DUBAI: Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, several of last year’s ‘most-anticipated’ movies still haven’t been released 12 months on, meaning we already have a handful of delayed blockbusters to look forward to in 2021. Most prominent among them are Marvel’s “Black Widow,” Daniel Craig’s final appearance as James Bond in “No Time To Die,” John Krasinski directing his wife Emily Blunt in “A Quiet Place Part II,” Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch,” described as “a love letter to journalists,” Denis Villeneuve’s take on Frank Herbert’s “un-filmable” sci-fi epic “Dune,” and Tom Cruise reprising one of his most iconic roles in “Top Gun: Maverick.”
Cruise is set for a big year at the box office, as he’ll also be returning as Ethan Hunt in “Mission: Impossible — Libra,” the seventh installment of the franchise. “Libra” should be out in November. Plot details remain sketchy, but from what little information we do have, it’s fair to say audiences won’t be short-changed on the franchise’s trademark adrenaline-junkie set pieces: there’s a motorcycle jump off a mountain and a foot chase over Venice’s canals using gondolas as stepping stones. Director Chris McQuarrie takes the “M:I” reins for the third time.
Action fans will also be eagerly awaiting the return of another blockbuster franchise, with “Fast & Furious 9” hitting multiplexes in May.
But in a year full of reboots, remakes and sequels, perhaps the most hotly anticipated of all is “The Matrix 4,” due to hit cinemas on December 22. Co-creator Lana Wachowski returns to the franchise that set the benchmark for modern sci-fi movies at the turn of the century and she will be joined by the majority of the cast from the originals, with Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss as Neo and Trinity. The trailer doesn’t tell us much about the plot, but the iconic “bullet-time” trickery is still there. Fans will be hoping the film is closer to the magnificence of the original installment rather than the somewhat confusing (and confused) third act.
Of course, no cinematic year is complete without a slew of superhero movies, and 2021 will see the arrival of some new heroes/antiheroes. One of most intriguing is Marvel’s “Morbius,” the second entry in its series based on characters from the “Spider-Man” universe after 2018’s “Venom.” Jared Leto plays the titular scientist whose discovery of a cure for his rare blood disease turns him into a vampire. Let’s hope Leto’s outing for Marvel goes better than his stint as The Joker for DC did — the actor’s portrayal of the villain in 2016’s “Suicide Squad” wasn’t well received.
Speaking of which, August will see the release of what’s being called a “soft reboot” and sequel: “The Suicide Squad,” written and directed by James Gunn and sharing several cast members — most notably Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. Leto’s name doesn’t appear on the cast list.
Marvel is also introducing its first Asian-led superhero movie, “Shang-chi,” starring Chinese-Canadian actor Simu-Liu as the eponymous martial arts master fighting against the Ten Rings crime syndicate. If the latter sounds familiar, they’re the group that kidnapped Tony Stark in 2008’s “Iron Man.”
Marvel will also be introducing its new ensemble franchise, following the wrapping up of “The Avengers” series. “The Eternals” — slated for a November release — sees a group of immortal aliens band together to protect Earth (where they’ve been living for millennia) from the Deviants. The cast includes Kit Harington, Salma Hayek and Angelina Jolie, with acclaimed Chinese indie filmmaker Chloé Zhao directing.
And while it’s not strictly a “superhero” movie, we’re interested to see how the movie adaptation of the bestselling video-game series “Uncharted” turns out. Tom Holland plays hero Nate Drake, with Mark Wahlberg and Antonio Banderas also cast in the July release.
There are several intriguing dramas set for release, including “The Many Saints of Newark,” a prequel to “The Sopranos” — often ranked as the best TV show of all time. Show creator David Chase is a co-writer, and Michael Gandolfini stars as a young Tony Soprano, the role that made his late father, James, an international star.
British legend Ridley Scott helms “The Last Duel,” which has been co-written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck with Nicole Holofcener — adapted from a book by Eric Jager. Damon and Adam Driver play two best friends in 14th-century France who are ordered to fight to the death after Damon’s character accuses Driver’s character of raping his wife, played by “Killing Eve” star Jodie Comer.
Another popular British filmmaker, Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Ant-Man,” “Baby Driver”) returns with a psychological horror called “Last Night in Soho.” Hot property Anya Taylor-Joy — fresh from her success in “The Queen’s Gambit” — stars alongside Matt Smith in this tale of a young fashion student who is mysteriously transported to the 1960s where she encounters her idol, a wannabe singer.
Top of the horror charts this year, though, will likely be “Candyman,” co-written and -produced by Jordan Peele and directed by Nia DaCosta. It’s a direct sequel to the 1992 film of the same name about the supernatural killer who appears if anyone says his name five times in the mirror. Tony Todd returns in the title role.
On the lighter-hearted side of things, we’re looking forward to “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar,” written by and starring Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, the team behind the brilliant 2011 comedy “Bridesmaids.” The year’s big comedy sequel (albeit one arriving 22 years after the original) is “Coming 2 America,” due out in March, which sees Eddie Murphy reprise his role as Akeem, the prince of Zamunda (and play three other characters). Akeem once again travels to the US, this time to find the son he’s only just discovered he has and welcome him into the royal family.
Regionally, there’s plenty to be excited about too. Top of our must-see Arabic movies of 2021 are “Amira” by Mohamed Diab, the Egyptian filmmaker behind the excellent “Cairo 678” and “Eshtebak” (Clash) and “Huda’s Salon,” the new film by Palestinian director Hany Abu Assad (Oscar-nominated for both “Omar” and “Paradise Now”), based on the real-life story of a woman being blackmailed by the boss of a hair salon she frequents.