Top 6 movies of 2022 so far

It’s insane that we’re already halfway through 2022, yet here we are. It finally feels like movie theaters are climbing their way out of the pandemic hole and there are plenty of incredible movies to display. From franchise hits to original surprises, here are my top 6 movies of 2022 so far:

  1. Everything Everywhere All at Once

Move over, Doctor Strange, you’re not the only multiverse in town this year. Everything Everywhere All at Once follows Evelyn, a Chinese American laundromat owner and her family as they are swept away into an adventure to save the multiverse. Along the way, they discover the importance of family, love, acceptance, and a universe where everyone has hot dogs for fingers.

One of the most surprising movies in my recent memory, EEAAO really leans into the endless opportunities a multiversal story provides. The cast of this movie is spectacular, but Michelle Yeoh is a powerhouse, perfectly balancing the wackiness with the emotional core.

  1. RRR

A three-hour marathon of historical fiction centered around two Indian revolutionaries during British rule in the early 1900s, RRR (Rise, Roar, Revolt) is an action epic, a musical, a buddy comedy, an inspirational saga, and a mythologic masterpiece.

It’s difficult to put into words what it’s like to watch this movie. I was transfixed. Movies like RRR make you fall in love with cinema all over again. The visuals are breathtaking, and it has so much adrenaline and emotion throughout – in some ways it’s exhausting, but it also revs you up and makes you want to fight a tiger after it’s over.

  1. Top Gun: Maverick

Leave it to Tom Cruise to save movie theaters and perfect the legacy sequel. I like the original Top Gun well enough, but Maverick is astonishingly good. It fully embodies the spirit of the original while catching up with the original cast, introducing likable new characters you can emotionally invest in, and telling a simple, self-contained story. And with more than a billion dollars at the box office already, it’s clearly the most crowd-pleasing movie of the year.

The advancements in camera technology easily elevate the action sequences in Maverick over the original film – well, that and Tom Cruise’s unquenchable thirst to find ways to potentially kill himself filming practical stunts and effects. The aerial sequences are stunning, and I had to consciously remind myself to relax and release the tension throughout my body because they were so gripping. The need for speed is alive!

  1. The Batman

I’ve already written at length about how this movie finally made me understand and love Batman and how he finally felt like the main character of his own movie. I love the vibe and tone of The Batman, and Robert Pattinson’s emo-style Bruce Wayne realistically feels like a guy who would put on a bat suit and fight crime at night. Zoe Kravitz’s captivating Catwoman and Paul Dano’s truly terrifying Riddler perfectly complement Pattinson’s energy and lend believability to the residents of Matt Reeves’s Gotham.

  1. The Northman

The first half of 2022 has delivered some fantastic new action movies, and The Northman is one of the best. The entire movie vibrates with a primal brutality through a story that feels elemental and mythic.

Based on the same Scandinavian legend that inspired Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Northman is a story of revenge. Stunning visuals accompany our hero on his journey through love, horror, victory, and defeat. The action is loud, ruthless, and propulsive. It’s a visual feast and the core revenge plot is full of twists and surprises that makes for a thrilling watch.

  1. Cha Cha Real Smooth

Growing up is hard, and your 20s are an especially weird time. Writer, director, and star Cooper Raiff   perfectly portrays that awkwardness and what it’s like to learn some harsh truths about the real world in Cha Cha Real Smooth. Raiff plays Andrew, a recent college graduate who moves back home and navigates his way through friendships, family, and hopeless romance.

Normally I’d only do a top 5 list, but I loved this movie so much so I couldn’t leave it off. Andrew is clearly a dumb, often selfish, and undriven 22-year-old, but he has a compassionate heart for the people he grows to care about. Dakota Johnson is mysterious and captivating, but the real breakout is Vanessa Burghardt, who plays Johnson’s daughter with autism. The cast combined with Cooper Raiff’s style of dry humor that sits right in my sweet spot makes this an instant favorite.

‘Top Gun: Maverick’ and what makes a good legacy sequel

If you had told me at the beginning of the year that one of the best movies of 2022 would be a sequel to Top Gun, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. I like the original Top Gun well enough in a cheesy, product of the 80s kind of way, but it’s certainly not one of the masterpieces of cinema history. But Top Gun: Maverick is objectively a great movie.

The latest in the current trend of legacy sequels, Top Gun: Maverick may have finally cracked the code. It’s a thrill ride from beginning to end with the perfect balance of callbacks to the original while introducing new characters and stories.

