2021 will be a hugely transitional year for television and cinema as they react to our new post-pandemic habits. It could also be hugely entertaining year for audiences, as we get all those delayed 2020 releases plus some new ones. Here are my picks for three TV shows and three movies to see this year, plus a rundown of other big series and films:
Tom Hardy gives one of the best turns in a thankless role you’ll ever see. Known behind the scenes as Sony’s attempt to cash in on a “Spider-Man” character it has under its creative control, “Venom” (2018) is about a journalist, Eddie Brock, who gets possessed by an alien Symbiote. When Eddie is in the throes of possession, the sweat-drenched Hardy is sympathetic and funny; when Venom takes over, the performance is lost in a black CGI blob with white eyes and teeth.
These were my 10 favorite movies of 2019, a year when superheroes continued to dominate but when we also got prime slices of action, comedy and history – plus one of the most masterfully haunting horror films in a long while:
Two of Peter’s classmates have a whirlwind romance on a school field trip. Nick Fury is grumpy about his calls going to voicemail. And to Peter’s consternation, Happy and Aunt Mae are flirting. “Spider-Man: Far From Home” flips the cliché of a blockbuster where we marvel at the action sequences and yawn at everything in between. My mind did wander at times during the film, but it was during the bravura special effects – because we live in an age where everything that makes it to theaters has bravura special effects.
Similar to “Spider-Man 3” (2007), so much is going on in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (2014) that – even if all that stuff is pretty good on its own – a viewer can’t appreciate any of it as much as he should. In this sequel that probably was not intended to be the final statement in the “Amazing” series but ended up that way when Spidey got rebooted over to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for “Captain America: Civil War” (2016), director Marc Webb and a team of four writers cram in a ton of ideas.
Like what the Dark Knight Trilogy is to the 1990s “Batman” movies, and what the 21st century “Superman” films are to the Christopher Reeve versions, “The Amazing Spider-Man” (2012) gives us a darker alternative to Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” trilogy. This approach only makes creative sense for Batman, since he has long been a Dark Knight in the comics, fighting villains from nightmares. And indeed, when watching “The Amazing Spider-Man,” I couldn’t help but think how much more tonally appropriate the 2002 “Spider-Man” is. But while “Amazing” isn’t a good Spider-Man movie, it’s not a bad movie in a vacuum.
Spider-Man 3” (2007) packs too many villains and character threads into the last chapter of the saga starring Tobey Maguire. Many of these elements are engaging on their own, but we don’t get to absorb everything like we do in parts one and two. There are also more shortcuts via conveniences or barely explained happenings, and many of the conflicts are built on that lazy screenwriting tactic of someone not communicating a fact to the person who needs to know it. That said, I don’t think “Spider-Man 3” is one for the garbage heap; director Sam Raimi and his team ultimately find their way back to the relationship between Peter and Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) at the trilogy’s heart.
From the opening credits that recap the first film’s narrative with pencil drawings to the closing moments of Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) deciding to give it a go with Peter (Tobey Maguire) even though he’s Spider-Man, “Spider-Man 2” (2004) is a totally engrossing and satisfying sequel. Director Sam Raimi puts a viewer in the shoes of Peter the whole way as he hits his lowest lows – losing his powers while also feeling all alone in the world – then rises up again.
Ithought “Spider-Man” (2002) was run-of-the-mill when I saw it in theaters, but I got into it more on this rewatch. It’s a down-the-middle origin story for sure, but the fact that writer David Koepp and director Sam Raimi get the tone of the comic-book right (for kids, but not dumbed down; fun, but with real stakes) is nothing to sneeze at. And the casting – my god, the casting. I can see the longing in Tobey Maguire’s eyes every time Peter Parker looks at Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), and Willem Dafoe is excellent in a tricky, tragic role where he isn’t always aware he is in fact the Green Goblin.
The grand experiment is over, and it’s a success. The first 22 films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe comprise a saga similar to a TV serial, but with way more characters, way more side journeys and way more money. And most remarkably for a movie series, it has an ending for the initial batch of six Avengers, with “Avengers: Endgame.” We knew all this going into the film, which itself raises one final question: Does it stick the landing? The answer is a qualified yes.