“The Umbrella Academy” Season 2 – SPOILERS!

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY SEASONS 1 & 2 AHEAD!

By the end of the weekend, almost everyone who intends to watch the second season of The Umbrella Academy will have binged all ten hours on Netflix: but for those of us who simply couldn’t wait and/or spread out our viewing across multiple days and who are now probably wishing they could travel into a future where season three is already out, here’s what I hope will be a comprehensive and detailed breakdown of every major twist and turn in season two of the mega-popular superhero series – with a special focus on those developments which will probably impact the series’ third season (if it’s renewed, but I think it’s a given that it will be). Not everything was left crystal clear after the season finale’s closing credits, and a bunch of burning questions were left unanswered. Characters were once again scattered across time and space…and some had even died. There’s a lot to go over, so settle in.

The Umbrella Academy
indiewire.com

Let’s start from the beginning. There’s a massive spoiler in the first couple of minutes. Soon after Number Five (Aidan Gallagher) teleports his family out of an apocalypse in 2019 (a.k.a. everything that went down in the season one finale), he finds himself trapped in another one in 1963 – this time a nuclear apocalypse caused by the Soviet Union invading the United States and littering the country with atom bombs. Not only that, but the rest of his family have all been scattered throughout the early 1960’s; though each one arrived at the exact same location, in a back alley in downtown Dallas. Texas. Before Five can be obliterated in the cataclysm, he is rescued by Hazel (Cameron Britton), the sweet, lovable assassin sent by the Commission to kill Five in season one. Hazel, now an old man, takes Five back in time just ten days and instructs him to find the other members of the Umbrella Academy and unite them against the forces of evil. In the exceedingly brief time that Hazel is onscreen, he has time to inform Five that he lived out a full and happy life with his girlfriend Agnes before she succumbed to cancer – and almost immediately after that, Hazel himself gets violently murdered by the Commission’s newest agents, a trio of white-haired, Swedish gunmen. It’s a shocking one-two gutpunch that instantly raises the stakes for the rest of the season and reminds us that no one, not even the fan favorites, are invulnerable to a cruel writer’s whims.

Although it forms the crux of the second season’s plot, the nuclear apocalypse that Hazel warned about is actually dealt with prior to the finale. To nobody’s surprise, the key to the whole mess is once again Vanya Hargreeves (Ellen Page), who starts out the season suffering from amnesia after being hit by a car: since she’s unable to remember anything about her world-destroying superpowers or the harm that her siblings did to her, it seems for a hot minute like she might just get to be happy and carefree – but of course, it just wouldn’t be The Umbrella Academy unless Vanya was having every ounce of joy ripped away from her at all times. Before the end of the season, she relearns everything about herself and unleashes her powers on a group of cops, leading to her being arrested and placed in the FBI’s custody. Due to the horrible misfortune of having a Russian name, Vanya is suspected of being a KGB spy placed in Dallas to assassinate President John F. Kennedy. She gets tortured, but proves to be too strong for the FBI to contain – with her mind straining under pressure and her emotional state already fragile, it doesn’t take long before her sonic powers incinerate her guards and she starts blowing up buildings.

The Umbrella Academy
Ben | collider.com

But this time, thankfully, Luther (Tom Hopper) isn’t around to make matters worse by trying to run headfirst at her, yelling. This time it’s Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), Diego (David Castañeda), Klaus (Robert Sheehan), and Klaus’ ghostly traveling companion and deceased Umbrella Academy member Ben (Justin H. Min) who are there to try and save their sister and the world – and they actually do a good job. Diego, Allison and Klaus, to be fair, all get knocked out, but it’s Ben, taking a corporeal form with Klaus’ help, who manages to walk effortlessly through Vanya’s shield of shockwaves and possess her: a talent that Ben only began to learn about earlier in the season after accidentally (and later intentionally) doing it to Klaus. Ben is able to possess Vanya’s body long enough to bring her back, but it comes at a high cost.

Ben is a ghost, but it turns out that he’s also not officially dead yet, having never entered the literal “light at the end of the tunnel”. This explains why he’s still able to take a physical form and sometimes even interact with other characters. Klaus is led to believe that the reason for this is because of something he told Ben years earlier, at the latter’s funeral, but Ben reveals to Vanya while inside her head that it was never that: it was because Ben was too scared to leave his family behind entirely. But by entering Vanya’s head and possessing her body, Ben uses up all his energy, sacrificing himself to save her. He and Vanya have a touching final conversation before Ben drifts away, with Vanya hugging him so that he won’t have to die alone.

But despite how climactic all that may sound, that’s actually not the finale. President Kennedy still gets shot, and the government still puts out bounties for the arrest of Vanya and the rest of the Hargreeves family, but the Umbrella Academy has bigger problems to worry about. Vanya realizes through visions that she needs to return to the farm outside of Dallas where she had been living with her lover, a woman named Sissy (Marin Ireland), and Sissy’s son, Harlan, who accidentally received a portion of Vanya’s powers and has become a swirling tornado of unstoppable energy. In what I feel might just be the most emotional scene in the entire series, Vanya at first starts driving off toward Sissy’s farm alone, but is stopped when Klaus suddenly jumps into the passenger’s seat. He is followed by Allison and Diego, and, soon after, Five, who tells Vanya that she owes him one now. Even Luther clambers into the trunk. The family, finally united, heads to the farm to take on the new threat.

But when they get there, they don’t just find Harlan and his mom stuck in the barn while snow and lightning whips around them. They are also greeted by none other than The Handler (Kate Walsh), who had returned earlier in the season (she didn’t actually die when Hazel shot her in the season one finale: a steel plate installed in her skull saved her from his bullet). Now in charge of the Commission and intent on slaughtering the Umbrella Academy, The Handler brings with her an entire army of the Commission’s time-traveling assassins – every last one, in fact. Also alongside her is her adoptive daughter, the mysterious woman named Lila (Ritu Arya), whose short, tempestuous romance with Diego (before he knew she was a Commission agent) ended with Lila promising to murder him, if only to please her mother. The Handler’s army sweeps across Sissy’s farm, but it’s Vanya who actually averts a catastrophe this time by using her powers to fly over the battlefield and send a massive shockwave hurtling back towards The Handler. All of the Commission army are killed in the blast, but The Handler and Lila somehow survive, thanks to a force-field bubble around them. A force-field bubble which looks identical to Vanya’s own powers.

The Umbrella Academy
Lila | readysteadycut.com

As the Umbrella Academy watches in horror, Lila herself takes to the air, absorbing Vanya’s powers and sending them straight back at her. Vanya tumbles from the sky, crashing into the side of Sissy’s barn. But Lila isn’t done yet – she hunts down every member of the team (well, except for Klaus and Diego), and proceeds to mimic their own powers: she sends Luther hurtling through a brick wall with super strength; she persuades Allison to stop breathing (Allison is only rescued by mouth-to-mouth resuscitation from Luther); she even fights Five, blinking in and out of portals and nearly defeating him – but Five stops her in her tracks by revealing a terrible truth: The Handler never loved her. She’s always been using Lila. In fact, she gave the order to kill Lila’s parents so she could pretend to swoop in and rescue the orphaned child. Why? Because Lila’s powers of imitation prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that she is one of the other thirty-eight superpowered children born on the 1st of October, 1989, and The Handler has been manipulating that power for Lila’s entire life.

But here’s the real shocker. Just as Lila begins to realize that Five is telling the truth, as her eyes well up with tears of emotion, as the rest of the Umbrella Academy joins her and offers to take her in as family – The Handler enters with a machine gun and mows down the entire Academy. Only Five survives the initial attack, and is able to watch, dumbfounded, as The Handler goes on to murder Lila before herself being murdered by the last of the three Swedes, who rightfully blames her for the death of his brothers. Just before the Swede can shoot Five dead, Five remembers something he learned from his father, Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore), earlier in the season when they sat down for a light supper – that time travel can be a matter of seconds rather than years or decades. Five is thus able to rewind time to the moment right before The Handler entered, and snatches her weapon. A lot of things happen very quickly: Lila angrily confronts her mother, asking for the truth, but The Handler is shot by the Swede before she can respond. Lila, enraged, grabs her mother’s time-traveling briefcase and escapes. After a tense staring contest, the Swede and Five both put down their guns and the Swede leaves.

