Pop Culture 2021: A Review

Looking Forward

Here’s some predictions about where all these IP-driven entertainments are headed.

Arrowverse: Beginning of the end?

More and more DC shows are heading to HBO Max over the CW. Warner seems to be looking at their coming slate for characters that can be spun-off or built on. The first big test will be Peacemaker, then down the line The Batman will lead to shows for the GCPD (maybe with Jeffry Wright?) and Penguin (definitely with Colin Farrell). Flash and Legends are closer to the end than the beginning*, they’re down to two shows with any characters who could accurately be described as iconic DC characters (and one show about people cosplaying as iconic characters), and new Arrowverse shows are less attached to the shared universe concept. Superman and Lois (co-funded by HBO Max, so halfway out the door at CW as a rule) kept one toe in that pool by joining the John Diggle National Tour, but Stargirl is entirely self-contained and it looks like Naomi will be too, especially given that like Stargirl and Black Lightning before it, Naomi films in Georgia, not Vancouver, making crossovers with Flash, Legends, or S&L much harder.

(*I have no guesses about how long they can/will keep Batwoman going, it could end with season four or keep going into season 15 in which Ryan Wilder’s neighbour’s cousin’s Grindr date’s roommate inherits the Batwoman title to fight some desperate knock-off of The Batman Who Laughs or something, impossible to know.)

Throw in the fact that Warner Bros. is trying to sell off the entire CW network, diminishing their desire to keep making new CW shows, and it looks like the Arrowverse might be winding down. It’s not like Greg Berlanti will be left out in the cold, he’s proven he can make DC shows for HBO Max just as well as the CW. Better, in fact.

Look it’s fine if you don’t want to mourn the Arrowverse, but I’m gonna, it’s been a great ride.

Marvel: Overanalyzing and Overexpecting

At time of writing, Marvel fans are getting spun up with theories that Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness will have cameos by everyone from the Fox X-Men to Ben Affleck’s Daredevil to the Fant-Four-Stic cast (come on, the actual worst Fantastic Four movie? Be better, fanboys) and will probably be mad when they don’t get a bunch of cameos they weren’t promised, or else they will happen (who even knows at this point, I’m done trying to refute leaks and fan theories, I’ve looked the fool too often this year) and now there’ll be even higher expectations for even more cameos and character reveals down the line, and if She-Hulk doesn’t keep the party going with appearances by half the Defenders and minimum three Agents of SHIELD there’ll be a tantrum that’ll make the Ralph Bohner backlash look like mild disappointment.

See it’s too late to stop the fan theory bus. They’ve been right about too many things lately, even a little bit of the “okay how did they photoshop this trailer” debates. So that’s gonna keep happening until some project, some movie, some TV show, actually points to what the new Infinity Saga is. Or any of the three possible Infinity Sagas. There are a lot of threads and I’m not sure Feige intends to connect all of them. What’s Val up to? When’s Kang showing up? Is there a new team-up being planned and is it definitely Young Avengers?

And to my personal chagrin the Mephisto theories will continue unabated but I think at this point they’ll be mostly ironic.

(There are rumours the Russo brothers have been approached for Avengers: Secret Wars, but even if that’s true it tells us nothing. Secret Wars, just like Defenders, has been so many different things in Marvel comics that it’s impossible to guess what a movie with that title might look like.)

DCEU: Maybe still a thing?

There are rumours WB is inching towards another Justice League movie, but if said rumours are true, they’re playing it quiet because odds are it will have at most half of the original lineup and definitely won’t be directed by Zack Snyder so maybe they want to see how some of the new kids do before making any commitments or announcements. Maybe they want to see how the 2022 slate does before throwing big money at another Justice League.

I’d love to convince the Snyder Cult that boycotting The Batman and Flash will absolutely not get Snyder his job back, it will only make WB reconsider superhero movies in general, but a) I’m not chasing them all down individually and I don’t get invited to the big meetings, and b) they’re Snyder fans rather than DC fans, so they’d probably be fine with that. Like all the Bernie Bros who voted Trump because if their guy didn’t win, they’d let the whole country burn. So I’m just hoping they never get what they want from any studio ever again, and either learn to move on or die mad and miserable.

Nostalgia: Is what it is

No stopping it. Hollywood will greenlight 10 movies fueled by nostalgia and nine of ’em might fail, but the tenth will make so much money they greenlight another ten.

