“The Clone Wars”: Season 7, Episode 1 Review!

The long-running (and long-canceled) hit TV series The Clone Wars returns for its final season on Disney+ with a solid, if a bit wooden, pilot episode that gets the focus back on the Clones themselves. While the entire “Bad Batch” story arc that will kick off this season was written several years ago, this is the first time we’ve seen it played out onscreen: we’ll need to wait to see how it plays out before passing judgement, but for the moment we can assume that the clues and hints being dropped will lead to some pretty interesting interactions between our core cast of characters in the very near future.

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In the pilot, the Grand Army of the Republic, led by Jedi commanders Mace Windu and Anakin Skywalker (voiced by Matt Lanter) find themselves fighting Separatist droids using their own strategies against them. Captain Rex (who, like all Clones, is voiced by Dee Bradley Baker), enlists the help of Clone Unit 99, known simply as the Bad Batch, after whom the pilot is titled, to sneak behind the enemy’s front lines and get to the truth. The Bad Batch’s tactics are unconventional, to say the least, as one would expect from a team comprised of “defective clones with desirable mutations”.

The few action sequences with the Bad Batch are simply okay, however. Since the Batch’s strength comes from their individuality, I would have liked to have seen each of the characters’ skills exploited in clever ways: but only Crosshair, the team’s ultra-precise sniper, gets anything resembling a cool hero moment. Wrecker, the strongman, should have had one when he carries a wounded soldier out of the wreckage of an explosion he caused (one which he prefaces with the word “Boom”, delivered appropriately deadpan), but the shot is strangely framed as a close-up of Wrecker’s face, preventing you from getting the full effect.

Most of my complaints about the episode stem from the editing, which I felt was lacking. Despite ostensibly being the most violent Clones to date, the episode is cautious when it comes to actually depicting that violence: in one scene that I feel I’m probably nitpicking way too much, a transport ship is shot down by enemy fire and crashes – but where was the customary reaction shot of the pilot letting loose one final Wilhelm scream? Such a shot would surely have been shown in earlier seasons, and the whole scene feels oddly incomplete without it. Considering that The Clone Wars has never shied away from showing characters get shot, eaten by alien monsters, cut down by lightsabers, or sucked into the vacuum of space, and had built a reputation (before its cancellation for exactly this reason) of telling mature stories with a kid-friendly twist, this feels like a very different approach to storytelling, and one with which I’m not comfortable yet. Then again, we’re only a single episode in and we haven’t reached what are sure to be some of the entire series’ darkest moments.

Overall, the episode is less focused on the action than it is on the mystery, which it sets up very effectively. If you haven’t seen the episode yet, and are concerned about the SPOILERS AHEAD, then read no further.

Rex’s suspicions about the Separatists are confirmed when he and the Bad Batch break into a cyber station and decode secret communications with a human on the planet Skako Minor, who has been feeding the Separatists top-secret battle strategies. Rex is quickly able to determine that this human is none other than his long-lost teammate Echo, who was believed to have died in the battle of Lola Sayu. The operation to rescue him from the clutches of the Separatists, and specifically the repulsive Admiral Trench (also voiced by Dee Bradley Baker), will be the focus of the next few episodes – after that, we’re all in the dark as to what comes next, and how The Clone Wars, after six incredible seasons, will wrap up this final chapter of the story.

What did you think of the episode, and what are you excited to see next? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Episode Rating: 5.9/10

“The Falcon And The Winter Soldier” Can – And Should – Rewrite MCU History!

Since the day it was first announced, we’ve known (or at least strongly suspected) that the upcoming Disney+ miniseries The Falcon And The Winter Soldier will tackle some very controversial topics, that are likely to rile up certain viewers: the series will follow Sam Wilson, a black man, as he goes up against a white southern conservative “hometown hero” in a battle for the metaphorical mantle of Captain America. That alone is going to be enough to send social media into a frenzy when the show premieres this August. But a new rumor hints that Wilson might not want the mantle anyway (at least not initially) – and the reason why will rock the MCU to its foundations.

This rumor, tied into the recent casting of Supergirl actor Carl Lumbly in a key role, indicates that a dark and troubling secret about Captain America’s origins will be unearthed in the six-part series, and that this secret could deeply affect Sam Wilson. Imagine, for a moment, that the super soldier serum that turned Steve Rogers, a scrawny white kid from Brooklyn, into the massive, muscular guardian of American values, had been used on other men during the same time period, but with very different results. Imagine if these men had been injured, both physically and mentally, by the strenuous tests and experiments they went through, some to the point of death or suicide, and had received no compensation – much less recognition – for their sacrifices. Imagine if these men, who would of course be covered up by the government and kept secret for decades, were black.

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In the comics, this is exactly what happens to men like Isaiah Bradley,  who gave up their lives and livelihoods to become unknowing test subjects for the dangerous super soldier serum.  1940’s America being 1940’s America, these tests were carried out on people of color. Bradley’s character is based off the men who barely survived the unethical Tuskegee syphilis experiment, after being exposed to a then-untreatable virus and withheld medical aid for years. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Bradley can become the representative of these men, and their families and loved ones – at least metaphorically. He will also expose the horrific truth behind the creation of America’s most glorified hero.

