Normally around this time of year, I produce a Midyear Recap where I go through every single film that I’ve seen in the first half of the year. It’s a Rhode Island Movie Corner tradition that I’ve thoroughly maintained ever since this blog’s inception in 2012. But as you might have guessed, there has been a major complication when it comes to this year’s installment of the Midyear Recap. Yes, thanks to that pesky coronavirus, theaters were forced to shut down until further notice, which means that many of the biggest films that were set to come out these past few months had to be either pushed back to later in the year (or next year, in some cases) or moved directly to On-Demand and Streaming services. Personally, I only managed to get four films in at the theater before this all went down, which isn’t even enough to do the ‘Top 5 of the Year (So Far)’ segment that always ends these posts. However, in the wake of all the nationwide closures back in March, I have since seen two more films thanks to the On-Demand/Streaming circuit, effectively allowing me to have a proper Top 5 of 2020 by the halfway point. And since I’m usually not one to buck away from the traditions that I’ve established for this site, I will still go ahead and deliver the 2020 edition of Rhode Island Movie Corner’s annual Midyear Recap. For those who are new to this site, the annual Midyear Recap is exactly what you think it is. In today’s post, I will be going through all the new films that I’ve seen in 2020, whether it was in a theater or at home, in the order of ‘least favorite’ to my current #1 of the year. And to be clear, I’m only counting the films that I’ve seen that came out this year. In other words, this isn’t going to be one of those cases where I go over everything that I’ve been watching while being in lockdown for the past few months since a lot of it consists of films and shows that had come out in years past. And so, without further ado, join me as I proudly present what will easily be the shortest installment to date of Rhode Island Movie Corner’s annual Midyear Recap.
Well, to start things off on a controversial note… yes, I did like this film. That said, though, I fully understand why a lot of people didn’t like it. Artemis Fowl will surely go down in history as one of the most infamous adaptations of a popular book series in recent memory as it makes a bunch of radical changes to the title character and combines story elements from the first two books in the series despite the fact that it does properly maintain the first installment’s premise. But like I said in my review of the film from a few weeks ago, I went into it without having read the book beforehand. I did attempt to read it back when I was younger, but for reasons that I can never explain, I wasn’t able to connect with it like I did with the likes of Harry Potter. However, I fully recognize that if I had read it, I probably would’ve taken greater issue with all these changes. In fact, this is the exact same situation that I was in when I first saw the film adaptation of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief in 2010. At the time, it was a film that I was really looking forward to since I was a massive fan of the book series ever since I read the first one in my 8th Grade English class. But while I didn’t necessarily ‘dislike’ the film when I finally saw it, all I could think about was how it was far from being the most faithful adaptation of its source material. Because of this, I’ll admit that I didn’t see its sequel, Sea of Monsters, when it came out in 2013; and yet, from what I can gather… I didn’t miss much. That one ended up being the last outing for the film franchise, effectively making it a failed attempt at an adaptation. Luckily for fans of the series, though, it has recently been announced that a TV series is being primed for Disney+ that has the potential to be a more faithful adaptation. In other words, it’s a lot like what happened with A Series of Unfortunate Events. Its 2004 feature film adaptation looked to be the start of a franchise that could rival the likes of Harry Potter, but those plans stalled out after just one film. But then, in 2017, it got a TV series adaptation on Netflix that was widely lauded for being a far more faithful take on the franchise, and because it ran for three seasons, it was able to do what the film couldn’t and see its story told to completion.
