For this Fresno Pop Culture Examiner, 2015 has been an eventful but surprisingly more conservative year. During the span of these last twelve months, this examiner has written 48 articles and review, including this one. And now that the year has come to an end, the time has come once again the review all of the pop culture events this examiner has chosen to write about over the course of the year.
In January, the nominees for the 87th Annual Academy Awards were announced and at this year’s ceremony, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) took home the top honor by being named Best Picture of the Year, in addition to also taking home the awards for Best Cinematography, Best Original Screenplay, and Alejandro González Iñárritu was awarded for Best Director.
In other memorable event news, race house American Pharaoh won this year’s 147th Annual Belmont Stakes, and in so doing became the first horse in 37 years to wind the coveted Triple Crown.
Getting into media news, Comic-Con 2015 brought plenty of exciting announcements, particularly from Twentieth Century Fox and Warner Bros., where the two studios released their earliest trailers for some to their biggest and most eagerly anticipated films both for this and next year.
This year also was unique for those in the collectors market as the year’s most eagerly anticipated film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, was accompanied by a massive explosion of new merchandise on an event dubbed “Force Friday”…although while business may have done well, the amount of product that was actually available for fans and collectors seems to have fallen short of demand. But Star Wars was big news all year round it would seem, as there was also a massive push to release new expanded universe material starting in April with the release of the new EU novel Star Wars: Aftermath, and continuing with several more books and the release of the eagerly anticipated new video game Star Wars: Battlefront.
There was also plenty of big news coming out of Hollywood this year, including the announcement that, after years of fan demand and an undoubtedly difficult negotiation phase, Marvel Comics’ flagship superhero, Spider-Man, would finally be seeing his first appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, thanks to a unique negotiation deal reached between Marvel Studios and current franchise rights owners Sony Pictures. This news was followed up months later with the confirmation that actor Tom Holland had landed the coveted role of Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spider-Man, in the MCU franchise, starting with an introduction in next year’s Captain America: Civil War. In speaking of Sony, they also surprised movie followers when they announced their plans to launch a film franchise based on the popular anime series Robotech.
While we are on the subject of upcoming franchises, Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. excited many monster fans with announcement of their plans to get into the expanded universe trend by beginning a series of interconnected giant monster (or ‘kaiju’) films, starting with a versus film that would bit legends Godzilla and King Kong in a battle with one another for the first time since 1962. We also got final confirmation of the cast for next year’s Power Rangers reboot film, with Naomi Scott as the Pink Ranger, Darce Montgomery as the Red Ranger, Ludi Lin as the Black Ranger, RJ Cyler as the Blue Ranger, and Becky G as the Yellow Ranger.
And, of course, what year of coverage by this examiner would be complete without reporting on the hottest trailers for the newest movies to come out in the next two years. Such hot trailers included Ant-Man, Fantastic Four, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Captain America: Civil War, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, X-Men: Apocalypse, and the R-rated red band trailer for Deadpool. And that’s saying nothing about this year’s latest TV spots for these films, including the always exciting ones we got treated to during this year’s Super Bowl.
Sadly, as with every year, 2015 also saw the loss of several of the industry’s most gifted and respected talents as well. Notable individuals that we last this year include Leonard Nimoy, Sir Christopher Lee, James Horner, Dick Van Patton, Justin Wilson, and Wes Craven, and that’s just to name a few. This examiner would like to offer his continued condolences to all of their families, friends, and fans all over the world.
Lastly,there was this Fresno Pop Culture Examiner’s specialty, providing reviews of several different pop culture elements that have come out over the course of the year, particularly movies. Tomorrowland was a film that got a bad rep upon its release, and yes, the story was pretty predictable and it did ultimately abandon the bright and optimistic future it was promising in favor of a dark and depressing one. But it still had its moments that were fun, fun, visually breathtaking, and imaginatively optimistic film, and for much of it’s running time. The final message of the film was a worthwhile one that I felt kids deserved to see at least once, regardless of how truly memorable the film itself is. Near the end of the year, movie’s most famous spy returned four his latest adventure in Spectre, which definitely wasn’t the greatest Bond film ever and was a far step down from the standards set by Casino Royale and Skyfall with an uninspired story and lower ambition than in its preceding films, but it did well to bring the story lines of the Daniel Craig films to a close and continued to merge the classic vision of 007 with the newer, gritter interpretation. On the flip side of that, on the same day of release we also saw the return of another icon, good ol’ Charlie Brown! The Peanuts Movie was a wonderfully simple, wholesome family film that offered plenty for nostalgic fans of the comic strip and cartoons of old and proved to be just as entertaining for young children, regardless of it’s departure for the the often frantic approach of children’s films today. The story was simple, relateable, and it even offered an optimistic, feel-good ending.
