Comics to Screen is a recurring feature in which Ben Kaye analyzes the constantly evolving leap from comic books to screens of all sizes. This time, he looks ahead and previews a 2017 that promises to be full of capes, tights, and surprises.
By the grace of some quality films, 2016 proved the superhero genre is not nearly as close to its last leg as many have speculated. Deadpool revitalized the entire spirit of comic book movies by proving you could take risks and find success while Doctor Strange showed how even a formulaic origin story can still be original and entertaining. Captain America: Civil War continued to demonstrate how thrilling the Marvel Cinematic Universe can be, even as Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice revealed that the DC Extended Universe still has some work to do.
But 2017 could be the year that work finally gets done. Wonder Woman is shaping up to be the first truly gripping tale DC Films has produced, and even though Zack Snyder hasn’t earned any faith, we’ll finally get to see if his big plans have satisfying results with Justice League. Though frankly, even if it’s not considerably better than his past two adaptations, you can’t deny how cool it’s going to be to see Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg standing side by side (we assume Superman will be flying overhead).
This will also be the biggest year for the MCU ever. We’re getting three cinematic blockbusters and three Netflix serialized series. Each of the films brings us just that much closer to the decade-long buildup to Avengers: Infinity War, and we’ll get to see the ultimate conclusion of the Netflix series, all of which has this writer practically seething in anticipation. As for Marvel properties outside the connected universe, it looks as if we’ll finally be getting the Wolverine movie we’ve always dreamed of with Logan.
What’s more, there are a few independent efforts coming out that look to really be delving into the true richness of comicdom, from quirky human stories to vast sci-fi adventures. In a year loaded up with big-budget sequels, it’s refreshing to see Hollywood turning its attention to some of the medium’s less well-known but equally quality properties.
From predictable summer smashes to low-budget underdogs, there’s a truckload of interesting prospects coming to cinemas this year. Considering how 2017 has started, it’s damn nice to have something to look forward to, so let’s see what excitement will brighten up our screens this year.
The LEGO Batman Movie
Release Date: February 10th
Company: Warner Bros.
Outlook: Always be the Batman.
Seemingly against all logic, The LEGO Movie was a deserving smash in 2014. It had incredibly inventive visuals, gallons of heart, and ridiculous all-ages comedy. So giving Will Arnett’s blocky Batman his own film wasn’t only financially sound for WB, but gleefully exciting for fans. As with the original LEGO production, trailers for The LEGO Batman Movie hint at a film that’s going to be exceedingly smart on top of just pure fun. First-time director Chris McKay (Robot Chicken) and a team of writers including Seth Grahame-Smith and Chris McKenna look to have crafted a playful satire of the Dark Knight that pokes fun at his lonerism while simultaneously exploring the fear of connection that’s at its center. It could be one of the most fascinating re-examinations of Bruce Wayne in years, and it’s coming packaged with the wacky visual world of LEGO and an undeniable cast (Zach Galifianakis as The Joker, Michael Cera as Robin, Rosario Dawson as Batgirl, Ralph Fiennes as Alfred, Jenny Slate as Harley Quinn, and in a stunning dream-come-true piece of fanboy casting, Billy Dee Williams as Two-Face). This is the first of two films starring Batman in 2017, and there’s a fair chance it could end up being the better one.
Release Date: March 3rd
Outlook: The best there is at what he does.
The third film in the Wolverine series was in the works well before Deadpool proved R-rated superhero fare has a place in cinemas, so we can’t put all the credit at Ryan Reynolds’ feet. But thank One Above All that Deadpool happened in the first place, because it likely opened the minds of Fox’s execs enough to allow director/screenwriter James Mangold to finally make the Wolverine film he — and fans — have always wanted. Logan promises to deliver all the berserker violence that’s been missing from the ol’ Canucklehead’s previous big-screen appearances. And thanks to the introduction of his young female clone, Laura, aka X-23 (Dafne Keen), he won’t be the only one slicing up baddies. A loose (very loose) adaptation of the classic Old Man Logan story line, the gritty tale finds an aged and bitter Wolverine caring for an ailing Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) until he gets embroiled in a fight to protect X-23 from the diabolical Transigen corporation and their Reavers goonsquad. Previews have teased a movie unlike any past X-film, and that’s just what the franchise needs. Logan may end up being Hugh Jackman’s final appearance as the popular mutant, and if that turns out to be true, it looks like he’ll be going out with a bang. Or a really sharp stab, or whatever.
Release Date: March 24th
Company: FOX Searchlight
Outlook: Wait, good comic movies aren’t always about capes?
