The most anticipated films of 2018

TEODOR RELJIC dusts off the crystal ball (aka Google with a dash of IMDB) to suss out what the most hotly-anticipated cinematic outings of the coming year will be

Black Panther
Black Panther

THE OBVIOUS STUFF

With both Marvel and DC continuing their efforts – to varying degrees of success – of building literal universes out of interconnected superhero franchises, it comes as no surprise that big guns like Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther top the list of eagerly-awaited blockbusters for the coming year. Infinity War is an “important” entry in more ways than one, as it finally promises some degree of closure on the ever-mushrooming tales of the superhero team – who finally go head-to-head with the much-teased Thanos (Josh Brolin) whose destructive steak across the known universe promises... well, yet another desperate intervention by Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Tony Stark), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and co. This will also be a ‘bookending’ chapter for Marvel in more ways than one, with some heroes set to depart to make way for the ‘second wave’ of Avengers, which will include the likes of Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and even Spider-Man (Tom Holland) – with the latter character being given his own cinematic animated feature-length release with Spider-Man: Into the SpiderVerse, which will give the African American variant of Spider-Man, Miles Morales a chance to shine.

Representation is, of course, at the forefront of Black Panther’s first feature-length film, with the titular character, played by Chadwick Boseman and having made his debut in Avengers: Civil War, presiding over the hyper-advanced African nation of Wakanda as it faces dangerous insurrection. Directed by Fruitvale Station’s Ryan Coogler and also featuring that based-on-real-events film’s star Michael B. Jordan in the antagonist role, it is bound to do for racial representation in superhero film what this year’s Wonder Woman did for its female counterpart.

And speaking of DC heroes, Aquaman will be the next out of their stable, with Jason Momoa reprising the titular role he first took on in this year’s not-that-bad, but not-that-good-either Justice League, Amber Heard on his side as fellow Atlanean royal. Confusingly, it falls on otherwise fairly competent horror director James Wan (The Conjuring, Insidious) to bring what looks like a cookie-cutter ‘reluctant king’ tale to life. The times continue to be challenging for DC, since Aquaman will also be punching against Marvel’s own take on the ‘minor superheroes’ flick as they unleash Ant-Man and the Wasp onto the world.

Hardy franchises like Jurassic Park and Mission Impossible will also brighten our screens with fresh installments in the coming year, with The Orphanage director JA Bayona taking on from Colin Trevnorrow (fired even from Star Wars: Episode IX after the misjudged flop that was The Book of Henry) for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom to bring us a story of Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard attempting to avert dinogeddon as a volcano threatens to destroy their home island. Little is known about M I: 6 Mission Impossible beyond the fact that Christopher McQuarrie directs Tom Cruise yet again after their adventure with the first Jack Reacher film, and the fact that it will also co-star Superman himself Henry Cavill... who will be sporting a mustache... the same mustache that led to that horrendous, easy-to-parody CGI job in Justice League.

Though hype-hampered by its own bit of controversy – with ‘Lego Movie’ directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller being replaced by veteran helmer Ron Howard half-way through production – all eyes will undoubtedly be on Solo: A Star Wars Story, the second Star Wars ‘Anthology’ movie after Rogue One, this time focusing on the early days of everyone’s favourite space rogue Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich).

 

David Harbour as Hellboy
David Harbour as Hellboy

THE BORDERLINE STUFF

While still broadly in the superhero wheelhouse, The New Mutants and Venom look to be oblique takes on the multi-million, multi-movie “shared universe” tentpoles under whose shadow they will be operating but, hopefully, also sprouting into interesting fungal growths of their own. In the former case, characters traditionally found in Marvel’s X-Men comics universe will be forced to make their way out of a torture-happy mental institution. In short, it looks like a refreshingly claustrophobic take on the otherwise bombastic superhero genre, and a stripped-down horror movie might just be the ticket to get us all interested in the cinematic X-universe again (which, by the way, will enjoy another chapter with X-Men: Dark Phoenix... but we doubt anyone’s holding their breath for that one).

Venom also has potential to heal former franchise wounds, as the black-space-goo-empowered Spider-Man villain will now get a second chance to shine after Sam Raimi’s much-maligned take on the character in the equally maligned as a whole Spider-Man 3. Having him played by the decidedly not-maligned Tom Hardy should help a bunch, too.

Also on the edges of blockbuster attention is Hellboy, a reboot of sorts coming off the largely beloved but not all that bankable Guillermo Del Toro takes on the “hellspawn raised by humans to do good” character first conceived in the Dark Horse Comics series by Mike Mignola. While the combination of Neil Marshall as director (The Descent, a bunch of Game of Thrones episodes) and Stranger Things’ own Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) taking on the titular role of the all-red and sheared-horned paranormal investigator augurs for an entertaining ride, chances are it won’t have the same heartfelt charm of Del Toro’s and Ron Pearlman’s
earlier pairing. Still on the sci-fi spectrum, though with a more intellectually rigorous and experimentally-edged focus comes Annihilation, writer-director Alex Garland’s adaptation of the first volume in Jeff VanderMeer’s critically-acclaimed and internationally bestselling ‘Southern Reach’ novel trilogy.
  Starring Natalie Portman and coming off of Garland’s sharp and clever techno-chiller Ex Machina, this looks to be a promising trek into the deep, deep unknown, as a group of researchers take a leap into an “infected” natural reserve to discover what exactly claimed either the lives – or consciousnesses – of their predecessors.