In the comics, the experiments on Bradley and other African-American men were initiated after Steve Rogers’ creation, meaning that despite having nearly identical powers, Bradley is still considered the “Black Captain America” on the page. In the MCU, it’s unclear whether Marvel will go with that version of the story, or instead rewrite history still further and reveal that Bradley’s transformation happened before Rogers’, making Bradley Captain America, period. Either way, unless Bradley’s story occurs in flashbacks, it’s likely that the side effects of the serum will explain how he survives into the present day. We have no idea yet whether Bradley, as in the comics, will be left paralyzed and brain-damaged by the serum.

Additionally, the introduction of Isaiah Bradley will open the door to another important Marvel character: Bradley’s grandson, Elijah, who possesses powers very similar to the two Captain Americas, and is the only member of the Young Avengers team still unaccounted for in the MCU.

The uncovering of all these secrets is certain to cause ripples – not only does it force us, the audience, to retrospectively re-evaluate all of Steve’s accomplishments, but it forces Sam Wilson to rethink what he wants to do with the Captain America legacy: in particular, the star-spangled shield that will likely pass through several different hands over the duration of the show. Either he can give it up willingly, in light of the new revelations, or he can fight to reinvent the symbol and what it stands for.

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What would you do, in Sam’s place, and what do you think he will do, assuming this rumor turns out to be true? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

The Ten Most Romantic Couples In The MCU: Ranked!

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has (in)famously had a hard time establishing romantic relationships between its characters: even the few love stories that have helped to define the overarching story have sometimes gone through ups and downs, or simply collided headfirst with a brick wall and died (looking at you, Thor & Jane). And yet they keep trying to master the same old boy-meets-girl (or Norse-god-meets-girl, or boy-meets-alien, or computer-program-meets-girl) formula. That’s why, in celebration of Valentine’s Day, I’ve set myself a challenge: trying to find the ten most romantic, endearing, adorable couples in the MCU and ranking them.

Disclaimer: “ships” or non-canon pairings aren’t being considered on this list because that would be cheating – most MCU “ships” are at least ten times better than the majority of actual onscreen pairings. It’s simply not fair to compare.

10: Thor & Jane Foster.

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These two had something that looked like potential – I mean, if you squinted really hard. From the moment that Thor, the Norse God of Thunder and rightful heir to the throne of Asgard, crash-landed in the American Southwest, upsetting one of Jane Foster’s pseudo-scientific experiments, Marvel tried to convince audiences that a grand and glorious epic love-story for the ages was brewing – but all the magic (or “what your ancestors call magic”) words in the Marvel mythos couldn’t force Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman to look more than remotely disinterested in each other. And after Thor: The Dark World failed to turn up the heat, or really do anything at all, Portman had finally had enough: she quit the MCU, and Jane Foster was subsequently written out of the story. In Thor: Ragnarok, it was briefly mentioned that she broke up with the Thunder God offscreen – an uncomfortably awkward conclusion to what was supposed to be a cornerstone of Thor’s entire arc.

9: Stephen Strange & Christine Palmer.

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I’m actually tempted to move this couple ever so slightly further up the list, because while they’re not exactly memorable, they’re also probably not as bad and/or boring as you remembered. Dr. Stephen Strange, a snobbish, arrogant surgeon, wasn’t just the on-and-off boyfriend of Dr. Christine Palmer – he was also her work-partner, and it was mentioned (though never really elaborated on) that the two had even pioneered an important new surgical technique, making the couple basically equal. And after Strange’s run-in with karma, it was Palmer who tried to help him recover his strength and rebuild his life: their heated argument about Strange’s future is the most powerful scene in the Doctor Strange movie, and carries a lot of emotional weight. Unfortunately, Rachel McAdams’ character basically fades into the background after that, and apart from being privy to a battle on the astral plane and trying (unsuccessfully) to save the Ancient One’s life, she really has nothing more to do in the story. And she’s not returning for the sequel, so I guess that’s the end of that.

8: Peter Quill & Gamora.

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I don’t really like either Peter Quill (a.k.a. Star-Lord, an interstellar pirate armed with braggadocio, semi-Celestial powers that have proved to be entirely inconsequential outside of his own movies, and an impressive playlist of golden oldies), or Gamora (a.k.a. The Most Dangerous Woman In The Galaxy, who never actually lived up to that title before her untimely death at the hands of male screenwriters who didn’t know what else to do with her her own father, Thanos): nonetheless, I have to admit they had a spark of chemistry in both Guardians Of The Galaxy movies – and their interactions in Avengers: Infinity War, during which Gamora nearly convinced Quill to kill her (long story), are pretty emotional. There was something there! It wasn’t much, maybe, but it also wasn’t not there – much to the dismay of Thor & Peter Quill shippers everywhere. But in the end, Quill failed (because doesn’t he always?), Gamora got tossed off a cliff, and here we are with nothing left of their relationship but a sad trail of bubbles.

7: Natasha Romanoff & Bruce Banner.