If you’re not familiar, legacy sequels are movies that are set and released a decade or more after an original film or franchise. In many ways, a legacy sequel is a soft reboot, giving you connection to what came before while setting up new heroes. Think Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Creed, or Blade Runner 2049. They’re built on a strong foundation of nostalgia but with the opportunity to take these stories to new places and fill out the worlds our favorite characters inhabit.

Another major element of legacy sequels is the return of beloved characters and actors from the original work. Tom Cruise returns in Top Gun: Maverick, Sylvester Stallone returns as Rocky in Creed, Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum return in Jurassic World: Dominion, Jamie Lee Curtis returns in Halloween, and Harrison Ford returns in The Force Awakens, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Blade Runner 2049 (Ford really is the franchise king, isn’t he?). These returning characters often act as mentors to the new faces – one of which is often the child of an original character – that are brought in to lead the franchise.  

So what do we really want from a legacy sequel? Ultimately, we want a good story that brings us back to a world we love. The biggest hurdle legacy sequels have is a proof of concept – what has happened to these characters or this universe in the past 10, 20, or 30 years that makes this a story worth telling? Or what new perspective can you bring to this franchise? Outside of that, it needs its own story to tell. It can’t feel like a retread of the original movie or get bogged down by callbacks to references from the past. A legacy sequel should be able to stand next to the original, not in the original’s shadow.

Credit: Paramount/Skydance

In Maverick, the legacy aspect of the story centers around Rooster, Goose’s son, who is now a Top Gun graduate as well. We learn there is a tense history between Rooster and Maverick, not only because of Goose’s death, but because of events that happened between films. For me, that’s an interesting proof of concept and a story worth telling. How does Maverick reconcile his lingering guilt over Goose’s death with his mission directive and strained relationship with Rooster? These questions hang heavy over an otherwise simple story: develop a team capable of completing a seemingly impossible mission (lol).

But then look at something like Space Jam: A New Legacy. While having “legacy” in its title, it completely fails at being a legacy sequel. The Looney Tunes are the only character that return from the original movie, but it’s almost as if the Space Jam never happened. There’s no nostalgia, callbacks or continuation of that story. A New Legacy is more interested in being a 2-hour commercial for Warner Bros.’ IP catalogue than a true legacy sequel to Space Jam.  

Legacy sequels must also compliment the tone of the original story and feel like they take place in the same universe. Maverick does this perfectly. The opening of the movie is nearly identical to the original, dropping us right back into the vibe from the 80s. It’s a world where the sun is somehow always at golden hour and adults play sports on the beach in jeans. And the rest of the movie matches Top Gun’s overly machismo tone while natural updating areas that may not have aged as well.

Now take Ghostbusters: Afterlife. This legacy sequel has such a stark tonal shift from the first two Ghostbusters movies that it doesn’t feel like it exists in the same world. Afterlife takes itself so seriously, putting too much weight on the mythology of the series and not leaning into the comedic tone of the original. The original characters are spoken about like they’re godlike figures, not just four average guys. And the original cast’s appearance in the movie is nothing more than a glorified cameo with a gratuitous CGI resurrection of Harold Ramis that offers nothing to the story.

Legacy sequels are made in the first place because audiences have such a love and connection to the original stories. That’s why legacy sequels have to walk such a fine line between references to, recreations of, or remakes of iconic moments or storylines. Maverick certainly has its fair share of callbacks to the original Top Gun, from the way Maverick gets to Top Gun, the surprise instructor, the tension between two top pilots, the beach sports scene and even “Great Balls of Fire.” But the way Maverick uses these callbacks puts them in a new light and uses them to tell its own story.

Other legacy sequels have leaned too hard on recreating moments or plot points from the previous movie. Coming 2 America reuses many of the same jokes from the first movie. Jurassic World has the same general structure as Jurassic Park but increases the tension by including thousands of tourists. And the final act of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is eerily close to a copy-and-paste of the Death Star attack in A New Hope, complete with trench run. These references and recreations alone don’t make a legacy sequel bad, but it’s such a fine line to tread between honoring the past and moving the story forward in a natural, exciting way.

Legacy sequels are here to stay, at least for a while, it seems. Good legacy sequels stand confidently next to their original, letting us check in with beloved characters and introducing us to new favorites. Often they’ll make us appreciate the original movies in a new way. Top Gun: Maverick certainly does this and sets a new bar for legacy sequels. Tom Cruise is doing his part to save movie theaters and you should too by going to see Top Gun: Maverick!