerated. As Corey reintegrates himself into society, he enters into a relationship with Alysson while being a victim of bullying. A chain of events culminates in the inevitable return of Myers, with expectedly grisly results. 

Halloween Ends is an interesting finale to the trilogy and is to be admired for trying to do something different. It has a promising first 45 minutes or so, in particular a chilling opening where Green introduces Corey and the fateful babysitting venture. He also deftly explores Corey’s pariah status, following his exoneration and introduces some thought-provoking themes such as how perpetuators of crime can come from mundane beginnings. 

That said, other elements such as Laurie’s newfound peace are delivered heavy-handedly and cliched. The multiple attempts at romantic encounters are also cringeworthy. 

Unfortunately, you can’t have a Halloween film without Michael Myers and the way in which he is integrated into the plot 45 minutes in is rather befuddling and the result is a decidedly mixed bag. 

The bloody violence staple to the slasher horror genre is for the most part, more muted and infrequent this time around. Despite Halloween Kills’ disaster status, it was certainly more mean-spirited than other films in the series in its gore and horror. That said, there is one kill involving a DJ that will surely go down as one of the best kills of the series. 

Green offers a more measured quality to his direction this time around over Halloween Kills, although returning cinematographer Michael Simmonds’ work isn’t as creative as his previous two efforts. The score is once again by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies and as you would expect, the trio conjure some memorable themes. 

Although Halloween Ends chooses to conclude the series in a decidedly different direction to what one would expect, it’s undoubtedly a significant step-up from Halloween Kills. I’d much rather see a filmmaker take a bold risk than stick to convention and despite the fact the result is a mixed bag, it’s a memorable way to end the series. However, both Green and McBride would surely have been better off walking away after the success of Halloween (2018) and leaving the series on a high note. 

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

The Forgiven (Review)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: John Michael McDonagh
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Jessica Chastain, Matt Smith, Ismael Kanater, Caleb Landry Jones, Abbey Lee, Mourad Zaoui, Marie-Josée Croze, Alex Jennings, Saïd Taghmaoui, Christopher Abbott
Certificate: 18
Run Time: 117 mins

The Forgiven is the new film by director John Michael McDonagh, brother of Martin McDonagh behind films such as In Bruges and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The lesser known brother has also had a very strong career, his first two films with Brendan Gleeson in the leading role, The Guard and Calvary were magnificent. I was less enamoured with War On Everyone, a black comedy with Michael Peña and Alexander Skarsgård and found it to be very uneven. 

Based on a 2012 novel by Lawrence Osborne, Ralph Fiennes plays David Henninger, who is travelling with his wife Jo (Jessica Chastain) around Morocco. Their relationship is clearly strained at the start of the film and David is a high-functioning alcoholic. They travel to a friend’s gathering in a castle-like villa and on their way, David hits and kills a young teenager holding a fossil. The Henninger’s turn up late at the villa and after contacting the authorities, the death is ruled as an accident. However, the teenager’s father, Abdellah (Ismael Kanater), who shows up on the doorstep with his cronies and David ends up accompanying him back for the son’s burial. The story splits into two and we follow both David’ journey to forgiveness and Jo’s experiences in the villa with its ghastly inhabitants.  

The Forgiven sees McDonagh mostly back on form, although it’s not a masterpiece like his first two films were. The film is uneven and after the opening sequence, it takes a good twenty minutes or so to find its stride. At first, I thought McDonagh had made a straight-faced adaptation without his trademark black humour but thankfully, there’s plenty of that to be found once the film finds its feet. McDonagh balances this satisfying mean-spiritedness with sequences of profundity. Like the rest of his filmography, it’s a cathartic experience and the narrative leads you down some unexpected but satisfying roads.

Fiennes is excellent in the lead role, a tired and pitiful individual with a pessimistic outlook on life and McDonagh’s characterisation of him is excellent. He’s given some cracking lines in the script, especially one sequence where he is riding a camel in the desert. Fiennes balances this initial pessimism with an individual who has to do his penance and accept guilt. 

Chastain is also excellent as the lumbered wife who’s never allowed to have any fun and at first, the death clearly affects her more than David.  Matt Smith essentially plays himself but I didn’t gel with Caleb Landry Jones’ portrayal of his lover, Dally Margolis at all. Though, this is arguably by design McDonagh intentionally tries to portray the rich as despicable and repugnant. 

Ismael Kanater is also excellent as Abdellah, consumed by guilt and rage. Kanater conveys his unpredictability convincingly and you’re never quite sure if he’s going to lash out at David or try to understand him. Wonder Woman star Saïd Taghmaoui also impresses as one of his bodyguards, who receives an interesting backstory and provides a window into the poorer communities’ outlook on life. 

The score by Lorne Balfe is interesting, who crafts some memorable themes, particularly in the opening sequence. It’s also lusciously shot by Larry Smith, who crafts some arresting vistas. 