Despite how much death and destruction there is, the final battle ends on a happy note, with Vanya rescuing Harlan and Sissy, and The Commission, now in chaos, electing sweet, innocent Herb (Ken Hall) to run the organization. Herb, who became a close friend of Diego’s during the latter half of the season, shows up to inform the Umbrella Academy of the good news and seems to indicate that The Commission will even be an ally of the Academy’s going forward. I expect The Commission to still play a large part in the storyline, but I wonder whether they’ll ever again return to villainous practices, or whether Herb’s leadership will improve the place exponentially.

The Umbrella Academy
Allison | denofgeek.com

With the battle over and 1963 saved, it’s time for The Umbrella Academy to pack up and return to their own timeline. We watch as each member of the team says their goodbyes to the people they met and became close to in the 60’s – Allison is spared having to do so in person, but she leaves an emotional farewell letter for her husband, Raymond (Yusuf Gatewood). I hope Allison and Raymond will be able to see each other again at some point. Their marriage was fraught with trust issues, but both characters were willing to do everything in their power to make it work, and they weren’t siblings, which was a big step up from season one Allison.

Thankfully, Allison’s relationship with her brother Luther is pretty much over by the end of the season, though there are still hints that it could continue into season three. Luther still yearns for her and is clearly upset that she got married to someone else, and his mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is a bit too enthusiastic, if you ask me. But where one incestuous relationship on this series ends, another one begins. Diego and Lila’s romance is suddenly very disturbing in hindsight, and even Diego realizes that – though that doesn’t stop him from confessing his love to her just a few minutes after learning that she is, in fact, somehow related to him. That’s one of the major problems with having a show that focuses so heavily on family: romantic options are limited.

However, that’s not a valid excuse, because somehow Vanya was able to do the unthinkable and form a close, romantic bond with a person outside the Hargreeves family unit. Her slow burn relationship with Sissy is the second season’s beating heart – she gets to finally enjoy the company of someone who actually loves her for who she is and isn’t just trying to play on her emotions and weaponize her powers, and that love (as well as the responsibility of having to care for Sissy’s autistic son in an era before the condition was fully understood) proves vital for her character development. Unfortunately, the couple go through some hard times, with everyone around them trying to pull them apart, send them to pastors for spiritual guidance, or imprison them. They end up mutually parting ways at the end of the season, despite how hard Vanya begs for Sissy to accompany her into the future. Sissy tells Vanya that if she ever finds a safe way back to her, that she’ll be waiting – which gives me hope we’ll see her again. We’ll definitely see her son again, since it’s shown that he still has a little bit of Vanya’s powers left in him.

The Umbrella Academy
Sissy & Vanya | theadvocate.com

Klaus is also able to reunite with the love of his life, a man named Dave (Calem MacDonald) he met via time travel in season one, though his attempt to stop Dave from enlisting in the army (an action which will later result in Dave’s death in the Vietnam War) only results in Dave doing so even sooner. Near the end of the finale, we see Dave boarding a military bus, but looking back over his shoulder – is he regretting his decision? Could we possibly see him again? If we do, I hope it will be with the actor from season one: Dave in season two seems to be in his late teens, which would make any actual romance between him and Klaus slightly uncomfortable.

Speaking of Klaus, the free-loving, groovy cult he leaves behind ends up recruiting an unexpected new member in the finale – the third Swede, who sighs deeply before boarding their flowery double-decker bus and riding off into the sunset.

But the Umbrella Academy themselves aren’t going to be able to ride off into the sunset just yet – after giving Klaus a moment to steal one of Sissy’s cowboy hats, the entire team teleports again, this time as a group and to the future. The date of their arrival is April 2nd, 2019: the day after the original apocalypse. The Academy mansion is still standing, the world is not destroyed, and it almost looks like everything is alright. But it’s not. Because somehow, Five seems to have made another mistake in his calculations: they’ve landed in a different timeline entirely. One in which Reginald Hargreeves himself is still alive, and is the headmaster of a new, Sparrow Academy with its own team of superheroes. And this team’s Number One is a scarred, floppy-haired alternate version of Ben Hargreeves.

The impression I’m under is that this timeline is some sort of parallel universe. Something that the Umbrella Academy did in 1963 must have caused Reginald to start a very different kind of Academy: by the looks of it, an ultra successful one that hasn’t been divided by infighting over their years of service. I’m already prepared to hate them all, and their smug, entitled attitudes. But there’s another interesting thing about the possibility of an alternate timeline – in this timeline, who else is still alive? Could we see Eudora Patch, Diego’s former girlfriend, return? Is Allison’s daughter Claire even alive? Does Harold Jenkins still bear a hatred for this version of the Academy? And most importantly, are our six protagonists going to meet themselves in this timeline?

The Umbrella Academy
Vanya | gadgets.ndtv.com

Then there’s the question of who Reginald is. Late in the season, it’s revealed that Reginald is an alien (something that was already suspected) when he pulls off his face and reveals his true, reptilian form. Unfortunately, we only get a little glimpse of this, so we’ll have to wait until season three to find out what he really looks like beneath his human disguise. Whatever he is and wherever he’s from, I assume it has something to do with his secret operations on the Moon – throughout season two, he’s busy working with the real-life Grace (Jordan Claire Robbins), who seems to have been a scientist specializing in animal behavior and Reginald’s girlfriend before she was the Umbrella Academy’s robotic mom. Pogo, the humanoid chimpanzee who acted as Reginald’s right hand man in season one, is also revealed to have been Grace and Reginald’s pet project: for some reason, the couple were training him to fly rockets to, you guessed it, the Moon. Something is going on up there, and as much as I hate to admit it, I think Luther may have been right all along: the Moon and the history of the Umbrella Academy are intrinsically linked.

But don’t expect the moon to cause another apocalypse in season three. Showrunner Steve Blackman has already revealed that he plans to move away from end-of-the-world storylines in the third season, which makes me suspect that the Umbrella Academy will have to face off against a more physical enemy – the Sparrow Academy.

In this confrontation, I fully expect Vanya Hargreeves to take the lead. Although Luther is still technically the Umbrella Academy’s leader, he has become a lot less arrogant and defensive about his position over the course of season two, whereas Vanya has grown from being shy and diminutive to being a confident, capable heroine. As the team’s most powerful member and the character voted most likely to rip Reginald Hargreeves limb from limb, it makes sense to establish her as the opposition to him and his rival Academy.

So what did you think of The Umbrella Academy season two, and what do you expect will happen next? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

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“The Umbrella Academy” Season 2 Review!

The first season of Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy was, no questions asked, an exhilarating and entertaining ten hours of twists, turns and time travel. But the second season, which picks up mere moments after the season one finale and finds the seven members of the dysfunctional Hargreeves family split up throughout the 1960’s, takes the series to a whole new high: The Umbrella Academy elevates all the best elements of the first season, arriving at a delicate yet necessary balance between goofy, comic-booky fun and epic, emotional drama, while simultaneously working to revise or improve parts of the story that were heavily criticized, such as pacing issues and certain problematic character beats (ahem, romanticized incest).

The Umbrella Academy
Klaus, Allison and Vanya | denofgeek.com

When the season opened (turns out, the clip released by Netflix a few days ago and advertised as the first scene isn’t quite the first), I enjoyed a raw moment of catharsis because it felt so wonderful to be back, spending more time with these characters – each and every one of whom, with the obvious exception of Luther (Tom Hopper), is truly delightful. They’re each so unique, so independent, and so beautifully messed up. Their family dynamic is what makes the series click. And they thrive both on their own and as a team – which stands in contrast to season one, where many of their individual subplots felt meandering or aimless compared to the few and far between team-up moments. In season two, each member of the Umbrella Academy is going after their destiny with purpose and determination, making them each more compelling and significantly more dangerous, as their agendas clash repeatedly.

Once again kicking off the events of the season, Number Five (Aidan Gallagher) is, in my opinion, the most fascinating of our seven antiheroes: having successfully teleported the Umbrella Academy out of reach of the apocalypse at the end of season one, Five quickly realizes, with a little help from Hazel (Cameron Britton), that the end of the world is going to follow the Academy wherever or whenever they go. This time, it’s not Vanya Hargreeves with the white violin in the theater – it’s an impending Soviet invasion sparked by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Much like in season one, Five takes the initiative – hunting for clues across the timeline, doing his best to find his family and unite them, and colliding violently with the bureaucratic Commission – but this time around, he seems more personally invested in the fate of the world, and we watch as his frigid facade begins to crack under pressure and he has to resort to more uncharacteristic methods: for instance, hand-to-hand combat. We finally get to see the once-legendary killer in action, and his fight scenes (and there are several!) are well worth the wait.