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I like Avengers: Age Of Ultron. I know it’s unpopular to say this, but it’s honestly the best Avengers movie – not only because it references the events of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., but also because it successfully balances almost all of the main characters while still being able to add a couple new ones to the mix. There’s a cohesive plot, the stakes are raised, and the Avengers get to interact with each other on a more personal, intimate level than ever before. And then there’s Natasha Romanoff’s random relationship with Bruce Banner – while it’s not a bad idea, and they make a cute couple, the basis for their coupling up is based on the problematic idea that they’re both “monsters”: Bruce, because he transforms into a giant green killing machine; Natasha, because she’s…infertile? The messaging is weird and kind of sexist, especially since it would have been way easier to make Natasha’s murderous past with the KGB the reason for her guilt and self-loathing. It’s a shame, because Natasha actually did have better interactions with Bruce than she ever had with her former love interest, Clint Barton, but for better or worse their story arc was completely abandoned in Avengers: Infinity War.

6: T’Challa & Nakia.

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While there’s certainly an argument to be made that T’Challa, the catsuit-wearing guardian of the African nation of Wakanda, is slightly more low-key and subdued than many of his co-stars in Black Panther (let’s face it, he doesn’t have Okoye’s fiery energy, Killmonger’s smoldering charisma, or M’Baku’s macabre humor), there can be no denying that his relationship with Wakandan secret agent/humanitarian Nakia is super cute. The two are a power couple, with both characters having genuine hero moments – Nakia even briefly diverts the main focus of the film away from T’Challa, and considers becoming the Black Panther herself. By the end of the film, she’s also working around the world to help extend Wakandan aid to those in need. And when they’re onscreen together, they’re presented as a healthy, sturdy relationship that doesn’t have to rely on drama, troubling gender dynamics, or sarcastic banter to be interesting. They’re basically #CoupleGoals, and I love them.

5: Wanda Maximoff & The Vision.

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Ah, the tragic story of the computer program who became a man…once, for no apparent reason, and never did so again. The Vision, a sentient computer program outfitted with a cool new body (that, unfortunately for him, came along with the Mind Stone, one of the most coveted objects in the galaxy), didn’t really show any signs of attraction to the troubled witch, Wanda Maximoff, until Captain America: Civil War, but when their romance finally kicked into gear, and the two began to bond over spicy food, things got good – and then immediately got weird again, when Wanda blasted Vision through a floor, before suddenly…ending up on the run with him in Scotland? Where Vision was suddenly able to turn into a human man, but only did so once, for reasons that were never explained? Yeah, so there’s some serious gaps in what we actually know about their relationship, but at least it ended on a strong note, with Wanda having to brutally murder her lover in an attempt to destroy the Mind Stone before Thanos could get to it, only to watch Thanos use the Time Stone to reverse all her hard work, murder Vision again, and use the Stones to wipe out half the galaxy, including Wanda herself. If it’s any consolation, the upcoming WandaVision series on Disney+ will feature Wanda resurrecting her dead partner, only to have him presumably die once again when her entire reality inevitably comes crashing down around her. Cheerful, am I right?

4: Scott Lang & Hope Van Dyne.

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Technically, there have been two canon MCU power couples that call themselves Ant-Man and The Wasp: Hope Van Dyne’s parents, Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne, and then Hope herself and her partner, reformed burglar/single father/world’s best grandma, Scott Lang. But the latter couple has the edge on its predecessor, mostly because Janet doesn’t actually show up until the end of the second Ant-Man film, and most of her flashbacks with Hank were cut out of the movie anyway. Scott and Hope share the spotlight (and the title-card) in Ant-Man And The Wasp, which focuses almost entirely on their relationship – and their exchanges of playful, witty banter, coupled with their fidelity and focus on family, make them one of the most endearing couples in the MCU.

3: Steve Rogers & Peggy Carter.

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Specifically, their relationship in the first three Captain America films, before Avengers: Endgame happened. In the beginning, scrawny new recruit Steve Rogers and fast-talking, no-nonsense commanding officer Peggy Carter were actually quite a sweet pairing: they both had character arcs, and agency in their own stories. There was a quaint little 1940’s love story between them, but Peggy, by virtue of being in the military, wasn’t forced to play the damsel-in-distress or grieving-girlfriend-on-the-home-front roles: and in the post-war era, after Steve went down in the frigid Antarctic Ocean and was lost, she picked up her life and moved on, founding S.H.I.E.L.D. and starting a family. Her relationship with Steve after his resurrection from the ice was deeply emotional and interesting, and it was tragic when she passed away. But then to essentially reverse all the complexities of their post-The First Avenger relationship by having Steve go back in time and start all over with her, making her essentially a consolation prize for Steve after he failed to move on with his life, thus preventing her from moving on with hers? No, just no.

2: Tony Stark & Virginia “Pepper” Potts.

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They’re the MCU’s original duo: how could they not come in near the top of the list? Tony was a sarcastic, cynical mess of a human being; a war-profiteer who didn’t care one iota about the countless people killed daily by his weapons of mass destruction; Pepper was the very opposite, a cool, collected woman with savvy business skills and a friendly disposition. It’s a trope, and a tired one at that. But their relationship evolved into so much more than that – Tony became Iron Man, and Pepper took over as CEO of Stark Industries. They constructed the Avengers Tower in New York City. In the five years after Avengers: Infinity War, they got married and had a daughter. In Avengers: Endgame, where they even got to fight in battle alongside each other, their decade-long relationship came to an end with Tony Stark’s tragic death. In that final moment, as the former “Merchant of Death” gave up his life to save the world, Pepper stayed beside him and her face was the last thing he ever saw. I’m not crying: you’re crying.

