J.D. Balthazar's Worst and Best of 2016

Let's face it, 2016 sucks, it's a rotten year, with a lot of bad mojo surrounding pretty much everything.

In the movies, we had the formal introduction of the DCEU (DC Extended Universe) which fell with a thud, a much darker turn for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars, and a couple of reboots and sequels that were uneven at best. On television I had to endure some brutal deaths, a satisfying ending, and thankfully some shows may be having a good season. Video games are also suffering from a bit of reboot and sequel-itis with at least two major releases that are nothing more than a polished up repackage of games that came out years ago, and more sequels than I can really count. Plus a pre-launch critical darling that came out as a giant steaming turd. That's just in media, I'm not even going to get started on the state of the world.

Games:

Skyrim and Bioshock: Sure, they are essentially just re-skins of beloved games, but whatever, they are amazing games that are now available on the latest generation of consoles. Skyrim now has mod support (although console modding is limited at best), and Bioshock received some graphical fixes that made the re-release worthwhile. Plus, I never got to play these games when they came out, so I'm just happy to have the chance.

Rise of the Tomb Raider improved on the storytelling and some of the game-play of Tomb Raider (which was a reboot of the franchise), but it also wasn't a massive leap in either quality or innovation. Still it was a good sequel worthy of being made and a lot of fun, too.

Uncharted 4 finished up the franchise with probably my favorite installment so far, and anything more would be a spoiler so I'll just say the improvements to gameplay are solid and the story fit perfectly into the legacy of Nathan Drake.

Dishonored 2 continues the tale of Corvo and introduces a second character to play. This logical addition changed the way the game is played, and that change ended up making me like the game a lot more than the original.

Dark Souls 3 is as brutal as it is rewarding to conquer. Mostly it just continues the tradition of beating me up again and again, and almost validates my inner struggle of whether or not I ever want to play another Souls game.

FFXV: For the fifteenth installment in a franchise like this one, it was nice that the ten years of development turned out a product this good. While it is a return to form in a lot of ways, it's still not perfect, though it gives fans something fun to play, and features a group of characters that I actually cared about.

No Man's Sky: I... I was so excited for this game, for all of the two months I'd heard about it before release. So eager for the chance to step into a universe so vast, that no one would ever actually meet despite the fact that thousands of players could be logged into the same game world at the same time. The reality of this game was far less exciting, with the sameness and banality setting in around the fifth planet I visited. Sure, nothing quite looks the same, but everything works in exactly the same way. It's mind-boggling to realize that a game with almost limitless possibilities is utterly boring. Sigh.

Television:

The Walking Dead: I'm kind of not watching after that first episode of season seven. Not that I'm done with the series, but I'm really pissed off by the choices made in the premiere. I've read up on the comics, and I kind of know where the story is going. In a lot of ways I love the deviations the show has made from the source material; it's an adaptation that kind of made up its own narrative. It introduced characters we loved, and didn't kill off the characters we expected (or at least changed up when they died). Except that now it seems the series wants to hue very closely to the source material, and I'm not really fond of that approach. And that's coming from an adaptation purist. I know I'll get back to it, but I need some time to grieve first.

Timeless: As the only new show I'm still watching from the group of shows introduced this year, I have to say I'm impressed with how it's trying hard to be different while stuck in a procedural framework. It hasn't quite pushed the envelope the way I would like, but the leads are good and the struggle between good and bad is wonderfully murky in both motivation and morals. While not the best show on the air, I do hope it continues to improve in the second half of the season, so that we can get a season two.

Gilmore Girls: I never saw the series when it first aired, thinking it was another Seventh Heaven rip off. So when I watched the entire series earlier this year I found myself mildly disappointed with where it ended. Not any more. This four part (really eight part) mini-series completely repairs the damage done in the seventh season, and it ended exactly the way it should have with those four word that are as impactful as the showrunner promised back when the series was first airing.

Flarrowverse: So far this season has been strong for all four shows. Legends made some good movies by kicking off unlikeable characters and promoting Sara to captain, but I'm not sure I like Nate yet. Arrow is doing some cool things involving new recruits and a villain that has a very personal grudge against Oliver that is bringing up the past in a fun way. Flash is focusing on the repercussions of Barry's choice to go back and mess with the timeline, and it is starting to get crazy. Supergirl changed speeds, refocused the theme of the show and cleaned up a lot of the irritating things from season one; specifically, the focus on Alex and her sexuality is a highlight in how it's being handled.

Movies:

Since I've only really seen about a dozen movies this year (which is really uncommon for me), here's my list of films and how I would rank them in quality. I've also apparently stopped reviewing movies, since I wrote only two and half for 2016. After looking at this list, I don't have to wonder why.

Suicide Squad: I haven't seen the extended version of this one yet, and I've heard it does fix a couple of the problems with the film. That being said, I have to judge it by the theatrical release, and that was an oddly boring mess of jumbled plots, characters, and bad choices. The only two stand outs were Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and Will Smith as Deadshot. Unfortunately, those good performances weren't quite strong enough to save the rest of the film.

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice: The reason this one isn't sitting on the bottom is because I have seen the extended version of the film. While it is unforgivably long, it does solve a lot of the plot issues of the theatrical release. Still, it isn't enough to make this a good movie. It is fun, if you look at the entire film as a "what if" story or fan-fiction. But in the end, it's a twisted interpretation of the characters where their darkest aspects are turned up to eleven. Sure, Batman has killed in other movie adaptations, but there's no excuse for Superman being as dark as he is depicted here.