Hey, noobs: Comic books aren’t all about guys with super strength punching other guys who have laser vision. Some of the most interesting uses of the medium are actually just about average schmucks trying to find their place in the world. Artist and writer Daniel Clowes is a master of the misanthropic graphic tale, having penned the cult classic Ghost World, which he adapted into the acclaimed 2001 film of the same name. He once again penned the script for his latest adaptation, Wilson, in which a socially awkward but brutally honest middle-aged man (the ever-watchable Woody Harrelson) discovers his ex-wife (Laura Dern) gave birth to his daughter (Isabella Amara) 17 years ago, only to put her up for adoption without telling him. It’s a quirky tale about a loner who’s trying his best to not be so alone, and if you like your comic book movies full of heart and humor, there’s probably no better bet this year.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Release Date: May 5th
Outlook: Showtime, A-holes!
As we all wait with bated breath for superhero fatigue to really take hold, could there be a better movie to kick off the summer blockbuster season than a sequel to the most left-field comic book success of the last decade? Sure, there’s always the concern that the follow-up can’t match the magic of the original, and outside of the Captain America series, Marvel doesn’t have the best track record with second entries. But the stars certainly seem to be aligned for James Gunn’s latest space romp. Besides the benefit of not being overly beholden to the larger MCU story arc, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 welcomes back all the creative talents from the first flick. Add in newcomers Pom Klementieff as emphatic rookie Guardian Mantis, Sylvester Stallone as a Nova Corps member, and Kurt frackin’ Russell as Ego the Living frackin’ Planet (Peter Quill’s dad, somehow!), and failure just doesn’t seem like a possibility. The trailers so far suggest the humor and soundtrack are as spot-on as before, making this an early favorite in a summer packed with potential.
Release Date: June 2nd
Company: Warner Bros./DC Films
Outlook: Hera, give me strength…
I’ve said it before, and I think it still holds: The fate of the DC Extended Universe could rest on Wonder Woman’s shoulders. After such a dismal start to the DCEU with last year’s double whammy of critically derided, financially mediocre blockbusters, DC Films really needs a win. Things looked rocky when Michelle MacLaren bailed as director over creative differences, but since then, the outlook has been promising. Gal Gadot was one of the few highlights of BvS, and with the always reliable Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, and Chris Pine as costars, the cast is solid. Trailers suggest “replacement” director Patty Jenkins has done a fine job turning in a Captain America-meets-Thor World War I thriller with a feminist bent. And with acclaimed comic book veterans Geoff Johns and Allan Heinberg behind the script, it’s easy to have faith in a well-told superhero adventure. It’s just hard to have faith in DC Films right now. It’s doubt by association, though, and a superhero movie with a female lead and a female director is already dealing with high enough stakes without the burden of the DCEU. There’s every reason to root for Wonder Woman’s success, but it’s tough not to be skeptical until we see her ride into battle.
Release Date: July 7th
Outlook: Spidey swings home
Of the three Marvel films coming this year, Spider-Man: Homecoming stands web and shoulders above the rest in terms of hype. Tom Holland’s debut as Peter Parker in last year’s Captain America: Civil War was widely praised. I’ve always thought Tobey Maguire was a great Parker and Andrew Garfield the better Spidey, but Holland appears to have mastered the best of both. We’ve already seen that he’s able to deliver a more youthfully awkward, wittier, more athletic version of the character than those other two stars. Surrounding him will be a diverse cast (Donald Glover, Martin Starr, Tony Revolori, Angourie Rice, Zendaya) that already feels like a more true representation of New York than most other movies set in the city. On top of that, there are supporting roles from Robert Downey Jr. (reprising his already iconic Tony Stark/Iron Man), Marisa Tomei (Aunt May), and Michael Keaton (the Vulture), adding a level of talent and star power that a Marvel movie demands. It’s all getting folded into the established MCU in ways that, if previews are to be trusted, honor what came before while expanding upon it with a fresh perspective. Having Spider-Man back in the hands of Marvel is indescribably thrilling, and it thus far seems to warrant the excitement of superfans and casual ones alike.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Release Date: July 27th
Outlook: All the sci-fi. All of it.
Don’t feel embarrassed if you’ve never heard of Valérian and Laurelin; it’s a fairly cult series created by French writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières in the late ’60s. But even if all those names sound completely alien to you, you almost certainly love some of the concepts this comic has birthed. Darth Vader, carbonite freezing, and Princess Leia’s infamous bikini in Star Wars? Valérian. The spaceships in Independence Day? Valérian. Pretty much every visual in The Fifth Element? Valérian. Hell, Mézières actually did the production designs for that one.