1: Leopold Fitz & Jemma Simmons.

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Yes, I cheated! Fitz and Simmons, or “Fitzsimmons” as they’re more commonly known among the fandom, are not technically members of the MCU: they come from the Marvel TV division, where they made their debut on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and have endured through six grueling, torturous seasons of hardship, personal loss, tragedy and pure, wholesome romance. While they started out as the team’s two bumbling, socially-awkward scientists, it didn’t take long before the universe’s vendetta against them resulted in them standing up for S.H.I.E.L.D., and for each other, in incredible ways. Their tense, frantic struggle to figure their way out of an airtight box at the bottom of the ocean (long story) was one of the highlights of Season 1, as it showed just how powerful the two are as a team – so of course they were then split up. Jemma became an undercover spy, got eaten by a space monolith, was transported to another planet and had to survive on her own, fell in love with an astronaut who turned into an evil alien god, was possessed by the Kree, was possibly hinted to be bisexual (come on, we all know she had a thing for Daisy), and even met and defeated the demonic personification of her self-doubt: Leo lost his ability to communicate for a long period of time and became delusional, was possibly hinted to be bisexual (come on, we all know he had a thing for Mac), became a dashing secret agent, met his evil HYDRA doppelganger, fell in love with HYDRA’s cyborg overlord, and then got stuck in two different time-periods at once, which resulted in him dying but still being alive and yet somehow a space pirate in both timelines…it’s a wacky and confusing series, but their love for each other, which persists even against all odds, has always been at the heart of the story, and I would be lying if I didn’t say they’re the most romantic couple in what used to technically be part of (or at least adjacent to) the MCU.

So what do you think of my top ten, and would you have chosen differently? Did I leave your favorite couple off my list? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

“The Green Knight” Trailer Review!

The epic tale of Sir Gawain And The Green Knight, one of the most legendary stories of chivalry, honor and valor to come out of King Arthur’s court, is absolutely not the sort of thing one would expect to be turned into a surreal horror/dark fantasy thriller, but you know what? It just might work.

Dev Patel stars in the first trailer for this spooky retelling of the Medieval legend, which tells the story of a young knight in Camelot who is challenged to a duel by the terrifying Green Knight, and has to prove his worthiness through a series of tests. The best version of the epic, naturally, is the translation by English author J.R.R. Tolkien. I’m not sure which version director David Lowery is drawing from, or whether he’s taking bits and pieces of all the best translations and then adding mostly new content, but he appears to be leaning into the story’s pagan origins (pagan horror is a genre that has just recently begun to flourish, with the success of Midsommar, and pagan Medieval horror is a genre I don’t know if anybody has touched upon yet), and using this story to highlight just how many Christian traditions and legends are rooted in paganism. At least, I’m guessing that’s why we see kings wearing burning halos in this trailer, and Christian Medieval life threatened by apparitions, spectral visitors and horrors in the dark.

The Green Knight himself, Sir Gawain’s sworn enemy, is a sight to behold: he wields a huge battle-axe, and has a face carved from wood, with a bristly, twiggy beard. Retellings of the tale have always struggled to define what he is: Tolkien called him the “most difficult character” in the entire poem, and other scholars have alternately described him as a version of the Green Man of Celtic mythology, the Devil, an amalgamation of the Greek god Hades and Jesus, or a character rife with homosexual symbolism. So, um…take your pick, I guess?

So will you be going to see this creepy take on a Camelot classic? And what do you think of Dev Patel as Sir Gawain? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Trailer Review: 7.5/10

“The French Dispatch” Trailer Review!

Director Wes Anderson is back in the game with his boldest, brightest, most bizarre project yet: The French Dispatch, a film anthology of stories from a fictional newspaper (loosely based on The New Yorker) operating out of a fictional French city (obviously based on Paris) in the middle of the 20th Century, playing witness to some of the most explosive moments in the nation’s history. The abstract and absurdist comedy stars a massive cast of A-list talent, and employs a number of curious camera-tricks, as well as being partly shot in black-and-white.

Bill Murray stars as the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, who went on a holiday and never came back to his home-state of Kansas: instead, he turned his travelogue column into The French Dispatch, which appears to be a semi-satirical weekly newspaper chronicling “world politics, the arts (high and low), and diverse stories of human interest”. He is surrounded by a star-studded cast playing his small army of editors, journalists, columnists, sources and the local characters they interact with on the streets of Paris, including Tilda Swinton (wearing a very bright orange wig), Benicio Del Toro as an artist imprisoned in a padded cell, Frances McDormand, Jeffrey Wright, Adrien Brody, Timothée Chalamet already working on his Bob Dylan impersonation, Léa Seydoux as a stone-cold police officer, Owen Wilson, Mathieu Amalric, Liev Schrieber, Elisabeth Moss, Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Christoph Waltz, Henry Winkler and Saoirse Ronan, among many others. Not all of this cast are comedians, but all of them look like they’re about to be.

