2016 – Pop Culture Review

2016 has been an interesting year, to say the least. Now generally, at this time of year, I write a best of list, and it’s usually a top ten of all the pop culture of the year. Games, movies, tv shows. My list will still have these things, to an extent, but it’s not a top ten. Instead, I’m changing things up. It’s a list, but it includes best, worst and biggest disappointments. 
Because I don’t get to watch everything through the year, some things will be missing off the list, but also, I decided to change things up even more. For TV Shows, I am also including specific episodes, because sometimes a show is okay but a particular episode just stands out. 
Biggest Disappointments

To start with, I wanted to talk about the biggest disappointments of the year. These weren’t necessarily the worst of the year, rather not what was expected. I can honestly say that 80% of the movies on the worst list were huge disappointments, as well, but I wanted to keep this one to movies I didn’t think actually sucked 100%. 
Warcraft – If ever there was a movie that I wanted to be good. With Duncan Jones directing, I assumed that it would be a sure fire win, not to mention the fact that the lore from one of the largest gaming franchises is rich with backstory, even if it is a bit one-dimensional. What happened with this movie, then? Well, it took all that one-dimensional storytelling and character development and threw in some shiny CGI and very little substance. 
Captain America: Civil War – I might lose some friends over this, but CW was not a massive achievement to me. I wanted soooo much to love it, but some sloppy decisions made it miss the mark. For one, Black Widow being Team Iron Man made no sense in the lore of the movie; for two, the introduction of Spider-man was handled poorly; for three, the movie had too many split themes. Was it a Civil War? Was it a Bucky reunion party? Was it a Black Panther intro movie? It suffered from all of these things. It certainly wasn’t the worst movie of the year, but it definitely wasn’t a shining achievement either.
X-Men: Apocalypse – I loved the previous two movies of this new franchise. I think Michael Fassbender and James Avery are great as the best friends turned enemies, and I love the way they have handled the source material. Until now… This movie should have been great, but instead, it suffered from what most of the superhero movies suffered from this year: trying to cram too much in one film. Apocalypse could span several movies. There is that much material, but instead, they rushed it. Spent too much time building his “team” and explained none of what he was or could do, really. Then they undercut all that with a really terrible Phoenix/Jean Grey backstory. 

