2023 was a great year for movies. After several disappointing and low-grade years post-pandemic, there was a plethora of brilliant films, all of which have combined to make awards season perhaps the most intriguing there’s been in more than a decade — even if it’s a virtual given that Christopher Nolan and Oppenheimer will storm to victory. But any year that contains the likes of Poor Things, Killers of the Flower Moon, Past Lives, The Zone of Interest and — oh yes — Barbie can only be taken seriously as one of the very best times for high-grade, intelligent film in memory.
It was not a great year for blockbusters, however. The Marvel flops included The Marvels and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, and the likes of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, The Flash and Shazam! Fury of the Gods all stiffed. It was largely because audiences expressed their discontent with shoddy sequels, stuffed with sub-par special effects, and lazy attempts to capitalize on IP. Go away, they said: we don’t want to watch any more dismally uninspired, third-rate B-movies. We can get them free on streaming services, anyway.
It was therefore something of a surprise that the main trailers released during the Super Bowl game yesterday suggest that Hollywood, still reeling from the dual shock of the writers’ and actors’ strike last year, appears to have learned nothing. After a truly superb year for mainstream movies, there are the slimmest of slim pickings on offer, if these previews are anything to go by. Deadpool and Wolverine is basing its appeal on the coming together (no sniggering at the back) of these two superhero icons and jokes about pegging. It can’t be any worse than The Flash, but I cannot be the only person who can’t help thinking that both the characters are over-exposed and that the most appealing aspect of the trailer is Matthew Macfadyen, doing what looks like well-paid Brit villainy.
And on and on it goes. Do we need to see Wicked: Part One, for any other reason than Jeff Goldblum’s admittedly magnificent wig? Musical adaptations of hit stage shows can either flop or be wildly successful without rhyme or reason, but (whisper it) Wicked was never very good in the first place, so the need for two separate films might not be as great as its makers hope for.
There is another Quiet Place film, which looks almost identical to Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, but demographics have now shifted enough for us to have Lupita Nyong’o in the lead, rather than Tom Cruise. The Planet of the Apes franchise has offered up another humorless, intense slice of simian mayhem in the form of Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, and Ryan Gosling seems to be semi-reprising his Drive character in the so-so looking action-comedy The Fall Guy. Plus, joining Hollywood’s baffling new vogue for exhuming ancient, not especially good pictures and making sequels to them is Twisters, starring man-of-the-moment Glen Powell and Normal People’s Daisy Edgar-Jones in what looks like another plotless, exhausting orgy of special effects.
And then that’s more or less it, unless there are some sleeper hits being saved for later in the year. (Gladiator 2, planned for Thanksgiving, is not yet in a state to launch a teaser trailer, but remains adults’ only hope for an intelligent, cerebral blockbuster.)
Now, you can say what you like about the Super Bowl being a big, loud occasion that needs the most obviously commercial pictures to be promoted at it (more of a Barbie than an Oppenheimer, if you will), but the paucity of any real interest from the films that have been previewed is a disturbing indication that, after the glories of 2023, we are back to business as usual. Half these films will flop, and most of the rest will underperform. And in a year’s time, we’ll be asking once again why cinema is in crisis. We have our answer, and it isn’t pretty.