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The most anticipated films of 2016

As has become the watchword of the New Hollywood Order, it’s high-powered franchise installments that will dominate the lists for the next year. But there’s a few potential dramatic – and indie – gems that might come out tops after all

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
4 January 2016, 8:00am
Regency rocked: Pride and Prejudice vs Zombies re-imagines the Jane Austen classic
Regency rocked: Pride and Prejudice vs Zombies re-imagines the Jane Austen classic
Okay, so The Hunger Games’s Mockingjay has flown the coop and made its way to franchise heaven late last year. But there’s more than enough studio-fuelled popular adaptations to keep us sated throughout the coming year.

And I’m not just referring to the Hunger Games’s erstwhile replacement in the ‘teens-vs-totalitarian regime’ subgenre – the Divergent saga, which will this year return with Allegiant – but to the dozens of young adult novel, comic book and pop-culture reboots that will bedeck our screens in 2016.

It is perhaps apt to start with a property tied directly to what is arguably at the root of the ‘young adult’ craze. British thespian ‘it boy’ Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) will headline Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – a Harry Potter prequel built on a prop from the original installment of JK Rowling’s beloved boy wizard saga. Redmayne stars as Newt Scamander, the author of the titular textbook, which was eventually used by Potter himself some 70 years later. 

Here be monsters: Eddie Redmayne stars in this Harry Potter prequel-cum-spinoff-cum-cash cow
Here be monsters: Eddie Redmayne stars in this Harry Potter prequel-cum-spinoff-cum-cash cow
In the film, the bumbling Scamander opens a literal Pandora’s Box after he lets some magical creatures loose by accident during an international wizard’s meeting in New York. With Rowling herself penning the screenplay and Potter regular director David Yates returning behind the camera, this should be a delectable piece of nostalgia porn for Potterites.

Nostalgia is, of course, one of the key motors of the well-oiled Hollywood machine – the box office and critical success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was only the most recent reminder of how powerful a phenomenon it remains. But before we get to the actual Star Wars property slated for 2016, let’s consider  what is arguably an even bigger nostalgia cash-in: namely, Ghostbusters. The beloved supernatural action-comedy has, by contemporary Hollywood standards, been languishing behind in the reboot stakes. Whichever direction this eventually heads in, it’s interesting to note that director Paul Feig will be headlining an all-female cast led by game-changer Kristen Wiig – who started something of a feminist micro-revolution in Hollywood comedy with Bridesmaids (2011), also directed by Feig.

All female blockbusters? Colour us interested
All female blockbusters? Colour us interested
But yes… Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will likely be one of the year’s biggest box office smashes. The (potentially) good news here is that, while this spinoff film from the ‘main trilogy’ – the follow up to The Force Awakens is slated from Spring 2017 – may suffer the fate of the Star Wars prequels in that we’ll all have a basic idea of how it’s going to end, the fact is that it’s an untold story with potentially expendable characters.

To wit, director Gareth Edwards (Monsters, Godzilla) will illustrate the story of how the Death Star plans from Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) were actually retrieved, focusing on the group of pilots who made it all possible. Away from the fanfare of the ‘main trilogy’, this has the potential to be a tight little caper (Ocean’s Eleven in space?), bolstered by a great cast that can count the likes of Felicity Jones and Ben Mendelsohn among their number.

Space caper: Felicity Jones leads the pack in Star Wars: Rogue One
Space caper: Felicity Jones leads the pack in Star Wars: Rogue One
The other alien-and-nostalgia-infused blockbuster we can look forward to is Independence Day: Resurgence. Set 20 years after the events of the beloved original took place, the sequel soldiers on without Will Smith among its ranks – blame the Fresh Prince’s $50 million asking fee – though both director Roland Emmerich and stars Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman make a comeback, along with newbies Liam Hemsworth (The Hunger Games saga) and Maika Monroe (It Follows). The trailer suggests that darker times lie ahead, which will align this installment with an ongoing trend in commercial genre cinema.

