Left to right: Stranger Things, Thor: Ragnarok, The Punisher, Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Summer 2017 was an interesting time for audiences. On one hand, Wonder Woman single-handedly saved DC Comics’ filmmaking reputation, Baby Driver delighted us with musical action comedy, and Spider-Man: Homecoming gave us an unlikely superhero tale of Marvel Studios finally rescuing a beloved character from endless Sony sequels. On the other hand, we somehow got a fifth Transformers, a forgettable Mummy reboot, and The Emoji Movie, a film with all the wit and charm of food poisoning. Before the year winds down, here are the four upcoming movies and TV shows that have us most excited.
Stranger Things, Season 2
They’re baa-aaack! In 2013, Netflix, known at the time for providing mediocre movies and pining for more mainstream acclaim, set out to prove it could make homegrown content as well. The results were Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, and a menagerie of shows and movies far better than anyone would have expected, considering that they were produced by the company that streams all three Sharknado sequels. In 2016, the Duffer brothers’ Stranger Things caught our eye for its charm, homage, and supernatural flair. Now, with Stranger Things in for a second season, Netflix is gearing up again to go double-or-nothing on our favorite cult supernatural thriller about four ‘80s kids versus the things that go bump in the night.
When we left off, Will Byers had escaped the dark, twisted alternate universe of the Upside-Down with the help of his friends, but at the cost of their barely-verbal buzzcut friend Eleven disappearing. Now the trailers show that Will remains haunted by hallucinations of the Upside-Down, a hellish wasteland full of terrifying, Stephen King-inspired creatures - at least, we hope they’re only hallucinations. While not much of the plot has been revealed yet, the darkness is clearly not done with the small town of Hawkins, Indiana yet, and the eldritch horrors have no intention of staying on their side of the looking glass. And Eleven - the adorable psychic youngster powerful enough to kill grown men with a nosebleed - is lost somewhere in the Upside-Down.
Fans are already nervous that the first season will be a high bar to clear; however, the production values from the first trailer alone already look stellar. While the last season was fond of aping King classics like Stand By Me and Firestarter, the newest promotional images promise monstrous megafauna a la The Mist. If you have yet to binge your way through the original eight episodes of Stranger Things, you are strongly encouraged to boot up your Netflix account and clear your schedule now. Netflix subscribers can return to the Upside-Down on October 17th, just in time for Halloween.
Marvel knows what its fans like. Say what you will about the studio, they have the superhero movie formula down to a science, something that still has DC Comics crying themselves to sleep at night. Over the last decade, and an improbable seventeen movies, Marvel has painstakingly set the stage to weave the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Spiderman into a single, epic, multi-part superhero smorgasbord in Avengers: Infinity War. Not to mention we’re finally getting a Black Panther movie. But before either of those things happen, Marvel must finally answer the longstanding question: “Wait, where has Thor been for the past five or six movies?”
As it turns out, our favorite blond Australian thunder god has been fighting his own fires back on his homeworld. The Avengers seem to attract millennia-old evils like flies, and one named Hela – only vaguely resembling her real-life Norse counterpart – is gunning for Asgard. Now hammer-less, lost on an alien world, and sporting a rugged buzzcut, Thor must team up with the Hulk to defeat Hela, save Asgard, and presumably grow his hair back out before he has to appear in the next Avengers movie. And speaking of long-haired pretty boys: yes, Loki will be in it too. Marvel knows what we want.
The first reviews are not yet in, but judging by the trailers, director Taika Waititi has learned well from the mistakes of Thor: The Dark World. With their ‘80s graphics, Led Zeppelin rock-opera spectacle, and a healthy dose of superhero-flick cheese, the trailers assuage any fears we might have that Marvel will indulge in any pretentious navel-gazing or fake emotional stakes that bogged down Thor’s previous movie. Hopefully, Ragnarok will also manage to navigate around the forgettable villains and nonsensically complicated evil schemes that have also plagued Marvel movies for too long; Hela would be a shameful waste of potential. Thor: Ragnarok premieres Nov. 3.
Netflix’s The Punisher
We loved Marvel’s Daredevil Netflix series, mostly because it made us forget the Ben Affleck movie. We adored the bulletproof Luke Cage. We cheered the super-strong Jessica Jones. We keep meaning to watch Iron Fist. Now, with the Defenders series completed, Marvel and Netflix have announced a spotlight series for their favorite bad-guy-killing bad guy, The Punisher. And judging by the vibe the trailer gives off, this is Marvel’s first serious attempt to drop a Netflix show that rivals any of their movies.
The trailer opens with a softly played guitar over sepia-toned pictures of tough-guy Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) and his adorable wife and daughter. If you have ever seen a movie trailer before, you can probably guess where it goes from there. When his family is brutally murdered, Castle will embark on a quest of bloody revenge to hunt down and execute the killers. Essentially Death Wish, or Man on Fire, or John Wick – to be honest, they make at least nine movies with this plot every year. That is not to say, however, that the Punisher trailer does not look incredibly cool. Marvel aims for more than a bog-standard vigilante series for Punisher; the trailer implies that the men responsible for Castle’s family have roots in the army, the CIA, and the FBI, and that Castle had better be prepared for a battle all the way to the top.
Our biggest concern regarding The Punisher is, of course, the timbre of the series. Previous iterations of the character have covered every base from “superbly grim” to “laughably edgy.” We hope that Marvel can avoid DC’s repeated mistake of taking their characters far too seriously; the world could do without another Iron Man 3. But so far, The Punisher’s stellar writing and characterization in his appearances in Daredevil indicate that the series is in capable hands. The Punisher is set to release at an uncertain date before the end of the year.
Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi
Do we even need to say it? If anyone had told us five years ago that we would be getting another three Star Wars movies – and that Hamill, Fisher, and Ford would have still agreed to be in them, and that the guy responsible for the mediocre Star Trek reboot was directing – we would have laughed out loud. Except for those hipsters and hermits who take pride in never having seen them, the Star Wars movies command a kind of gravity over us all. Lucasfilms could have titled the movie Star Wars VIII: Jar-Jar Returns and we all know that we would still line up to see it.
Predictably, Disney and Lucasfilms are playing their cards close to the vest. We only have one trailer so far, and it contains about three sentences of dialogue. Just as The Force Awakens payed homage to A New Hope – or shamelessly copied it, depending on your perspective – The Last Jedi seems to be the Empire Strikes Back of the new trilogy, focusing on Rey’s Jedi training, with an aged Luke as her mentor. Kylo Ren, in his two seconds of footage, remains evil. Finn the ex-stormtrooper is still in a space-coma. Ships blow up. The trailer is essentially Disney taunting its fans with five-second snippets of everything and nothing at once, lingering on a single chilling phrase from, of all people, Luke Skywalker: “It’s time for the Jedi to end.”
Will the First Order emerge victorious over the rebels, as the Empire did in the original trilogy? Will fans finally get a glimpse into the war-ravaged Skywalker psyche and the reasons for his disappearance? Will J.J. Abrams shake the criticisms that the new movies are unoriginal and cribbing heavily from the original trilogy? Is Chewbacca in this one? Star Wars fans – that is, most of the seven billion humans on Earth – will have to wait two more months to find out. The Last Jedi premieres in theatres Dec. 15.