Overall, The Forgiven is an uneven yet thought-provoking drama. At times, it’s a profound drama infused with black comedy but it can also come across as a slightly oafish hangout film. Ralph Fiennes makes for an excellent lead and McDonagh has ultimately crafted a mostly gripping adaptation of the novel. It’s definitely worth your time. 

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Blackbird (Review)

⭐ (Terrible)

Director: Michael Flatley
Starring: Michael Flatley, Eric Roberts, Nicole Evans, Patrick Bergin, Ian Beattie, Rachel Warren
Certificate: 15

Run Time: 90 mins

Blackbird is a film directed, written, produced and starring Michael Flatley, best known for his Irish dancing in shows such as Riverdance and Lord of the Dance. The film was self-funded by Flatley (he says it was not a vanity project…) and Flatley not only directs, but also writes, produces and stars in the lead role. Blackbird was filmed back in 2018 and after terrible initial reviews, a UK release was unclear. Four years later, it’s finally with us. 

Flatley is Victor Blackley, an ex-MI6 agent who likes to wear a hat at all kinds of angles. A few minutes into the film, you know exactly what you’re in for with a hilarious, ill-advised flashback to a previous relationship with Flatley’s facial expression against a white background, akin to the Teletubbies sun. 

Blackley now owns a hotel in Barbados and has retired from espionage. That is until Eric Roberts’ villain walks in with his girlfriend, Vivian (Nicole Evans) who happens to also be an ex-MI6 agent from Viktor’s past.  We’re expected to believe that she is completely unaware of his villainous tendencies. Viktor’s friends repeatedly tell him something has to be done to prevent Roberts from unleashing worldwide catastrophe. 

Blackbird is expectedly terrible and is laugh-out-loud bad in places, particularly in its second half. Michael Flatley was not born to be an actor and his performance is all about his hat, that gets positioned. He has no charisma or emotion and his relationship with women is particularly wooden. 

The dialogue is ear-scraping and the story, if you can even call it that, perfunctory. Once you accept the film is an unmitigated disaster, it passes the time well enough and the unintentional laughs keep on coming, especially in the second half. 

And then there are the action sequences. Flatley imagines his secret agent as a superhero, who can take down henchmen twice his size in one blow. It’s quite extraordinary to witness. 

Blackbird is a train wreck and Flatley makes all of the wrong decisions in his filmmaking debut. But when categorised specifically as a ‘bad film’, Blackbird is pretty successful and there are consistent laughs or cringes to be had but I can’t imagine sitting through it again. 

⭐ (Terrible)

Beast (Review)

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Baltasar Kormákur
Starring: Idris Elba, Iyana Halley, Leah Sava Jeffries, Sharlto Copley
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 93 mins 

Beast is a survival creature feature directed by Baltasar Kormákur. Kormákur is an excellent director – 2 Guns is very enjoyable and Everest is an awe-inspiring and harrowing account of the 1996 disaster. He’s also proved himself adept at leaner survival genre with films such as Adrift and The Deep

Idris Elba plays a recently widowed doctor, Nate Samuels, who travels to South Africa with his two teenage daughters, Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Sava Jeffries). Samuels reunites with his wildlife biologist and reserve manager friend Martin Battles (Sharlto Copley). He explains to Battles the trip is designed to reconnect with his daughters. When they visit Samuels’ wife’s home community, they discover most of the population is dead and a rogue, ferocious lion has wiped them out in a rage-fuelled attack. They quickly cross paths with the lion and what follows is a cat-and-mouse game of survival, with all of the characters having to use their instincts and strengths. 

Beast may have a rather simplistic set-up but Kormákur largely pulls it off. It doesn’t really have any surprises up its sleeve but it’s a competently made survival action thriller and it mostly maintains tension throughout. It also doesn’t outstay its welcome at a breezy 93 minutes and it’s well-paced. 

Elba is excellent in the lead role, and he’s able to balance both the physical requirements of the role and the pathos and parental instinct needed to communicate with his daughters. Both of the daughters begin the film as rather annoying, whiny characters and as you might expect, make some idiotic decisions. However, the character arc of the family is serviceable enough and it’s enough to carry the film when the lion doesn’t take centre stage. Copley is always a bright spot in whatever he’s in, with fun performances in Elysium and Chappie and he’s clearly having fun too, brings his upbeat energy. 

The film is impressively shot by Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them cinematographer Philippe Rousselot and there are surprisingly lots of long takes for a creature feature. This helps build tension and invites you to study the frame to work out what might be happening in the background. There’s also a thoughtful score from Steven Price, which is both melodic and intense. 

Ultimately, Beast is an above average entry for this type of film. It’s not particularly intelligent and the character set-up doesn’t break any boundaries. Idris Elba deftly carries the film and Kormákur leaves enough of a mark to make this an entertaining feature, even if it’s far from his best film. Sometimes, you need a film where a man punches a big cat. 

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)