I need to figure out how to embed videos – in the meantime, my latest – which are all about Marvel.
I need to figure out how to embed videos – in the meantime, my latest – which are all about Marvel.
Welcome to a revolution. The 18th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (yes, eighteen and still going) is a cultural tour de force, a reckoning for how African cultures are portrayed, as well as providing a platform for black people that’s been sorely needed. Beyond that, the film is very good, throwing up some interesting moral questions and giving us what is, so far, the most serious MCU film yet, without delving into territory of the ultra-bleak films of the DCEU.
Chadwick Boseman is the titular Black Panther, though perhaps more importantly, he is King T’Challa, recently crowned ruler of the reclusive African nation Wakanda. From what I can gather, Black Panther is set very soon after the events of Civil War, though I could be wrong about this. It makes sense though, with T’Challa being crowned, as opposed to already being King. Without giving away the plot, the film seamlessly merges traditional African culture with advanced technology, whilst also presenting an interesting and challenging quandary, which comes to the fore in the shape of Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Stevens, also known as N’Jadaka, also known as Killmonger. Stevens’ life is shaped by his experiences as a child and as a soldier, leading him to be embittered about the world and especially about the Wakandan refusal to get involved in international affairs. Once more, without giving too much away, there is the question of how to help one’s people, as well as the question of who exactly qualifies as ‘one’s people’, not to mention what the best means of help actually is. There are no easy answers presented here, with Stevens continuing to present his own, determined beliefs, right up to the very end.
There are black women in this film who are given vital roles of spies, warriors and scientists. Lupita Nyong’o is a name Star Wars will recognise – here she is T’Challa’s former lover and Wakandan spy Nakia, who is not pushed into the trope of love interest, but instead front and centre because of her skills. Letitia Wright is Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister and outright genius. She is responsible for developing the technology that keeps Wakanda ticking over.
Another name that will be very familiar is Danai Gurira, who is in The Walking Dead, but here is the leader of the Dora Milaje, an all-female special forces unit dedicated to defending Wakanda. One thing is very clear – she is utterly loyal to her country and more than capable of defending it!
So, Black Panther provides role models for black boys and girls and to be honest, roles models in general. Anyone can watch this film and take something away. With the power to do good, not through waging war or fighting, but through reaching out and providing help, we can make this world a better place for everyone. 9/10.
The seventeenth (yes. 17th) entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe is arguably Thor’s most fun adventure so far, whilst the film manages to set the stage for this summer’s biggie, without losing its own identity.
Ragnarok stretches Thor and tests him in a manner that we haven’t really seen so far, whilst his relationship with brother Loki remains as complex and at times, awkward as ever. It is in their moments together where Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston shine as an odd couple – by now the two have known each other for years and their on-screen chemistry is satisfying to watch.
Thrown into this mix is Kate Blanchett as the evil Goddess of Death Hela. It is fair to say she steals every scene she appears in, relishing her role as the villain and providing a deliciously menacing character. Alongside Blanchett as a new addition to the MCU is Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster, overseer of the arena where Thor will eventually battle Hulk – Goldblum is quite likeable in this role, even if he often seems to end up playing himself. We get a good dose of the Hulk in this movie, as the Hulk – Mark Ruffalo gets to sink his teeth into Banner’s green alter-ego a little more than usual. Finally, Tessa Thompson stars as Valkyrie, a member of an elite cadre of Asgardian warrior women who ends up on the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak.
The spectacle is impressive and by now the effects well and truly polished. Added to this is a good soundtrack and some jokes that do manage to push the envelope for a 12A film, yet fall short of being truly out of line. This is, despite the stakes, Thor at his most relaxed, whilst the film bookends itself quite nicely and stays true to the idea of Ragnarok itself. I would dare say the film is worth it for Benedict Cumberbatch’s cameo at the start – which provides quite a bit of entertainment!
Two years on from the triumphant return of Star Wars in the form of The Force Awakens, we have finally been graced with the continuation of the saga, with the hotly anticipated The Last Jedi following on almost immediately where The Force Awakens ended. People have been theorising about this film from the moment the previous one finished, with countless ideas as to what would be revealed. Would we learn of Rey’s true parentage? Would she turn to the Dark Side? What would become of Finn? How would the film handle the return of Luke and would he and Leia be reunited?