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This trailer certainly makes it look like The French Dispatch will be a memorable cinematic experience – not only because of its extraordinarily weird cinematography and quirky visuals, but because I can’t wait to see the interactions between this amazing cast: Tilda Swinton and Henry Winkler in the same movie? Timothée Chalamet and Saoirse Ronan reunited onscreen for the umpteenth time? Count me in.

So what do you think? Does The French Dispatch look too weird for your taste, or do you think this looks stupendously strange? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Trailer Rating: 8/10

Marvel Developing An “Agents Of Atlas” Adaptation!

Some day, Marvel will have to run out of new content to adapt to the big (or small) screen: some day, but today is not that day. Today, we have learned that the studio is planning to take yet another obscure group of characters from their seemingly endless roster and transform them overnight into pop culture phenomenons. This means that not only do we have Black Widow, Eternals, Falcon And The Winter Soldier, WandaVision, Loki, Shang-Chi, Doctor Strange 2, What If, Thor: Love And Thunder, Moon Knight, She-Hulk, Spider-Man 3, Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel, Ant-Man 3, Black Panther 2, Blade, Captain Marvel 2, Guardians Of The Galaxy 3, Deadpool 3, a possible Secret Invasion Disney+ series, and future Fantastic Four and X-Men properties to look forward to (and if I forgot any others, please let me know in the comments), but we can now possibly add Agents Of Atlas to the list.

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You may not know the Agents of Atlas, which is why I’m here to inform you that they are, in fact, quite an interesting and diverse group of characters who certainly seem like a good fit for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Founded, in the comics, by S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Jimmy Woo (played in the MCU by Randall Parks), the team of Asian superheroes includes a wide variety of unique characters. The line-up changes from time to time, but a prominent member has always been Shang-Chi, the Master of Kung Fu, who will make his debut next year in Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings – which, intriguingly, was just today confirmed to be filming scenes in San Francisco, where the Agents of Atlas have their roots, and where Jimmy Woo is already known to operate, as seen in the Ant-Man films. It’s thus safe to assume that an Agents of Atlas property would directly tie-in to events in the Shang-Chi origin story, as the initial report indicates.

It’s unclear whether Agents Of Atlas would end up in theaters or on Disney+, but I’m betting the team will show up first on the small screen before graduating to the big, probably in a Shang-Chi sequel. The group will probably include all its most popular members from the comics, including Shang-Chi; Jimmy Woo; Amadeus Cho, the Korean-American Hulk; Aero, a wind-manipulating Chinese woman; Crescent and Io, a South Korean girl and a giant glowing blue magic bear; Wave, a Filipina heroine with control over water; and Luna Snow, a South Korean K-Pop singer with ice powers (Silk, another important member of the team, is a little less likely since she’s a Spider-Man supporting character and thus jointly-owned by Sony). All of these characters have the potential to be really awesome in the MCU.

So what do you think? Are the Agents of Atlas something you want to see in the MCU or not? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

“Loki” Series Adds Gugu Mbatha-Raw!

“Finally”, is all I can say to this fantastic bit of news that dropped tonight. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who for years has been playing roles far too small to truly capture how awesome and talented she is, has just been cast in a leading role in Marvel’s upcoming Loki series on Disney+, which will follow the Norse trickster god on a villainous romp through time and space as he evades the forces of the Time Variance Authority, and possibly even explores his own gender-identity.

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Mbatha-Raw has shown up in a number of films and TV series, from utter disasters (A Wrinkle In Time, Jupiter Ascending) to underrated gems (such as the female-led indie supernatural drama Fast Color), to global blockbusters (Beauty & The Beast). Most recently, she had a role on Apple TV’s The Morning Show. But her role in Loki could introduce her to a much wider audience than she’s ever had before, and honestly I couldn’t be happier for her. Her character, while unnamed, is being described as the show’s “female lead”, according to sources, meaning she should stick around for all six episodes.

That doesn’t really help identify who she’s playing, as this series will likely draw from a number of Marvel comics, and could include multiple obscure characters: so while fans might want to jump to the conclusion that she’s playing Amora the Enchantress, a popular villain and Loki ally, that’s just a guess (though Mbatha-Raw would absolutely be a fantastic Enchantress, and would look incredible in the character’s iconic green and yellow costume). Other possibilities include a prominent member of the Time Variance Authority, the sorceress queen Karnilla, or Loki’s best friend Verity Willis, a fun and quirky character from the comics whose always had an interesting relationship with the Trickster God, since she possesses the power to see through lies. If it’s not too much to ask, I’m politely requesting that Marvel consider casting Mbatha-Raw in all of the above roles, if not more.

So what do you think? Is Gugu Mbatha-Raw a good fit for the series (yes, of course she is)? Who do you think she’s playing? Leave your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

The 92nd Academy Awards: Review!

Last night’s Oscars ceremony was on the brink of teetering off the edge and into the dustbin of history when suddenly, after a long string of tired and predictable winners took the stage to repeat virtually the same speeches they had been using all throughout awards season, the event righted itself and took a wild turn: with the shocking upset victory of Parasite in both the Best Director and Best Picture categories, the 92nd Academy Awards were able to make a groundbreaking advancement in movie history.

