Congratulations, everyone. We made it through another year. I think we can safely say that out of all of the years known to man, 2022 definitely was one.
A bunch of shit happened this year, and I thought I’d try my hand at making a Top Ten List. The only thing I’m really qualified to talk about is shit I like, so that’s what this is. Top Ten Pop Culture Things That Happened That I Really Enjoyed. Except there isn’t ten. There’s seven. Actually, there’s six and a single Worst Thing of the year. Let’s get started!
Spoiler warning for: Peacemaker, The Batman, Horizon Zero Dawn and Horizon: Forbidden West, Our Flag Means Death, Everything Everywhere All At Once, and Andor. In that order, and all spoilers are contained under their individual headings so you can jump around if you want.
Peacemaker Opening Credits
Oh, my God, I did not want to watch Peacemaker.
For anyone on the outside of this particularly barf-inducing loop, in 2016 WB released Suicide Squad as an entry into their burgeoning/flailing DCEU and it was, to put it lightly, really very bad. An obvious victim of ‘movie by committee,’ it’s a terrible mess of rewrites, heavy-handed pop songs, and some of the most baffling editing choices I’ve ever seen in a movie not featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Meanwhile, over at the MCU, fucknuts on the internet managed to trick Disney into firing James Gunn from his involvement in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies by pretending people still gave a shit about some edgelord tweets Gunn had made over a decade earlier and had already publicly apologized for. WB smelled blood in the water and pounced like the fat, erratic shark it is, and managed to get Gunn to sign on for another Suicide Squad movie, one that promised to fix the first shitty one.
So Gunn’s The Suicide Squad came out in the summer of 2021, and it was good. Not great. Not bad. Certainly better than the 2016 version. The Suicide Squad ended up being a direct sequel to Suicide Squad, featuring some of the same characters albeit this time in an entirely enjoyable way. One of these characters, Colonel Rick Flag, went from a block of wood whose only redeeming quality was uttering one of the greatest/worst monologues in cinema history to an actual character with depth and pathos. And then of course after a whole movie actually making me like this character he gets killed in the end by one of the new characters.
That character, of course, was Peacemaker, played by John Cena. I don’t particularly care about Cena as an actor, and I was pissed at this character for killing Flag, so when I heard about the show I was like…hard pass.
And then my husband said a single sentence.
“But it’s by James Gunn!”
That’s right, the WB had managed to not only get Gunn for The Suicide Squad but also a few other projects before Disney finally pulled its collective head out of its Mickey shaped asshole and signed him back for the final Guardians of the Galaxy, which is good because while my mom tolerates most MCU movies she absolutely adores the Guardians and she’s already mega-pissed the third one has been delayed by all these shenanigans.
Anyway, that sentence was enough to convince me to at least try the show as I generally like Gunn’s work. I was still ready to not like it and the first scene was sort of funny but mostly awkward because I didn’t understand what this show was even supposed to be.
And then this happened:
Yeah, so, my brain shut off for a full minute and a half.
‘Delight’ isn’t a strong enough word but that’s basically how I felt. I was a kid on Christmas. Nothing in the first five minutes of this show led me to believe that there would be an opening credits sequence, let alone one where the entire cast expertly goes through a perfectly terrible dance with completely blank of faces while Norwegian glam metal played.
I can’t think of a single show opening from the last five years I like more. Ten years? Twenty? This may, in fact, be my favorite opening ever. I definitely cannot think of another one I’ve watched more on YouTube than this. It both reveals absolutely nothing about the context of the show while explaining exactly what goes in Peacemaker’s mind at any given time and really sets up the tone for the series which, to put it in an incredibly reductive way, is essentially an R-rated Guardians.
This shit slaps.
The Batmobile Reveal in The Batman
Forget Superhero Fatigue, we are clearly in the middle of Superhero Movie Naming Fatigue. Can’t figure out what to name the tenth iteration of this character? Either add or subtract a ‘the’ and you’re all set! I’d say maybe we should start naming these things after the villains since those seem to change more but we already have a Joker movie and that fuckface shows up in everything so all that means is strapping in for The Joker. Can we at least change to a demonstrative? Next time it can be That Batman.
This wasn’t necessarily my favorite Batman movie, but it’s definitely my favorite Batmobile, and the scene where it’s revealed rocks so fucking hard.
It sounds like a fucking jet engine because there’s apparently a fucking jet engine strapped to the back. When the engine started revving in the movie theater it was so fucking loud everything was shaking and my ears hurt. And then the little fake-out it does like it’s an animal with a mind of its own.
And then to put the actual chase in the middle of end of day rush hour traffic is a fucking chef’s kiss all it’s own. You know, in a movie. In real life if I’m going to be killed in my car because a rodent-based vigilante is chasing a bird-based criminal I’d want it to be before I put in a full eight hour day.
Which leads me into my Worst Pop Culture Moment:
Worst: The Joker at the end of The Batman
Can we fucking not.
Please? For the love of everything that is green and leafy and fluffy and cute on this dying planet, can we please not have another Joker?