I dare say this film did not play out in the way I expected and it was ultimately a smaller film in scope than The Force Awakens. It’s very intense, what with the Resistance fleeing a large, aggressive First Order Force and being constantly under threat. From the moment the movie starts the Resistance is under attack by vengeful First Order warships that seek to avenge the loss of Starkiller Base.
Rey and Luke play out their own story, with Rey desperate to understand the Force and Luke, bitter from his past experiences, reluctant to help her. Eventually circumstances lead Rey back to the Resistance, just as their light is about to be snuffed out for good.
Rey and Kylo Ren have quite a few ‘one-on-one’ conversations via the Force, which reveal the anguish both characters are going through. They are both yearning to belong, with Rey seeking to learn of her parents and discover who she really is, and Ren trying to throw off the shackles of his family.
What’s quite fascinating is that, whereas the original and prequel trilogies span several years, this new trilogy spans, from the beginning of The Force Awakens to the end of The Last Jedi, no more than a week by my reckoning. It remains to be seen if Episode IX will follow this trend, however so far, the scope of the sequel trilogy could best be described as ‘intimate’. This is certainly a theme present in the relationships, with Finn and Rose partnered up to try and take care a tricky mission, Luke attempting to teach Rey and Rey and Ren emotionally sparring. What with the limited setting (the film feels quite claustrophobic at times), this all sets up a story that is full of heart.
There are plenty of surprises. Leia reveals the extent of her own Force abilities in spectacular fashion, Ren unveils a ruthless side and more than one character dies rather unexpectedly.
The Last Jedi is not perfect. There are several scenes on a casino planet that feel somewhat shoehorned into the movie, as though the writers weren’t sure what to do with Finn and Rose. Gwendoline Christie steals every scene she’s in as the villainous Captain Phasma, but she is criminally underused. In respect of both these elements, I would have loved to have seen things done differently. Despite this, The Last Jedi manages to be somehow small and yet dramatic at the same time, demonstrating a very different nature to The Force Awakens. There are some incredible battle sequences, that I am keen to see again, whilst the film’s ending leaves all sorts of possibilities open for how Episode IX will go.
(A scene from Star Trek Discovery, the latest televised Star Trek)
(a clip from the trailer for The Last Jedi)
In TV/movie franchise circles, there is a buzz word for what is and isn’t considered a part of the story. That word is ‘canon‘. If something is canon, it ‘counts’ toward the story and be considered a valid source of information for reference. If it’s not canon, it doesn’t count, and might end being considered as a point of interest but nothing more. That’s a rather simplistic take on a subject that, to some fans of some franchises, can become a huge, major issue.
Canon is something that the producers and writers of any given show don’t actually put a great deal of stock in. They will aim to be internally consistent with their material (because glaring contradictions can mess up the stories), but there is no ‘Bible’ that they have to stick to. The fans tend to turn this into a particularly messy topic, with arguments raging back and forth over what is and is not canon. Star Trek and Star Wars are two major cases in point.
According to Star Trek fan database site Memory Alpha, all on screen material (the TV shows and films) is considered canon. This gets a little more complicated with the addition of alternate timeline material (aka the Kelvin timeline, consisting of the 2009 movie, Into Darkness and Beyond). The link includes statements from some of the powers that be, who are involved in the process for deciding what is part of the official continuity, and what isn’t. Not everyone will agree with the official statements, but they represent the final authority on what is and isn’t ‘canon’, not that they even care for the term. Whilst some fans would like Star Trek Discovery treated as part of a reboot, it has been declared canon by the powers that be.
With Star Wars, the situation has historically been more complicated. The movies were always ‘canon’, beyond question. However, Star Wars has produced a large volume of books, comics and games, some of which tell the story of what happened prior to the movies, some of which seek to fill in the gaps, and some of which told the tales of what happened after Return of the Jedi. These stories became known as the ‘Expanded Universe’ or EU. To many fans, these represented the continuation of the saga, furthering the adventures of Luke Skywalker and co after the films had finished.
