In the year of our Lord two thousand & twenty-two, the world continued its steady decline into mental unwellness with a fervor that could at best be described as “unsettling”. Inflation surged, the Queen kicked the bucket, Will Smith slapped (in a bad way) and movies and TV once again helped us get through the madness.
Marvel reigns supreme, DC tries their best (bless their hearts), and Image is quietly better than both of them.
In the arena of superhero and comic book adaptations, Marvel has managed to maintain its dominance despite fan reaction to phase four being… let’s say “mixed.” Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Thor: Love & Thunder were both gleefully unhinged as Sam Raimi and Taika Waititi took their turns playing in the Marvel sandbox. Ryan Coogler provided a much-needed treatise on the nature of grief in Wakanda Forever (more on that later).
In television She-Hulk: Attorney at Law dropped and response was sharply divided between comics fans who had read John Byrne’s run in the comics and appreciated the fun fourth-wall breaking and meta-narrative and other fans who… hate women.
Okay, that’s not fair. There are certainly legit reasons to not like the show (I for one loved it, but I can see why someone wouldn’t), the but She-Hulk drew enough misogynistic ire from 4chan trolls to be newsworthy, but then, in one of the best uno-reverse-card twists of the year, the trolls found themselves being trolled as showrunner Jessica Gao revealed the main villains of the show were actually pathetic misogynistic incels who just couldn’t handle a female Hulk. Check and mate.
Finally to close out the year, Marvel just mainlined joy into our veins with two spectacular holiday specials: Werewolf by Night was a delightfully macabre tribute to ’50s-era monster movies (& also featured an appearance by Man-Thing), and The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special had me struggling to breathe from laughter.
Meanwhile, DC had a year that can at best be described as “hit and miss.” Taking the game plan of inserting comic book characters into critically acclaimed films that worked so well when Joaquin Phoenix was dropped into a Martin Scorsese fever dream, DC threw Robert Pattinson, a Batman comic and a DVD of Se7en into a blender and came up with The Batman, a really entertaining grimdark tale that took Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and dialed up the nihilism to eleven. Rise of the SuperSons and Green Lantern: Beware My Power were both okay entries into DC’s animated features, though the stories were both kind of “meh”. In the realm of serialized TV, Titans and Doom Patrol continue to be really entertaining on HBO Max, but the absolute highlight of the year for DC has to be an honest-to-god adaptation of arguably one of the best comics series ever written: Neil Gaiman’s Sandman
In the space of ten episodes the showrunners managed to expertly adapt the trial and tribulations of Dream of the Endless with some amazing writing, mind-blowing special effects and phenomenal performances. Then in a gesture that can only be described as doing the lord’s work, the show dropped a bonus episode a few weeks after the initial release containing two fan favorite short stories from the comic. Seriously, who does that?
Unfortunately for DC, the end of the year proved to be an all-time low for Marvel’s Distinguished Competition as Amber Heard & Ezra Miller courted media scrutiny, Discovery ate Warner Brothers, and DC started cancelling or delaying projects that had already been shot left and right. Black Adam was watchable but forgettable and was really only memorable for a Henry Cavill cameo and inexplicably not featuring Shazam once. It landed with a quick bang only to be overshadowed by Black Panther and the announcement that Henry Cavill would not be returning as Superman. Oh, DC…maybe 2023 will be a better for you as James Gunn takes the reins.
Meanwhile Image Comics took the ‘W’ as an animated adaptation of perhaps the best superhero comic ever published appeared on Amazon Prime. Invincible, created in 2005 and running for 144 issues told the story of teenager Mark Grayson and his superhero career facing supervillains, mad scientists, crime bosses, aliens (guys, just so many aliens), a dinosaur evil genius named “Dinosaurus” and an army made up of alternate reality variants of himself. The first season of this masterfully made adaptation is not only visually faithful to the source material (it legit looks like the images from the comic are moving) but hit all the same beats, twists and turns storywise, even when straying from the comics. Just be warned, this one is not for kids, as the last 5 minutes of the first episode will make glaringly apparent.
Indie Weirdness is Cool Again
One of the high points of my movie-going experience this year was the one-two punch of Jordan Peele’s Nope and Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert’s Everything Everywhere All at Once. These two movies reminded me of my first indie arthouse experience: seeing Ghost World and Hedwig & the Angry Inch in a double feature. Just like those first forays into the indie filmmaking oeuvre, these films gave me that experimental, daring, almost dangerous feel.
Really, what was Nope? A western? A Twilight Zone type sci-fi tale? A comedy? An exposition on spectacle and the media’s obsession with it? All of the above and none of the above. Nope was, from start to finish, its own thing, and if you didn’t get it, you didn’t get it, but it was memorable and darn entertaining.
