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Film Reviews

The Films of 2022

Published January 5, 2022
Gal Gadot takes this last opportunity to hug Armie Hammer, in 'Death on the Nile', before he's banished from the screen

Presuming we don’t emulate success stories such as Denmark and go leaping back into the bunker, 2022 should see a greater range of movies returning to local cinemas. It remains to be seen whether the film industry has been permanently altered by the pandemic, with a large number of people now content to stick with on-line platforms and leave the cinemas to those who fancy a CGI fix on a Friday night, or pursue more specialised tastes at a film festival.

‘The Batman’, in case you hadn’t guessed

The Hollywood studios have become increasingly devoted to big-budget blockbusters while films of quality are being handled by platforms such as Netflix and Amazon. Under the lockdowns this has reinforced the growing divide between visiting the cinema and watching movies at home. Going to the movies has survived, not simply because films look better on the big screen, but because it’s a social activity with familiar, comfortable rituals such as popcorn and choctops.

Many now believe they can have just as much fun at home, and see better movies. Over the past couple of years, Netflix has commissioned features by celebrated directors such as the Coen Brothers, Alfonso Cuarón, Ron Howard, David Fincher, Martin Scorsese, Noah Baumbach, and most recently, Jane Campion. There are plenty of people willing to wait a month or so to see these films on-line as part of their regular subscription. For Netflix, the pandemic has been a global bonanza.

More nonsense with ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’

Not only has COVID-19 made ‘a night at the pictures’ a potential super-spreader, it has created anxieties for the big studios who are understandably cautious about launching a movie that has cost them hundreds of millions at a time when cinemas are vulnerable to sudden scares and closures. So when I list the films to be released in 2022 there’s no guarantee these titles will make it to the theatres. Brave (if garbled) efforts such as Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, which was going to “save the cinema”, have remained in everyone’s mind as a warning of what not to do with a big-budget release.

Along with the usual avalanche of CGI-heavy kids’ movies, which I won’t attempt to discuss, there is a backlog of superhero flicks and franchise films waiting to be released. If you have a serious interest in people in leotards and things exploding, next year could be your idea of cinema heaven.

Girl Power in ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’

At present the biggest box-office success in Australia is Spider-Man: No Way Home. Next year, fans will be able to savour the animated version of the superhero, in Spider-Man: Across the Spidey-Verse (Part One). The “part one” sounds especially ominous.

If Spider-Man isn’t your bag, there are new films featuring Batman, Black Panther, the Mighty Thor, Ant-Man and The Wasp, Doctor Strange, Acquaman, and The Flash. Cynics might say all superhero films are the same, but there are a few fine distinctions to be made.

‘Jurassic World: Dominion’. Old Dinos never die.

The Batman, directed by Matt Reeves, and starring the talentless Robert Pattinson in the title role, is reputedly an even darker version of this character than we’ve seen from directors such as Tim Burton, Christopher Nolan, and Zack Snyder. I could just about handle Burton’s haunted Batman, but in Snyder’s hands he became a thug and a sadist as well. Do we need to go any darker?

Thor: Love and Thunder, is Taika Waititi’s second outing with the God of Thunder, played by hunky Chris Hemsworth, the man of a thousand accents (usually in the same role). The previous Thor movie was the world’s first Kiwi comedy with a Hollywood blockbuster budget, and there’s no reason to imagine this new installment will be any different. At least Waititi’s not trying to make Thor “dark”.

The wait is over! ‘Legally Blonde 3’,

Perhaps the most interesting and risky venture is Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. It’s the sequel to the highly successful movie of 2018, but without the orginal lead, Chadwick Boseman, who died from cancer in 2020. Rather than have Boseman digitally resurrected, the emphasis will allegedly shift to the Panther’s sister, thus adding gender to race in the movie’s list of positive PC credentials.

When you’re through with the superhero movies you might like to consider the sequels menu. Some items are fast-movers. The first John Wick appeared in 2014, and we’re already up to John Wick 4. The first Fantastic Beasts came along in 2016, and next year brings the third in a sequence: Fantastic Beasts 3: The Secrets of Dumbledore.

Halloween Ends… Or does it?

