Senses of Cinema, World Poll 2021

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World Poll 2019 — Part 4

As per my previous World Poll contributions, this list reflects on the key blockbuster franchise releases of the year. Thinking back to my notable viewing this year, I could discuss The Dry (Robert Connolly, 2021), High Ground (Stephen Johnson, 2021), Promising Young Woman (Emerald Fennell, 2020), Nomadland (Chloé Zhao, 2020), Wrath of Man (Guy Ritchie 2021), The Beatles: Get Back (Peter Jackson 2021), or The Power of the Dog (Jane Campion, 2021) – but I won’t, because I’d be ignoring an aspect of cinema that rarely gets mentioned in such polls. 

Blockbuster franchising is crucial to my experience of cinephilia and my love of going to the cinema. This has been a hard practice to maintain during a pandemic with lockdowns, closed cinemas, and delayed blockbusters, but the last two months of 2021 has been a frenzy of new franchise releases at the cinema. This is in striking contrast to the three blockbuster franchise movies released in cinemas in 2020, with many blockbusters delayed to 2021. 

As with my past contributions to this poll, this contribution surveys blockbuster franchise releases for the year to document the development of the franchise mode. This year I have organised my list based on viewing order, not preference.

Godzilla vs. Kong (Adam Wingard, 2021)

The fourth instalment in Warner Brothers’ ‘MonsterVerse’ franchise, this was a cinematic spectacle that celebrated the histories of both the ‘Godzilla’ and ‘King Kong’ properties and exemplified the virtuosic artistry of visual effects. 

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)
F9 (Justin Lin, 2021)

This latest instalment in the ‘Fast and the Furious’ franchise seems to lack the complex plot formation of previous instalments and potentially undermines earlier narrative events, but the persistence of this franchise is a testament to its action sequences and the investment of its audience. This franchise may be unapologetically absurd, but at least it is committed to its “family” theme. 

F9 (2021)
Black Widow (Cate Shortland, 2021)

This long delayed but highly anticipated entry in the ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’ (MCU) was a notable highlight for me this year and I was grateful to have had the opportunity to see it in the cinema, not so much because of its big action scenes but to experience Cate Shortland’s delicate aesthetic style on the big scene. With this interquel instalment, Shortland’s style captured the personal disruption felt by its main characters in tandem with the narrative displacement of its plot. 

Black Widow (2021)
The Suicide Squad (James Gunn, 2021)

Not to be confused with the 2016 DC movie Suicide Squad, I expected a stronger grindhouse style with this instalment but this reimagining by James Gunn proves that adding “The” to a movie title can make a difference. Unfortunately, the theatre release of this movie coincided with a lockdown and local cinema closures, so I had to watch this at home, which may have influenced my experience. 

The Suicide Squad (2021)
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Destin Daniel Cretton, 2021)

The second ‘MCU’ instalment to be released this year and the twenty-fifth entry in the franchise based on Marvel Comics, this reflects Marvel Studios’ command of its own adaptation ecology as it synthesises the origin story of Shang-Chi with narrative elements first introduced in Iron Man 3 (2013). 

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
Eternals (Chloé Zhao, 2021)

This was a divisive ‘MCU’ release this year, with disparate responses between critics and audiences. Chloé Zhao’s aesthetic sensibilities and narrative style is intertwined with the ‘MCU’ formula, which has an interesting impact. This is not among my favourite ‘MCU’ movies in any regard, but it is a compelling case study for examining the function of familiarity and variation in the ‘MCU’ formula

Eternals (2021)
Halloween Kills (David Gordon Green, 2021)

A sequel to Halloween (2018) – which was itself a sequel to Halloween (1978) that tried to ignore the existence of previous sequels – this newest release struggles to find its place within the franchise’s serial continuity and mythos. Using the figure of Michael Myers to capture the terror of mass fear and hysteria, this entry was a change in tone from the grittier realism of its predecessor, but the awkward comedic ridiculousness of a mob chanting “evil dies tonight!” inside a hospital seemed frighteningly real in the current political climate. 

Halloween Kills (2021)
No Time to Die (Cary Joji Fukunaga, 2021)

The twenty-fifth official instalment in the ‘Bond’ franchise and the final of the ‘Daniel Craig’ era, No Time to Die was a long time coming and left a big impact on the future of the franchise (and my emotional composure). This instalment concluded the narrative arc developed across the previous four entries and tapped into the heart and soul of the ‘Bond’ franchise through allusion to past instalments, particularly On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969).    

No Time To Die (2021)
Dune (Denis Villeneuve, 2021) 

This is the first part in Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel, Dune (1965), with at least one more instalment on the way. Its mastery in production design and visual style makes this a striking contribution to the ‘Dune’ franchise, which works in contrast with its minimalist approach to storyworld narration. It will be interesting to see how this franchise unfolds in the next part.

Dune (2021)
Spider-Man: No Way Home (Jon Watts, 2021) 

Spider-Man’s third solo instalment in the ‘MCU’ through a collaboration between Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures, No Way Home is the event movie of the year that exemplifies the relationship between licensing, creative development, and audience engagement in blockbuster franchising. 

Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

Other franchise instalments released this year include Venom: Let There Be Carnage (Andy Serkis, 2021), A Quiet Place Part II (John Krasinski, 2020), Mortal Kombat (Simon McQuoid, 2021), Snake Eyes (Robert Schwentke, 2021), The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (Michael Chaves, 2021), The Forever Purge (Everardo Valerio Gout, 2021), and Spiral: From the Book of Saw (Darren Lynn Bousman, 2021). 

The Matrix Resurrections (Lana Wachowski, 2021) and Ghostbusters: Afterlife (Jason Reitman, 2021) were not yet released in Australia at the time of writing this poll.

The Matrix Resurrections (2021)