Friday, December 31, 2021

2021 - The Highlights (EHeroFlareNeos)

With the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, many of the films originally slated for theatrical releases this year instead made their way to various streaming services, which became our main way of keeping up with new releases in the interest of safety. Fortunately, that also meant we could experience more than we could last year and resulted in comparatively meatier year-end lists. As always, this list is based entirely on what we were able to watch or play for ourselves. Foreign films are also counted based on their US release date.

Top Movies of 2021

Luca (2021)

Following the existential Soul, Luca continues Pixar’s recent streak of amazing films with a coming-of-age story about sea monsters who struggle to fit in with the human world. With help from its more unique art style compared to previous films, the Italian town of Portorosso looks downright gorgeous, including the impressively realistic water animation. Combine this with incredible writing, including a cast of likeable three-dimensional characters, and you have a recipe for a great film that shouldn’t be missed. The same goes for its companion short, Ciao Alberto.

The Suicide Squad

Following the disappointing 2016 attempt at adapting Suicide Squad to the big screen, The Suicide Squad shows a surprising and dramatic improvement. Perhaps due to his tenure on Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn’s incredible writing and direction expertly balances a serious plotline with well-timed humor and manages to make the audience care about lesser-known villains from the DC universe. Some of the raunchier aspects befitting the “R” rating don’t always quite land, but everything else just about makes up for it.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – The Movie: Mugen Train

Mugen Train holds the achievement of the highest grossing Japanese film of all time and that’s no accident. A perfect storm of breathtaking animation, emotional storytelling and incredible action sequences make this one of the best anime films in recent years. Despite also canonically adapting a storyline from the Demon Slayer manga and continuing directly from where the first season left off, even those unfamiliar with the series can still generally follow along with the story and find themselves invested in the fates of the characters. A highly recommended film, if only just to see what all the fuss is about.

Batman: The Long Halloween (Parts 1 and 2)

While animated adaptations of Batman stories can feel hit-or-miss depending on the creative team behind it, The Long Halloween certainly hits. Even without reading the original source material, the combined feature still tells a compelling story that deeply explores its main theme of family from multiple perspectives. Though multiple villains appear, they all feel like they actually contribute to the plot, including the very tragic story of Harvey Dent and his eventual transformation into Two-Face, and the animation features one of the best Batman art styles yet. A definite must-watch for any Batman fan.

Top Games of 2021

Hitman 3

As the final installment in the World of Assassination Trilogy, Hitman 3 ends 47’s worldwide mission on a high note. The great writing taps into the full potential of the Providence storyline and the gameplay offers players unique experiences they can’t find in any other Hitman game thanks to some well-executed experimentation. There are some issues of course, like some odd mission design choices and the “always online” requirement to get the full experience, not to mention the annoying Elusive Target system, but even with its flaws, Hitman 3 stands as one of the best stealth games on the market, or at the very least one of the best entries in the Hitman franchise. Hopefully, future Hitman installments can match or even exceed the experience offered in this game.

Resident Evil Village

After Biohazard showcased the strengths of first-person for the Resident Evil games, Village makes the right call in not only continuing that direction, but trying something new with it. While not as tense or frightening as its predecessor, the action-focused direction doesn’t detract from the strong writing, with memorable characters and set pieces that lead to a surprisingly emotional conclusion to Ethan Winters’ story. Even if the next game returns to the traditional third-person perspective or the series’ familiar faces, Village remains a great action horror title and is a ride you may want to experience more than once.

Deltarune Chapter 2

After a three-year gap, Toby Fox finally released the anticipated second chapter of Deltarune, his follow-up to the highly-acclaimed Undertale. While we still don’t have the rest of the game yet, Deltarune Chapter 2 feels well worth the wait, improving upon Chapter 1 in just about every way, with a high level of quality and polish that rivals even some major AAA game releases. At the moment, there’s pretty much no reason not to try Delatrune for yourself, since both chapters are available at the incredible price of free.

Top Disappointments of 2021

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run

SpongeBob is no stranger to the silver screen, with attempts that usually fall short of the quality of the first three seasons, but Sponge on the Run may just be the weakest installment yet. A weak story and bad attempts at being hip are one thing, but towards the end of the film, the audience is treated to what feels like an extended advertisement for the Kamp Koral spinoff show, which doesn’t add much of anything to the film. If there’s any lesson to be learned from this, it’s that SpongeBob should just stick to TV.

Clifford the Big Red Dog

While some fans of Clifford the Big Red Dog might not have expected much from a live-action adaptation of the beloved property, especially if they saw the TV ads beforehand, they might not have expected such a painfully generic family film. Every box you might expect to be ticked gets ticked, down to some product placement and humor that appeals to the lowest common denominator, and Clifford’s inclusion feels poorly thought out. Although the film is free on Paramount+, you’re better off watching the 2000 cartoon instead.

No More Heroes III

After years of anticipation, the final installment in the No More Heroes series unfortunately falls short of its predecessors. Between the obnoxiously unsubtle self-aware writing, poorly-balanced gameplay and bad optimization for an underpowered console, No More Heroes III felt frustrating more than it did fun. It seems that in an attempt to live up to his reputation as a wacky game developer, Suda51 had forgotten what made the (admittedly janky) experience of the original Wii game so magical, instead focusing on endless fourth wall breaks and references. Even if you’re a total diehard fan of Suda51, it’s not worth the full price of admission.

Worst Movie of 2021

Space Jam: A New Legacy

Space Jam: A New Legacy proves that some things should just stay in the past. Though the original Space Jam came from a then-popular Nike ad campaign of all places, and certainly has its flaws, it still has enough passion and talent put into its production that audiences can still like something about it. Its sequel, on the other hand, feels very cold and corporate, with most of its runtime devoted to Warner Bros. showing off all the licenses they own and coming off as more of a glorified ad for the HBO Max streaming service. Even the well-done animation can’t make up for a bad script and a less charismatic basketball player in the spotlight.

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