This didn’t stop an exhaustive effort by some parties to suggest that the Expanded Universe bore no relevance to the movies, existing in an entirely different timeline, and therefore inadmissible as a reference in discussion (and particularly, in Star Trek vs Star Wars debates). This effort ultimately didn’t amount to anything more than an incredibly long-winded way of saying ‘my opinion is somehow superior to yours’, and wasn’t backed up by the powers that be who oversaw these matters.
Up until the Disney purchase of Lucasfilm a few years ago, the EU was part of the continuity, but Disney, wanting to make new films without feeling bound to existing material, relegated the EU, declaring it to fit into under the heading of ‘Legends’. Disney also set about commissioning new novels to fill in the gaps between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, as well as creating the Rebels cartoon series, which filled in some of the timeline between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. In the meantime, Disney did take elements from the EU to use as they saw fit, including bringing in the character of Admiral Thrawn (a very popular character from the novels) to the Rebels show. It remains to be seen what else might make it from the Legends EU into Disney’s new continuity.
So there you have it – a brief run down of what’s what with the Trek and Wars universes.
The final trailer for The Last Jedi has dropped, and after a few days of deliberation and thought, it’s time to offer my impressions of the trailer and what it might mean.
The First Order is going to bring the big guns. They’re pissed at the loss of Starkiller Base and want revenge. Their walkers are said to be much bigger than the AT-ATs that terrorised the Rebellion in The Empire Strikes Back, and it looks like we’re going to get a substantial ground combat sequence as a result.
Snoke is speaking at the start, to someone, about finding them and their power – and how they are truly special. During this scene we see Kylo Ren, but right at the end the scene cuts to Rey igniting a lightsaber, leading to a lot of speculation that Snoke is talking to her. I wonder though, if he is talking to Ren, about finding Rey, or at least, about learning of a pivotal point in the Force, that Ren would lead Snoke to – in this case, that point being Rey. This also implies a connection between Ren and Rey.
Luke is afraid, and with good reason, from his point of view. He didn’t respect Ben Solo’s raw power and in the end, that mistake led to the destruction of his new Jedi Order. It seems like he starts to train Rey, but upon learning of her natural strength in the Force he changes his mind. Will he compound his original mistake, or resolve to correct it?
Will he or won’t he?! The most… intense moment from the new trailer features Kylo Ren blasting away at enemy ships in his TIE Silencer, then lining up the shot that would kill General Leia (who is, of course, his mother). The scene cuts back and forth between Ren and Leia, representing the internalised struggle Ren faces, between who he thinks he wants to be, and his family ties/history. His finger hovers over the trigger…
Emotions will run high when The Last Jedi is released. This is Carrie Fisher’s final film, the final chance to see General Leia, and the trailer poignantly sees her remain silent throughout.
‘We are the spark, that will light the fire, that will burn the First Order down.’ Poe is a fighter and from his brief appearance in the trailer, he is taking the fight to the bad guys.
Finn is seen in First Order garb, heavily implying he’ll be going undercover. Finn has a score to settle with the First Order, and this is dramatically personified in the next image…
Finn faces off against Captain Phasma as a base or facility goes up in smoke. This is easily one of the most exciting moments from the trailer.
Supreme Leader Snoke didn’t really do a lot in The Force Awakens and we never saw him up close. Is he powerful in the Force or just astute as a leader? He’s clearly a disciple of the Dark Side, but didn’t cut an intimidating figure last time. Here, he might well be more dangerous, judging from the next picture, but will we learn anything more about him?!
Finally, Rey asks, ‘I need someone to show me my place in all this’, and the trailer cuts to Ren, holding out his hand. Is this clever editing, or do they end up on the same side (whatever side that might be!)?
All in all, the trailer does a great job of teasing a tremendous amount of drama and a raw, tense film. If The Force Awakens was the new trilogy’s A New Hope, The Last Jedi is shaping up to have a lot of the tone of The Empire Strikes Back. The film looks astounding, amazing and utterly brilliant.