I fucking get it, okay. He’s an icon. Clown Prince of Crime. Mayor, in a situation that would have been baffling to me ten years ago and now makes perfect sense. There’s something about the Joker that speaks to the heart of unstable teenager boys better than Tyler Durden, Patrick Bateman, and whatever sexist prick is hot on TikTok right now combined. I, too, loved Heath’s performance.
But enough is enough. Let’s get over it and focus on literally anyone else in Batman’s villain cabinet, because I’m sure if you just pawed around in there for more than two seconds you’d find entire swaths of colorful insane people who are fired up and ready to do their part in keeping the rent in Gotham low. I was thrilled when the Joker didn’t show up in The Batman, right up until he did.
For 2023, I’m calling for a Joker moratorium. Unless someone wants to go back to the Cesar Romero type Joker, I don’t want to see it.
The Ted Faro Reveal in Horizon: Forbidden West
By the end of Horizon: Zero Dawn you learn that thousands of years prior to the game’s story some billionaire in charge of a robot company made a line of robots that are both capable of self-replication and use biomass for fuel, biomass here meaning ‘every single fucking thing on the planet made of carbon.’ To the shock of absolutely no one, the system glitched out and suddenly these robots had no control and started replicating and eating dolphins with wild abandon to the tune of the entire planet being completely lifeless in the space of fifteen months. Oh, and then just for a little added spice, the same guy who created the problem that killed the world also killed all of the people in charge of saving what they could (the Alphas) and destroyed the bank of collected human knowledge just so future generations wouldn’t make the same mistakes.
In short, fuck Ted Faro.
In the first game Ted Faro is painted as a clear villain, albeit a more realistic and down to earth villain than Hades, the killer AI that wanted Aloy dead for Computer Reasons. Which is why for the five years between games I was mildly terrified that in the second game, Guerrilla would try to humanize him. Show things from his view. Try to give us an understandable reason for creating the killer robots he unironically called ‘peacekeepers.’ It’s exactly the sort of storytelling that’s hot right now, and I wouldn’t have blamed Guerrilla if they went in that direction, even if I wouldn’t have been happy with it.
Imagine my relief and delight when Guerrilla did none of that. Instead, there is an extended questline in Horizon: Forbidden West where you go to Faro’s personal end-of-days bunker Thebes (jerk-off motion intensifies) and learn:
- Ted locked himself into a bunker with a bunch of girls for a ‘harem’ and a doctor whose sole project was to find a way to make Ted immortal.
- He had all of these people implanted with ‘kill switches’ in their brain and would kill people when they figured out that he was the one who killed the Alphas.
- He killed the Alphas not to give future generations a clean slate like he previously said, but because he wanted to hide that he was the reason the previous world failed and planned on revealing himself to these future generations like some sort of god-king.
- The doctor making Ted immortal eventually realized everything was shit and killed himself in the middle of the project.
- Ted was effectively immortal but a large part of what the doctor was doing was stopping rampant, cancer-like mutations.
- By the time he’s found, a thousand years later, he has mutated into some sort of fleshy monster appropriate for a Resident Evil game, has gone completely crazy, and as soon as these future generations he had waited for so long to meet and lord over find him they immediately set him on fire.
Some people weren’t entirely happy with this outcome because you don’t really get to see Monster Ted, just a holographic image of him, and Aloy doesn’t get to run him through with her spear. Both valid complaints. But I don’t care because, again, he lived a thousand years in insane agony and then got immolated to death. I really can’t ask for more.
Our Flag Means Death – The Kiss
Queerbaiting is a term describing creators of television and movies continually hinting at a potential romance between two same-sex characters and then never actually having the characters get together. It’s a new phenomenon that seems to have started around the turn of the century, around the time the LGBTQ community started getting rights and respect, but, you know, not too much of that. It is seen as a way for creators to exploit queer people for their attention without ever having to actually show a queer relationship and scare off other viewers and advertisers.
The waters around queerbaiting are…murky. Fans will ship any two characters regardless if any sort of context clues for a relationship actually exist in the show, sometimes going to great lengths to defend it. On the other hand plausible deniability is baked into the scheme – giving a sly thumbs up to your queer fans while wildly shaking your head for the benefit of others is basically the whole thing.
Anyway, Supernatural is a show that exists so go watch fifteen seasons of that if you’re not convinced it’s real.
Usually when a show is going to feature prominent queer elements it gets advertised that way, and since the ads for Our Flag Means Death had exactly zero mention of a potential romance between lead characters Stede Bonnet and Ed ‘Blackbeard’ Teach, when the two of them had a conversation straight out of a rom-com I internally rolled my eyes hard enough to make them bleed and thought, here we go again.
And even though the show was going about it differently than most, I still didn’t believe it. Sure, it turns out a lot of the crew is queer. Sure, we have a non-binary trans character that is treated with respect concerning their pronouns. Sure, we weren’t just talking about a palpable-yet-hard-to-define chemistry between the two actors, but actual rom-com tropes, like the characters trying to fit in each other’s worlds and an obnoxious ex trying to split the two apart. I’ve been burned before. I wasn’t going to get tricked so easily.