Everything Everywhere All at Once meanwhile, defied explanation or categorization. An emotional story about breaking the cycle of generational pain masquerading as a nonsensical absurdist sci-fi martial arts flick, the movie also featured a stand-out, star-making performance by Stephanie Hsu in a cast that includes Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis (clearly having the time of her life). Plus any movie giving Ke Huy Qwan work gets my $10 on general principal.
Hollywood Makes Me Cry
When Top Gun: Maverick *finally* opened to an eager public, I was convinced there was no way they could get me worse than when Goose died in the first movie, only to find myself holding back manly sobs at the end of the second act. This however was nothing compared to the emotional journey Kevin Smith took me on throughout Clerks 3. On my 45th birthday, I was transported back to the being the 18-year-old kid working at Blockbusters and discovering Clerks. Kevin Smith got me right where I lived even before we got to that heart-crusher of an ending.
Just when I thought that was as much as I was gonna blubber during a movie this year, Ryan Coogler offered up Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and it was everything you want from an MCU film: action setpieces, gorgeous effects, twists, humor, and world building. But that’s not why this movie exists. BP:WF was a chance for everyone: cast, crew, director, audience, everyone, to say goodbye & thank you to Chadwick Boseman. This movie is Chadwick’s memorial service and despite not being in it at all, his presence is deeply felt in every scene. This movie is a great entry in the MCU & a great continuation of the Black Panther mythos, but it is first and foremost a cathartic treatise on grieving and finding a way to move on. It was a sad and beautiful experience, and I’m not ashamed to say I cried a couple of times. Coogler nailed it.
Netflix Pours on the Nostalgia and Feeds the Meme Machine
Stranger Things’ fourth season became an instant hit the minute it dropped on Netflix, maintaining its reputation for ’80s nostalgia done right, disturbing horror and instantly classic characters. As the narrative went full Nightmare on Elm Street (with an appearance by Freddy himself, no less), we were introduced to Eddie Munson, Argyle, and Vecna, a terrifying entity who changed everything we thought we knew about the Upside Down. Audiences ate it up, and we knew the memes would be quick to follow. TikTokers started dancing to Running Up That Hill, Spotify created a smart playlist of songs that you’d use to escape Vecna, “Chrissy Wake Up” became the bop of the summer and Nancy and Robin became the investigating crime-fighting duo we never knew we always needed.
Then Summer faded into fall and Wednesday took the meme world by storm. Although I’m currently mad at TikTok for the ensuing dance trend. Was there something wrong with using the original music? This should have been a Running Up That Hill type resurgence for The Cramps. Instead we got Lady Gaga. Nothing against her Gaganess, I just personally would rather hear Goo Goo Muck than Bloody Mary.
As far as she show itself, Jenna Ortega is a find and 100% kills it as Wednesday (with Christina Ricci right there watching, no less). Fred Armisen is in one episode as Fester, deftly walking away with said episode while essentially channeling Jackie Coogan. The overall look of the show, design and effects are all clearly Tim Burton without going all Nightmare Before Christmas. The big monster looks like Large Marge on steroids. And of course when has Danny Elfman ever not been an absolute win? High points of the music include an unplugged stringed version of Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters that dang near made me weep from the sheer artistry, and guys, believe me when I tell you that Wednesday’s dance to The Cramps at the Rave’n Dance has to be seen to be believed. Get to Netflix and check it out. Oh, just be prepared to get emotionally wrecked over a disembodied hand.
Guys, Willow Actually Happened
Finally, my childhood got the ultimate win as Disney Plus went ahead and greenlit, shot and released a sequel series to to the 1988 George Lucas/Ron Howard sword & sorcery epic, Willow, and danged if they didn’t make a pretty fun romp. The contemporary dialog and music may irk some fantasy purists out there, but remember most of the cast of the original film were using American accents — and who says you can’t use a cover of Tommy James’ Crimson and Clover or Metallica’s Enter Sandman in a fantasy show?
The cast is the real draw here though. Warwick Davis is of course a triumph playing a curmudgeonly grumpy version of the titular would-be sorcerer of the first film. Ruby Cruz and Erin Kellyman have great chemistry as the Princess of Tir Asleen and an aspiring knight of Galladorn. Tony Revelori (straight from his role as the MCU’s Flash Thompson) plays awkwardness with confidence as an unsure prince. Ellie Bamber brings a kind of naive sincerity to her role as a low-born cook with a thing for a kidnapped prince and hence joins the quest to save him, and Amar Chahda-Patel brings the Madmartigan energy as irreverent thief and party tank Boorman. At the time of this writing, I’m only four episodes in, but so far I’m having a blast!
Oh, Also This Happened:
So that’s my 2022. What were you guys watching/streaming/listening to this year? Chime in in the comments! Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and be safe, all you merry mutants!