Spider-Man: No Way Home (4*)
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (3.5*)
Free Guy (2.5*)
Raya and the Last Dragon (2*)
I admit that I don’t really understand the difference between “Fantasy” and “Science Fiction”genres. They both have “out of this world” events and involve extravagant leaps of the imagination. This year, the two genres share three films but diverge on three others. So maybe that helps.
First, let’s look at the three movies that were included in both genres. Two of them were comic book films, Spider-Man: No Way Home and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Both of these films were well done, and I enjoyed them despite them being comic book films. Shang-Chi had a lot of family dynamics involved, but left a lot of plot holes. The Spider-Man movie was especially good, I thought, because it was so interpersonal and felt more intimate than something like Infinity Wars or Endgame. The third film shared by both genres, Free Guy, had a wonderful performance from Jodie Comer, but was basically a trivial and unimaginative look at artificial intelligence that has been done much better in several other films. There are lots of visual effects, but they are largely irrelevant.
Three films were put in the Fantasy category, but not in the Science Fiction box. Two of them were films I can’t really recommend. Raya and the Last Dragon is an animated film that is lush with visual details that develop the worlds the characters visit extremely well. But the failure is an overly complicated story that tries to emphasize difficult issues like trust and responsibility and doesn’t quite make it. Then, there is Luca, an animated film that is, literally, a fish-out-of-water story. The first twenty minutes are intriguing, but then it descends into indeterminate boredom.
Encanto might be the single movie that I liked and that represents what “fantasy” might be all about. It is an animated film and tells the story of a magical family in Columbia that is faced with a crisis involving one of their own. Probably it is the magical component that makes this into a fantasy film. The music is lyrical and memorable. The film is good for the entire family.
If my top three above are not enough for you, then there are three more from last year. The Midnight Sky (one of my favorites from the 2021 Oscar year) involved space travel and an apocalyptic future of humanity, so it easily made it to the sci-if genre. But what makes it a ‘fantasy’ is a much more subtle. Soul had rich and creative animation and dealt with the themes of what happens before and after life on earth. Wolfwalkers, another animated flick, delved deeply into Irish folklore. But it is impossible to avoid the references to the impending disaster that environmental destruction represents.
And that’s what I have to say about Fantasy, until next year!