Some have a vintage provenance. The original Ghostbusters appeared in 1984, the fourth in the series, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, is in the cinemas in January. James Cameron is bringing us Avatar 2, 13 years after the original film, while Legally Blonde 3 builds on movies that appeared in 2001 and 2003. Steven Spielberg’s original Jurassic Park came out in 1993. Next year we’re getting the sixth film in the series, Jurassic World: Dominion. One wonders if there’s any surprises left in these old dinosaurs.

Top Scientologist 2

If there’s anyone out there who can’t get enough of Tom Cruise, be prepared for a double dose in 2022. Top Gun, of 1986, was the movie that supposedly made Cruise’s reputation. Next year, we’re in line for the long-awaited sequel, Top Gun 2: Maverick. And if you still need more of everyone’s favourite Scientologist, there’s Mission Impossible 7, the latest in a franchise that started in 1997. Personally, if I never saw another Tom Cruise film, I wouldn’t feel my life was incomplete.

That winds up the list of films that will top the box office next year, COVID permitting. If we turn to those releases that offer more subtle attractions, the first that catches my eye is She Said, based on the story of the two New York Times journalists, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey (played by Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan) who exposed Harvey Weinstein’s long career of sexual harrassment. The subject matter is salacious enough, so let’s hope director, Maria Schrader, plays it straight.

Carey Mulligan & Zoe Kazan, ‘She Said’

Rising star, Jordan Peele, who gave us Get Out (2017) Us (2019) and Candyman (2021), is back with a movie called Nope. As yet, the content remains under wraps, but past efforts should ensure an eager audience.

There are three movies in particular, to which I’m looking forward: Damien Chazelle’s Babylon, a tale of the Golden Age of Hollywood, with Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie; Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, about a series of real-life murders in an Indian reservation in the early 1920s – with Leonardo diCaprio and Robert De Niro; and Noah Baumbach’s White Noise, based on Dom DeLillo’s celebrated novel of 1985. Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig are the leads.

I’m less confident about some of the other titles on offer in 2022. Kenneth Branagh is a fine actor, but the least likely person to play Agatha Christie’s famous detective, Hercule Poirot. Nevertheless, as director, Branagh has cast himself as Poirot (for the second time), in a new adaptation of Death on the Nile. The film was finished in 2019, and one of its curiosities is that it features Armie Hammer, who has since been excommunicated from the film industry for sexual fetishes that were too perverse even for Hollywood.

Margot Robbie in ‘Babylon’

Another odd piece of casting is Persuasion, in which Dakota Johnson plays the heroine, Anne Elliot, in a film that takes “a modern, witty approach” to a Jane Austen classic. Maybe she’ll be great, but it’s hard to imagine anyone named “Dakota” in the Austen universe, or to accept that Austen isn’t modern and witty enough already. The last Persuasion of 2007, starred Sally Hawkins, who seems about right for the part. There’s even another one in the pipeline, with our own Sarah Snook in the lead role. I’ll need persuading that Carrie Cracknell’s modern, witty version is the best of the bunch.

Dakota Johnson meets Jane Austen, in ‘Persuasion’

Finally, there’s a would-be blockbuster that can only fill viewers’ minds with grim foreboding: Elvis, by the one-and-only Baz Luhrmann. I know directors hate it when critics look back wth fondness on the early work and dismiss their later, more ambitious productions but Baz Luhrmann allows no other option. Low budget, locally made Strictly Ballroom (1992) remains his masterpiece, while Australia (2008) and then The Great Gatsby (2013) were the greatest monuments to cinematic decadence and self-indulgence since Ken Russell shuffled off.

The mind boggles to think what Baz will do to Elvis, who was such a bizarre, lamentable figure at the end of his career. Incidentally, this film is as close as I’ve been able to get to a notable Australian film to be released next year. Not only do we make too few movies in this country, we don’t even bother to tell people about them.

To end on a high note, it looks as if the month of January will see the year off to an exceptionally strong start. If you’re not keen on Spider-Man, Ghostbusters,The King’s Man, or Jared Leto playing a vampire in Morbius (he barely has to act), there are some serious alternatives: Ridley Scott’s real-life saga of dynastic intrigue in The House of Gucci; Kristen Stewart as Lady Diana in Pablo Larraín’s Spencer; Adrian Lyne’s Deep Water, with Ben Affleck and Anna de Armas, adapted from an early Patricia Highsmith novel; and the noirish pleasures of Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley. If the cinemas only manage to stay open for the next month, we’ll have something good to remember from 2022.

 

 

Published in the Australian Financial Review, 29 December, 2021