But anyway, back to Artemis Fowl. As noted earlier, the biggest deviations that the film makes from the books primarily revolve around the title character. In the books, Artemis Fowl II is a 12-year old ‘criminal mastermind’ who starts out as a more villainous character before he gradually transitions into being more of an ‘antihero’ in subsequent installments. The film, however, basically abolishes his ‘villainous’ traits to make him more of a traditional protagonist who, instead of looking to recoup his family’s fortune, is trying to rescue his father from a villain who didn’t appear in the first book. Naturally, this didn’t go over well with fans of the franchise, who promptly made it clear that the idea of having an antagonist as the main character of the series was never an issue for them and that all these changes robbed Artemis of the traits that made him interesting in the first place. Despite this, however, the film ends up faring a lot better when it comes to other aspects of its production. To be clear, I’m not saying it’s perfect (far from it, in fact…), but with a brisk 95-minute runtime and some fun production design to bring its fantasy world to life, it’s harmless, for the most part… you know, if you don’t take the story and character changes into account. Really, the only other thing that holds it back aside from its radical changes to the narrative is how it’s surprisingly lowkey when it comes to being a ‘franchise starter’. Sure, it maintains the idea of what author Eoin Colfer described as ‘Die Hard with fairies’, but it doesn’t spend as much time within the fantastical underground world of Haven City as it could’ve. And because of the negative reviews that it’s gotten and its fate as a Disney+ release, I think it’s safe to say that this won’t be eliciting a sequel that could make up for all this. But like I said before, perhaps this will end up being a case like Percy Jackson and A Series of Unfortunate Events where, sometime down the road, Artemis Fowl will end up getting a new adaptation that would give fans a far more faithful take on their beloved franchise.
And now, without further ado…
MY TOP 5 OF 2020 (SO FAR)
5. BAD BOYS FOR LIFE
So far, Bad Boys for Life has been one of the biggest hits of 2020’s film slate when it comes to how it has fared with critics and audiences. Even as the third installment of a franchise that has been around since 1995 and hasn’t had a mainline installment since 2003, it’s currently the highest-grossing film of the year with a worldwide total of $419.1 million. And in an unexpected turn of events, it’s also the best-reviewed installment of the franchise to date with a solid 77% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While the first two Bad Boys films that were directed by Michael Bay were solid hits with audiences to the point where 2003’s Bad Boys II is genuinely considered by some to be one of the best action films of its time, they weren’t as successful with critics. But with Bad Boys for Life, critics felt that the directorial duo of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah were able to take the brazenly chaotic escapades of Bay’s Bad Boys films and do something worthwhile with it, and sure enough, that’s exactly what they did. Overall, Bad Boys for Life strikes a solid balance when it comes to how Adil and Bilall maintain the general atmosphere of the series. While they certainly do their part to maintain that classic Michael Bay style through the film’s lavish cinematography and flashy action sequences, it isn’t as insanely over-the-top in its depiction of ‘Bayhem’ like Bad Boys II was. Instead, it’s more in line with the original Bad Boys from 1995, which was Bay’s directorial debut, and while it certainly showed signs of the figuratively and literally explosive style of directing that he would become known for, nowadays one could argue that, by Michael Bay standards, it’s one of his tamest films.
But perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Bad Boys for Life is how it managed to be its franchise’s best-written installment. Granted, this is still just as much of a generally mindless action flick as its predecessors, but the film deftly addresses the 17-year gap between it and the release of Bad Boys II. It does a wonderful job of emphasizing how Mike Lowery and Marcus Burnett aren’t the young hotshots that they once were, especially when it comes to the former since the film quickly shatters the image of Mike’s seemingly invincible persona that thoroughly dominated the previous two films. And then, of course, there’s the big reveal that Armando, the young assassin that’s been hunting him and Marcus, is the son that he fathered with the film’s main antagonist, cartel leader Isabel. This and the subplot of Marcus turning to religion after Mike nearly dies from one of Armando’s assassination attempts helps give the film some truly unexpected bits of strong emotional poignancy. And through it all, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence properly maintain the strong camaraderie between them that made the previous films the enduring hits that they are. Because of all this, it’s quite easy to see why Bad Boys for Life ended up becoming one of this year’s biggest hits. Not only did it deliver on everything that fans of the franchise have wanted to see for years (especially since this film spent a considerably long time in development hell for various reasons), but it also managed to do the unexpected and show some genuine signs of maturity. And really, considering some of the shenanigans that Mike and Marcus got into in Bad Boys II, that’s saying a lot. As I’ve said before, the Bad Boys films are far from being my favorite action films of all-time, but I assure you that I had just as much fun with one of the best recent examples of an all-around crowd pleaser as everyone else.