Despite its clout and promise, Annihilation will only be getting a limited cinematic release in the US and parts of China, going instantly to Netflix in the UK and – it seems – pretty much the rest of Europe. It’s a sad though telling state of affairs that even a film with this amount of sheer wattage – Portman, Garland, respected source material – ends up being treated like a too-risky offcut. It seems as though you’re either a superhero film, or you’re nothing.

But representation also dominates this erstwhile category, starting off with Annihilation’s virtually all-female cast and continuing on with the equally female-centric, but also African-American focused A Wrinkle in Time, directed by Ava DuVernay (13th, Selma), starring the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Reece Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling and adapted from the high-concept sci-fi novel from Madeleine L’Engle.

 

THE STUFF THAT COULD GO EITHER WAY

Though based on a much-hyped and bestselling novel by Ernest Cline which capitalises on the kind of geek nostalgia-teat which Stranger Things got plenty of mileage out of, Ready Player One, directed by none other than Steven Spielberg, also seems to play into some of the most facile and reactionary ‘white male hero’ narratives out there – which is not a great look in the post-Gamergate, post-Trump era.

Feeding off of a similar pop culture source but taking a welcome swerve into what looks like a fresh direction, Bumblebee takes a minor character from the Transformers universe and gives them a more delicate, whimsical touch courtesy of the acclaimed studio Laika – the brains behind the utterly charming Kubo and the Two Strings.

Meanwhile, a couple of franchises will continue independently of their original directors. First up is Pacific Rim: Uprising, with TV director Steven S. DeKnight stepping in to fill Guillermo del Toro’s shoes in what, unlike Bumblebee, looks to be a creation worthy of Transformers-peddler Michael Bay. Could be entertaining, but we’ll have to wait and see. Sicario 2: Soledad continues the Mexican drug war story with neither visionary director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Blade Runner 2049) nor star Emily Blunt on board, though it does retain Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin.

Red Sparrow sees Jennifer Lawrence re-teaming with former Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence for a ballerina-turned-superspy schlocker that appears to come in equal portions of delicious and ridiculous, while the long-awaited but troubled Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, starring Mr Robot’s Rami Malek, comes in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations for former director Bryan Singer – with actor-director Dexter Fletcher (Eddie the Eagle) stepping in to oversee the final stages of production.

 

THE REMAKE ROAD

Bruce Willis in Death Wish
Bruce Willis in Death Wish

Horror remakes are often a slippery slope into a worse hell than even its most darkly imaginative writer and directors can possibly dream up, but this year we may be forced to concede that there’s might just be something worthwhile in giving them a shot. First up is Luca Guadagnino’s take on the Dario Argento witches-coven classic Suspiria. The fact that it stars Chole Grace Moretz may not calm the nerves – after all, the rising star also headlined the risible and ill-advised Carrie reboot a couple of years back – and neither should the addition of generic-eccentric Tilda Swinton. But Guadagnino has directorial weight to spare, and is currently basking in well-deserved accolades off of his acclaimed coming-of-age drama Call Me By Your Name. It’s an industry narrative that runs counter to the idea that such remakes are just hived off to either amateurs or low-ambition hacks, much as is the case with the upcoming Halloween, helmed by fratboy comedy boy done good David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, Joe, Stronger). It’s a reboot of the genre-defining John Carpenter slasher that appears partly (re)animated into action by the desire to extinguish the risible Rob Zombie remakes and prequels out of existence, as it sees the return of the original ‘final girl’ Jamie Lee Curtis once again taking on the role of Laurie Strode for what promises to be an adequately ‘final’ confrontation with her mute, white-masked serial killer brother Michael Myers.

But speaking of bona fide horror hacks, another remake that is perhaps regrettably on the horizon is Death Wish, with Eli Roth (Hostel, Knock Knock, The Green Inferno) asking Bruce Willis to step into Charles Bronson’s shoes as he vows vigilante justice on all lawbreakers in Chicago. Going by intuition, perhaps all tempted by what will doubtlessly be another facile and politically dubious hack-job by Roth would be better served catching up with Marvel’s Punisher on Netflix.

 

Isle of Dogs by Wes Anderson
Isle of Dogs by Wes Anderson

THE JUICY ARTHOUSE TREATS

Hiding behind the sound and fury of bombastic blockbusters desperate for your attention will be some quieter films that promise substance and longevity. A clear contender for international awards season will be Everybody Knows, for which superlative Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, The Past, The Salesman) shifts his focus to Spain to make a thriller starring Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem – an intriguing enough proposition even without a plot summary attached. On a more reassuringly whimsical note comes Isle of Dogs, which sees geometrically-obsessed master of twee Wes Anderson (Grand Budapest Hotel) return to stop-motion for the first time after Fantastic Mr Fox. Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity) returns to Mexico to tell a home-grown family saga set in the 1970s with Roma, while French director Jacques Audiard takes his first leap into English-language cinema with The Sisters Brothers, based on the Booker-shortlisted novel by Patrick DeWitt.

But The Man Who Killed Don Quixote will undoubtedly be one of the key events for cineastes worldwide, as it sees madcap auteur director Terry Gilliam finally push his adaptation of Cervantes’s magnum opus through the studio door after many failed attempts... which in and of themselves confirmed the ‘quixotic’ nature of the project itself.

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