Or more accurately, “EmotedLlama’s 2017 at the Movie Theater” but that’s not the naming convention, dammit!
Anyway, here’s a rundown of the seven movies released in 2017 I saw in 2017, in chronological order. Full spoilers should be assumed.
This movie was utterly fantastic. On a fundamental level it’s a standard inspirational biopic, but by focusing on, well, hidden figures of American history, and doing it with just impeccable execution, Hidden Figures denies being reduced in that way. It’s hard for me to say a lot more about it since a lot of the depth to the movie is on topics I’m not well-suited to write about, especially since my memory of the movie is a little iffy after a year, but suffice to say that, well, this movie is great. Also, the performances from Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae are just perfect.
Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2
I really enjoyed the first Guardians of the Galaxy the first time I watched it, but on rewatch found it kind of stale, so I wasn’t entirely sure how much I’d like this one. And . . . it was fine. There were some good gags (<3 baby groot), and elements of the movie’s thematic material about family worked, but it felt like for every good moment there were twice as many moments where characters were just yelling at each other for no real reason.
There’s also a kind of unsettling tonal dissonance throughout the movie, like how the crew that stand up for Yondu are vented out the airlock and it’s meant to be a sobering moment, but when Yondu kills the crew who mutinied against him its a fun action sequence. Like, apparently murder is bad when it’s sort-of good guys, but when it’s sort-of bad guys it’s exciting! Another example is the character of Mantis, who on paper is a tragic victim of emotional abuse and educational neglect, but these things are played for laughs rather than examined in any meaningful way.
Additionally, the movie suffers from not really having a plot outside of the stuff with Yondu in the second act, which might work if the character interactions were more meaningful but they’re really not that exceptional. The relationship between Gamora and Nebula is somewhat interesting, if only because “adopted sisters who were forced to fight each other by their supervillain dad” is such a unique story, but then Peter Quill’s entire arc is one we’ve seen time and again in fiction and the wedge it drives between him and Gamora is super rote.
I mean. I’m not sure there’s much to be said about Wonder Woman that hasn’t been said already. It’s just an incredible movie and in a landscape of Marvel’s experimentation, Fox’s whatever-the-fuck-they’re-doing, and DC’s Zack Snyder obsession, Wonder Woman stands out as the first superhero movie in a long time to portray a traditional style of superhero. Diana Prince as a character is a beacon of hope, of selflessness, of fighting for what’s right and the greater good, to the point where her enemy is literally a personification of the concept of war. It’s really meaningful to see a hero like that in today’s cultural landscape, and I’m thankful that she has such a strong movie to back her up.
After seeing this movie I thought about doing a post comparing the ways it, Wonder Woman, and Guardians Vol. 2 portray superheroes, because it’s a really fascinating contrast. Where Guardians is about messy people trying their best and Wonder Woman is about a classic-type hero, Spider-Man: Homecoming shows us a young kid who kind of wants to be a Wonder Woman-like hero, but is held back by his inexperience and immaturity, not to mention Tony Stark’s horrible mentorship. It makes for an enjoyable arc for Peter Parker, and the relationship he has with Tony Stark is fascinating to watch.
And outside of all that, this is just a really fun movie. The high school trappings are a smart storytelling move and help make for a story that gets closer to exploring what life for the everyday person is like in the MCU than any of the franchise’s other entries. There was some stuff I didn’t like as much, such as the way the movie pokes fun at some if its genre conventions (like Peter awkwardly changing into his costume or being unable to web in a park) while holding onto others (how in the heck did he get away from that ferry without being caught?), but on a whole it’s a well-crafted movie with a lot to enjoy.
There’s not a lot going on in this movie (I left to use the bathroom at one point and didn’t even feel I’d missed anything), and it uses that simplicity and singular drive to tell a nerve-wracking, intensely-thrilling story with knockout action sequences and a brutal, but never sadistic, tone that just rules. I don’t think anything else needs to be said by me.