Scoob was originally set to make its theatrical debut on May 15th, but of course, that plan changed when the pandemic forced all the theaters to close. So instead, Warner Bros opted to do what Universal and DreamWorks did when they decided to have Trolls World Tour released on On-Demand the same day as its intended theatrical release date on April 10th, which was also fully compromised by COVID-19. Thus, both films debuted with the ‘Theater at Home’ price tag of $19.99, and while I understand why some might find this to be a bit much for just a rental, I do feel that it’s a reasonable asking price given the circumstances. Plus, if there’s at least two people watching the film together, I’d argue that this is enough to justify what’s basically the equivalent of two theater tickets. The same method of pricing also ended up applying to films that were in theaters right when COVID-19 hit (e.g. The Invisible Man, Emma, and even an upcoming film on this list), which resulted in many of them opting to fast-track their debuts on On-Demand services. However, this practice has attracted some controversy from theater owners, especially after Universal announced that, because of how successful Trolls World Tour was on the streaming market, they were considering doing simultaneous theater and On-Demand releases for some of their other films down the road. In response, both AMC Theatres and Regal Cinemas announced that they wouldn’t distribute any of the studio’s films that are released in that manner. And while that’s all I’ll say about this debate for now, I’ll also admit that Scoob, the newest take on the classic franchise that is Scooby-Doo, has been the only film forced to On-Demand services by COVID-19 that I’ve rented at the ‘Theater at Home’ price range.
One of the biggest selling points of this reboot of the Scooby-Doo franchise is how it looks to be the start of a potential cinematic universe that revolves around the classic characters of Hanna-Barbera Productions. And while I know that some people might groan at the prospect of another attempt at an MCU-style franchise, especially since most attempts at following the MCU formula haven’t even remotely come close to replicating Marvel Studios’ success, the idea of a Hanna-Barbera cinematic universe is a genuinely exciting one. This is especially if you’re like me and your experience with the company’s properties is admittedly limited to the likes of The Flintstones and, of course, Scooby-Doo. As such, one of the best aspects of Scoob is how it spotlights some of Hanna-Barbera’s lesser-known characters like the Blue Falcon (or in this case, the Blue Falcon’s generally aimless son Brian who took up his father’s mantle in the wake of his retirement), Dynomutt the Dog Wonder, and Captain Caveman. Sure, this does sort of come at the expense of the film being a traditional Scooby-Doo adventure, especially since the Mystery Inc gang is split up for a good chunk of the runtime, but it makes up for this with some solid emotional depth through its handling of Shaggy and Scooby’s relationship. After all, as the film clearly points out, they’ve always been the heart of this franchise. And while I fully recognize why the decision to recast the voices of the Mystery Inc. gang (save for Frank Welker as Scooby) has led to quite a lot of backlash, the new voice cast does manage to do a solid job in their respective roles. Like I’ve said before, though, this doesn’t mean that I think that they should replace the series’ current voice cast. But overall, I had quite a lot of fun with Scoob. While it does have its fair share of modern references, it does a wonderful job of maintaining that classic Hanna-Barbera style from its wide array of Easter eggs to animation that perfectly reflects the franchise’s traditionally animated roots. All in all, it’s a delightful little family flick that will hopefully get the chance to spawn its proposed cinematic universe despite the COVID-19 based circumstances that led to it forgoing its theatrical release in favor of an On-Demand debut.