As we knew going into the ceremony (which got off to a bad start, with the frigid temperature and heavy rain-showers forcing the celebrities into the building at breakneck speed), the field of candidates was dominated by white men – though the long list of snubbed women directors still managed to attend the ceremony, as names embroidered on Natalie Portman’s dress. But in some categories, the few diverse nominees were able to sneak in some surprising wins: Matthew Cherry took home a long-awaited Oscar for the adorable animated short Hair Love, which celebrates natural black hair; and Taika Waititi became the first indigenous filmmaker to win an Oscar, claiming the award for Best Adapted Screenplay for his anti-fascist satire, JoJo Rabbit. Bong Joon-ho and the crew of Parasite also won Best Original Screenplay and Best International Film, giving the South Korean drama a total of four wins: the most of any film last night.

Joker, the dark and dour supervillain story that danced into the ceremony with a whopping eleven nominations, only walked out with two wins, both in categories where it was expected to win: Best Lead Actor went to Joaquin Phoenix, thus making him the second actor to win an Academy Award for his portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime; and Best Original Score was presented to Hildur Guðnadòttir.

Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s joint work on “I’m Gonna Love Me Again” from the Elton John biopic Rocketman made them clear winners in the Best Original Song category, but the other contenders put on a good show: Idina Menzel, AURORA, and several Frozen II voice actresses from around the world sang “Into The Unknown”, while Cynthia Erivo and a chorus of back-up singers delivered a rousing rendition of “Stand Up” from Harriet. Then there was Randy Newman, with whatever the song was from Toy Story 4 (which somehow won Best Animated Feature in a year when Netflix’s Klaus was showing off the simple beauty of 2D animation). Three other musical numbers, unaffiliated with any film, were sprinkled throughout the ceremony: Janelle Monae and Billy Porter opened the night’s proceedings with a rousing, sparkly cover of “It’s A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood”, which also featured dancers dressed as characters from some of the past year’s snubbed films, including Us and Midsommar; Eminem made a surprise appearance to perform “Lose Yourself” to an audience who clearly had no idea how to react – and those that did, namely Idina Menzel and Martin Scorsese, soon found themselves trending for their shocked and disturbed expressions; and finally, young Grammy-winner Billie Eilish performed a moving cover of “Yesterday” while the In Memoriam tribute video played – a video which, as expected, left out a couple of notable deceased celebrities.

Politics were briefly addressed, with Brad Pitt throwing jabs at the U.S. Senate in his acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (one of only two awards the critical darling picked up, the other being Best Production Design), and Joaquin Phoenix making time for a warning about the dangers of climate change, and the importance of environmentalism. But many of the winners and presenters were more concerned with poking fun at their own business – there was no more scathing example of this than when James Corden and Rebel Wilson, two prominent members of the cast of the box-office flop and movie monstrosity Cats, ironically had to present the award for Best Visual Effects to 1917 while wearing cat-suits and making sarcastic puns.

The major categories were looking like a straight-up copy-and-paste of the Golden Globes winners (to nobody’s surprise, Renée Zellweger won Best Leading Actress for her transformative role as Judy Garland in Judy, while Laura Dern closed out her award-season romp with a Best Supporting Actress award for her fan-favorite role as a divorce lawyer in Marriage Story: Netflix’s only consolation prize for being snubbed and soundly defeated in every other category), right up until Best Director. The award had been expected to basically throw itself into the arms of Sam Mendes, whose continuous-take gimmick for 1917 has been a subject of much debate this awards season (and had, just moments before, won Roger Deakins a Best Cinematography Oscar), but there was also room for Quentin Tarantino to eke out a surprise victory: but it was Bong Joon-ho who claimed this award, and then led South Korea to its first ever Best Picture win – Parasite, a drama about class divides and economic crisis, also made history as the first non-English feature film to win the highest honor at the ceremony. Bong Joon-ho’s fanbase, who call themselves the “BongHive” on social media, celebrated the film’s success around the world, while Joon-ho himself finally got to have the drink that he kept asking for throughout the night.

Was it a perfect ceremony? No. The event was downright predictable for most of its extremely long runtime, and there was a tired aura in the air: perhaps brought on by the bad weather, or an unmemorable red carpet walk. But did it also break new ground and pave the way for a greater acceptance of international filmmaking in Hollywood? Let’s hope so.

Ceremony Rating: 7.9/10

“Locke & Key” Review!

Netflix’s Locke & Key opens a doorway into an expansive world of dark, cosmic magic that can only be described as deep: there are keys that lead to other keys, which open doors within doors, which then lead to puzzles, which connect back to clues, which are all supposed to interlock(e) – the problem comes toward the middle of the ten-part series, when it becomes clear that there’s no good way for everything to come together, because of a single plot point that splits the series’ focal point in two rapidly diverging directions, which never reunite (and never seem likely to, assuming there is a second season – there’s certainly set-up for one).

