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(A scene from Star Trek Discovery, the latest televised Star Trek)

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(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.

Star Trek

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.

Star Wars

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.

Back to Sci-fi Analysis

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…

Tense!

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?!


It appears from the way the trailer flows that Snoke is torturing Rey. Quite how Rey ends up in Snoke’s presence is anyone’s guess.


A frenetic space battle will grace the screen (something we’re shown a number of times), which makes sense as this is Star Wars


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.

MyLittlePonyDrink

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.

9/10

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.

I know what you’re thinking. Why is a grown meerkat going to see Captain Underpants? Well, the answer, dear reader, is that seven year-old daughters want to see it, and mummy and daddy couldn’t take her to see Dunkirk, so we ended up seeing Captain Underpants instead.

I confess to fearing the worst from this movie. The trailers did nothing to impress me, but then, I’m not the target audience. Looking at it through the perspective of 8-12 year-olds who enjoy jokes about ‘Uranus’ ‘poopypants’ and various other toilet-related puns, it can be argued this was in fact quite an enjoyable film. It certainly kept my daughter amused!

The film revolves about the friendship of two characters whose names I have already forgotten, who create comics around their character of Captain Underpants, and when their friendship is threatened by a maniacal headteacher, they somehow hypnotise him and transform him into the titular character. Cue various preposterous scenarios. As I said, it’s aimed at a specific age group, and yet manages to be surreal enough in places to get chuckles out of adults too. It managed to be better than expected, but I wish I’d seen Dunkirk!

7/10

RickOConnell

VS

NickMorton

Ok, time for a slightly different take on my movie reviews – comparing a classic, to a remake – or is that a classic remake to a modern-day remake? Or a modern-day classic remake of a classic vs a modern-day remake of a modern-day remake?!

I don’t know. It’s confusing, but Tom Cruise’s latest stunt-filled mayhem is a remake of a remake, with Brendan Fraser’s The Mummy being a remake of the 1932 The Mummy.

Still with me? Good, because thre’ll be a quiz later, and I will need help with the questions, let alone the answers – and just to be even more confusing, there was another filmed called The Mummy released in 1959, though it’s the 1932 film upon which Brendan Fraser’s film is based, and in turn, Tom Cruise’s film is based on Fraser’s film. My comparison is between the Fraser and Cruise editions – so, let’s weigh up!

Firstly, Fraser’s character of Rick O’Connell is a much warmer, friendlier guy than Cruise’s Nick Morton. Part of that lies in the writing, part of it is from Fraser’s natural charm. He and Rachel Weisz have a good chemistry from the word go, and Arnold Vosloo brings a strong presence as the titular Mummy. The 1999 edition harks back to the classic adventure/monster film genre, capturing the spirit of the era, and doesn’t take itself too seriously either. In contrast, Nick Morton (Cruise’s character) is not some roguish figure of charm, but a colder figure, a less likable man, from the start. Sofia Boutella is creepy as the Mummy, there’s no denying that, but not particularly memorable, Annabelle Wallis is Jenny Hasley, an archeologist whose character exists solely to move the story on, and Russell Crowe shows up as an apparently important character, and keystone for the wider universe Universal Studios are trying to build, but he is not exactly amazing in this either.

Even the CGI, whilst better (as it should be, some 18 years on), isn’t as good as it should be. It’s not a huge leap forward from 1999.

In short, for a fun movie that lets you forget your life for a couple of hours, I’d always choose 1999’s The Mummy over the new one!

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The DCEU is a bad place. After the early struggles, a saviour is needed to rescue it. Can Wonder Woman be that hero?

The answer is an unequivocal yes. Wonder Woman is easily the best of the DCEU films to date, and provides some much-needed warmth to an otherwise set of cold characters.

It would be wrong of me to turn Gal Gadot (who plays the titular character) into an object, but can I just say, she is beautiful, and radiates a mixture of innocence and passion that is difficult to pull off. The journey of Diana (Wonder Woman is obviously not her real name!) from curious and headstrong child to who she becomes by the film’s end, is one of the most compelling origin stories yet done by a comic book adaption, and much of this is due to the strength of Gadot’s acting. At no point, even when facing the horrors of World War I head on, is Diana vulnerable, even though she is understandably baffled by social rules that make no sense to her.

At first, Diana is naïve, believing she can stop the war single-handedly (and end all wars) by slaying a god. However, she hurls herself into this task without fear, facing her enemies in the name of justice. Even as she gradually comes to realise that this ideal is too lofty, she remains true to herself – she fights for what is right, not for revenge or out of hatred.

There’s a reasonable supporting cast, though the only two characters we see much of are Diana, and Chris Pine’s character, Steve Trevor (an American assigned to British Intelligence). Trevor is trying to open Diana’s mind to the realities of the world, whilst at the same time admiring and drawn to Diana’s innocence and spirit.

There’s been a distinct lack of women superheroes on the big screen, and Wonder Woman is an important step in correcting that. This movie shows that a powerful female lead works, and works well, and that a woman can direct a blockbuster. It’s much better than the previous DCEU efforts, though it’s not quite at the level the best MCU films have to offer. It is heartfelt, funny, and tinged with emotion. The only area where it falls down is with the villains. Danny Huston is German General Ludendorff, who is somewhat one-dimensional, and Elena Anaya doesn’t get enough screen time as Dr Maru (aka Dr Poison). There is a nice twist toward the end, involving David Thewlis’ character, but the villain curse has once again struck a comic book film. Despite this, it’s still an excellent movie. 8/10.

We’re kicking off a lot of film reviews with something of a modern cult classic, that has spawned a lot of memes, and speaks to animal lovers everywhere – John Wick. Starring Keanu Reeves as the titular character, it follows the story of a retired assassin of such skill and reverence that he became known as the Boogeyman. An overly simplistic analysis of the plot would be: John Wick’s dog dies, and he goes on a rampage. It’s not that simple, but a stupid-ass punk killing the post-humous gift of a dog proves to be the catalyst for numerous sequences that show off how lethal and ruthless John is. The film is very slick, with a surprisingly good plot, and you can’t help but get the feeling that no one is going to stand in John’s way – he is just too good, and too motivated, to be stopped.

Keanu has come under fire for not being a particular great actor, but his performance here is pretty good. He needs to convey a stoic and determined hitman and he does – perfectly. It might be a little unkind to say this, but I am having trouble remembering the supporting cast, as Keanu’s performance is overpowering.

There’s a sequel – but whilst it’s pretty good, it’s not as good as the original. I’d actually recommend this film quite highly, if you wish to switch off your brain and enjoy some action!

8/10