For this Fresno Pop Culture Examiner, 2014 has been quite an eventful year. Over the course of this year, this examiner has posted 75 articles and reviews, counting this one, and now that yet another year has come a gone, the time has come to take a look back at 2014 as see what has happened in pop culture-related news.
One of the earliest news stories this years was the announcement of the nominees for the 86th Annual Academy Awards, of which the film 12 Years a Slave took home top honors when this year’s awards were finally given out.
But there was plenty of movie news this year besides just that, such as the surprising, and no doubt to many disappointing announcement that Warner Bros. upcoming film Batman vs. Superman, later officially renamed Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, would be pushed back from it’s original released date in July 2015 all the way to May 2016. One of the biggest surprises this examiner saw this year was the announcement that Saban and Lionsgate would be partnering up to bring the long-running Power Rangers franchise to the big screen,possibly for a darker and more mature reboot of the original series concept. There was also the unexpected limited-time theatrical release of the English dub of the last Dragon Ball Z animated film, Battle of Gods. One of the biggest announcements of all, both literal and figurative, was Marvel Studios’s confirmation of their entire Phase Three film slate stretching all the way to 2019, including an adaptation of the popular “Civil War” story line from the mid-2000s and two-part adaptation titled, Avengers: Infinity War.
There were some surprises on the casting front this year as well, including the announcements of Michael Douglas as Hank Pym in the upcoming Marvel film Ant-Man, Jesse Eisenberg and Jeremy Irons as Lex Luthor and Alfred Pennyworth, respectively, in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and the surprising choices revealed for the principle roles in the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot, with Toby Kebbell later confirmed to be playing the villain Doctor Doom. But perhaps the most exciting casting news of all came in April with the official announcement of the cast for J. J. Abrams upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII, which was later officially subtitled The Force Awakens.
But by far the most important movie-related news of 2014 surrounded the release of the controversial Seth Rogan comedy The Interview, starring Rogan and James Franco, which involved a fictionalized assassination of North Korean dictator Kin Jong Un. Promotion of the film led to an unprecedented hacker attack against Sony, causing hundred of emails and personalized information to be stolen. Eventually threats to bomb any theaters that agree to screen the film by these hackers, calling themselves the “Guardians of Peace”, though later confirmed by the FBI to, allegedly, be the North Korean government, led many major theater chains to pull the film, ultimately forcing Sony to cancel release of The Interview altogether. In response to negative criticism over this decision, Sony eventually reversed it’s decision by allowing a limited release of the film in over 200 theaters across the country.
But there was also some exciting news in television as well, including Jay Leno’s final episode of The Tonight Show before Jimmy Fallon took over early this year. Similarly, Leno’s longtime rival David Letterman announced that he would be retiring from late night television in 2015. Another surprise was NBC’s announcement that their popular action-drama series Heroes would be returning to TV in 2015 in the form of a 13-episode miniseries.
Getting back to movies for a moment, this years got us all excited for upcoming projects, both for this year and in 2015, with some very popular and exciting trailers. It began with Super Bowl XLVIII with the release of several early TV spots. As the year went on however, fans on the Internets lauded praise for the earliest trailers for such 2014 blockbusters as Guardians of the Galaxy, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, as well as future 2015 blockbusters as Avengers: Age of Ultron, Jurassic World, and most exciting of all, the very first teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
A lot of exciting moments in sports as well this year. The United States had a successful year at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Socci, taking home 28 medals, 9 gold. In a missed opportunity, favored racing horse California Chrome lost his shot at winning the Triple Crown after taking fourth place at the 2014 Belmont Stakes. Basketball superstar LeBron James announced his decision to return to his original team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, following a four-year career playing for the Miami Heat. In what became an international phenomenon, Germany ultimately claimed victory in the 2014 World Cup after defeating Argentina in the final game 1-0.
In more localized news, this year marked the 100th Annual Clovis Rodeo, which also played out simultaneous with Fresno State’s 40th Annual Vintage Days celebration and the 10th Annual Fresno Film Festival. In local sports, Fresno minor league team the Grizzles announced the end of their longtime contract with the San Francisco Giants in favor of a new partnership with the Houston Astros.
In celebrity news, longtime bachelor George Clooney announced his engagement to, and later tied the knot with, his girlfriend, human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin. In speaking of celebrity marriages, superstars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie finally tied the knot in a private wedding ceremony in August in Chateau Miraval, France.
There was some reason for excitement within the geek community as well. 2014 marked the 75th anniversary of Batman, originally created by Bob Kane in 1939, and DC Entertainment made plans to celebrate the Dark Knight’s landmark birthday in a big way. There was also the annual San-Diego Comic Con, although this year’s convention may have underwhelmed as many patrons and commentators as it excited.
Tragically, as with every year, 2014 also saw the passing of some of our most talented artists as well. Some of those we lost this year include James Avery, Russell Johnson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Harold Ramis, Kevin Sharp, Bob Hoskins, Casey Kasem, Robin Williams, Richard Attenborough, and Joan Rivers. This examiner would like to offer his continued condolences to all of their families, friends, and fans all over the world.