Since I’m already on the subject, may as well give my list of worst of the year. Now, again, it’s not ultra comprehensive. Let it be known I absolutely refused to watch Ben-Hur (2016), I have zero interesting in seeing Alice Through the Looking Glass, and Zoolander 2 is still sitting on my to-be-watched pile. Apparently all three landed on multiple worst of lists.
4. Now You See Me 2 – The original won no Oscars, of course, but the stellar cast made it for me. The writing was never very good. This time they brought in more great actors and threw in more twists and turns that made absolutely no sense. The ensemble cast couldn’t save this movie from the terrible writing.
3. Independence Day: Resurgence – I loved the first movie. The leave-your-brain-at-the-door disaster flick just was really well done, and with the charismatic Will Smith piloting his way into our hearts, it was a big success. Twenty years later, we are given a movie with no heart, no charisma, and no brain. I felt nothing for any of the characters. I was infuriated by the lack of feeling the characters had about the total destruction of the world’s cities (again). But most of all, I realized I didn’t care anymore. About any of it. 
2. Suicide Squad – In the DC universe, Suicide Squad is a bit of fun, but this movie…. was not. There was hardly any fun in it, at all. Warners should have waited to see Deadpool to figure out how to make this movie more enjoyable. Oh wait, they kind of did and after production decided to add more scenes to get a bit more comedy in it. Well, sorry, that didn’t work. The movie had too much to do. Introduce characters, make you care about them, give them a reason to fight, and send them into battle. The end result was a mess. None of the characters seemed fleshed out, there was too much time spent trying to make you feel something for one of the characters, and the reason to fight was never given. Instead, there were just snippets of fight scenes interspersed in heavy-handed romance and a Joker Harley storyline that was not true to its source material. 
1. Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice – Terrible. Terrible. Terrible. I could just write the whole review that way. If ever there was any doubt if Marvel or DC was winning in the cinematic universes, this was the nail in the coffin for DC. There are so many things wrong about the movie. I’ll admit, I thought some of the Batman material was really well done, and it is crystal clear that this was meant to be a Batman movie, not a Superman one. But it failed at both by the end. The pacing is the main issue I have with it. It doesn’t know which story it wants to tell more. To catch up to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the producers decided to add scenes showcasing the new cast of characters we’ll be seeing in the upcoming Justice League movie. It comes across as an afterthought because it was an afterthought. The introduction of Wonder Woman was so bad I still don’t understand why she was in the movie. And don’t get me started on the “Martha” stuff, the crappy Lois Lane storyline, the Lex “reveal”, and most of all Doomsday, which had no place in this movie at all. If Suicide Squad needed to look at Deadpool to understand how to write villains and anti-heroes right, BVS needed to look at Avengers to see how to bring characters with opposing views and ideologies together. There was just so much wasted opportunity with this movie.   
Okay. That’s enough doom and gloom for one day. This year hasn’t been the greatest, but there are some exceptional things still happening in the world of pop culture. I’ll admit, I haven’t seen a lot of potentially good movies. Arrival, Moonlight, Sully – to name a few. Unfortunately, a lot of stuff didn’t make the cut this year, because even if the movie was good, I found the stories to be a bit formulaic, like Rogue One and Star Trek: Beyond.
5. Deadpool – Yes. Really. I am naming a anti-hero movie about a foul-mouthed merc to my list of best of 2016. It’s possible it’s because it exceeded expectations, but to me, it was cleverly written, superbly executed, and just plain fun. Sometimes, the world just needs a bit of humor. 
4. Daredevil, Season 2, Episode 4 – The Punisher storyline was easily the best of the latest season of Daredevil, but this one is a standout for me. A lot of it came from the writing of the end of the Punisher major arc, but also from the performance of Jon Bernthal. I had written him off as an actor, because of The Walking Dead, but in one of the most gut-wrenching scenes of the year, he proved me wrong. The storyline was pretty much a stock standard affair by this point, but what makes it special is the way it’s told. Punisher finally explains his motivation, and he does so in a way that every parent could relate, every soldier could relate to. It’s a special moment, full of emotion, and easily one of the best moments in TV history, I think.
3. La La Land – I debated on putting this on the list. It is a musical. It is relatively formulaic, but it’s a new spin on the traditional musical. Because it is relatively new, I won’t do spoilers. It’s the standard boy and girl meet, boy is mean, girl is mean back, then they can’t get enough of each other, things change, and it’s a will-she-will-he story. What makes it great is that it takes that old formula and tosses it around a bit. It shows the perspective of both characters, rather than focusing on one. It shows the entertainment industry as it is. That “it’s not what you know, but who you know” aspect to real life. It shows it in bright colors against old-timey backdrops and old-fashioned sounds, making old feel new again. Jazz is center-stage, and to me, it plays like a jazz song – all pizzazz and cacophony, with undertones of love and heartache, serenity and fury. 
2. People vs OJ Simpson – It’s really saying something that the best of list is filled with TV shows, but it clearly shows that the format is at its best at the moment. This particular series has a few misses and heavy-handed social commentaries, but with episodes like “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia”, it stands out. The writing is especially great in episodes like these, with raw moments of strong character development. In Marcia, specifically, it’s seen and heard from the titular character that she’s not meant to be in the spotlight. She was just a passionate prosecutor meant to fight cases, not public opinion. There’s so much more to the show than that, but it stuck with me the most, even almost 8 months since I watched it.
1. Stranger Things – I cannot say enough good things about this show. The Netflix original pays homage to the 80s with this incredibly well-crafted, well-written, and well-performed series. It turns tropes on its head, while still being true to the nature of 80s pop culture. Just when you think you know the direction it is headed, it goes a completely different way. The Netflix binge-ready format gave it a movie-quality feel, and didn’t make it feel the least bit episodic. Honestly, if you haven’t seen this series, find it, watch it and re-watch it. It’s so frekkin’ good! 


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