3. SONIC THE HEDGEHOG
By this point last year, the first live-action film adaptation of Sonic the Hedgehog was shaping up to be one of the biggest cinematic disasters in recent memory. When the film’s first trailer was released, literally the only thing that anyone talked about was how utterly mediocre the initial design for the title character was. This more humanoid version of Sonic quickly became a prime source of internet mockery in a manner quite similar to what happened when the first trailer for Cats hit or when the live-action Aladdin remake showcased its first look at Will Smith’s Genie in the character’s traditional blue form. And yet, in a genuinely unexpected turn of events, director Jeff Fowler announced that he and his team would take the criticisms of the design to heart and completely rework it. They even decided to delay the film to February of this year rather than its original November 2019 release date so that the VFX artists wouldn’t have to be forced to endure the dreaded crunch time that would’ve stemmed from such a severe deadline. Granted, it’s been reported that this happened regardless and the studio that worked on the visual effects ended up shutting down by the end of 2019, which resulted in the VFX artists who worked on the redesign getting laid off, but that’s another story for another time. When Sonic’s big redesign was officially shown off in the second trailer, the film’s online reputation did a complete 180 as fans reacted far more positively towards this version of the character. It certainly helped the film upon its release, where it managed to net over $306 million worldwide and stand toe-to-toe with last year’s Pokémon: Detective Pikachu as one of the rare positively received live-action adaptations of a popular video game. Sure, just like Detective Pikachu, the reviews weren’t ‘amazing’, per se, but both films certainly fared a lot better with critics than most of the other films that have come from what is quite arguably the film industry’s unluckiest subgenre. And in this instance, it’s easy to see why Sonic the Hedgehog managed to avoid the same fate as other films based on video games as it’s a solidly entertaining popcorn flick.
Now with that said, the film is admittedly rather basic in terms of its plot. In other words, it’s your standard fish-out-of-water/road-trip comedy that’s very straight-forward with its narrative/character arcs. Plus, fans of the franchise may be a bit disappointed with the fact that the film sees Sonic spend more time on Earth than he does on his home world of Green Hills, even though, to be fair, the concept of Sonic interacting with humans in the real world isn’t anything new for this series. Despite this, however, the film manages to work around this thanks to its easy-going atmosphere and it boasts some fun action sequences that do a nice job of utilizing Sonic’s super-speed abilities (and yes, this includes some slow-motion sequences a la the Quicksilver scenes from the recent X-Men films). And despite what I said before about the film’s inherently predictable nature, it does have a lot of heart to its proceedings thanks in large part to the strong bond that forms between Sonic and a local cop named Tom Wachowski that’s spurred by the former’s desire for friendship after years of isolation. As such, the film is very much bolstered by the phenomenal duo of Ben Schwartz, who proves to be a pitch-perfect voice for Sonic, and James Marsden, who makes the most out of his ‘best friend archetype who spends most of his time interacting with a CGI character’ role as Tom. And, of course, the one and only Jim Carrey is an undeniable standout in the role of Sonic’s arch-nemesis, Dr. Robotnik. All in all, it’s legitimately nice to see this film manage to overcome all the negative publicity that surrounded the original cinematic look for Sonic, especially since there was a good chance that this widely-maligned design could’ve easily derailed the film entirely had it not been redone. And because of how successful it managed to be at the box-office, a sequel was recently announced to be in the works, which makes perfect sense seeing how the film ends with a mid-credits scene where Sonic’s best friend Miles ‘Tails’ Prower arrives on Earth to look for him.
2. BIRDS OF PREY
The fact that Birds of Prey is one of the hardcore DCEU fandom’s most utterly despised films (despite being one of the franchise’s better-reviewed entries) is something that will always make me laugh. After all, like I’ve said plenty of times before, one of the reasons why the DCEU diehards have been one of the most toxic factions of modern film fandom is how they’re blindly loyal to the works of Zack Snyder to the point where they refuse to listen to anyone who dares to have a problem with his DCEU films even though they’re certainly far from perfect. Thus, when this film came out, the Snyder faithful grimaced at the idea of a film like this being made instead of something like Man of Steel 2 or the long-demanded release of the fabled ‘Snyder Cut’ of Justice League (which, of course, will finally happen next year). However, I do hope that this isn’t one of the reasons why Birds of Prey admittedly underperformed at the box-office. While it did manage to double its budget (which was around $82-100 million) with a worldwide total of $201.9 million, it didn’t reach the breakeven point of around $250-300 million. And to be clear, this isn’t necessarily one of those cases of a film whose theatrical release window was hindered by COVID-19 since it came out at least a full month before all this went down… although it did end up fast-tracking its On-Demand debut once the pandemic went into full effect. It could be argued that this may have had something to do with Birds of Prey being the DCEU’s first R-rated theatrical release (not counting the Ultimate Edition of Batman v Superman), but it’s still sad that this happened to a female-directed film that was primarily headlined by a female cast. In fact, to be perfectly blunt… it also speaks volumes about how the DCEU diehards can often have the same sexist tendencies as the haters of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Remember all those alt-right clickbait videos on YouTube that I’ve talked about recently? Yeah, Birds of Prey has gotten that terrible treatment too. Let’s just say that there’s a good reason why the completely unrelated (though thematically similar in a lot of ways) Harley Quinn animated series on DC Universe directly spoofed this kind of toxic behavior in the Season 2 episode ‘Batman’s Back Man’.