 

Another long-delayed sequel will come in the form of Finding Dory – where Ellen DeGeneres’s amnesiac fish returns to entertain us with her ditzy-but-well-meaning antics six months from where Finding Nemo (2003) left off. CGI animation will also have its day with Warcraft, an ostensibly live-action adaptation of the colossally popular fantasy video game of the same name. Relying heavily on computer animation but directed by the otherwise able Duncan Jones (that’s David Bowie Jr, folks), this could be a fun variant on Peter Jackson’s bloated Hobbit franchise  – given how Warcraft has been borrowing liberally from JRR Tolkien’s milieu ever since Blizzard unleashed their first version of what since became a global phenomenon.

Dances with Orcs: Duncan Jones takes on the Warcraft film adaptation
Dances with Orcs: Duncan Jones takes on the Warcraft film adaptation
Video games have almost never made for good films though, and we’ll have a second case-study with which to test that pattern this year, as the partly Malta-filmed Assassin’s Creed also parkours its way to the screens.

The superhero machine will continue churning in earnest, most loudly and hammily with Zack Snyder’s Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, which ostensibly serves as a sequel to the loud and tonally uneven Man of Steel (2013) and which introduced Ben Affleck as Batman himself.

Head to head: Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill in Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice
Head to head: Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill in Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice
With Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) also squeezed into the mix and Jesse Eisenberg as an adolescent, Zuckerberg-like Lex Luthor, this looks like a hot mess that should be experienced as a particularly scintillating car crash – arguably a do-or-die move for the DC Comics cinematic superhero universe.

Marvel Studios’s behemoth, on the other hand, will be Captain America: Civil War, which pits the titular patriot (Chris Evans) against Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) in a dispute over whether superheroes should allow their powers to be curtailed by government.

If that sounds a tad dull to you fear not, Marvel are offering up something for adults with a sense of humour and fun thanks to Deadpool – the comic book giant’s bona fide trickster figure, here played by Ryan Reynolds in what seems like a passion project for all involved. Also throwing X-Men’s Colossus into the mix, the film sees cancer-patient-turned-superpowered-mercenary Wade Wilson (Reynolds) on a quest to rescue his girlfriend from the clutches from the evil Ajax (Ed Skrein) – leaving a trail of bloody bodies and foul-mouthed wisecracks in his wake.

Merc with a mouth: Ryan Reynolds is Deadpool
Merc with a mouth: Ryan Reynolds is Deadpool
DC Comics’s contribution to the dark side of the superhero coin will be Suicide Squad, which is prominent for it irresistible premise – a gang of villains is employed by government for ‘suicide’ missions nobody else would take – and the appearance of Jared Leto as the iconic Joker… though Margot Robbie taking on the role of Joker’s love interest Harley Quinn is not to be sniffed at either. With director David Ayer at the helm – who proved he could more than manage an ensemble cast with last year’s Brad Pitt wartime thriller Fury – there’s hope for this being the rough diamond of the tentpole comics adaptations pile.

But Marvel’s Doctor Strange could also potentially inject a new flavour into their – otherwise pretty militaristic – superhero universe. Starring the beloved Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular surgeon-turned-mage, Scott Derrickson’s film could bring a much-needed aura of exotic magic to this otherwise pretty mechanized world, and with the likes of Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen and Chiwetel Ejiofor also on board, some solid acting chops are also be expected. Derrickson himself being something of a horror veteran – with the likes of Sinister, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Deliver Us from Evil under his belt – should also help in spicing up the Marvel brand a little bit.

