Something strange is afoot on io9.
[Editor’s note: This is absolutely not io9’s Best Movies of 2020 list. That’s still to come in our year in review series. This is a list of big-budget films that were supposed to come out in 2020 but were delayed by the pandemic. It was sent to me from firstname.lastname@example.org. I thought Bricken was screwing around, but he claims to have been vacationing in a cabin with neither wifi nor cellphone service when the email was sent. I’m honestly starting to wonder if there isn’t some Fringe situation going on here and this was actually filed by Rob Tricken. Do with this information what you will. You’ve been warned—Jill P.]
Disney boldly took its big first step into the MCU’s Phase 4 with this movie starring Marvel Comics’ Eternals, a group of ancient, secret, Earth-protecting aliens who have to resurface and reconnect to battle their evil counterparts, the Deviants. Although it inevitably but understandably felt disconnected from the Infinity Saga, the movie was epic on every level, including its timeframe of eons, its cosmic-level stakes, and those wild, nearly psychedelic action scenes, unlike anything we’ve seen before in a superhero movie.
The main problem with Eternals is that despite being utterly compelling to see, it is instantly forgettable when you walk out of the theater with your hundreds of fellow movie-goers, presumably because no one has ever cared about the Eternals, not even comic fans. It’s hard to remember anything other than a few broad details (I’ve asked the io8 team, and they don’t remember either), but we’re all pretty sure Angelina Jolie was in it, right? And there was a fight with…I want to say giant robots or something? At any rate, Kumail Nanjiani definitely had abs. Anyway, all in all, it was another great hit from Marvel Studios, probably.
We’ve been clamoring for these two to face each other on the big screen since the giant monster blockbusters Kong: Skull Island and Godzilla: King of the Monsters knocked our comparatively tiny socks off (although this is technically a rematch, as the titans first squared off in a 1962 movie from Toho, the studio that created the Big G). Director Adam Wingard shocked audiences when the two monsters began their fight in the very first moment of the movie, and it was a marvel to behold as the nearly 400-foot-tall Godzilla, with his size and power advantage, tried to land a hit on the faster, more agile, and barely 100-foot-tall Kong.
Viewers were sitting on the edge of their seats, eyes glued to the screen for nearly an hour of non-stop fighting, until the King of the Monsters landed a fateful, lucky stomp, which knocked the giant yet comparatively tiny ape off his feet. This was all the time Godzilla needed to destroy his foe with an atomic blast and retain his crown. But Wingard shocked audiences again when, after the fight ended at minute 57 in the film, the director kept the camera fixed solely on the corpse of Kong for 70 more minutes, allowing viewers to only hear the additional destruction Godzilla was wreaking in the background. It was a bold move, and audiences are still arguing whether it was a brilliant statement on the futility of war and violence or just nonsense.
The surprise Sony Universe of Marvel characters hit of 2018 ended with a post-credits scene of Woody Harrelson as Cletus Kasady, a serial killer who would eventually find a symbiote happy to help him enact his most murderous desires. The Venom sequel delivered on that scene, and more! Whether the success of the two Deadpool films sank in, or they read all the Venom reviews that complained the film had been too tame, Sony execs allowed the sequel to have an R rating, which director Andy Serkis—yes, that Andy Serkis—took to the limit.
There’s never been a superhero movie (or antihero movie, if you prefer) that contained more graphic violence. Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) and Venom killed countless Life Foundation goons still going after the symbiotes, while Kasady/Carnage killed every single living person who had the misfortune to walk into the camera frame. It paid off, as Venom: Let There Be Carnage decoupled its weirdly meager $70 million budget. As for that long-anticipated cameo, it was wonderful to finally see Tom Holland pop in as Spider-Man in a Sony film again, even if he was brutally murdered by Carnage a few seconds later.
Eschewing the 2016 comedy reboot starring Melissa McCarthy and Kate McKinnon, director Jason Reitman—son of Ivan Reitman, director of the original ‘80s Ghostbusters films—created a direct sequel to his father’s works, despite the death of original series star Harold Ramis. Instead, he anchored the movie around the grandchildren of Ramis’ beloved character Egon Spengler, although they spend almost all of their screen time meeting and interacting with the cast of the original films, including Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, and Annie Potts.
All those fans who grew up watching and rewatching the original Ghostbusters were delighted to see these beloved characters return, to say nothing of all the Easter eggs. The fact that no one under the age of 18 who saw Afterlife knew anything about who these characters were, or what was happening, or why they should care about any of it, and thus completely hated the film couldn’t stop all the old-school fans from seeing the long-awaited sequel as the only thing it was intended to be: a time capsule of ‘80 nostalgia.
We knew we were in for a treat when producer Jordan Peele announced his company would be rebooting the Candyman horror franchise, especially when we learned Peale would also be co-writing the screenplay and brought Nia DaCosta on to direct. The result, like Get Out and Us before it, was a beautiful, haunting, horrifying tale with characters we cared so much about it hurt us as well when they were viciously murdered on-screen. But if you want to talk about bold cinematic moves: DaCosta made the decision to change the traditional ritual to summon the titular supernatural slasher—where characters have to say “Candyman” five times—by having the killer show up anytime someone mentions his name, including occasionally if someone just says “candy.” This upped the murder and mayhem to unbelievable levels, both in terms of the number of deaths and quality of storytelling. Only this team could have had the brilliance to stage the final act in the M&M Store in New York City’s Times Square. Certainly, none of us will ever look at a red M&M in the same way again.
Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow has been a major part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe practically from the beginning, and it remains strange it took the studio a full decade—and the character’s death in Endgame—for Marvel to get around to it. While it’s hard to say it was worth the wait—chances are a Black Widow movie would have been awesome at any point in the ‘10s—that doesn’t change the fact that this prequel, showing the training and early career of the mega-spy/assassin Natasha Romanoff, was, indeed, totally awesome. While not as grand as Eternals or the MCU movies that preceded it, it didn’t need to be. In fact, it was genuinely refreshing to skip the space aliens and get back to badass martial arts fight scenes and classic gunfights.
David Harbour’s Red Guardian might have stolen the show if Johansson had taken her eyes off it, but she very much didn’t. Johansson used her time in the solo spotlight to prove without a shadow of a doubt that Black Widow is and always has been one of the MCU’s greatest characters. Alas, this made the movie’s one strange, unfortunate misstep—the reveal that all the assassins of the Black Widow program are required to eat their first male kills to complete their training, including the bones—stand out even more.
What can one say about the ninth installment of the long-running, multi-billion-dollar movie franchise? It is what it is, and what it is is a massively entertaining time. While it’s a shame that Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham were too busy making the Hobbs & Shaw sequel to star in F9 (presuming their beef with Vin Diesel would allow it, which it probably wouldn’t), their absence certainly didn’t hold the film back. While the plots of F&F movies aren’t always masterpieces, it hardly matters when the films deliver such action spectaculars and stunning twists, and there’s no better example than F9.
We knew the series was going to space after years of joking about it, but we never could have guessed how! It was revealed Han was an alien, of a race of aliens who all looked like Han, and he begged Dom and friends to save his home planet. The crew wound up driving over a massive version of the 2001 monolith, hoping against hope to jump over the giant Space Baby and save Earth and all the Hans. Truly, F9 delivered on all that and then exceeded expectations as only Fast & Furious movies can.
We were extremely lucky to have gotten not one but two amazing films starring major female heroes this year, but any year that had the infinitely anticipated Wonder Woman sequel premiere in it was going to be a delight to live through. Director Patty Jenkins made another nearly perfect superhero movie, somehow weaving the politics, fashions, and culture of the ‘80s with the magic of comics to make a story that not only showcased the reasons we love Diana of Themyscira, but enhanced her character, her adventures, and her battle against the Cheetah, played by a shockingly intimidating Kristin Wiig. And who can forget Chris Pine as the unnaturally amiable Steve Trevor, who had us crying all over again?
Honestly, Wonder Woman 1984 might have been the best blockbuster of 2020…or it would have been, if Jenkins, DC Entertainment, and Warner Bros. hadn’t followed Black Widow’s lead and made one baffling, terrible decision: using CG to add a Thriller-era Michael Jackson as Wonder Woman’s sidekick. It was an unfathomable and bizarre choice. While he taught Diana how to moonwalk, there was no reason Jackson was needed for the role—he’s never recognized by people or mentioned by name, and the character served no purpose at all. The appearance of the disgraced Jackson will always be the problematic fly in Wonder Woman 1984’s otherwise perfect ointment. (Admittedly, there are rumors a scene where Diana saves a school bus of children by moonwalking was filmed but later cut from the film. But even then, couldn’t someone else have taught her?!)
It’s been a long, long road to Daniel Craig’s final outing as James Bond—it’s been five years since Spectre—but every minute of those five years is on screen, having been used to improve the Bond experience in all dimensions. Director Cary Fukunaga has produced what is, hands down, the most cinematically beautiful Bond film ever made, as well as one of the best-shot action movies, full stop.
The beautiful cinematography perfectly serves a story containing some hair-raising action scenes and jaw-dropping twists, including the major one that made Spectre (which we had all thought mediocre at best) not only make sense but transformed it into one of the most complex films of the franchise. It was a huge risk to turn a multi-million dollar movie which was supposed to introduce Blofeld, James Bond’s greatest enemy, into a seeming pile of crap containing a groaningly unoriginal reveal that the two foes were brothers. But man, did it ever pay off! Additionally, Lashana Lynch wasn’t only a fantastic new 007 agent, she led the venerable franchise on a path into the rest of the 21st century—a path that just happened to stop by the greatest retirement home for ex-British spies the world had ever known. Wink!
There was simply never any question about it: Morbius was always going to be the blockbuster to beat. The tales of a guy, who is kind of like a vampire but not actually a vampire, have mesmerized fans for decades, through the original comics, to his ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s cartoons, and his passible but long-running live-action TV show on the WB channel. The hype for his first live-action movie was beyond immense, but Morbius lived up to all of the hype. Jared Leto gave the performance of a lifetime as the restrained, tragic scientist Michael Morbius. Who didn’t well up with tears when, heartbroken and self-loathing, he apologized to his victims for drinking their blood (and also sending them used condoms)?
Besides perfectly adapting the Living Vampire for the big screen, Morbius set up a Sony Universe of Marvel Characters that looks to rival—if not exceed!—the last dozen years of the MCU. And it’s all going to be anchored by one of the best-known, best-loved characters in all of fiction: Morbius.
Of course, now that Venom 2 has removed Spider-Man from Sony’s Universe of Marvel Characters, we have no idea what’s coming next. But the Morbius movie’s most outstanding achievement was proving to audiences that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Sony has a plan in place for all its superhero movies going forward, and that plan is intensely well-thought-out, rock-solid, and spans many characters and many decades. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Sony’s Universe of Marvel Characters That No Longer Includes Spider-Man (SUMCTNLIS, for short) is going to be fantastic—just as all of 2020 has been!
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