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Without getting into spoilers, I’ll explain it like this: after a couple of really strong episodes, Locke & Key introduces an idea that immediately forces the adult characters – including the series’ most compelling character, recovering alcoholic and traumatized widow Nina Locke (Darby Stanchfield) – and the teen or young adult characters – specifically her children, Tyler (Connor Jessup), Kinsey (Emilia Jones), and Bode (Jackson Robert Scott) – to pursue two very different paths. The adults are left with many of the hard-hitting emotional and dramatic moments, but the kids have to awkwardly carry the horror/fantasy plotline to its conclusion. This divide is…uncomfortable, to say the least, and it also makes both parties look bad: the adults seem naive and negligent for barely ever interfering in their kids’ lives; the kids come off as idiotic and downright mean for never going to the adults for help or advice. And again, this is all because of one plot-point that is never even properly explained: this particular plot-point also seems oddly kiddish in a series that tries to be more edgy, dark and mature than it probably needs to be.

That darker vibe, while inconsistent, does allow for a somewhat memorable antagonist: the beautiful, haunting demon lurking in the well, whose actual name – “Dodge” – is far less threatening than either of her nicknames, “Well-Lady” or “Echo”. Portrayed by Laysla De Oliveira, the ancient demonic entity is able to do a fair bit of damage and wrack up an impressive kill-count, all with style and grace, even while being restricted by another very specific plot-point that forbids her from murdering absolutely everybody in her path towards…whatever it is she’s fighting for (it’s never actually explained what that is, making her sudden shift from “haunted house ghost” to “immortal Lovecraftian shadow goddess” inexplicable, yet still entertaining).

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Like Dodge, the entire series gets an upgrade about halfway through – which is both a blessing and a curse, as it simultaneously raises the stakes for all the protagonists while also closing the door on the fun, spooky treasure-hunt adventure that made the first few episodes so unique. The central trio of Locke children splits up, with the two older kids pursuing the main plot with their rapidly expanding group of high-school friends and enemies, while Bode (the most interesting of the three by far) is left at home, shoved to the sidelines, and kept in the dark…despite being the one who initially found the keys and unleashed Dodge. This series has a hard time remembering who its main characters are, at times. The high school story is intermittently dull, with subplots related to clam chowder, charity fundraisers, poorly-developed love triangles and generic bullies. It’s no coincidence that this coincides with the sudden, strange decision to make the story all about Tyler Locke, the most boring, familiar, and downright annoying of the main trio (he seems to have a smoking addiction in the first episode, yet turns on his mother for drinking later in the series: hypocritical much, Tyler?) and the one who seems to have the least interest in the plot.

I might sound like I’m coming down hard on this show. But the series does have moments – sometimes even scenes – of true greatness: especially when it comes to the many inventive or witty ways in which the characters use their magic keys, either for good, evil, or stupid pranks. Kinsey using the Head Key to step inside her brain and battle it out with the personification of her own fears and insecurities? Excellent stuff. Dodge using the Anywhere Key to order breakfast at a small-town diner, go shopping at a high-end fashion mall, pull off a diamond-heist and attend a nightclub party all within a few moments? Fantastic. Anything involving the Ghost Key? Brilliant.

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Unfortunately, the scenes involving magic often require…magic, a.k.a. a CGI budget that this show clearly does not have at its disposal. The fight scenes with monsters, ghouls and demons are often all too brief, and darkly-lit (probably for the best, as the notable exception to this rule, involving a zombie-type creature attacking someone in broad daylight, looks painfully fake), while keys like the Matchstick and Ghost Key are used sparingly. This wouldn’t even be a problem if the series didn’t try to make itself larger than it had to be – when you’re just running around a spooky mansion, you don’t really need a whole bunch of special effects: when you’re on the brink of unleashing primordial powers from beyond the edge of the world into your small coastal town, that’s something else entirely.

Another issue with the magic system is that it never gets explained: why does it exist? Who made the keys, and why? What is Dodge? What is she doing? Who are the Lockes, and where did they come from? These are questions that are not only never answered, but never get raised in the first place. It’s not like there’s no reason to bring up any of these very important points: the Locke family are fighting to keep themselves and their loved ones safe, yet they never even seem to question how freaky and terrifying their lives have become. By the end of the series, they seem to have all nonchalantly settled down into a daily routine of nightmares, monstrous encounters in the woods, murderous escapees, demons breaking-and-entering, and a weirdly high number of people attacking each other with hammers (I mean, I get it, Nina is a carpenter and all, but are there no other available weapons in Keyhouse? They’ve got not one, but two wicked-looking swords mounted on the mantelpiece, and yet they choose hammers and plastic lightsabers to vend off intruders? Seriously?)

The series is fairly progressive, though fans of the original Locke & Key graphic novels will be disappointed to hear that Duncan Locke (Aaron Ashmore), an openly gay, happily married character in the comic, has a very small recurring role, and is nowhere shown to be gay, as he’s conveniently separated from his husband (whose name is, to be fair, mentioned once or twice) throughout the series.

All in all, Locke & Key has an amazing premise, and a couple of really good episodes: but it doesn’t take long before the plot, the characters and the entire series get lost in the dark. Will you find what you’re looking for amid the Gothic splendor of Keyhouse? I certainly hope so, because I feel like there’s potential somewhere in this story: potential that could be unlocked in a second season.

Series Rating: 5.9/10

Sam Raimi To Direct “Doctor Strange 2”!