The Umbrella Academy
Five | geektyrant.com

Second to Five but not far behind him is Vanya (Ellen Page), who has had a massive character overhaul since the season one finale. It’s hard to say too much without risking spoilers, but Vanya isn’t quite the same person she was when she blew up the moon and destroyed the world with her supersonic abilities. In fact, she’s actually kind of…happier? If I had to criticize, I’d even say she’s a bit too calm about everything that happened. That being said, while her portrayal in this season starts out a bit weak, by the finale she’s fully come into her own and is rocking a new personality and some cool new powers that I definitely can’t talk about. What’s not a spoiler is that Ellen Page gets to dance again this season, and Vanya actually has moves! Still a little awkward, but a definite improvement from the…disjointed shoulder shuffle.

Speaking of dancing, we have to go off-topic for a moment and talk about the soundtrack. I have my suspicions that it won’t be as instantly iconic as season one’s, which gave the series a reputation for setting all sorts of scenes to absolutely random yet brilliant songs, but there’s still a lot of hits. A lot. I want to highlight Daniela Andrade’s “Crazy” and Boney M.’s “Sunny”, which plays over an unforgettable Klaus (Robert Sheehan) scene.

The Umbrella Academy
Klaus | variety.com

Back on topic, just like that. Klaus and his ghostly companion Ben (Justin H. Min) arrive in the decade before any of their siblings and have the most time to ease seamlessly into the 60’s. Klaus, predictably, gets entangled with a cult and somehow becomes their leader and nonsensical prophet, a duty with many perks which he later regrets as the cult starts following him obsessively around Dallas. But the zaniest Umbrella Academy member isn’t just there for comedic relief and drug-fueled, psychedelic hijinks; he also nails every dramatic character beat he gets. Ben does too, but all of Ben’s best scenes count as spoilers.

Then there’s Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), whose relationship with Vanya was arguably the thematic core of season one. She’s just as much in the spotlight here, leading an entire Black community into the civil rights campaign alongside her new husband, Raymond (Yusuf Gatewood), who is thankfully not her brother – no matter how many times Allison might claim that she and Luther aren’t “technically” related, I’m with Klaus on this one: once you have to use the word “technically”, there’s already a problem. But Allison’s biggest issue isn’t her brother anymore: it’s her superpower, which she has to refrain from using, even when it would be so easy to use it to get whatever she wants, from free clothes to equality to vengeance.

Surprisingly, I have to say Luther was my next favorite, but that says more about how little I liked Diego (David Castañeda) this season than it does about any radical improvements from the Umbrella Academy’s emotionally stunted strongman. If there is one highlight in the character’s portrayal, it’s that he’s mostly comedic relief now. And I’m happy to report that the series doesn’t try to excuse or apologize for the fact that he subjected his own sister to permanently damaging physical, mental and emotional abuse: he gets called out several times for his part in causing the apocalypse. I think I may have just enjoyed seeing him get constantly beaten down, walked all over and blatantly ignored whenever he tried to roll out the usual spiel about being the Number One and the leader of the family. Is that mean? I love to hate him: that’s better than just hating him, right?

As for Diego, well, the truly unattractive new hairstyle isn’t the only problem with his character. One of my favorites from season one, he slowly but inevitably sank to the bottom of my list over the course of season two, thanks to being the only character still saddled with a self-inflicted hero complex. What makes Diego tolerable is that whenever he’s onscreen, he’s usually accompanied by his love interest, the enigmatic Lila (Ritu Arya), a fellow patient at the mental hospital where he’s been imprisoned. Lila’s role is crucial to the season and the series going forward, but again those pesky spoilers get in the way of us talking about any of that.

The Umbrella Academy
Ben and Klaus | syfy.com

Amongst the rest of the supporting cast, the standouts are Marin Ireland as Sissy – a charming Texan farmwoman who has dreams of making a great escape from her married life – and Colm Feore, who reprises the role of Sir Reginald Hargreeves: but as a younger, even more nefarious version of the character. Viewers won’t learn everything about his history from this season, but they will get some tantalizing glimpses of who he really is, and what his plans for the Umbrella Academy were all along.

This season might seem to initially lack a strong presence from the villains, since the guy from the trailers with the fishbowl head is only in a couple of scenes and the trio of Swedes are mostly annoying obstacles rather than fully developed characters (though if you didn’t enjoy the Swedish rendition of Adele’s “Hello” on the soundtrack, I don’t know what to say to you), but that changes once another character comes on the scene. And the villains show up in full force for the finale, so don’t worry.

The Umbrella Academy
Vanya | cosmopolitan.com

The Umbrella Academy season two leaves off with a definite hook for a third season – and since I imagine that this season will be eaten up by audiences, I think we’re going to get that third season as soon as possible. This started out as one of those series’ that I liked but felt a little embarrassed for liking so much: now, I don’t have any hesitation about saying that The Umbrella Academy is a masterpiece. It’s got the cool visuals and the thrilling action you want from a superhero story, but it’s got a lot more than that: it’s got heart, soul, and wit in equal measures, all tied up in one perfect package. That package also comes with a killer soundtrack, meme-worthy humor (Klaus’ parable of the scorpion and the frog being my favorite example), and a whole lot of weirdness – what’s not to love?

Series Rating: 9.5/10

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“Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Season 7, Episode 10!

SPOILERS FOR AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. AHEAD!

The final season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has had a villain problem since its premiere – namely, there’s a whole bunch of villains, and none of them have gotten enough screentime or character development to make any of them particularly interesting. Most of them are brand new, and some have only been introduced in the last few episodes. More were brought onboard on last night’s episode. But at last, even though I still wish this season could have focused on just one established antagonist (preferably HYDRA), I’m beginning to see the appeal of having so many villains unifying across the Marvel universe with the intention of wiping S.H.I.E.L.D. out of existence.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
tvline.com

I say this because last night’s episode was very villain-centric, giving us slightly more insight into the minds and motives of characters like the anarachistic Nathaniel Malick (Thomas E. Sullivan), youngest scion of the royal family of HYDRA and so far the best new character to come out of season seven; Kora (Dianne Loan), an Inhuman who now serves Malick, surgically separating her brethren from their own superpowers and giving them out to Malick’s other henchmen; and even a young, hotheaded John Garrett (James Paxton, the son of original John Garrett actor Bill Paxton), who apparently was always a narcissistic idiot even before he joined HYDRA. The episode does spare plenty of time for the other characters, in particular Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet), but much of it revolves around Malick and Kora as they go about their business reinventing the Inhuman refuge of Afterlife as a nightmarish prison for their test subjects. And it gives me a little hope that we’re not walking into a disappointing finale (which, in case you’ve forgotten, is now just two episodes away): Malick and Kora are both truly wicked, terribly effective at what they do, and at this point very nearly irredeemable – certainly Malick is, at any rate. There may be hope left for Kora, especially since the episode ends with her landing in S.H.I.E.L.D. custody.

The big question, of course, is how Kora and Daisy Johnson will react to each other, since both characters now know they are sisters. Daisy hops on a wild emotional rollercoaster this week, first learning about her secret sibling from her friends (who neglected to tell her about that little tidbit of information when they actually found about it), then being reluctantly reunited with a younger version of her mother Jiaying (Dichen Lachman), who, for context, tried to murder Daisy in season two. This leads to a brilliantly written conversation between the two as Daisy tries to skirt around the whole issue and Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) acts as an unwanted mediator of sorts, but it still ends up with Jiaying dead – though not before she has a chance to make up for her future version’s horrible misdeeds by actively stepping in to save Daisy’s life when Nathaniel Malick attacks, using her own powers to weaken him long enough for Daisy to recuperate from her injuries. It would be an understatement to say that Jiaying’s death is a disappointment: she’s always been a complicated character, but a fascinating one as well, and her relationship with Daisy was just getting scarily good. I’m going to miss her – again.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Jiaying | checkersaga.com

The worst part is that Nathaniel Malick’s encounter with Daisy and Jiaying didn’t need to happen: Malick’s attack on The Lighthouse and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. wasn’t because he was after Daisy or the recently upgraded Inhuman speedster Yo-Yo (Natalia Cordova-Buckley), but because he was looking for Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge). Simmons has been holding back some pretty important secrets all season long, and it looks like she’ll finally be made to reveal where Leopold Fitz is. Then again, it was hinted at the beginning of the episode that Simmons has reason to believe that Fitz is dead already, so…I guess we’ll see what happens? No matter what, Malick isn’t going to let her go easily: to paraphrase his words, every possible scenario in which he loses involves Leopold Fitz being the one to defeat him.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
denofgeek.com

Also Deke Shaw (Jeff Ward) is a prisoner of Malick and young Garrett, even though neither Malick nor Garrett actually realizes that yet. Leave it to Deke to be so busy listening to classic tunes (he really is Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s Star-Lord) that he ends up unintentionally being kidnapped. I hope he musters enough courage to try and rescue Simmons on next week’s episode.