As for the film itself, I should probably start things off by addressing the elephant in the room. While the film is named after the superheroine group of the same name from the comics and does feature some of its most prominent members like Black Canary and Huntress, Birds of Prey is primarily a Harley Quinn story. It’s told almost entirely from her perspective and revolves around her efforts to rebuild her life after breaking off her relationship with the Joker while the titular squad doesn’t officially come together until the final act. I’m also aware that there’s been some controversy over the film’s portrayal of Cassandra Cain who, instead of being the martial-arts trained mute that she is in the comics (where she becomes Batgirl), is a street-smart pickpocket that Harley takes under her wing. Despite this, though, the film does an excellent job of maintaining the character-driven approach that the DCEU has thankfully been going with for their most recent outings. Even if it does come at the expense of proper set-up for the Birds of Prey, this film’s portrayal of Harley Quinn is superb, both in terms of how she’s written and how Margot Robbie finally gets the chance to assert herself as the definitive live-action incarnation of the character. And while they don’t get as much focus as they probably should’ve, the other female leads are great as well, especially Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Huntress, who gets a lot of the film’s best comedic moments thanks to all the playful jabs at her attempts at being a serious vigilante (who still gets to partake in many of the film’s best action beats). Plus, while we’re on the subject of action, did I forget to mention that, during the film’s reshoots, any action sequences that were filmed by the second unit were supervised by none other than John Wick’s Chad Stahelski? Basically, what I’m getting at is that this film’s got some great action sequences.
And so, in conclusion… yes, I’m part of the crowd that really liked this film. As such, I’m also disappointed that it didn’t do as well as it could’ve at the box-office, partially due to the growing problem of overly entitled toxic ‘fans’ (and yes, as always, the term ‘fans’ is used loosely here). To be clear, I’m not saying that it’s perfect, namely due to it being a bit unfocused at times because of the whole ‘it being more of a Harley Quinn film than a Birds of Prey film’ thing, but thanks to the solid direction from Cathy Yan, it manages to overcome this to be another solid outing for the post-Snyder era of the DCEU. If I were to rank this film amongst the other installments of the DCEU, I’d put it at Number 4, right behind the Grade-A trio of Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and Shazam but still ahead of all the Zack Snyder DCEU films (plus Suicide Squad). Yes, as I pointed out a few weeks back when I discussed the announcement of the Snyder Cut’s long-awaited release, I’m not exactly as positive towards the Snyder-directed DCEU films as I was back then. And while the DCEU diehards will try to argue otherwise, Birds of Prey is simply yet another example of how the franchise has fared a lot better since it moved away from the overly dour atmosphere of Snyder’s films. The only real downside to all this is that the DCEU won’t be acknowledging the shared universe format as much going forward… though, really, that’s more on DC and Warner Bros for not realizing that perhaps rushing Justice League just so that they could match The Avengers wasn’t such a great idea. Whatever the case, though, while it may not be the most ideal interpretation of the team that it’s named after, Birds of Prey does, at least, show that there’s quite a lot of potential for them going forward.