This year also saw the soft rebooting of some long beloved film franchises. Jurassic World was made for an stylish, and well crafted sequel to the original classic, easily the best in the series since the original, which recaptured some of that same sense of wonder and thrill of seeing dinosaurs and man now coexist together. It obviously wan’t as good as the original, but it was an exciting and entertaining adventure that fulfilled not just my nostalgia but brought something new to the table and tapped into people’s inner child. It was no surprise that Jurassic World became the second most successful film of the year! On a more divided note, Terminator Genisys was a worthwhile time and a worthy enough installment and possible reboot of the Terminator franchise; likely the best film in the series since the action masterpiece that is T2. It had some fresh ideas to explore and excitement to drive it, but at the end of the day it was still just another mediocre sequel. At the end of the year, we also got the latest addition into the Rocky franchise. Creed was an excellent film and continuation of the Rocky legacy. It wasn’t flawless and it did feel awfully familiar, but those those were small concerns compared to the human drama, the acting, and even the fighting.
Last year, the Dragon Ball Z franchise returned with the reunion film Battle of Gods, and this year American fans saw the theatrical release of the sequel, Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F’. A surprisingly huge hit during its limited theatrical release, it was another welcome addition to the franchise that lived up to what it promised and entertained longtime fans and newcomers alike. Sure it lacked in terms of character progression and it wasn’t as relevant to the future of the series like Battle of Gods was, but it was still an enjoyable, fun, and of course action packed DBZ film that was made for fans and gave those fans just what they wanted.
And then there was this examiner personal specialty: comic book movies! Kicking off the year with a real surprise, Kingsman: The Secret Service was a fun, stylish modern spy film that proved to be far more enjoyable than he was expecting to. While it was definitely deserving of it’s R rating and the final run time was a bit long, the acting, action, and overall feel of the film were solid and managed to entertain its audience. Maybe the second most hotly anticipated film of the year, Avengers: Age of Ultron didn’t have the same groundbreaking novelty factor that the first film had (that wouldn’t have been possible), some of the action may have gotten exhausting after awhile, and the storytelling felt more clunky and the fingerprints of studio interference are more apparent the second time around. But in spite of all of those flaws it was easily a satisfying and worthy follow up to one of the greatest superhero films ever made that went deeper and was more character introspective than the comparatively more light and comedic result of last film. Closing out the MCU’s Phase II on a decidedly small note, Ant-Man may not have be Marvel’s best film to date, or even their most exciting, but it was one of it’s warmest and most human films. Despite some conflict over the loss of the original vision keeper, there is a clear emotional and human heart to this story that drove it along, along with a unique scale and perspective of superhero adventure and an abundance of humor. Sadly, the last big Marvel Comics adaptation we got this ear was not given to us by Marvel Studios and boy did it show! The 2015 reboot of Fantastic Four wasn’t a completely unwatchable film with some worthwhile production budget and a very strong cast, but the film was infamously hammered with faults on all sides ranging from a dour and overly serious tone, poor pacing and editing, lackluster special effects, yet another failed representation of Doctor Doom, and character relationships that normally would be at the heart of this material but in this case were nearly non-existent. In the end, the only good thing to come out of this film have been that it made the two Tim Story films before it look better in hindsight, the originally planned sequel to this disaster was canceled, and that, hopefully, it has added more fuel to the argument why Marvel needs to reclaim their first family for themselves.
But as exciting as all of those other films were, easily the most anticipated movie of the year was the return of, probably, the greatest film franchise of all time. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the first of a new sequel trilogy and the first film to come out of Disney’s acquiring of Lucasfilm three years ago, was the massive, resounding success that all of us hoped it would be. Even though it wasn’t a flawless film and it perhaps relied too much on nostalgia for the original trilogy, the spirit of Star Wars was more alive in this film than in any we have seen since Return of the Jedi. The acting, directing and writing were all solid and the story was engaging and entertaining to keep us invested, excited, and eager to know what happens next, just as Star Wars should. I may or may not have given the film more credit than it deserves, but I loved the film and I am proud to say that the Force is strong with this one!