Speaking of where we go next from here…well, the Zephyr One and its time machine are now in the hands of Malick, which means I suspect we’ll continue to be trapped in the 1980’s alongside the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. throughout most of next week’s episode. At this point, I have doubts we’ll even catch up to the present day before the finale. This is a problem for me for several reasons, one of which is that I desperately wanted a tie-in to Avengers: Endgame, and another of which is that I’m not too crazy about Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s take on the 1980’s – it was fun for a moment there, but it’s simply less interesting than the other time periods to which they’ve traveled, and I’d rather we say goodbye to this era in favor of sometime a little more relevant to the S.H.I.E.L.D. team’s history.

Episode Rating: 7.5/10

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“The Umbrella Academy” Season 2 First Scene!

Can’t wait for Friday, and the release of the second season of Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy? Well, you’re a little bit in luck: because, as part of a string of tantalizing tidbits and content delivered over the course of the week leading up to the premiere, Netflix has dropped the first scene of the first episode onto the internet – it’s just three minutes long, no longer than an average trailer (for the sake of simplicity, I’ve decided to rate it as I would a trailer), but there’s plenty here to enjoy. We see a violent new alternate timeline and a 1960’s apocalypse, all seven members of the Umbrella Academy team working together, and the return of fan-favorite Hazel as an old man – and we hear Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” used as the opening song on what is sure to be just as brilliant and varied a soundtrack as season one’s.

The scene opens mere moments after Number Five teleported the entire Umbrella Academy backwards through time at the end of season one, in order to save them from the apocalypse caused by rogue Academy member Vanya Hargreeves, whose supersonic powers accidentally caused the destruction of both the moon and the earth. Now, even though Vanya appears to no longer be a massive threat, the apocalypse is still just as imminent a danger. This scene follows Five as he drops out of a portal and navigates through the war-torn streets of Dallas, Texas, quickly coming to the realization that his time travel shenanigans have created an alternate timeline where the Soviet Union invades the United States after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Umbrella Academy
ign.com

But even though that’s clearly a massive problem that needs to be addressed urgently, there’s still some good to come out of it. Five stumbles upon the other members of the dysfunctional Hargreeves family, fighting, for the first time, as a unit – each one utilizing their powers inventively and uniquely to try and prevent the Soviet incursion. The camera expertly spins from one family member to another at a brisk pace: first we see Vanya, who apparently can now levitate, using her supersonic abilities for good – literally tearing apart missiles. We move on to Klaus, who appears to be in complete control of his necromancy and is busy resurrecting dead soldiers. Luther, the team’s muscle, comes flying out of the sky like the Hulk and shields Klaus from a bazooka shot with his bare back. Meanwhile Ben, still a ghost but very clearly corporeal, is grabbing Soviet soldiers with his monstrous tentacles and strangling them. Down on the ground, Allison strides confidently through the battlefield in a stylish black cape: her powers of persuasion allow her to casually blow peoples’ brains out without ever having to fire a shot. And finally we watch as Diego and his throwing knives bring death from above, as the agile vigilante leaps from a crashed police car and twirls elegantly through midair.

It’s extraordinary, to put it lightly, and it feels exactly like what Five wanted to happen at the end of season one: a unified team of superpowered individuals fighting evil and saving the world. But unfortunately, it’s at this moment that Hazel, the reformed Commission assassin from season one, suddenly reappears, stepping out of a portal and asking Five to join him. Five, understandably, is both reluctant and confused, until Hazel points to the sky – and to the Soviet bombers about to fly overhead and drop their load of nukes on Dallas. Even though Five clearly has no idea what’s going on, he knows enough not to stay around in this alternate timeline: he takes Hazel’s hand, and the two disappear. It’s worth noting that Hazel is, for some reason, an old man now: did he live out an entire lifetime with his girlfriend Agnes in another timeline before returning to the past to avert the end? Everything is moving too quickly to say for sure!

Umbrella Academy
variety.com

And then, because this show enjoys hurting us, we get to watch as the other members of the Umbrella Academy are obliterated within seconds by a wave of nuclear fire that sweeps through Dallas before forming a lovely, umbrella-shaped tower of smoky cloud. They’re not really dead, of course: because, technically, none of this has happened yet. I assume the entire season will deal with Five trying to round up the Umbrella Academy team and unite them to prevent this grim scenario: whether he’ll have any success is up for debate. What’s not in question is that the end is coming, and for some reason it all revolves around President Kennedy’s death.

This is a fantastic entry to the second season: the story is already compelling, the action looks incredible (the special effects, especially, are cinematic), and the music choice is excellent. I can’t wait to see where the series goes from here, and how everything will come together, and I hope that the rest of the season is just as good as this scene.

Rating: 9.5/10

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“The Witcher” Is Getting A Prequel! Yes, Already!

Dust off your old suit of armor (I hope you still have yours, and it hasn’t been worn down by your muscles, like Henry Cavill’s), sharpen your ancient broadsword, and toss a coin to your Witcher, because it’s time to return to The Continent. Netflix has just announced today that, while they’ve been waiting for filming to resume on season two of The Witcher series, early work has begun on a prequel spinoff series, titled Blood Origin, which will explore the life and times of the very first Witcher, over a thousand years before Geralt of Rivia. You may think it’s a bit early for spinoffs (and particularly prequels) when the franchise is still so young, but technically this won’t be the first – an animated film was also announced several months ago, which will follow the Witcher Vesemir and be titled Nightmare Of The Wolf (who else is loving these ridiculously over-the-top names?).

The Witcher
imdb.com

Blood Origin will be six episodes long, a short amount of time to pack in so much worldbuilding and deep lore from the Witcher books. Thankfully, writers Lauren Hissrich and Declan de Barra will be joined by the author of the original Witcher books, Andrzej Sapkowski, who will serve as a creative consultant on the series. Together, they will tackle the story of how the Witchers came into being, and how humans and monsters first clashed during the aftermath of the Conjunction of the Spheres.

Let’s go over the basics real quick, because even I didn’t know much about this period of Witcher history before researching for this post. In Sapkowski’s universe, there are several dimensions, or Spheres – each inhabited by different types of people: the Continent, the world in which The Witcher takes place, was originally only home to Elves, Dwarves, and Gnomes. During the event known as the Conjunction of the Spheres, dimensions collided violently, scattering people across the universe and in worlds where they were afterwards trapped when the gateways between dimensions closed. The first humans, and a number of gruesome monsters, were left behind on the Continent – and with them came the magical force known as “chaos”, which Witcher fans will recognize as the power that fuels mages like Yennefer.

The Witcher
imdb.com

Blood Origin is supposed to take place a few hundred years after this event: monsters have overrun the Continent and are busy ripping people to shreds on a daily basis; the Elves are caught up in the middle of all the bloodshed; and the Mages, those few gifted individuals able to channel the power of chaos, are working on a solution to the problem – a solution which will manifest itself in the very first Witchers: a unique breed of superhuman killing machines designed to hunt monsters into extinction and liberate humankind. We don’t actually know the identity of the first person to survive the grueling process one has to undergo in order to become a Witcher, so the show will be working with a blank slate. In fact, we know startlingly little about this entire chapter in the chronology: the names of the two Mages who designed the Witchers, Cosimo Malaspina and Alzur, are some of the only details available from the books and video games.

The Witcher
digitalspy.com

But in the long run, that might be for the best. With so much uncharted territory to explore, there will be plenty of room to build new storylines and invent new characters – some of this material could then be brought over into the main series (yes, they’re separated by a thousand years, but it’s fantasy: immortality and indestructibility are always valid excuses), tying the two together, perhaps even allowing us to draw parallels between the first Witcher and one of the last. Either that, or it will just be a really interesting and expensive bit of backstory for the world, and I love some backstory. I also really enjoyed The Witcher, so I’m excited that there’s even more content on its way. We don’t have a release date for Blood Origin yet, but it’s probably going to hit Netflix sometime around late 2022 or early 2023.