While it goes without saying that I’ll probably have a new #1 by the end of the year, my favorite release of the year so far has been Onward, the first of Pixar’s 2020 releases (barring any new COVID-19 related complications that could force the further delay of Pete Docter’s Soul, which is currently tapped for a November release). Onward serves as the sophomore directorial effort of Dan Scanlon, who had previously helmed the studio’s heavily underrated Monsters Inc prequel, 2013’s Monsters University. This time, however, Scanlon had the chance to do an original story that was inspired by the death of his father when he was younger and the strong relationship that he formed with his brother in the wake of their loss. This is effectively translated into a fantasy adventure set in modern suburbia where two elf brothers, Ian and Barley Lightfoot, embark on a Dungeons and Dragons inspired quest to retrieve a powerful gem that they can use to bring their deceased father back to life for one day. While I’m personally not too familiar with D&D, those who are will surely be delighted by all the references that this film makes to it, including a scene where Ian and Barley are confronted by the most terrifying foe of all… the gelatinous cube! But of course, Onward also dutifully maintains the most definitive aspect of any great Pixar film by fully delivering on its emotional poignancy, especially when it comes to its ending. It’s probably one of the best examples of a bittersweet but ultimately happy ending as Ian willingly gives up the chance to properly meet his dad to protect him and Barley from a giant dragon just so that Barley can have one last moment with their dad after he had revealed that he was too scared to say goodbye to him when he was sick. And as for Ian, while he may not have gotten the chance to meet the father that he never knew, the journey that they went on ultimately helped him realize that Barley was the one who filled that void for him.
The strong brotherly bond between Ian and Barley is easily the best part of this film, and it’s all thanks to the phenomenal voice work from Tom Holland and Chris Pratt in their respective roles. And while the film’s focus on Ian and Barley’s quest means that the other characters in the film don’t exactly get as much to work with as they do, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Octavia Spencer are just as great as Ian and Barley’s utterly dedicated mom Laurel and Corey the adventure-loving Manticore, respectively. All this and the fun fantasy world that it takes place in results in Onward being another top-notch outing from Pixar… even if some felt that it wasn’t exactly one of their ‘best’. Yeah, despite amassing an incredibly admirable 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a common point that’s been brought up in a lot of reviews for the film is that it isn’t quite up to par with some of Pixar’s most beloved outings. And yet, this only continues to prove the point that my pal Kyle Ostrum and I have been saying for years now about how Pixar films that aren’t considered an outright masterpiece tend to get overlooked because of the intense expectations that come with every new film that the studio releases. There’s also the matter of this film arguably being the biggest release hindered by the COVID-19 pandemic, which went into full effect just about a week into the film’s release, and because of this, it was forced to join the increasing number of films that had to fast-track their releases onto the On-Demand market. As such, I do hope that this film manages to gain some greater attention on the home video market because I genuinely think that it’s just as worthwhile as all the other Pixar classics. The fact that it only did about $103 million worldwide on a budget of around $175-200 million is simply due to it being forced to experience the unlucky break of being released at the worst possible time.
And that concludes the [severely truncated] 2020 edition of Rhode Island Movie Corner’s annual Midyear Recap. As always, thanks for following along even with everything that made this the shortest Midyear Recap that I’ve done to date. With that said, I should note that, despite what some may suggest, I’m genuinely optimistic that we’ll be able to return to the concept of going to see films at the theater sometime in the future. While it’s currently unclear as to when it’ll be safe to partake in this timeless pastime again, hopefully there’ll be enough time this year to see some of the biggest upcoming releases, and believe me, there’s a lot to look forward to when it comes to films that I strongly believe should be seen with a crowd in the theater. There’s the highly anticipated follow-up to one of the best installments of the DCEU, the MCU’s first installment of the post-Infinity Saga era, the epic live-action reimagining of one of the Disney Renaissance’s most underrated gems, and the long-awaited return of one of the most iconic duos to ever grace the big-screen… and yes, that’s just to name a select few. And personally, I’d hate to see the theater-going experience die out just because this pandemic forced us to stay at home for a few months. Thus, in conclusion, I’m only going to say one thing, folks… WEAR A DAMN MASK so that we can keep this pandemic from getting any worse.