Practical magic: Baker-fresh photo of Benedict Cumberbatch as Marvel's Dr Strange
Practical magic: Baker-fresh photo of Benedict Cumberbatch as Marvel's Dr Strange
Cumberbatch, a pretty ubiquitous presence following his masterful turn in BBC’s Sherlock, also makes an appearance in Zoolander 2, a follow up to the far-better-than-it-should-have-been original from 2001. Directed by Ben Stiller, it sees Stiller and Owen Wilson returning as dim-witted male models Derek and Hansel – who are once again implicated in an international plot, and once again have to face off with their dreaded foe, Jacobim Mugatu (Will Ferrell).

The other high-profile comedy of 2016 will likely by Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – a humorous angle on the war in Afghanistan, based on the memoir by Kim Barker and starring Tina Fey as a journalist who strikes up an unlikely relationship with her Scottish counterpart (Martin Freeman) on the field.

Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson return in Zoolander 2
Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson return in Zoolander 2
On the more high-brow comedy front – or at least the more stylistically polished – we’ll be getting a Coen Bros. screwball misadventure courtesy of Hail Ceasar! which contrary to what you may assume, is not set in ancient Rome, but in 1950s Hollywood, and follows the misadventures of actor Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) as he’s kidnapped by an organisation calling itself The Future.

 

And possibly bridging the gap between comedy and the genre-franchising that’ll be on display whole year round, is Pride and Prejudice vs Zombies, a cinematic adaptation of what has already become something of a stale joke in the (sub)literary world. But judging by the trailer, this ‘mash-up’ gets the balance between farce and supernatural terror just about right – it could potentially be Sean of the Dead in Jane Austen’s universe.

Bite me: Pride and Prejudice vs Zombies
Bite me: Pride and Prejudice vs Zombies
Stretching the artistic limits of genre is, however, Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn’s forte, and the director of Drive and Only God Forgives appears to have found eager playmates in Keanu Reeves, Elle Fanning and Christina Hendricks, as he embarks on an as-yet enigmatic journey to detail the lives of ‘image obsessed’ characters from Los Angeles with Neon Demon. Though very little details have emerged about the project so far, we can expect this from Refn: that it’ll be stylish and violent.

Blood and lights: Elle Fanning stars in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Neon Demon
Blood and lights: Elle Fanning stars in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Neon Demon
Three heavyweights of American cinema will also be chipping in their respective contributions this year, a fact for which we should perhaps be thankful given the onslaught of big studio and franchise products continuously peddled our way. Martin Scorcese wanders far from his New York comfort zone with Silence, a long-gestating project with a history of behind-the-scenes production drama that focuses on the disastrous attempt by two Jesuit Portuguese priests – played by Liam Neeson and Andrew Garfield – to seek out their mentor in Japan.

Dangerous pilgrimage: Liam Neeson in Martin Scorcese's Silence
Dangerous pilgrimage: Liam Neeson in Martin Scorcese's Silence
It’s the appearance of Silence on the scene that forced famed Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar to change the title of his latest film into Julieta which, in its focus on a female character at different stages of her life appears to be a return to the ‘women-centered’ films that defined his early career.

Women on the verge: Pedro Almodovar's Julieta
Women on the verge: Pedro Almodovar's Julieta
Meanwhile, Richard Linklater (Boyhood) also delves back into his past with Everybody Wants Some which he describes as being the ‘spiritual successor’ to his classic coming-of-age film Dazed and Confused (1993) – it being the story of a group of colleague baseball players in the 1980s, negotiating the difficult transition from youth to adulthood.

Nostalgia trip: Richard Linklater delves into his back catalogue with coming-of-age dramedy Everybody Wants Some
Nostalgia trip: Richard Linklater delves into his back catalogue with coming-of-age dramedy Everybody Wants Some
And the previously reclusive auteur-to-end-all-auteurs Terrence Malick continues an unprecedented streak in productivity with Weightless. Not much is known about this ‘musical drama’, save for the fact that it boasts an impressive ensemble cast – which is becoming standard for Malick – that includes Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchett, Val Kilmer, Clifton Collins Jr., Benicio del Toro and Michael Fassbender.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...
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