So what do you think? Are you excited for Blood Origin? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

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“Raya And The Last Dragon” Promotional Art Reveals Title Character!

Despite the fact that it’s probably going to be an amazing movie based off the few details we know so far, Raya And The Last Dragon isn’t on the radar for most general audiences just yet. The upcoming animated feature film from Disney Animation was quietly announced last year and has since dropped off the face of the earth: no new casting, no first look images, no trailers or teasers – and no clear release date in site, since coronavirus is still keeping every film studio on their toes. Raya And The Last Dragon is tentatively set for March 12th, 2021, but that date could certainly change several more times.

While we wait, however, the internet has been blessed with a new piece of promotional art for the film which comes to us via a Panama-based shipping company promoting their services and collaborations with companies such as Disney: tucked away on their Instagram, one is able to discover the brand new artwork, which gives us our first clear look at Raya and a not-quite-as-clear look at the Last Dragon.

Raya And The Last Dragon
thedisinsider.com

The image doesn’t reveal much beyond that, but that hasn’t ever really stopped me from theorizing before. Raya And The Last Dragon takes place in an entirely fictional realm, rather than in any particular historical period, but it draws influences from the culture, folklore and mythology of Southeast Asia – as evidenced in this image by Raya’s clothing, the sinuous, almost serpentine dragon trailing across the sky – and, unfortunately, mostly hidden behind cloud cover – and the ruined stonework overgrown with strangler figs, a sight common in locations such as Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, an ancient temple complex reclaimed by the jungle. With that in mind, I’ve already begun exploring Southeast Asian mythology (much like how I took a deep dive into Scandinavian folklore before the release of Frozen II) and hunting for details that could show up in the film.

Raya And The Last Dragon
Angkor Wat | bbc.co.uk

One thing in particular interests me about the new poster: surrounding Raya (who, by the way, is perfectly dressed for a heroic quest to find a dragon, though I really would have appreciated a glimpse of her weapon: we can see the hilt, but not much beyond that) is a field of glowing blue flowers, and so far I haven’t come across anything like this in the legends and lore of the region. That being said, it’s hard not to see a resemblance between these flowers and the glowing blue will o’-the wisps that guided Princess Merida to her destiny in Pixar’s Brave, and so I wouldn’t be surprised if these flowers serve a similar purpose in Raya And The Last Dragon.

What do you think of the image? Are you excited for Raya? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

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“The Little Mermaid” May Have Found Its Vanessa!

In times of crisis, it can be comforting to know that not everything has been canceled or delayed indefinitely. The Little Mermaid live-action remake may not be sailing into port any time soon, but it is still coming to a theater near you, and today we’ve learned that a big name may have just joined the cast of the fishy fairytale. The brilliant folks over at The DisInsider broke the news that singer/songwriter Kacey Musgraves has been circling the role of Vanessa in The Little Mermaid, and that, while she’s not locked in just yet, she has spoken with Disney executives via Zoom call to discuss the subject.

The Little Mermaid
popsugar.com

Musgraves as Vanessa is an unexpected casting choice that is sure to provoke renewed interest in the film – but then again, so was Halle Bailey as Ariel and Melissa McCarthy as Ursula: and for a moment there, so was Harry Styles as Eric until he passed on the coveted role. Like Halle Bailey, she is better known for her career in music than in movies: she is a nine-time Grammy nominee, and six-time winner, and one of the most well-known female country singers working today. But she’s also a frequent collaborator with Disney – just last year, she performed All Is Found for the closing credits of Frozen II…the song is somewhat forgettable, and I don’t understand why she wasn’t chosen to sing something more powerful like Show Yourself, but don’t get me started on the ways in which that song was robbed. Anyway, she’s established a relationship with the studio, and that’s clearly paid off.

For those who have been living under a seashell for the past thirty years, Vanessa is the human disguise of shapeshifting sorceress Ursula in The Little Mermaid, who shows up for a couple of scenes near the end of the movie to try and steal Eric away from Ariel and prevent the mermaid from scoring a true love’s kiss. Vanessa uses Ariel’s stolen singing voice to easily win over the prince (I’ve always disliked Eric, despite the fact that this technically isn’t his fault), and the two hastily arrange a marriage on the prince’s ship – a marriage which is interrupted by Ariel and her animal sidekicks when they overhear Vanessa singing about her evil plan (when will Disney villains ever learn?). Physically, the character of Vanessa matches Kacey Musgraves pretty perfectly. But there is one problem which I hope is resolved.

The Little Mermaid
Prince Eric and Vanessa | littlemermaid.fandom.com

Vanessa barely ever sings. And while Kacey Musgraves is still a win either way, I can’t help but wonder why Disney would be focused on her for the part if they don’t plan to expand the role of Vanessa and give her more songs beyond the two she has in the original animated film (and when I say she has two, I really only mean she wails beautifully on the beach when seducing Eric and then has two or three lines where she’s maybe singing, maybe just talking melodically about her evil plan). But Howard Menken, who is doing the music for The Little Mermaid, has only written four new songs that we know about – and according to The DisInsider, these consist of a solo number for Eric (he doesn’t need one, but whatever), a duet for Eric and Ariel (have I mentioned I don’t like Eric?), a song for Scuttle the seagull (who will be voiced by Awkwafina, so I’m letting this otherwise ridiculous decision slide), and a solo number for…King Triton, of all people. It’s possible Menken will write additional songs as production gets underway, but for now this is what we know. No new solo numbers for Ariel or Ursula, nothing new for Sebastian, and nothing new for the character of Vanessa. So as of right now, unless Disney simply plans to fill out Vanessa’s Song (the evil plan song: it doesn’t even have a real title, it’s that short) with more lyrics, then I don’t see the reasoning behind Kacey Musgraves’ casting, though I am still excited for her.

What do you think of this new casting for The Little Mermaid? Do you hope to see Vanessa’s role expanded and/or new songs written for her? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

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“Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Season 7, Episode 9 Review!

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. AHEAD!

Last night’s episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. was an especially emotional one, as it marked the directorial debut of S.H.I.E.L.D. star Elizabeth Henstridge, who has played Dr. Jemma Simmons since the series’ very first season. But while it was the beginning of one joyous chapter for her career and a pivotal turning point in her character’s arc, it was also the end of another chapter of the show’s history, as we bade farewell to one of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s longtime fan favorites.

But on a happier note, let’s first discuss all the murders that took place!

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Daisy Johnson | flipboard.com

The episode begins (well, technically, it begins several times, but this is the first time chronologically) with our team of agents having just escaped from the 1980’s, only to land themselves in a time storm that threatens to drag the Zephyr One into a swirling vortex of oblivion. The story luckily revolves around Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet), who has been unfortunately sidelined throughout this season, as she has to try and survive through a series of time loops long enough to save the ship – and all her friends – from being wiped out of existence. But once Daisy begins to realize, after about a dozen or so time loops, that the key to getting out is somewhere in the mysterious memory implant embedded in Simmons’ neck, people start dying. These deaths are quickly reset with every successive time loop, but that doesn’t make it any less horrific to watch as first Simmons, then Daisy, then most of the other Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., are brutally killed off. The killer is soon revealed to be Enoch (Joel Stoffer), who was programmed by Simmons to prevent anyone from removing the memory implant – which contains, among other things, the exact whereabouts of Leopold Fitz, Simmons’ husband and the mastermind behind the entire time-travel apparatus. The problem is that Simmons has no idea she did this because, well, that information is also stored inside the almost inaccessible implant, and she also has no idea how to countermand the programming. Thus, most of the middle section of the episode revolves around the S.H.I.E.L.D. team trying, unsuccessfully, to distract Enoch while Simmons and Daisy attempt to remove the implant. In one of the time loops, where Deke Shaw (Jeff Ward) ends up being killed by the robot, we get this brilliant exchange from the survivors: “Do we have to be sad about that?”“We do not.”