But it was not just film that captured this examiner’s attention this year, there were also a number of new television premieres that peaked my interest as well. Picking up the slack while season two of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. went on his mid-season hiatus, Marvel’s Agent Carter surprised us with its chronicling the post-World War II adventures of Captain America’s old flame Peggy Carter. But, as the series went on to prove and as fans were well aware by that point, there was much more the Peggy than just that. The series proved to be a solid and entertaining miniseries that showcased a different side and era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe led by Hayley Atwell’s terrific performance. It wasn’t flawless, but some have argued that they prefer this show over Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and I can understand why. But little did we know that an even better Marvel show was just around the bin! Marvel’s Daredevil was the first in a new franchise of Netflix original series based on Marvel comics characters that deliberately aimed for a mush more mature and gritty approach to the marvel universe. It was an excellent series that delved into urban crime, serious character drama, and dark and gritty violence, all wrapped in an understated superhero package, a true must see for mature Marvel fans (but absolutely not for the kids)! On the opposite end of the spectrum, The Muppets debuted on ABC and the show had terrific potential for growth with the brand’s signature parody and self-referencing humor, the pilot suggested that there was a backward sense of priority to place the characters in service of the modern television format instead of having the format service them, the result being that the character from our youths felt more handcuffed and less comfortable in their art. The progression since the pilot has been there, but still led to a very different kind of Muppet show that, well, The Muppet Show. Getting back to Marvel again, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.–Season Three premiered and in its first half has proven to be a solid continuation of where season two left off, and probably the season that has come the closest to giving the fans what they have always wanted from this series all along. Near the end of the year, Marvel also dropped their second Netflix series with Marvel’s Jessica Jones. This show was by far the most mature and uncompromising entry into the MCU to date, with some of he most mature subject matter and the most horrific violence yet shown in this franchise. But it was also a strongly written, instantly captivating, psychologically complex, and very strongly acted series.
As with every year, I also took the time to sit down and share my thoughts on the ongoing DC Universe Animated Original line of direct-to-DVD movies, and this year we were offered a double helping of direct sequels and one very, very unique standalone entry. Justice League: Throne of Atlantis was a sequel to last year’s Justice League: War and was a more enjoyable film for this particular DC fan than it’s predecessor. But even so, at the end of the day it was still one of the more mediocre installments in the franchise. It set out to tell the origin of often under-appreciated hero Aquaman and did a decent job in the first half, but then in the second half it rushed through his discovery of his destiny and, despite the tile, shafted the rest of the Justice League in the process. A few months later, Warner Bros. also released Batman vs. Robin, a sequel to last year’s Son of Batman. This film wasn’t the best entry in this franchise either, despite the promising title and setup, with some familiar tropes, disappointing villains, and some awkward action in the second half. However, the film was saved by a solid story of a troubled relationship between father and son, some well-done action, some solid performances, and an ending that promises a worthwhile future which we will be seeing next year.
So, based on those two reviews, this wasn’t the best year for DC Animated. But thankfully, their third and final entry into the series saved it! Justice League: Gods and Monsters was a bold new approach to DC-related animation and a welcome change of pace that resulted in one of the absolute best in the franchise. The film was not flawless, but the strengths outweighed the weaknesses. No it may not have cut it for a lot of DC fans, but after seeing the same iconic visions of these characters for so long, this was a good opportunity for a change up, one that I enjoyed and I look forward to seeing how, and if, this particular DC universe plays out in the future.
Also, like every year, I took the time to share my thoughts on some exciting new comics book I read this year, in particular the ongoing line of Avatar: The Last Airbender comics. Avatar: The Last Airbender–Smoke and Shadow, Part One was another exciting, engaging, and entertaining entry in the series that didn’t seem to go for heavy themes like some of the previous arcs have done, instead choosing to focus on the drama of the characters and some cool action to keep us interested, and it definitely succeeded in that. In December, we were treated to Part Two of the story, which was a well-crafted continuation that gripped us for whatever is to come in the third and final part of the trilogy next year. It was clearly more interested in advancing the plot and growing the teen angsty elements, and the reveals that were made were a bit obvious, but then again, these are all ages comics.
Finally, on an unusual note for this examiner, I had the opportunity to attend and share my thoughts on a live stadium event. Marvel Universe LIVE!, a live area stunt show based on the Marvel Comics characters, was a fun, exciting time for children and adults alike that was an absolute must-see for any Marvel fan who was lucky enough to have the show come visit their home town. Sure its a bit corny and its no Cirque du Soleil by any means of the word, but it wasn’t Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark either. For anyone who just wants an exciting and fun time, it’s something worth checking out, especially if you’ve got kids that are into the Marvel superheroes.
2015 may not have been the most productive year for this examiner, but it certainly was a big one. Here’s looking forward to more great things to come in 2016!