This was really the year of fun Marvel movies, and this was definitely the most fun of the three. I have my quibbles–until Thor and Loki meet with Odin the movie keeps setting up dramatic moments and then diffusing them with silly humor in a way I found annoying, and the shuffling off the the series’ previous female characters is really questionable–but those aside, this is a fun, exciting movie with a pretty good use of humor and some interesting thematic material about colonialism and whitewashing of the past.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
This. Movie. Was. Phenomenal!
Okay. First: The Last Jedi just would not stop producing incredible, destined-to-be-iconic moments. Leia’s spacewalk! The throne room fight! Holdo’s lightspeed sacrifice! Luke’s standoff with Kylo! And that’s without all of the other action set pieces which were thrilling and visually stunning and just a joy to behold.
Second: the thematic material! I’ve seen people deride the Canto Bight sequence for slowing the pace of the movie, but the exploration of a corrupt ruling class exploiting the working class was awesome to see and I felt it meaningfully expanded the Star Wars universe. (I didn’t have issues with the movie’s pacing, though, so maybe I’m extra forgiving.) And I’ve seen it pointed out how DJ’s character even criticizes the “both sides are bad” mindset by showing him siding with the unquestionable bad guys out of opportunism, which is an interesting interpretation.
Then there’s the message about failure, which the movie builds into every one of its plotlines in a really great way. Luke’s failure to keep Kylo Ren from the dark side and Rey’s subsequent failure to turn Kylo to the light side, Rose and Finn’s failure to disrupt the First Order’s tracking, Poe’s failure to subvert Holdo’s plans, the Resistance’s failure to escape the First Order intact. The ultimate message of all this, though, is that just because the heroes failed and made mistakes doesn’t mean they’ve lost and can’t move on. It’s not a hugely original or complex theme, but for a Star Wars movie it’s pretty robust.
Third and final: the character arcs. I loved the continued evolution of Finn from The Force Awakens as someone who originally just wants to get away from the First Order/Resistance conflict, then gets involved to save Rey, then comes to see the value of the Resistance and the just fight they’re fighting and is willing to sacrifice himself to try to save them. (DJ is used neatly as a foil here, presenting pessimistic ideas that Finn ultimately rejects.) I also love the way that Rose saving him isn’t just a contrivance to keep him from dying, but fits with her grief after her sister’s sacrifice and Poe’s arc of learning that risky, showy plans aren’t always the best.
Speaking of Poe’s arc, it’s where I’m a little iffy on the movie. I think some of it works, but the contrivance around Holdo not telling him the evacuation plan significantly weakens the plotline. Not only does it really not make sense for Holdo to not make everyone aware that they’re going to evacuate the ship (I’d think at least her bridge crew would be aware, yet Billie Lourd’s character continuously helps Poe), but the fact that she withholds that information from Poe makes his decision to subvert her command seem like not such a bad idea. Additionally, the initiation of his arc is in the movie’s opening sequence where he leads a strike against a First Order ship against Leia’s orders–except whether his decision was a good one is pretty debatable, and so I’m left ultimately wondering just how much Poe actually needed to change.
There’s also the subtext of his arc, which I’ve seen pointed out is questionable given that Oscar Isaac is a Latino man and the movie portrays his character as hot-headed and reckless. (I’m not sure I’d use exactly those words but I’d need to rewatch to really disagree.) Of course, there’s also subtext in his plotline about men needing to listen to women, so it’s more complicated than just “the only subtext present is bad,” but it is an issue.
Finally there’s Rey’s arc, which I think I need to see the movie again to fully form an opinion on. Her story is split between her relationships with Luke, Kylo, and her heritage in a way that makes untangling those elements from each other a little complicated. I’m tentatively willing to say, however, that I don’t think Rey has an arc across the movie so much as she takes actions and learns things, which isn’t necessarily bad–I don’t think Moana really has an arc in Moana, and that’s not to the detriment of the movie–but makes her feel a little less dynamic in the movie compared to Finn and Poe. Still, it’s something I need to think more on and get another viewing in to really get my head around it.
But overall, as I said: this movie is amazing! I need more time to decide if I prefer it to The Force Awakens overall, but these two movies are definitely my favorite Star Wars movies regardless of their ordering compared to each other.