Lastly, as with every year, this Fresno Pop Culture Examiner’s specialty has been providing reviews of various pop culture elements that have come out over the course of the year, and 2014 had a lot to offer, particularly in movies. Kicking off the year with a rather unique start, The LEGO Movie managed to break free of it’s commercial roots and give audiences a charming, visually-unique and surprisingly emotional story that delighted families all over the world, especially children. On the other hand, the reboot of RoboCop was a fairly average science fiction film that, to it’s credit, did set out to explore a lot of questions about the line between man and machine, and had a few solid performances driving it, but inevitably it could not escape the shadow of it’s predecessor. The newest iteration of Godzilla was a wonderfully made example of the kaiju genre that helped redeem America’s credibility in adapting such material, but it still left room to improvement, namely in the handling of the human element and the amount of screen time for the King of Monsters himself. Transformers: Age of Extinction, Michael Bay’s fourth installment in the franchise, was just what we all expected, depending on who you are. If you were a fan of the earlier films, then it likely gave you what you were looking for; if you weren’t a fan, then it may have been the worst installment yet, not helped by it’s ridiculous running time. On the polar opposite of Transformers was Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a fantastic, emotional, and even socially relevant science fiction film that not only built on and fixed the mistakes of its predecessor, but gave audiences a truly awesome experience that proved that a cast of nonhuman characters can succeed in carrying a powerful story. This year also saw the cinematic return of some of this examiner’s favorite icons from his childhood, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but while the action and comedy of this newest incarnation work well and the visual effects mostly satisfy, a lot of the changes made were one’s that could not appeal to anyone, namely older fans, and much of the heart of other versions is downplayed this time in favor of that comedy and visual spectacle. Closing out the years was not only the third and final installment in Peter Jackson’s blockbuster Hobbit film series, but also his supposedly final adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic Middle-Earth mythology, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. It was not the best of these adaptations, but this examiner still had the same excellent time with it that he had with all of these movies, despite some faults.
This years was also another really good years for superhero movies…well, Marvel movies at least. Captain America: The Winter Soldier kicked off the year for Marvel Studios spectacularly with arguably the studio’s best film to date, certainly their best film since The Avengers. It was an exhilarating, thought-provoking, character driven political thriller all wrapped in the guise of a superhero film that helped to further prove the true potential of the sub-genre, one of the best superhero films in recent years. Made outside o f Marvel Studios, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was a lot of fun and visually captivating that this examiner did enjoy more than it’s predecessor, but it was still greatly bogged down by too having little time to develop the ensemble cast of villains in the wake of multiple story lines and an emphasis on building up a broader universe for the franchise; in short, there was just too much going on. A stark contrast to that was 20th Century Fox’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, a big, fun, sprawling superhero epic that literally transcended time to brilliantly redeem the once tarnished X-Men franchise. It got back to the core theme of bigotry and tolerance that are at the heart of all the best X-Men stories, while at the same time bringing up new themes, and was the single strongest entry in the series rivaled only perhaps by X2. But then at the end of summer, Marvel Studios came back with their biggest gamble to date, and it was a gamble that paid off. Guardians of the Galaxy was a fun thrill ride through space with a team of likable, if bizarre, characters that formed one of the most unique superhero teams out there. It had some faults, but nevertheless ranked up there with Marvel Studio’s best. With Marvle under Disney management for some time now, it was inevitable that the House of Mouse would one day release an animated film based on a Marvel property. Big Hiro 6 was another fun and visually stunning action film that delighted families, especially children, that had that some of the classic Disney heart, humor, and engaging bonds between it’s two leads, although it did suffer from some formulaic writing and some underdeveloped supporting characters.
But this examiner did not limit himself only to theatrical releases, as this ear also saw the release of three new installments in the successful DC Universe Animated Original Movie series. The first, Justice League: War, was a worthwhile addition to the series with great action and some a few good characterizations (particularly of Cyborg and Green Lantern), but it was far from this examiner’s favorite film in the series, partially due to my not being a huge fan of the DCnU it is based on, but also because of a paper-thin plot, overly long final battle, some other lackluster character portrayals, and some overuse of swearing even for this franchise. The second film, Son of Batman, was a solid animated film aimed at older Batman fans and even though it did get awfully adult and violent at times, especially for those sensitive to violence done to children, it did at least have a strong focus on family dynamics, very awkward family dynamics in this case, and chronicled the journey of a character relatively new to the Batman mythos and a controversial addition to boot. The third film released this year, Batman: Assault on Arkham, was, despite functioning as a tie-in to the popular Arkham video game series, an enjoyable, dark, and fun heist film set in the Batman universe that, ironically, benefited by choosing to showcase the title character sparingly. It was much more enjoyable than I feared would be and instead proved to be among the most enjoyable of the DC Universe Animated Movies.