Ok, that’s a little unfair. As a matter of fact, I am going to ‘fess up – I enjoyed this movie. Judge me, don’t judge me, I don’t care. The film (and in fact the show) is not the standard sort of fare for this sort of movie.
A lot of kids’ shows and films (especially the shows) will talk down to their target audience. My Little Pony doesn’t do that and yet consistently manages to convey messages to children about honesty, loyalty, kindness and friendship. My Little Pony also manages to carry a positive message to young girls – pretty much all the lead characters are female, and they define themselves not by the company or attention of male characters, but rather by their abilities, their friendships with one another and their strength of character. The story of the film is predictable but the humour is pretty good and the film manages to avoid feeling simply like a longer episode. The animation has also been taken up a notch.
All in all, it’s a colourful, musical adventure that moves outside the confines of the show and carries a positive message to the youngsters watching it. It’s also wittier than it might first appear. 8/10.
I suppose this film was inevitable. The prevalence of smartphones and their huge array of apps was, sooner or later, going to be a bankable movie product, and I dare say the film actually starts out surprisingly clever, with some notable observations about the pace of life these days, and the way in which we socialise (or don’t) thanks to our phones. The theme of the film is expression, so maybe, just maybe, in a subtle way, it’s trying to encourage its target audience (kids) to put the phones down and talk to each other. I’m not actually sure if that’s what’s going on, as the film is quite ‘meh’.
That’s actually quite ironic, given what the film is going for about expressing one’s self. Instead of being confined to a set role in life, this film is all about being different and not letting societal norms rule you. One character actually makes this point quite strongly regarding expectations for girls (only to send a confused message about this later, but I’ll come back to that). The trouble for the movie is, it just isn’t all that interesting, despite the flashy scenes and up-to-date pop music score (which is frankly more grating than great). Since the film is about apps that seem to encourage short attention spans, it’s not a surprise to see the film jump around in the same manner. This makes it quite disjointed.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t funny moments. Sir Patrick Stewart as the ‘Poop’ emoji proves to be quite entertaining, if underused (there is also one ‘red alert’ moment that had me laughing out loud). The trouble is, none of the characters are particularly interesting or engaging, and you don’t feel invested in what happens to them. Maybe kids would relate more, I don’t know.
Coming back to the feminist angle, we get a character trying to shrug off female stereotypes, only to embrace one of them in order to save the day. Maybe that can be interpreted as ‘you can still be feminine and tough’, but given how the film sets up this character, it’s a bit of a weird ‘about-face’ on that one.
All in all, there are better kids’ films out there, so I wouldn’t waste time on this one. 6/10.
For the third time since 2002, we have a reboot of the Spiderman film franchise, with Tom Holland stepping into the boots that Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield had previously filled. The key difference this time is that Holland’s Spiderman inhabits the established Marvel Cinematic Universe, joining the fold, so to speak (hence the title, ‘Homecoming‘). The arrangement between Marvel and Sony is a great bit of business for both studios, and it also gives fans what they wanted to see – one of the best-loved comic book characters Marvel has ever produced joining the MCU.
Of course, with that power comes great responsibility (sorry, couldn’t resist!). Tom Holland is the youngest of the three actors to play Peter Parker on the big screen, and as a teenager himself, is perhaps best-placed to understand the awkwardness of the age, when you are desperate to fit in, yet completely unsure of how to do it. To add to the character’s worries is the desire to be part of something greater – Parker has his powers, but is not regarded as a member of the Avengers, on account of his youth and inexperience. So naturally, he yearns to prove himself, with disastrous consequences.
Not that these consequences are entirely of his own making. A bit of trust from a key character at a certain time might have been enough to prevent a big problem later on, yet much of what happens through the middle of the film is on Parker’s uncontrolled determination to be the hero he wants to be, even if it means he overextends himself. Something we all grapple with as teenagers – we want to be more than we are, we want to fit in, we want to prove ourselves, whilst lacking the understanding that experience brings. I think we can all relate to Parker in that respect.