Meanwhile, even with all the death and destruction going on, Daisy finds time for a romantic interlude. Her and the team’s newest recruit, Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj), locked lips somewhat spontaneously after Sousa admitted that some of his favorite people – Peggy Carter shoutout! – are people like Daisy. I have so many problems with the fact that Daisy is suddenly in another romantic relationship this season. We’ve been blissfully spared any such entanglements for the past few seasons, much to the benefit of Daisy’s character and the quality of the show overall. It’s not that I have a problem with romances but…well, I just have a problem with her romances. Why is it that every one she’s ever had, from her weird hacker boyfriend in season one to the cynical, scruffy Lincoln in seasons two to three, to whatever this thing is with Sousa, always feels like a rejected subplot from one of the lower quality CW shows? I had almost begun to hope that the showrunners themselves had figured this out as well, and had decided to steer clear of any more angsty romantic storylines for Daisy. Clearly, I was wrong, and now I’m prepared to be predictably disappointed when this relationship spirals down the drain in a couple of episodes. The internet is still working on a “ship name” for the couple: I’m sorry, but if I’m going to be stuck with this for the rest of the season, I’m at least demanding something catchier than “Daisysousa”.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Daniel Sousa | medium.com

Now that we’ve discussed the metaphorical death of my hopes for a single Daisy Johnson (or better yet, a bisexual Daisy Johnson who finds a loving and supportive girlfriend: even Chloe Bennet herself was open to the idea!), let’s talk about the real, physical death of Enoch.

It’s not entirely surprising that, as we near the end of the season and the series, we’re going to start seeing characters die – especially in a series like Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., which has always found clever and exciting ways to incorporate themes of death and deathlessness into its writing. No matter how many people will criticize the series for constantly resurrecting its dead heroes, I will maintain that S.H.I.E.L.D. has always done so with the utmost care and attention to detail. Characters don’t just pop back up for no reason – the show always takes time to explain the feelings of horror, loneliness, guilt and anger that come with being resurrected: just ask Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), who’s now been brought back from his peaceful afterlife far more times than he would have liked, or Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), who had a near-death experience last season and came back as an emotionless shell of a human being who is still recovering from her trauma. But when the series really kills a character, they don’t fool around: and Enoch, I think, is absolutely and permanently dead.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Enoch | denofgeek.com

Enoch, the eternally befuddled and unintentionally hilarious Chronicom who has been a constant companion of the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. for the past two seasons, was written off the show last night with a heartwrenching (literally) death scene that involved a heroic self-sacrifice and more tears than one would think possible for a mostly stoic cyborg alien. Once the memory implant was finally removed from Simmons’ body, it revealed that the mechanism which powers Enoch’s entire system could save the Zephyr One – but removing it from Enoch would kill him. Fortunately for the fate of the universe and unfortunately for Enoch and our supply of Kleenex, the robot had no objections to handing over his heart. As he died, Daisy and Phil Coulson were both by his side: and Coulson, who has too much experience with this sort of thing, reminded him that death is lonelier for the people one leaves behind than for the person leaving. Don’t mind my sobs of pain and anguish.

Despite the emotions over losing Enoch, the tone of the episode’s last couple of minutes was dark and ominous rather than bittersweet. Just before his death, the cyborg dropped a major bombshell: this mission will be the S.H.I.E.L.D. team’s last. That means no matter what happens, we now know something will happen in the next few episodes that will divide the team permanently. A death? A betrayal? A crisis? In this episode, we also saw Jemma Simmons briefly remember Fitz’s location (at least, I assume that’s why she started screaming and crying uncontrollably?) once her memory implant was removed before a time loop reset everything again: will she possibly retain that information? And even if she doesn’t, how long will it be before someone gets their hands on her and that crucial info? Keep in mind that the reason Simmons is so adamant on keeping that secret is because Fitz is apparently somewhere so vulnerable, the Chronicoms will be able to kill him immediately if they find out where he is. Additionally, the episode stinger revealed that rogue Inhuman Kora (Dianne Doan) is busily increasing her own powers, getting ready for her showdown with Daisy Johnson.

The stakes have never been higher.

Episode Rating: 9/10

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“Cursed” Review! Arthurian Legend Gets The Netflix Treatment.

Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords may be no basis for a system of government, but it is a pretty decent hook for a Netflix series. Cursed, the streaming service’s epic new Lady Of The Lake retelling, definitely mangles the Arthurian source material (and takes an extremely long time to get to the whole Lady Of The Lake bit), and even as a standalone it suffers from a number of problems, but it still tells a crafty little story about wizards, witches and Vikings (you heard me correctly), all wrapped up in the standard Netflix package.

Cursed
ign.com

That standard package can sometimes be very standard (characters falling hopelessly in love with each other after approximately fifteen seconds! How original!), but the show does go through several highs and lows in terms of quality – with some of its highs being extraordinary (the entire climax to episode four) and some of its lows being abysmal (pretty much every attempt at heterosexual romance). The series takes a little while to get going: the first two episodes, unfortunately, are the weakest, as we follow our reluctant protagonist Nimue (Katherine Langford) on the first steps of her journey, but episode three is good and episode four is great. After that, the quality takes another dip, but the series regains its footing in time for the finale.

Our heroine Nimue begins her epic quest as a Fae villager living comfortably far away from the merciless brutality of the Catholic Church’s servants, the Red Paladins, whose mission it is to wipe out magic across England (it’s best to just accept that they live in England, despite the wonky geography and the constant references to a nearby “desert kingdom”). Nimue is soon entrusted with a powerful sword which grants her increased power, strength, and, as time goes on, an unceasing blood-lust. Langford’s performance as the cursed young woman is a strong one, though she clearly falters in romantic scenes when partnered with her love interest, the handsome young Arthur (Devon Terrell). That’s entirely fair – the romance is boring and conventional, and the dialogue meant to build chemistry and passion is unoriginal. Langford’s greatest strength is when she’s in the thick of battle, wielding Excalibur (sorry, the Sword Of Power) alongside her Fae magic.

Cursed
Merlin | inverse.com

But the thing that makes Nimue’s arc most interesting is that she’s not technically supposed to be wielding the sword. In fact, the words “Take this to Merlin” echo through her head over and over again. The Merlin in question is none other than Merlin the Magician (Gustaf Skårsgard), the legendary sorcerer of Arthurian legend who is deeply entangled in all the myths surrounding the English king’s rise to power. Here, he is even more intimately entwined in Nimue’s story. Skårsgard does a good enough job conveying the ancient wizard’s inner turmoil and pain, but he brings significantly less fun to the role – and the character of Merlin, who in this version stumbles around drunk half the time and uses his wits to escape any number of situations, needs that quirky dash of humor. The lack of it is surprising, and makes Merlin far less engaging than he might have been.

The supporting cast surrounding these three main characters is vast and filled with highlights – Morgana (Shalom Brune-Franklin), a sorceress in the making, treads a fine line between good and evil while various demonic entities try to make her their pawn; Pim (Lily Newmark), is a cheery, wide-eyed Fae who makes the impulsive decision to join a pack of Vikings; Sister Iris (Emily Coates), a frighteningly intense young nun, is set up to be this show’s answer to Game Of Thrones‘ Arya Stark – only Iris is more like a mix between Little Red Riding Hood and The Terminator. And Peter Mullan fully transforms into the series’ villain, Father Carden, the friendly, smiling leader of the Red Paladins’ genocidal crusade. Carden’s Paladins make perfectly decent villains: but while they have no problems burning or crucifying innocents and pillaging the defenseless, they aren’t a well organized military force and thus their battles are often on the weak side. But that’s where the Vikings come in.

Cursed
Father Carden | thehollywoodnews.com

The Vikings are everywhere in this series. All the time we spend on the longships of The Red Spear (Bella Dayne) with Pim might seem pointless at first (though I stopped feeling that way once we were treated to a hilarious montage of Pim, who was enlisted as the crew’s healer, trying desperately to keep up with the raiders’ never ending brutal injuries), but it is integral to the events of the finale, which sees multiple Viking clans clash in epic warfare: and, based on the secret identity of one specific Viking character, it will prove to be integral to the events of future seasons of Cursed, if there are any. All that being said, it’s hard to stop from laughing when King Cumber (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson) arrives about halfway through the season with a ridiculously mangy platinum blond wig that appears to have been loosely glued to the top of his head. If you thought Henry Cavill’s wig in The Witcher was bad, then you’re going to be horrified by Cursed, which has plenty such awkward hairpieces.

Besides occasionally looking awful, the hair, costumes and makeup utilized on this show don’t even try for any semblance of historical accuracy. For instance, the court of the distasteful Uther Pendragon (Sebastian Armesto) is a complete mix-and-match of styles, ranging from late Medieval to Victorian, with some background characters appearing to have stepped out of the 16th or 17th Centuries. I was tempted to say that Cursed is reminiscent of an Assassin’s Creed interpretation of history, but I actually think the video game series does a far better job of achieving authenticity – though the Trinity Guard, an elite sect of gold-masked Catholic warriors wielding maces and whips under the command of a solemn, vaguely reptilian abbot, feels like it would be very much at home in the game. As does The Weeping Monk (Daniel Sharman), a nimble assassin and another of the series’ roster of antagonists – but his journey takes some very interesting twists and could be relevant to the LGBTQ+ community in ways which I don’t wish to spoil here.