Which is what makes this eagerly anticipated adaptation so exciting. The source material is the launch pad for nearly every facet of modern sci-fi, and the movie is being helmed by none other than Fifth Element director Luc Besson in what’s shaping up to be his glorious return to space exploration. The story centers on a pair of time-traveling space cops played by Dane DeHaan (Valerian) and Cara Delevingne (Laureline) and their adventures on a planet built by a thousand cultures all attempting to live in harmony. Also starring are Ethan Hawke, John Goodman, Clive Owen, and Rihanna, and the trailer only teases some of the stunning visual potential for this film. It’s hard to understate how ambitious and important to sci-fi aficionados this film is, and although a lack of name recognition makes this a summer underdog, it’s one you’re not going to want to miss. So long as it avoids Jupiter Ascending levels of failure.
The Coldest City
Release Date: July 28th
Company: Denver and Delilah Productions/Focus Features
Outlook: Going in cold.
Writer Antony Johnson’s 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City is a taut thriller set shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall. It has all the markings of a solid high-stakes spy story: an MI6 agent forced to work with a testy foreign ally, secret lists, double agents, revenge. On paper, there’s not much to separate it from similar entries in the genre besides the fact that it’s just, well, good. On screen, however, there’s a bit more intrigue. In addition to producing through her Denver and Delilah banner, Charlize Theron stars as Lorraine Broughton, the English spy forced to work with James McAvoy’s Berlin station chief David Percival. Toby Jones, Sofie Boutella, and Eddie Marsan also appear, giving the film quite a comic book movie pedigree — plus John Goodman. David Leitch, a stuntman who co-directed John Wick and was second unit director on Captain America: Civil War, will make his solo directorial debut with the film. As if his resume weren’t already intriguing enough, Leitch’s been tapped to replace Tim Miller on the Deadpool sequel. Though the story line might not pique your interest, at the very least the talent involved should.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle
Release Date: October 9th
Company: Fox/Marv Films/Shangri-LA Entertainment
Outlook: It’s like those old movies we both love.
The first Kingsman surprised pretty much everyone with not only its success, but how darn fun it was. Based on Mark Millar’s comic The Secret Service, the film channeled all the winning aspects of James Bond-style spy films, cranked it up to 100, and added a heavy dose of black humor. The result was a stylish thrill ride filled with shockingly original fight scenes and stellar performances from Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, and a particularly giddy Samuel L. Jackson. With most of the team back, plus newcomers Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Vinnie Jones, and — wait for it — Sir Elton John, there’s good reason to anticipate this follow-up. There are some risks, of course; bringing back a character who so clearly died (Firth’s Harry Hart) threatens to become a gummy plot point. Plus, Millar’s comic was limited to six issues, meaning there’s no more source material to pull from. Still, director/writer Matthew Vaughn successfully created a unique take on Millar’s work in the first one, and he really hasn’t made a bad movie yet. The sequel will find the Kingsman teaming up with their American counterparts, the Statesman, and if the US spies are half as exciting as the UK ones, we’re in for another wildly clever action flick.
Release Date: November 3rd
Outlook: By Odin’s beard, this looks interesting.
Wouldn’t it be great if the least engaging series in the MCU actually ended up producing one of cinema’s better threequels? High hopes, to be sure, but something sounds special about Thor: Ragnarok. For one, it continues the very comic book-y trend Spider-Man: Homecoming will be kicking off by essentially being a team-up movie. Not only will Benedict Cumberbatch be reprising his Doctor Strange, Mark Ruffalo will return as The Hulk in a way that already has Marvel fans writhing in nerdgasms; Ragnarok will, in part, adapt the acclaimed Planet Hulk story line that sees the green behemoth fighting in gladiatorial duels on a distant planet. In the movie, he’ll come to blows with Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who is being held prisoner without his trusty Mjölnir. Of course, that’s not the main battle of the film, and the pair will have to team up to escape and defend Asgard against Hela (Cate Blanchett), who wants to bring about the apocalypse known as Ragnarok. It also looks like this will be the 2017 MCU entry that most directly bridges the gap between Avengers: Age of Ultron and next year’s Avengers: Infinity War, meaning it’ll have to deal with Thanos and the Soul Stone.
Sure, that puts a lot on director Taika Waititi’s plate and that’s without even mentioning the addition of Tessa Thompson (Valkyrie), Karl Urban (Skurge), and Jeff Goldblum (Grandmaster) on top of beloved returning castmembers like Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Idris Elba (Heimdall), and Jaimie Alexander (Sif). But that plot sounds like the most interesting of any Thor solo outing to date, and Captain America: Civil War proved that Marvel knows how to handle a crowded film. We’ll see if they can do it again when the hammer drops this fall.
