The Senses of Cinema World Poll has come around again and I’m happy to have contributed to this significant and extensive project for another year. As with my 2017 contribution, I focus only on franchise instalments because I consider franchise cinema to be an important mode of contemporary entertainment and worth acknowledging in any celebration of cinema and cinephilia. In 2017, I ordered my list chronologically based on release to avoid choosing favourites, but in 2018 I chose to order based on my favourites. This was difficult as I tried to balance my personal preferences with wanting to still acknowledge instalments that pushed the boundaries or experimented with franchise form and style; this was particularly the case with my inclusion of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, which I don’t personal enjoy but thought the instalment to be significant in terms of new directions for franchising.
World Poll 2018 — Part 5
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In keeping with the theme of my contribution to last year’s world poll, this list focuses specifically on franchise instalments. With this contribution, my objective is to reflect on my best viewing experiences throughout the year and also to document notable examples of franchise production. To guide my scope, this year I base my selection and the order of my list on franchise instalments I personally enjoyed—whether intellectually or as entertainment (often both) – and which exceeded or challenged my expectations of formal development and direction of the respective franchise.
10. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (David Yates, 2018)
The previous instalment in this franchise, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Yates, 2016), is among my favourite instalments in the Wizarding World franchise (the rebranded Harry Potter franchise), so admittedly I’m still processing my acute disappointment in this latest instalment. Even so, I list this instalment here because it is worth acknowledging that it challenges the value and function of classical storytelling conventions in the franchise mode and, as an original screenplay written by J.K. Rowling, this instalment also raises new questions about the changing dynamics of adaptation and authorship in the Wizarding World franchise.
9. Deadpool 2 (David Leitch, 2018)
As Fred Savage admits to Deadpool in the family-friendly Christmas re-release of this movie, Once Upon a Deadpool(2018), “I kinda prefer Marvel movies…[but] you’re just Marvel licensed by Fox.” As Disney prepares to acquire Fox and its franchise properties, the meta fourth-wall-breaking antics of the Deadpool franchise will always be valuable as a satirical commentary on the state of superhero cinema and its industrial workings.
9. Aquaman (James Wan, 2018)
Since the poll submission was due before the Australian theatrical release of Aquaman, this is a postscript to my official poll contribution. This latest DC instalment reveals a shift in tone, colour, and style that gives new life to a floundering franchise. I’m polling this as a tie for 9th with Deadpool 2 because, while this potentially signals a new direction for the DC franchise, it didn’t add much to my reflections on the year other than thoroughly enjoying it as a perfect summer blockbuster.
8. Mission: Impossible—Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie, 2018)
This latest instalment in the informally branded “Tom Cruise franchise” is notable for Cruise’s practical stunt work and Henry Cavill’s controversial moustache; also, now with six instalments across twelve years, the Mission: Impossible franchise demonstrates that the action genre can indeed compete with the dominance of superheroes in franchise production.
7. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (J.A. Bayona, 2018)
After an awkward opening act during which I wondered if this instalment even wants to be taken seriously before I should even try, I realised that Fallen Kingdom is best embraced as a big-budget dinosploitation movie that hybridises genre and intertextually remixes the franchise’s own history. Although not well-received by critics or fans of the Jurassic Park franchise, to me this is a spectacular celebration of the franchise’s 25-year anniversary.
6. Ant-Man and the Wasp (Peyton Reed, 2018)
This instalment sweeps away the post-Infinity War ash with the signature humour and light-heartened tone established in Ant-Man (Reed, 2015), only to leave jaws dropped with a surprising post-credit scene with significant plot implications. This is a small-scale story with high stakes for the future direction of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
5. BumbleBee (Travis Knight, 2018)
An eleventh-hour addition to this list and one of the last blockbuster franchise instalments for the year (followed by Aquaman (James Wan, 2018)—yet to be released in Australian cinemas), this latest instalment of the much (I think unfairly) derided Transformers franchise is full of soul as a prequel story that centres on the charming Autobot, BumbleBee. A successful concert of storytelling and spectacle, this instalment gives new life to the Transformers franchise.
4. Black Panther (Ryan Coogler, 2018)
This started 2018 off to a strong start for the ten-year anniversary of Marvel Studios and the MCU; it also set a new standard for superhero cinema and franchise production. In pushing the boundaries of racial, cultural, and aesthetic diversity, Black Panther didn’t only impress typical superhero audiences but engaged a broad range of cinema viewers, many not accustomed to enjoying popular mainstream fare. However, this breakthrough doesn’t make this instalment any less of a superhero or MCU movie: Black Panther’s achievement extends beyond the boundaries of a standalone movie, with potential influence across the future of the MCU.
3. Avengers: Infinity War (Joseph and Anthony Russo, 2018)
Ten years and eighteen movies in the making, this MCU instalment is an assemblage of characters, memories, events, and character objectives from past instalments. Infinity War begins without preamble or exposition and so relies upon the audience’s proficiency and experience with the entire franchise. This is a risky strategy for a blockbuster movie, but in respecting the intelligence and experience of its audience Marvel Studios continues to be the powerhouse of franchise production.
2. Solo: A Star Wars Story (Ron Howard, 2018)
Failing to reach its box office potential, this latest instalment in the Star Wars franchise perhaps suffered in the wake of its highly divisive and contentious predecessor Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson, 2017). While many criticisms suggest that Han Solo’s past is not a story that needed to be told, I think Solo, like Rogue One (Gareth Edwards, 2016), necessarily consolidates the franchise’s past and present, while it negotiates its future. In an era when Star Wars is working to secure its longevity by exploring new directions for the franchise and its characters, Solo reinforces that the franchise will always have an unrealised past that may still shape its future.
1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Peter Ramsey, Robert Persichetti Jr., and Rodney Rothman, 2018)
The most superior superhero/comic book/franchise movie of the year (and potentially the decade), which for me is a significant judgement to make in a year of franchise output that also includes one Star Wars and three MCU instalments. With this movie, Sony Pictures finally embraces the multiverse possibilities of its Spider-Man license and demonstrates sophisticated command of the Spider-Verse and its aesthetic and cultural diversity. Into the Spider-Verse also features a complex and engaging audiovisual style that showcases the artistic potential of animation.
Additional notable mentions: Creed II (Steven Cable Jr., 2018); Halloween (David Gordon Green, 2018); The Incredibles 2 (Brad Bird, 2018); The Predator (Shane Black, 2018); Venom (Ruben Fleischer, 2018).
NB: Aquaman (James Wan, 2018) Australian release scheduled for after poll submission (see postscript at entry 9).