Seeing a very brief theatrical release this year before coming out on Blu-ray and DVD, FUNimation released the much-anticipated English dub of Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods, the first animated Dragon Ball film to come out in Japan in 17 years. The film was a welcome return for the franchise and a great opportunity for fans to see all of their favorite characters take on the forces of evil one more time; it wasn’t aimed at non-fans necessarily and the pacing lagged in the beginning, but it was still recommendable to any longtime fan.
There were also a few interesting released on the Internet this year that attracted this examiner’s attention. Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist was an episodic webseries similar to Mortal Kombat: Legacy and was most certainly the most honest, respectful, and dignified live adaptation of the popular video game franchise thus far, one that delivered a solid and personal story about two friends and paralleling that with the tragedy of two brothers. It does feel a bit long, at least if you try to watch them all in one sitting, but the series was still a must-watch for any fan of the games. Also released online was the long in production independent film by popular Internet celebrity James Rolfe, Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie. Despite it’s limited production resources and cult following nature (or more likely because of those things), this film was a wonderful gift to fans of Rolfe’s web series and was even enjoyable to those who have never seen an AVGN episode in their lives as it was also a loving tribute to B movies and the current Internet age. The writing on this film was hilarious, over-the-top, and entertaining in it’s delightfully quirky way.
In an unusual move for this examiner, this year also provided quite of few exciting television premieres to review as well. Released on Netflix after the cancellation of the series proper, Star Wars: The Clone Wars–The Lost Missions were a terrific final curtain call to the series with a last batch of episodes are all well animated and despite two of the four story arcs having major flaws, the other two are very strong and serve to further expand the Star Wars mythology. But even though this year saw the farewell of Clone Wars, it also saw the arrival of a brand new Star wars animated series by the same crew. Star Wars Rebels was a welcome new addition to the franchise with potential to become something special and is still going strong, despite seeming to target a younger demographic than some other Star Wars media. Nevertheless, this show is a great way to keep up excitement for the franchise in preparation for The Force Awakens. Fox’s popular animated series Family Guy kicked off it’s latest season in an exciting, if highly gimmicky way, with it’s hour-long crossover episode “The Simpsons Guy.” The episode was a worthwhile crossover that helped to breath a little fresh air into these two series for a moment, but for what it is it is alright. The novelty of seeing how well (or n some places not so well) the two shows mesh together was worth at least one viewing.
This was also a big year for live-action superhero television as no less than five shows either made their network debut of came back with new season premieres last Fall. One of the new shows was Gotham, the latest televised adaptation of the Batman universe which held a lot of promise during it’s premiere by capturing much of the atmosphere of the Batman world, but did itself perhaps more harm than good, at least in the very beginning, with the amount of fanservice and character cameos it shoehorned in. Making a triumphant comeback after a heavily criticized first season was Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which did far more to give the audiences what they expect of a show set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There were still a few weak spots, but overall the season has been a market improvement over the first, right up to the surprising and game-changing mid-season finale.
This year also saw the finale of one of this examiner’s favorite shows in recent years, The Legend of Korra, sequel to one of this examiner’s favorite series of all time, Avatar: The Last Airbender. The premiere of third season, Book Three: Change, right away signaled an improvement over Book Two: Spirits, picking up where that season left off in a natural way and introduced some interesting ideas. The season had some big action set pieces as well as solid writing and acting, interesting plot, delightful humor, and a surprisingly bittersweet finale. Despite receiving relatively little buildup to it’s premiere and a controversial decision by Nickelodeon midway through to suddenly make the show an online exclusive, Book Three was a great success. But none of us could have guessed that in mere months we would also be getting the final season. Book Four: Balance set itself up from the beginning to be something deep, different, and a worthy follow-up to last season as well as a closer to the series. It continued to benefit from great animation and great writing with deeper layers and meaning than in most children’s programming. The season progressed very well, a controversial clip show episode aside, up until the two-part finale to the series that, while not as strong as the ending to the original series, nevertheless ended this show on an action-packed, emotional, epic, visually gorgeous, and socially groundbreaking note.
But the Avatar universe did not only continue on in television (or online) this year, but also in comic book form as the third trilogy of Dark Horse’s successful Avatar comic series by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiri came out over the course of the year. The Rift was not this examiner’s favorite installment in the comics series, but by no means was it bad. Part One opened with promise and did a great job setting up mysteries to be resolved, subtly laying further groundwork for the world seen in The Legend of Korra, touched on technological progression and industrialization at the expense of the natural world, and raised questions about whether it is worse to cling too much to the past or to run from it altogether. Part Two delved into the more personal conflicts and touched on such things as troubled parent-child relationships, clinging to the past, the purpose of tradition, industrialization, and even labor abuse, as well as offered a amusing sense of action to get the story started. Part Three provided a strong and exciting conclusion that wrapped up it’s themes in a satisfying way and well as brings closure to some of the conflicts between some of these characters.
Wow! Hard to imagine that this examiner was able to write about and review so much in the span of only one year. And yet, this examiner also cannot wait to see what will happen in 2015. Lets all look forward to another great year of articles and reviews in the near future, and hopefully a year of new readers to share them with as well.
Until then…Happy New Year!