Cursed
Lady Lunete | wehaveahulk.co.uk

Cursed is well worth the long ride (and it’s a long ride indeed) for its strong lead performance, the beautiful aesthetic – insert shoutout to those absolutely lovely animated scene transitions here – the surprisingly good cinematography, and the political intrigue: one of my favorite fantasy tropes, very well executed here, with a particular emphasis on how powerful women often had to work their influence from behind the throne. Two wildly different women – the quiet, calculating Lady Lunete (Polly Walker) and the sadistic berserker Eydis (Sofia Oxenham) – both have to operate in this fashion.

The diversity is another good reason to settle in for the ten-episode ride: though some audiences will inevitably become enraged by the mere presence of people of color – and women of color, especially – in 4th or 5th Century England, I think that’s a stupid complaint because people of color have been living in England since Roman times, well before Arthur’s reign. If anything, that’s one of the few things that Cursed actually gets right when it comes to historical accuracy. Maybe instead of getting offended by black people and LGBTQ+ characters, you should direct your attention toward the swarms of Vikings coming down from Norway about two hundred years early? Just a thought.

If you’re at all interested in fantasy, you’re at least going to have a fun time with Cursed. It’s shamelessly entertaining when it wants to be (i.e. when it doesn’t get bogged down in love triangle tropes), and there’s nothing wrong with just watching something because it’s fun, and has some thrills and scares and big cliffhangers. If you’re hoping it’s the next Witcher, I’d encourage you to lower your expectations just a little bit – just a little bit, mind you. It’s not so far behind its more high-profile Netflix competitor in terms of quality that it could never catch up in future seasons (and I’m going to hazard a guess based on the finale that future seasons are planned because otherwise I’m suing Netflix), but it still needs to find its own voice amongst the crowd.

Series Rating: 6.5/10

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“Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Season 7, Episode 8 Review!

SPOILERS FOR AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. AHEAD!

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is creeping ever closer to its finale, putting the pressure on these next few episodes to start laying the groundwork for a climactic final battle of some sort, the resolutions to a dozen or so characters’ story arcs, and satisfying and conclusive answers to all the questions we still have about time travel, Chronicoms, and now – because apparently this final season wasn’t already getting dangerously overcrowded enough – Inhumans.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
laughingplace.com

To be clear, I like Inhumans a lot. Since their introduction in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s second season, they’ve been a constant presence in the show: the series’ protagonist, Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) herself is one, and in the third season we added another, Elena “Yo Yo” Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley), to the team. But both characters have moved somewhat to the sidelines over the last season, and as a result we rarely even hear the word “Inhuman” tossed around anymore – which may also have something to do with the poor reception to the Inhumans spinoff show. This week, that’s changed: the team has to make a quick detour in Afterlife, the Inhuman hub of activity deep within the Himalaya Mountains, and encounters several new superpowered characters as well as younger versions of ones we already know and love (or hate: mostly hate). In any other season, I would probably have welcomed this subplot, which gives us a chance to revisit one of the series’ best stories: but in this season, I think the showrunners and writers might be biting off a bit more than they can chew. The Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. already have to deal with the Chronicoms, Sibyl the Predictor, Nathaniel Malick (Thomas E. Sullivan), HYDRA, and the consequences of their time-traveling antics – now, we’ve suddenly added an entirely new Inhuman threat to their long list of antagonists (oh, and apparently Daisy has an evil sibling from another timeline, which is…a twist, I guess).

The reason for our return to Afterlife revolves around the character of Yo Yo, who has been struggling for a while now to regain her own Inhuman powers – which mysteriously vanished soon after she was infected by the Shrike parasite last season. This week, her ability to run super fast and “bounce back” to the place she started from finally has a chance to come in handy: the time machine that the Agents have been using to navigate the Marvel universe is malfunctioning, and moving too quickly for anyone to get near it and shut it down. On a good day, this would have been an easy job for Yo Yo – but this time around, it requires her and Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) to leave the relative safety of the Zephyr One and head off to Afterlife, following the advice of Daisy: who, to be fair, is technically correct that the Inhumans there will know how to help, but also overlooks the many things that could go very wrong if they disrupt the timeline – specifically, the possibility that she could cease to exist if something happens to her Inhuman mother, Jiaying (Dichen Lachman), the leader and protector of Afterlife’s citizens.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Jiaying & Daisy Season 2 | marvelcinematicuniverse.fandom.com

There are many good things that come about as a result of this detour: we get to see a (slightly) more lovable Jiaying, who in this timeline hasn’t yet been ripped to pieces and stitched back together by Nazi doctors; we’re introduced to a knife-wielding warrior named Li who is briefly yet brilliantly portrayed by Byron Mann; and best of all, we are privy to some of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s best comedic banter as Jiaying instructs May – notorious for her grim, cynical attitude – to lead Yo Yo on an emotional journey with the power of incense, meditation and physical contact. I love when this show gets funny: and watching May and Yo Yo try to figure out their own method of physical contact that doesn’t involve any actual physical contact (“Do I have to be this close to her face?,” May wonders aloud at one point) is both hilarious and strangely heartwarming. It feels very much like an episode straight out of a past (and perhaps better) season, with a multitude of clever details in the writing that hark back to when this show was some of the best television on the air – for instance, when Yo Yo has to hold a Diviner to prove she’s an Inhuman, but realizes she can’t use her prosthetic hand to do so; or when May and Yo Yo sort out their aforementioned embarrassing predicament with good old-fashioned hand-to-hand combat. This is a very good episode, so it’s a shame it’s trying to do so much with so little time.

The big twist is that rogue HYDRA agent Nathaniel Malick has discovered Afterlife, and plans to capture Inhumans and basically torture their powers out of them and into himself. Malick invades Afterlife in a disappointingly low-budget raid with the help of Kora (Dianne Doan), a rebellious and underappreciated pupil of Jiaying’s who is also, apparently, the daughter of the Inhuman leader – which makes her Daisy Johnson’s sister. I didn’t know that Daisy needed a long-lost sister this late in the game, but apparently she’s getting one whether she wants one or not. Malick runs into Kora and stops her before she can commit suicide (in a very cunning touch, he uses the little bit of Daisy’s powers that he stole to remotely disassemble Kora’s gun): Malick manipulates the young woman’s fragile emotions and quickly recruits her to his cause – her, and her impressive powerset, which allows her to create weird glowing golden spirals out of thin air. It’s set up fairly well (when we first meet Kora, she’s already trying to escape from Afterlife), but it still feels a bit too rushed, especially since we don’t really have any attachment to Kora before her turn to the dark side and now we’ll probably only get to see her as Daisy’s evil sister, whom I’m sure will have to confront her sibling in an epic duel, etc., etc. You know how it goes.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
May & Yo Yo | cinemablend.com

As for Yo Yo…well, there’s a lot going on with her. Turns out, she’s been holding herself back all this time – and I mean all this time. Since she was first introduced, her power has always been to “bounce back” – I mean, it’s literally where she got her quirky nickname. But as she discovers during her emotional journey with May, she’s never actually needed to bounce back. This is something I feel deeply conflicted about: the fact that she can now just run super fast without limitations is very exciting, but it does make her seem a little too much like every other speedster superhero we’ve seen before. Another crucial element of her character, her metal arms, was also conveniently hidden away earlier this season when she got a new, upgraded pair of lifelike prosthetics that make it easy to forget how life-changing the loss of her arms was for her, and how she became such an icon for people with disabilities who were inspired by Yo Yo’s ability to bounce back after trauma and loss – the very same ability she’s now given up. Yo Yo is clearly supposed to be going through a transformation, but she’s not becoming any more interesting or unique with each of these changes. I still love her, and I can’t wait to see what the next step of her journey will be, but I’m more worried than ever that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is forgetting part of what makes this character so beloved in the fandom.

What makes it worse is that, when all is said and done and Afterlife has been vanquished by Malick’s forces and Jiaying is in hiding and the timeline has been completely and utterly disrupted, Yo Yo’s new powers still don’t help to save the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. from being sucked into some sort of new catastrophe – a time storm that, by the looks of the trailer for next week’s episode, threatens to put the agents on an endless loop. The good news? Next week’s episode also looks like it will be Daisy-centric, finally reconnecting us with the series’ protagonist after what feels like an infuriatingly long time in the background.