We also see other sides to Parker – his determination and his courage. After a pivotal moment where he is stripped of his confidence and the support of Tony Stark, he is unexpectedly thrust back into a deadly situation – or to be more precise, he puts himself back into a deadly situation when he sees an opportunity to step in and correct his earlier mistake. This exposes him to great danger, but he is conscious of the greater danger of letting the situation continue unchecked, and he doesn’t hesitate to put place himself in harm’s way to stop the bad guy. Bravery has often been a key part of the character – just look at the comics – so this is a nice way of honouring the character.
Speaking of the bad guy, Michael Keaton is an Oscar winner and he reminds people as to why here. Adrian Toomes/The Vulture carries a lot of steel and menace as a guy driven to the edge, and he is not (unlike some Marvel villains) a one-dimensional character, but rather, a man who feels that he is doing a service for the little guys against the fat cats. He sells weapons of tremendous power to the wrong people, but acts to protect his family and loved ones, and has a strong sense of loyalty to the little gang he works with. He can be ruthless; he does so to protect the people he loves.
In fact, this brings me to a nice little moment at the end – both hero and villain have the opportunity to let the other die/set the dogs on the other. Both pass this chance up in order to do the right thing. This sets the film apart from many of the other MCU entries, which tend to be quite ‘black and white’ in terms of how they handle their dilemmas.
In terms of the other characters… really, they feel quite incidental. Jacob Batalon is Ned, Parker’s best friend, and he provides comic relief and an outlet for Parker, but not a lot else (though he does have one of the best lines in the movie). Laura Harrier is Liz, Parker’s dream girl, but she doesn’t really have a lot to do. She is portrayed as being very clever, but doesn’t get too many chances to demonstrate this. A more interesting character is Michelle, played by Zendaya, of Disney TV series fame. Michelle is quite a bullish character, speaking what’s on her mind and eschewing the standard narrative of high school culture. Finally, Robert Downey Jr reprises his role as Tony Stark/Iron Man, serving as the main link between this new incarnation of Spiderman and the MCU as a whole, whilst Jon Favreau is back as Happy Hogan, the somewhat beleaguered security chief/administrator for Stark. Gwyneth Paltrow makes a cameo at the end as Pepper Potts, but it’s very brief, and Chris Evans appears as Captain America in some ‘motivational videos’ which are quite funny.
The film is ultimately a vehicle for Peter Parker, and also for Tom Holland. He does an excellent job portraying the confused state that young Parker is in, ranging from his nervous energy, to dejected misfit.
Finally, I feel compelled to praise the length and breadth of the MCU. The last three entries we’ve had Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, and now Spiderman Homecoming. One film dealt with mysterious realms and ‘magic’, the other was misfit team space adventure, and this latest film is about teenage angst. Each film weaves part of a complex tapestry and yet manages to be distinctive. The universe Marvel has built is truly amazing.
Noooooooooooooooo! That pretty sums up what my inner child was screaming as I watched the latest (and hopefully last) of the Michael Bay-era Transformers movies. Whilst the first film was average without being a complete wreck, they’ve gotten worse, and The Last Knight is simply an exercise in going through the motions. Here, I’ll sum up the story (which co-incidentally will sum up the stories of the previous films). In ancient times it turns out there were Transformers who did some stuff and got written into legend. In modern times some important event/artefact resurfaces and the Autobots fight the Decepticons for it. Also, the Autobots are being hunted by mean human agencies. Rinse and repeat.
Throw in some rubbish jokes and you have yourself a Transformers film. It was so distinctly ‘meh’ that I didn’t even give it my full attention – indeed, I couldn’t give it my full attention – it wasn’t good enough to manage to do that. These movies have none of the spirit of the cartoon series that I knew and loved, way back in my youth. They have taken the heart of the Transformers show and ripped it out, then stamped on it with steel-capped boots. The Last Knight is no exception to this rule and I can only hope it will mark the end of this particular series, though given that the flashy explosions and crass humour is a box office winner, I suspect we’ll have more of these crappy films to endure at some stage.
What makes these films even worse is the disorientated action sequences that often just become blurred jumbles, and The Last Knight suffers from this in spades. As always the Decepticons are virtually in indistinguishable from each other and only Megatron has a personality.
I can’t give this film any more than 3/10.