My Favorite Blockbuster “Discoveries” Of 2017

Happy New Year everyone. I decided to celebrate by compiling a series of lists celebrating my favorite films and shows of 2017. Sounds like pretty standard stuff, right? Yup, totally. However, these lists will include not just new films from last year, but new-to-me ones that I enjoyed. This one celebrates the glory of big screen blockbusters, most of which I saw on the small screen because, you know, kids.

First off, I’d just like to reiterate how much I enjoyed Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla (2014) and San Andreas (2015) from director Gary Peyton.  I had a great time watching both of those movies earlier this year and highly recommend checking them out if you’re looking for big budget disaster fare. I also had a silly amount of fun watching Vin Diesel in 2015’s The Last Witch Hunter helmed by Breck Eisner. I think this will make a great weekend movie tune-in type of movie.

So let’s move on to the new stuff! I don’t always write about movies because a lot of digital ink gets spilled on them by bloggers, writers and reviewers more adept than I, but here we go anyway. Fueled by my like of the new Godzilla film, I quickly added this year’s Kong: Skull Island by Jordan Vogt-Roberts to the top of my Netflix queue (yup, still have one of those). I was a little surprised when my wife wanted to watch this one with me, but we both had a lot of fun watching Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson and John C. Reilly running from the title beast while on the title island.

It’s exciting to see filmmakers nailing a project like this while also tying into a larger monster-verse. I know there have been plenty of missteps in that arena as everyone tries to copy the Marvel Cinematic Universe model (DC, Universal Monsters redux). I like what they’ve done so far and can not wait to see what Trick ‘r Treat and Krampus director Mike Dougherty does with Godzilla: King Of The Monsters in 2019!

Hey, speaking of the Marvel MCU, I thought James Gunn’s Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 made an excellent entry in both the larger series and this individual franchise. Of all of the Marvel movies, GOTG is the one that I actually wish was a TV series. These characters are so great and so well-done by these performers that I could probably watch them try to sell phone books in Cincinnati on a weekly basis and still be super satisfied.

Of course, these one’s got plenty going on and lots of great action, but what really surprised me were some of the more emotional beats and tangents. Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord clearly goes through a lot as he deals with his pops, played by Kurt Russell, but Bradley Cooper’s Rocket and Dave Bautista’s Drax also made me tear up a few times as did the highly complicated relationship between Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan). I credit James Gunn a lot with sticking to his intergalactic guns and keeping these scenes in to the best of his ability, because I imagine that some folks wanted to go to town on those scenes with the ol’ editing scalpel.

I felt similarly about Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins’ entry into not only the world of silver screen super heroes, but also the DC Cinematic Universe. Right off the bat, I will say that, even as a longtime DC Comics fan, I haven’t seen any of their films since Man Of Steel. I supported that film when I saw it, but the bloom has seriously fallen off the rose. That’s not what I want in a Superman movie and, from what I’ve seen and heard, it doesn’t get much better in the other entries.

However, I was super excited when I heard that Fast & Furious alumna Gal Gadot would play Diana and that they hired a female director. Oh and Chris Pine’s presence is never a let down. It also helped that a lot of people I respect and like had great things to say about this film. Even though it’s long, it didn’t feel that way and I’m always in favor of an action film that presents itself as pro-love and pro-humanity. No matter what the mouthbreathers say, we need those positive messages out there in the world now more than ever.

Hey look at that, it’s another film that’s ultimately about hope, love and treating people well: Star Wars: The Last Jedi directed by Rian Johnson. It’s also a story, I hear, that a lot of people didn’t like and I”m totally okay with that. I went in with zero expectations or pre-conceived notions as to what this entry would be about and I was thrilled with the results.

I do wonder about the re-watchability of such a long film wherein large chunks revolve around Luke telling Rey he won’t train her and POe Dameron demanding (and not getting) answers from Laura Dern.  I appreciate those story elements as a whole, but I”m not sure if I’ll get much out of them a second, third or seventy sixth time around.

Overall, I’m very surprised and impressed by how vastly different these two films have been compared to the previously existing expanded universe content (now set in an old continuity dubbed Legends). Disney clearly gave their creative folks the opportunity to completely re-imagine what happened to these characters and their universe between films in a way that I’m excited to uncover as more movies hit every year.

My pure, unadulterated love of the Fast & Furious films remains severely under-represented here on UM. I will have to change that this year. Part of that will surely include a more in-depth look at Furious 7, directed by James Wan. I waited two years to finally watch this installment because even I was surprised at how Paul Walker’s death hit me. I’d become such a big fan of his in the past few years that his tragic death made me pump the breaks on watching any more of his films.

With time-healed wounds, I finally watched this movie with my dad — who I’ve brought into the wild world of these films — and it was a blast! Even if this wasn’t a part of my favorite film franchise, it’s got Jason Statham and Tony Jaa, two of the most entertaining action stars around! Then you’ve got Ronda Rousey fighting Michelle Rodriguez, The Rock taking on Statham, cars being driven out of freaking buildings in Abu Dhabi, cars jumping out of airplanes and that insane finale. The action — both physical and vehicular — is just stellar, but Wan also handled Walker’s departure in a way that brought a tear to my eye.

I know there are a lot of bad blockbuster type films out there. These things can be churned out without much thought, but I’m glad that the ones I happened to see this year seemed to have solid directors at the helm who could do unique, fun and exciting things with these huge opportunities.

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