Episode Rating: 8/10

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“Chicken Run 2” Will Recast Ginger, And I’m Not Happy.

Ageism (particularly aimed at women) is, has always been, and will continue to be a huge problem in Hollywood – but I have to admit, I’m shocked that a studio as universally beloved as Aardman Animations would ever entertain the notion of recasting one of their most iconic characters simply because the original voice actress is “too old” for the role. That’s right: Julia Sawalha, the voice of Chicken Run‘s lovable protagonist Ginger, will not be returning for the film’s sequel, but will be recast with a younger actress whom Aardman hopes will be more recognizable to modern moviegoers.

Chicken Run
deadline.com

This is massively disappointing news for several reasons. For one thing, I was very excited to see what a Chicken Run sequel would be like – it’s been twenty years since the original animated film about chickens trying to escape from homicidal pie-makers opened in theaters, and the thought of seeing a continuation to that story had me over the moon, especially when it was announced that Aardman would be teaming up with Netflix to make sure the sequel got a mainstream release. There was never any doubt in my mind that one of the original film’s lead voice actors, Mel Gibson, would be recast for the sequel because he’s been wallowing in controversy for years (even as recent as last month, Winona Ryder accused him of making both blatantly anti-Semitic and homophobic comments in her presence), and indeed, Sawalha noted that he is not being asked to return either: but what did Julia Sawalha ever do that would cause her to be recast? Well, she aged, and – oh wait, that’s it?

Sawalha is 51, still younger than a number of male actors who are always getting asked to return for franchise reboots and remakes. And as she proved unequivocally in a side-by-side comparison video she provided to Chicken Run 2 producers (since she wasn’t even allowed to go through a proper voice test before Aardman made the decision to cut her from the film), her voice hasn’t changed substantially in the past twenty years: there are several points in the video where it’s impossible to distinguish between thirty-one year old Sawalha and fifty-one year old Sawalha. And need I remind Aardman that this is a sequel they’re making? As in, a movie which takes place after the events of the first film?

But logic isn’t going to win a fight against something as insidious as ageism. I discussed this just a few days ago in my review of 1982’s Tron, where I talked about how the film’s male leads were allowed to return for the 2010 sequel – but female lead Cindy Morgan never even got so much as a phone-call from Disney. Unfortunately, this is a problem that comes up time and time again. There’s always an excuse – in Sawalha’s case, it’s because Aardman wants the film to appeal to a younger crowd, and is looking for an actress with more name recognition: though I’m sure they’ll have a hard time finding anyone who wants to touch this role with a ten-foot pole, considering the circumstances under which it’s been vacated – but it’s time we stopped allowing these excuses to fly. Julia Sawalha is Ginger. She shouldn’t be recast when there’s absolutely no reason to do so.

Chicken Run
empireonline.com

I’m very disappointed with Aardman Animations. I’m suddenly very uninterested in the notion of a Chicken Run 2. I’m extremely sorry for Sawalha, who helped to create the character of Ginger and now will get no say in the next chapter of her story. And, above all, I’m upset that Hollywood continues to deny work opportunities to actors (but let’s not fool ourselves, this mostly happens to actresses) once they hit a certain age. At this point, the best we can do is petition Aardman to change their minds – and the internet has already rallied loudly and passionately around Sawalha, so it’s not impossible: though I doubt Sawalha herself would feel comfortable working on the film.

What do you think about this casting controversy, and do you still plan on watching Chicken Run 2 even without Julia Sawalha? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments.

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“The Old Guard” Review!

I think I should inform you upfront that Netflix’s The Old Guard was always going to be my cup of tea, no matter what. Five immortal warriors from various historical time periods come together to fight the powers-that-be? That has me written all over it. So forgive me if I’m a little bit biased, but yes – The Old Guard is just as good as I had hoped it would be. It doesn’t necessarily exceed my expectations (and in certain places, it did let me down a little), but there’s no doubt in my mind that this will be a movie I rewatch time and time again while I wait for the sequel that director Gina Prince-Bythewood clearly wants to make, based on this film’s very unsubtle ending.

The Old Guard
ew.com

The Old Guard was marketed as a nonstop action movie, and that’s definitely not untrue – but I think what was left out of the trailers and promotional material for this film is the extent to which this is actually a drama. If you’re going into this expecting something comparable to Netflix’s Extraction, with brutal fight scenes filling every available moment of runtime, then you’re going to be sorely disappointed. And while that might sound strange, considering this film’s entire concept, it actually pays off in the end: The Old Guard delivers on action when it needs to, but it still tells a complex and thoughtful character-driven story about people trying to find meaning and purpose in their overextended existence. We’ll see if that tactic pays off with audiences, but I truly hope it does because did I mention this film sets up a sequel?

If audiences are looking for the next Extraction, however…well, the action scenes in The Old Guard do leave something to be desired. The characters’ fighting styles lack any noticeable sense of finesse or historicity – though they each come equipped with their own weapon of choice from their respective centuries, they’re more often than not just carrying guns, which does feel a bit underwhelming: especially considering how much the huge, double-bladed battleaxe that Charlize Theron’s Andy (short for Andromache the Scythian) wields was played up in the trailers and posters. And though the action scenes get better as the film goes along, there are several that feel relatively middle-of-the-road: not bad, but not cleverly choreographed or visually interesting enough to capture attention. Apart from the climactic third act battle, the strongest fight is one in a drug-smuggler’s plane where Andy and her new recruit, U.S. Marine Nile Freeman (Kiki Layne) wrestle in a battle that requires their wits just as much as, if not more than, their physical strength. Is The Old Guard perhaps too clever for its own good occasionally? Perhaps.

The Old Guard
vanityfair.com

That being said, each of the five members of the team does possess healing capabilities that allow them to walk away from any injury, no matter how fatal, without harm – and that is something which is incorporated very well into the film’s writing. It can sometimes rob the tension from action scenes, but it drives the entire plot: it’s the reason why the team has survived as long as they have; it’s the reason why they’re on the run (because pharmaceutical corporations want to capture them and harvest their powers); and it’s, ironically, the reason why they can never be free from pain – unable to die, they have been forced to watch as humanity continues its self-destructive cycle of violence, as their families, loved ones and descendants grow old and perish around them. One of the team members, Napoleonic War veteran Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), tells a heartbreaking account of how his youngest son, dying of cancer, became consumed with jealousy of his immortal father. I’ve seen the concept of immortality tackled countless times in film and TV, but never as well as it is here.

But the film would never have succeeded at selling its hard-to-swallow subject matter without the efforts of its flawless cast. Charlize Theron, unsurprisingly, brings her all to the lead role of Andy, who has lived for so long she’s almost forgotten where and when she came from – but it’s not hard to figure out that she was once one of ancient Greece’s most fearsome war heroines. Kiki Layne, who comes into her own later in the film, shows the makings of a true action hero – and she just happened to do so at the best possible time, considering that the internet is currently fiercely debating who should play Storm in Marvel’s upcoming reboot of the X-Men franchise. Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli play opponents in the Crusades who, after having had to kill each other many times, ended up falling in love – not only did I greatly appreciate the genuine and meaningful LGBTQ+ representation (they actually kiss and show affection for each other!), but I was pleased to discover that Kenzari isn’t anywhere near as bland an actor as his role in Aladdin seemed to suggest. Chiwetel Ejiofor has a smaller role in the film as the team’s constant stalker, CIA agent Copley: who is very clever and very dangerous…but also very offscreen for most of the time.

The Old Guard
dailynews.com

Time is something our immortal protagonists have in plenty, but the film itself doesn’t have quite enough, in my opinion. The Old Guard is just a little over two hours long, but those hours seem to fly by at an alarming rate, and it sometimes feel like we reach certain story beats too early. But while I would criticize that aspect of the movie, I also have to admire that it made me want even more. I’ve mentioned the sequel bait twice already, but third time’s the charm, am I right? Don’t worry, no spoilers here – but let’s just say, there’s a lot of potential for this franchise going forward, if Netflix chooses to go forward.

Will they? Hard to say, what with coronavirus still turning the world upside-down every few minutes and forcing studios to prioritize like never before. But there’s definitely no reason not to, unless the film massively underwhelms audiences – but as someone who doesn’t want to see Extraction ripoffs from now until the end of time, I appreciated this more clever, introspective type of thriller, and I wouldn’t object to another one.

Movie Rating: 8.9/10

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