Marvel is doing a serious, for-real “For Your Consideration” campaign for Spider-Man: No Way Home. That’s where we’re at with this one. Almost certainly won’t work, but it’s not like Disney is short on money, they can afford to waste a little. Which, to bring me back to where we began…

The Oscars: Probs not a rating surge

Well maybe they should nominate No Way Home, just to convince a few more people to watch the ceremony? ‘Cause last year’s tribute to unseen joyless festival darlings was the worst rated Oscars by a HUGE margin. Plus the ceremony had so many problems! Such as…

  • They decided to end on Best Actor instead of Best Picture because they thought Chadwick Boseman winning a posthumous Oscar would be an emotional moment to end on and then he didn’t win, and the guy who did win wasn’t there, spectacular own-goal. Ending with Best Picture means someone’s gonna show up and accept it.
  • Oh man trying to speed-run the In Memorium was a bad look. If you want to time the slides of people we lost to the backing song, for god’s sake pick something low-tempo.
  • They seriously could not have picked a worse year to skip having clips of the nominated performances, this was not the year to just have the presenters say nice things about the nominees and ask us to trust that they did good acting.
  • And on that note, the “Presenter says nice things about nominees” plan fell apart for the final award because the last presenter was Joaquin Phoenix, his energy was “It’s 8:30 and I want to go home,” so he did not bother with it and just tried to get it over with, not usually a bad approach for the last award, but usually it’s fine because the last award is Best Picture and we’ve been hearing about all these movies the whole night.
  • So the last award of the whole night came down to a guy who didn’t want to be there accepting Best Actor on behalf of a guy who wasn’t there because he was in Wales, over 80 years old, and wasn’t driving to the Approved Remote Broadcast Site in the middle of the goddamn night in the middle of a goddamned plague and they wouldn’t bring a goddamned camera to his house.
  • And the only buzzworthy moment all night that wasn’t a screw-up was Glenn Close doing Da Bump.

So what I’m saying is it’s good they realized that they need to start having a host again in the worst way. If, say, John Mulaney and Nick Kroll had been hosting, a) the opening would have been 50 times more entertaining; b) they could have had multiple “Glenn Close does Da Bump” moments (or, yes, to be fair, multiple “Ellen Degeneres sees which of Hollywood’s elite want to chip in for a pizza” bits, man that was dead air); c) someone would have been there to salvage the fail-trumpet end of the ceremony, like Jimmy Kimmel did for the La La Land/Moonlight kerfuffle.

Also people might turn in just to see John Mulaney and Nick Kroll be funny at the expense of Dune or whatnot, which might be important, because despite Marvel’s best efforts with Spider-Man, it looks to be another year of obscure, little-seen festival darlings that won’t pull in viewers, and also maybe Dune. Dune might score a best picture nomination, but… look, thankfully it made enough money to greenlight a sequel, because as Part One it’s good but with no sequel it would have been the worst viewing experience of the year, but the point is I don’t think it’s the People’s Champion the Oscars are hoping it is. It’s like Mad Max: Fury Road. We’ll nominate a hit action/sci-fi movie, sure, but only a mid-range one, we’re not trying to be populist here.

But they also aren’t exactly chasing down the avant-garde, are they? I’ve read a few best-of-2021 lists and I haven’t seen Belfast on a single one of them, I haven’t heard anyone call Belfast one of the best films of the year, but maybe I’m just looking in the wrong places because it’s like the number two favourite for Best Picture after Power of the Dog which, let’s rip this bandaid off, is not an Underdog origin movie. The best-of lists I read feel like an acknowledgement that the only people trying to evolve film as an artform or storytelling medium are working outside of the US, so if you want to see something truly innovative, you have to learn to roll with subtitles. And the Academy seems to be saying “Look we gave the Korean guy three Oscars, we did our bit for foreign films, and now hey look Will Smith did an inspirational biopic!”

So Oscars 2022 might be a bunch of little-seen movies (and Dune) that aren’t populist enough for the general audience but also not artistic or innovative enough for critics. Sure some might deserve to be more popular with audiences… some have discussed how Disney seems to have deliberately sent Spielberg’s West Side Story and Guillermo Del Toro’s Nightmare Alley to die against No Way Home… but it’s hard for me to picture who was calling out for a biopic about Venus and Serena Williams’ dad. Other than Venus and Serena Williams, who produced it, so I guess they think their dad’s pretty cool. I just have to wonder what the Oscar darlings are even accomplishing as works of art. If Oscar movies only appeal to Oscar voters, then no wonder the ratings are in a tail spin. I’m still gonna watch the nominees and probably the ceremony but they could make it feel a little less like work.

Even if it’s less work than the AV Club’s list. There full circle. We good here? Think we’re good here.

Author: danny_g

Danny G, your humble host and blogger, has been working in community theatre since 1996, travelling the globe on and off since 1980, and caring more about nerd stuff than he should since before he can remember. And now he shares all of that with you.

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