Release Date: November 17th
Company: Warner Bros./DC Films
Outlook: Will justice be served?
With any luck, Justice League will be the last Zack Snyder superhero movie we’ll ever have to deal with. With a lot more luck, it will also be his best. The story that really began with Dawn of Justice will reach its foregone conclusion when Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) bring together a team of novice metahumans (Ezra Miller’s The Flash, Ray Fisher’s Cyborg), an Atlantean king (Jason Momoa’s Aquaman), and a resurrected Superman (Henry Cavill). Unfortunately, seeds for this epic superhero team-up were so poorly planted in BvS that only those steeped in the comics know what to expect in terms of a conflict. The threat forcing the team together will be Steppenwolf, a military general from an alien race known as the New Gods. With his Parademon soldiers, Steppenwolf comes to Earth seeking the Mother Boxes, three pieces of New God technology that will help herald the coming of the DC Extended Universe’s big bad, Darkseid.
Now, BvS actually showed a Mother Box (Cyborg’s origin) and Parademons (those flying bug things in Batman’s random dream sequence), and Steppenwolf was part of a deleted scene hinted at by Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) at the film’s end. But things have been stitched together with such haste that the threads are barely laid out. What’s more, BvS dealt with far fewer characters with markedly little grace, and JL’s cast is only more loaded. Justice League promises to be a more lighthearted affair (hi, Flash) than the dreary past entries, but tone is just one of a myriad of issues Snyder will have to correct for this team-up to succeed where Man of Steel and BvS failed.
Netflix’s Iron Fist, The Defenders, The Punisher
Release Dates: March 17th, TBA, TBA
Outlook: Those who surround us, define us.
Two of Netflix’s series coming this year still lack release dates, and even with Iron Fist’s fast approaching, we really don’t know a ton about any of these shows. Here’s what we can say:
Iron Fist stars Finn Jones as the titular character/Danny Rand. His story is a bit Batman Begins-y, only he more or less falls into the superhero role rather than seeking it out. Rand returns to New York after being missing for years to reclaim the multi-billion dollar company his parents started. Only now he’s a master of kung-fu who carries the powers of the Iron Fist, a mystical warrior capable of channeling his chi into a powerful punch. Seeds for Iron Fist began dropping all the way back in Daredevil season one, from Gao’s (Wai Ching Ho) cryptic description of coming from “a considerable distance farther” than China to Iron Fist arch-nemesis Steel Serpent’s logo stamped on heroin packets. It’s likely a battle with those characters will be at the center of the story, as well as a legal fight with the Meachum family (David Wenham, Jessica Stroup, Tom Pelphrey) in which Rand will seek the aid of Jeri Hogart (Jessica Jones’ Carrie-Anne Moss). Jessica Henwick will also debut as Rand’s ally and dojo owner Colleen Wing, and Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) will continue to be the connecting thread of the Netflix shows. Though Iron Fist may be a less culturally relevant property than Jessica Jones or Luke Cage, its mysticism, ninja battles, and the most visual power of any Defender should help it continue Netflix’s Marvel-ous success.
The Defenders is what Netflix and Marvel have been building towards. Luke Cage (Mike Colter), Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), and Iron Fist will all be brought together to face their biggest threat yet — Sigourney Weaver. Weaver plays Alexandra, a character we know little about save that she’s dangerous enough to require four heroes to take her down. Or considerably more than four, as any character who appeared regularly in one of the standalone series will likely appear here; Élodie Yung (Elektra), Simone Missick (Misty Knight), Elden Henson (Foggy Nelson), Rachael Taylor (Trish Walker), and more have all been confirmed. This eight-episode series really is the worlds of the four main characters colliding, and having that unfold over eight hour-long episodes provides a lot more room for intrigue and relationship building than The Avengers had, which only makes it that much more exciting.
After his lauded turn in Daredevil season two, Jon Bernthal will return as Frank Castle in his very own series. As far as a plot, we can expect it to be pretty much what’s always been the Punisher’s M.O.: going to war with the criminal underground. Deborah Ann Woll, whose Karen Page character built a relationship with Castle during Daredevil, will reprise her role. It’s unknown who the primary villain will be, though keep your eyes on Ben Barnes’ Billy Russo; he’s Castle’s best Special Forces buddy and now runs the private military corporation Anvil, but in the comics, he becomes the crazed gangster Jigsaw. The only other comic-created character known to be appearing is Micro (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), a friend of Castle who uses his hacking skills and weapons connections to aid in Punisher’s war. Bernthal created a punisher who was simultaneously ruthless and merciless while retaining just a tiny shred of soul. That’s going to make for one gripping — and violent — show.