Warcraft: While this is a trainwreck, it's a well-intentioned one. For a game adaptation that's as faithful to the source material as this is, that took everything both seriously and with just the right level of playfulness, and with CGI that made me care about Orcs, I don't really understand how this is a dud. Something about this film is off; either editing, acting, writing or directing, it's hard to put a finger on what it is exactly (since all of those were decent but not exceptional). Maybe that's the ultimate reason, that it needed an exceptional talent to bring it together, and so it never gelled properly.

Independence Day: Resurgence: This is probably the worst case of lost potential I can think of... okay, it is the worst case on this list, at least. The original was hardly brilliant, but it was iconic and memorable. This movie committed the cardinal sin of being forgettable. It wasn't awful, but it wasn't as fun or goofy as it should have been. This is also one of the ones I actually reviewed this year.

X-Men Apocalypse: I have to give this one a bit of a pass, leaving it near the bottom but not kicking it too much. The reason is because it tried to give us (the fans) the things we wanted, the costumes were true to the comic book and several new characters were amazing to see on screen. It tried so hard, but just fell a bit short. I still have to give a lot of credit to the core actors that make up the First Class era of X-Men, specifically Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy.

Ghostbusters (2016): I actually kinda like this movie, even though it didn't blow me away. It's inoffensive, occasionally funny, but far too self aware and referential. Did we need cameos from the entire original cast? No. Did we need so many plot callbacks to the original films? No. Where this one shone was with the new cast and when it tried to do its own thing. That's a good sign that any potential sequel might be good because it will stand alone, unhampered by nostalgia.

The Legend of Tarzan: This one I actually liked, with Samuel L. Jackson there to throw out the one-liners and Christoph Waltz to give us another fun villain (who was marginally different than his other villains). I also really liked Margot Robbie giving us a proactive Jane, and Alexander SkarsgĂ„rd showing he can be a heroic lead. Not only did it work as an adventure story, it worked on a character level as well, with the core relationship between Tarzan and Jane holding everything together. I loved how all their actions were linked by love and loyalty. It made the heart of the film a strong one.

Star Trek Beyond: Okay, it isn't the best Star Trek film ever made, but it was a lot of fun. Without needing to be dark or mysterious, it gave us some amazing visuals and some great banter between Spock and Bones. Plus it introduced us to Jaylah, who needs to be brought back for every future sequel.

Deadpool: For anyone that knows the character, this was basically perfect. Did it work as a movie? I'm honestly not sure, but it was exactly what we as fans asked for. Ryan Reynolds was probably born to play this part, and the director and writer understood the zany fourth wall breaking nature of the character, so I don't think there could have been a better adaptation.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: I fell out of love with the Harry Potter universe years ago, partially because the movie franchise ended, and partially because I realized I hated the lead character. But a new lead in a new movie series set in the same world, I was in. And I liked it, but I didn't love it. The lead is wonderful (which is a nice change), and the changes to the Potter universe involving a magical illness affecting children and all the differences with American wizards was interesting. Unfortunately, I thought the tone was a bit uneven and it was clear the source material was padded (or entirely fabricated) for this new franchise starter. Still, it is a new Potter movie and it is a good one.

Doctor Strange: It was always going to be a risk to bring magic officially into the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), but using Iron Man as a template seems to be the trick. This was probably the best stand-alone film since Winter Soldier and a solid way of introducing the more esoteric and obscure corners of the Marvel Universe. Benedict Cumberbatch completely inhabited the role, and should be invaluable moving forward for the MCU.

Captain America: Civil War: I'm not sure I would say this is my favorite Marvel movie, but it is sure as hell in my top five. Expertly balanced between character and action, it makes the fight logical (especially when compared to the comic book) and hard to choose sides. Plus it introduces us to Black Panther and the new Spider-man and both are characters I want to see more of.

Rogue One: I basically said everything I want to say in my review, but the more I've had a chance to think back on the film, the more I love it. It is probably the best movie I've seen this year, and that now makes two years in a row where I've put Star Wars as my #1. Here's to hoping for three next year!

So yeah, this year was kind of meh with a few stand outs. I truly hope 2017 is better both in media and in real life.

Good Riddance 2016!!!
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J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.

5 comments:

Victoria Grossack said...

Very helpful, JD! These types of movies tend to be the area on the Venn Diagram where husband and I overlap, and we're always looking for guidance. So far we've only seen ID Resurgence but since your opinion matches mine I feel I can trust you on the others.

Lamounier said...

I truly hope 2017 is better both in media and in real life.

Guys, what if 2017 is Buffy season 7 to 2016's Buffy season 6?

Scary thought of the day aside, what a great list, JD.

I dropped The Walking Dead last season. Sometimes I wish I hadn't because there are characters I miss, but I'm not crazy about the story nowadays.

Rogue One was excellent, I'm even eager to watch it a second time in the movies.

Mallena said...

I've never heard of any of those games you mentioned, except for Tomb Raider. We're more of a Zelda/Mario family of gamers. I like Timeless, but it feels too aimless and it lacks drama. I expected more from Eric Kripke. The only movie on your list that I saw was the Star Trek one. I enjoy the young cast, especially Chris Pine. He was great in Into the Woods, and is a fun actor to watch. I'm only skimming through The Walking Dead now, and not really enjoying it anymore. It's just too much of a bloodbath for me now, and I'm tired of losing characters that I liked.

Josie Kafka said...

It never really occurred to me to watch Tarzan, but now I might check it out. Thanks!

JRS said...

After many years being gameless (MUST SAVE MONEY! CAN'T WASTE IT ON THAT CRAP!) my husband bought me a PS this year - with a copy of FFXV. Can't wait to start especially now!