I was more inclined to believe that something might actually happen when, in episode seven, after watching Ed and Stede have the most married couple discussion ever, Lucious softly exclaims, Oh my God, this is happening.
And I thought…oh my God, is this happening?
Still, I didn’t want to let myself believe and get let down again.
The whole show is honestly such a fuck you to queerbaiting tendencies that I thought it had been done on purpose, but nope! Creator David Jenkins had no idea that so many of us had been traumatized by previous shows and simply wanted to make a lovely gay pirate show.
And we thank him for it.
Can’t wait for season two! And if Lucious is really dead we riot.
Everything Everywhere All At Once
Hey, you know how sometimes being on the internet is like sitting in the middle of a blender filled with everything and everyone and every single shitty thought they’ve ever had? Sure you do! Because it is! All the time!
Director duo The Daniels knows it, too, and Everything Everywhere All At Once is an ode to focusing on what’s important whilst standing in the middle of a technicolored shitstorm.
I spent the entire last half hour of this movie crying. Which isn’t that out of the ordinary because I’m a big crier in movies, but you know what kicked off that half hour of crying?
If you know, you know.
At the same time, this movie also managed to draw out the loudest laugh I have ever loosed in a movie theater during the butt plug fight.
Again: if you know, you know.
My favorite part about this movie is that it manages to capture the optimistic nihilism I’ve been living under for years. There is no greater purpose. There is no God. Life is undeniably hard and weird and silly and overwhelming and it was all an accident and none of us should be here except a few billion years ago a bunch of hydrogen atoms got a little too big for their britches. Nothing matters.
And that’s a good thing. Because that doesn’t mean nothing matters. That means the only things that matter are the things that matter to you. You have both the freedom and the responsibility to decide what in your life matters and sometimes its hard work blotting out all of the distractions but the work is worth it. Life is beautiful not because there’s some sort of pre-destiny and an afterlife, but because it’s all sort of a chaotic mess and then it ends.
Also, there’s a universe where raccoons can control Teppanyaki chefs and “(Absolutely) Story of a Girl” by Nine Days might be the key to the universe.
The quality of the Disney+ Star Wars shows have ranged from ‘fun but not great’ to ‘why is any of this happening I am confusion Kathleen explain.’ And believe me, no one thought Andor was going to be the show to change that. Back before Obi-Wan Kenobi came out Disney released promotional photos of the casts of their new productions and people were actively making fun of the Andor cast for even bothering to show up because no one thought this show was going to amount to anything. And I mean, I was right there with them. I’m not a fan of Rogue One so a show about one of its characters wasn’t exactly sparking any interest.
I was wrong. You were wrong. We were all wrong.
First, there’s all the things Andor gets right that the rest of the Disney+ shows and, frankly, the Disney released movies get wrong. The show doesn’t focus on the same fucking people nor the same fucking planets. We aren’t taken to Tatooine one single, sandy time, and none of ‘the old fan favorites’ manage to squeeze their dumb faces into it. It would have been so easy for the higher-ups at Disney to insist on having a scene where Mon Mothma has to take a meeting with Papa Palpatine and thank God they didn’t because there was no fucking reason for those two people to be in the same room at any point because while Mothma is important to us, the viewers, to Palpatine she’s just another pain in the ass senator from some backwater he couldn’t give two shits about. And, as I stated in a previous article, this is the first Star Wars production from Disney where it doesn’t feel like everyone is just a little kid playing out their wildest Star Wars fantasies and giggling about it the whole fucking time.
(Quick aside: this criticism does not extend to Pedro Pascal who has been playing Mando with a completely straight face and I love him for that.)
But Andor goes beyond avoiding the pitfalls of the others. It finally digs into Star Wars in a way previous movies and shows have not. There’s not a single lightsaber. All the Jedi are presumed dead. The show is not interested in once again showing the light side and dark side of the Force and splitting up the world into a binary black and white. After all, we’ve known since the beginning the Empire is fucking huge. Are we really supposed to believe that every single uniformed jabroni, from officer to Storm Trooper, is as plainly evil as Palpatine?
This shows says of fucking course not and then rubs your nose in it for twelve whole episodes. The Empire runs as efficiently as it does because fascism. Dedra Meero doesn’t have a lightsaber, just the sort of the ambition that doesn’t care who else gets hurt in the process. Syril Karn isn’t a Sith, he’s some incel with mommy issues who desperately wants to be more important than he actually is. This is functionally the show’s mission statement: these banal sorts of the people are the actual weapon of the Empire. If you’re some schmuck on an Empire-controlled planet, you are far more likely to be killed by someone like this than you are to get mind-choked to death by Darth fucking Vader.
And the show is saying the same things about the Rebellion, too. None of the people we meet on the side of the rebels have magical powers. They’re just people, pissed off about the situation and willing to do something about it, even if that thing they do about it is smash a gravestone into the fat fucking face of a fascist.
And it’s great.
I liked keeping a list all year, so I’ll do it again in 2023. TBD if I’ll share it with you or not, though.