With films like “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” the film industry found a way to get global audiences back in the movie theatre in 2022. This comes in direct contrast to many laments declaring the death of cinema in the 21st Century
“Top Gun: Maverick” fulfilled the Need for Box Office Speed
“Top Gun: Maverick” wasn’t just a shameless corporate rehashing of an old franchise to capitalise on nostalgia. Twitter would have you believe it was, but it wasn’t. It was a spectacle made for the silver screen, big and packed with suspense and wall-to-wall action. Tom Cruise shifted focus from the intense threats of the looming apocalypses of the Mission Impossible franchises to deliver a film that, in stakes and setting both, was self-contained, granular and intimate. It was also, to paraphrase Martin Scorcese, not particularly profound or revolutionary, and “closer to a theme park than a movie.”
Just like a rollercoaster at a theme park, people often chose to go for multiple rides. I, personally, went 15 times – two more than Hangman actor Glen Powell’s own parents. These figures are dwarfed by the infamous Singaporean, Chris Paul, who told Geek Report that he watched the film a fanatical 45 times over 45 days. The re-watch value on this clearly has no real point of diminishing returns for those wrapped up in airborne heroics interspersed with rivalries and resentment, old and new. The film is indulgent of adrenaline, bookending the storyline with nail-biting flight sequences that last well over ten minutes each, but don’t fatigue or wear on the psyche. The cinematography is beautiful and shamelessly picturesque, inhabiting every pixel of the 16mx20m of an IMAX screen.
The larger-than-life quality of the cast, especially Tom Cruise, Miles Teller and Jennifer Connelly, gave this film a timeless and dreamlike veneer, harkening back to Golden-Age cinema. Indeed Miles Teller as “Rooster” comes to life as a modern-day Gene Kelly, especially with his electrifying performance of “Great Balls of Fire.” Glen Powell shines as the wisecracking rival “Hangman,” almost eerily reminiscent of “Iceman” in the 1986 original.
In any other year of the last 30, this wouldn’t have been noteworthy. In a post-COVID 19, Netflix monopoly world, where the dust was starting to settle on the movie theatre business, derrieres on seats spilling popcorn, “Top Gun: Maverick” was necessary. It defied trends and statistics by failing to falter in profit past its opening week, making a staggering minimum of a million dollars a day for 75 days straight.
“Everything Everywhere All At Once”: The Multiverse of Malaysian Michelle Yeoh
Tom Cruise wasn’t the only veteran actor that rendered audiences spellbound and raked in box office millions this year, however. Michelle Yeoh proved herself a cinematic tour-de-force yet again in the otherworldly “Everything Everywhere All At Once.” On the one hand, this was an action film with the concept of parallel universes and superpowers, which feels a little too familiar. On the other hand, this was a heartfelt tale of a struggling and unfulfilled immigrant mother struggling to connect with her increasingly alienated daughter.
“Everything Everywhere All At Once” was, again, unabashedly cinematic in its look and feel, with action sequences openly inspired by the likes of Bruce Lee and Jean-Claude Van Damme. The visual effects were sharp, seamless and original, removing the slightest suggestion of this film being a product of any particular time. The sci-fi look and feel of the storytelling were Kubrick gritty, Villuneuve large and Speilberg romantic.
Add to this mix Ke Huy Quan of Indiana Jones’ Short Round infamy and a heavily prostheticised Jamie Lee Curtis, and this film is every inch the era-agnostic character-led action hit that “Top Gun: Maverick” is. Where Top Gun is suspenseful, Everything Everywhere is quirky and bizarre without undermining the sincerity of the rapidly changing Chinese family dynamic that comprises its loud beating heart.
A24 films, the production and distribution firm behind “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” has been having an increasingly successful run in the 2020s. The auteur-loving company burst into the public consciousness with 2019’s hit “Midsommar,” and quickly paralleled box office successes with award show baits like the Olivia Coleman starrer “The Favourite” and the ever-cerebral “The Lighthouse.” This year alone has seen them win hearts with returning Brendan Fraser to the spotlight with “The Whale” and enchant at least this one filmgoer with the Sundance release of “When You Finish Saving the World.” The latter of these films stars Julianne Moore and Finn Wolfhard of “Stranger Things” fame, and mirrors Everything Everywhere’s theme of a caring mother struggling to reconnect with her new-age son.
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“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” does right by its fallen star
The elephant in every film production room is Disney, and its flagship of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. As earlier referenced, Martin Scorcese called these films “Theme Parks,” antithetical to movies as he knows them, and his contemporary Francis Ford Copolla publicly hates them too. As the many armchair critics of Reddit, Letterboxd and any party with millennial hipsters will prove, this is an increasing subject of consensus.
Defying these numerous sceptics, Marvel delivered its own contribution to well-crafted and unique cinema this year, with “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” The apprehension for this film’s arrival was palpable. How were they ever going to acknowledge and move past Chadwick Boseman’s powerful embodiment of this role? Would they dare replace him? Would his invisible fight with cancer be paid homage to?
The short and spoiler-free answer is an emphatic “Yes.” Angela Bassett delivers a powerful picture of mourning her character’s son. There is depression, rage, despondence and resolute strength without vengeance. Letitia Wright displays insanely moving acting chops, with a much more energetic yet repressed display of grief. The film closes with her finally accepting her loss, in the most beautiful scene that is devoid of gratuitous dialogue or CGI. In the universe of wars with extra-terrestrial or dimensional beings, this exceedingly human moment plays into hurt at its basest level, and shedding a tear at this point wouldn’t be unexpected.
Of the many perfect musical moments, Nigerians Tems and Burna Boy stand out. Tems penned Rihanna’s “Lift Me Up,” and Burna Boy wrote and performed the heartbreaking “Alone.” In a story so pained, these songs are poignant and befitting to the African pride that director Ryan Coogler has woven into this film and the original Black Panther.
2022: Cinema’s Resurgence?
All this is to say, brilliant filmmaking never went anywhere, and the cinema is necessary now more than ever. Stories like the above, of hope despite the odds, of everyday exceptionalism, of acknowledging and moving past the death of a loved one, resonate with the post-pandemic reality of trauma that we all inhabit.
It is high time that we discarded the aura of pretension and intellectual elitism that surrounds conversations about movies. These stories were big, thought-provoking, intimate and visceral. As much of a resurgence as this was for theatres, it was also a continuation, and a clear sign that the industry is not derivative or in decline. High-minded dismissals of blockbusters are all good and well, but consider that we saw a middle-aged superhero in Everything Everywhere, an array of brilliant black women at the helm of Black Panther’s action and a stunningly unobjectified female pilot in the citadel of masculinity that is Top Gun.
Maybe it’s good that the old guard of cinema is phasing itself out. Wokeness and diversity won over the box office, so to Francis Ford Coppola, I, and production companies, would say “It’s nothing personal, it’s strictly business.”
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Cinema tickets. Featured Photo Credit: igorovsyannykov/Pixabay