In a shocking turn of events, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has hired director Sam Raimi to pick up the pieces that were left scattered about in the wake of Scott Derrickson’s abrupt departure from the production of Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness, fulfilling a lifelong dream for Raimi and allowing him to return to the superhero genre that he, in large part, helped to define with his iconic, and hugely successful, Spider-Man trilogy.

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The process of finding a new director for the long-awaited Doctor Strange sequel began last month, after Scott Derrickson, who directed the Sorcerer Supreme’s first solo movie, suddenly parted ways with Marvel Studios, citing “creative differences”. Later, unconfirmed, reports suggested that Derrickson wanted the film to push its (presumably) PG-13 rating and tap into the horror genre, but Marvel was reluctant to follow him down that path: others have hinted that he was upset about having to structure much of the film around the events of the WandaVision Disney+ series. We don’t know for certain why he left – but for a while after his departure, all we knew was that the film was rushing towards a production start date in Spring without a director. It was a bad look for Marvel, and many wondered if Doctor Strange 2 would be pushed back from its 2021 release date.

However, things were still going smoothly behind the scenes, by all accounts: recent reports have suggested that a number of Marvel characters will be introduced in the sequel, including America Chavez, Brother Voodoo, Clea, and a host of alternate-versions of established MCU characters (which, for whatever reason, enraged fans who hadn’t noticed the word “Multiverse” literally in the film’s title), and the first film’s antihero Karl Mordo was also confirmed to return, with Chiwetel Ejiofor reprising the role. So it should come as no surprise that Marvel has had their eye on someone to replace Derrickson, and that that someone is quite possibly already onboard the project and getting comfortable in the director’s seat. It’s not the fact that a director has been chosen, but the identity of that director, that’s so shocking, relieving, and exciting all at once.

Sam Raimi, who worked closely with current Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige to craft his own Spider-Man trilogy between 2002 and 2007, is in talks to helm Doctor Strange 2. Raimi is a fantastic choice for many reasons – not only is he the most successful and recognizable director to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe since their early days, but he’s also a huge fan of Doctor Strange (there’s even a reference to the character all the way back in Spider-Man 2), and arguably the man who made Marvel Studios’ huge success possible. Both before and since the Spider-Man franchise’s controversial final installment, Raimi has made a name for himself in the horror genre, making him an ideal substitute for Derrickson, who had hoped to explore a darker, creepier corner of the MCU with his movie. Raimi won’t have much time to rewrite the Doctor Strange scripts if he wants to meet the release date, but he’s also the sort of director who will want to leave his mark in other ways – despite claims from Marvel’s critics that their films are made by committee, using generic formulas and disregarding directors.

It’ll be interesting to see what’s left over from Derrickson’s brief tenure as director, and what Raimi will salvage, or throw out. Two of the strangest (no pun intended) elements rumored to feature in Derrickson’s script were the violent deaths of Strange’s constant companion Wong, and former girlfriend Christine Palmer, early in the film. While Benedict Wong (who plays Wong) will return for the sequel, it was revealed tonight, almost casually, that Rachel McAdams will not be coming back to portray Palmer, making me think those damning rumors were accurate, and McAdams left the project rather than become a victim of Derrickson’s killing spree. If Raimi does have time to rework the script, this could be something he addresses – on the other hand, the character of Christine Palmer is not one that audiences are deeply attached to, and so much else is going to be happening in the film that adding her into the mix seems unnecessary.

And then, of course, there’s the question of Spider-Man. While it’s unlikely that Peter Parker will feature into Doctor Strange 2 in any way, it would also be fittingly poetic if Raimi were able to do something with Tom Holland’s iteration of the beloved character. Funnily enough, theorists have long felt that an interaction between the web-slinging superhero and the Sorcerer Supreme would be able to clear up some of the problems presented by the awkward joint-custody arrangement between Sony and Marvel, that has kept either studio from fully enjoying all the benefits the character has to offer: for instance, if there comes a day when Spider-Man has to leave the MCU, what better way to manage that in-universe than by having him exit through the Multiverse, with a little help from Strange? To be clear, I don’t think this will happen in Doctor Strange 2, as a third Marvel/Sony Spider-Man movie has already been greenlit, but it’s still something I wanted to mention.

All in all, this is exactly the type of shocking news that Marvel excels at dropping as if it’s no big deal. Not content with simply finding a replacement for their first directorial misfire in years, they went out of their way to enlist one of the biggest names in the superhero business.

What do you think? Were you a fan of Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, and what do you feel about him joining the MCU? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

“Loki” And The Time Variance Authority: Explained!

The recent Super Bowl teaser which highlighted three upcoming original Marvel series’, all of which will stream exclusively on the Disney+ platform, contained a whole bunch of hidden Easter eggs, from Wanda Maximoff’s first appearance as the Scarlet Witch, to the debut of U.S. Agent. But one which required even keener eyes to spot was a clue hidden in the brief glimpse of the Loki series, which is set to premiere sometime early next year. Let’s discuss.

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The snippet of Loki footage was exceedingly brief (considering that the show only just started filming, it doesn’t seem likely that they’ve filmed much material yet), and showed star Tom Hiddleston seated in a dark room, wearing a prison uniform with the initials TVA on it (I wouldn’t have been able to figure that out: it looked like a TW to me). But while most viewers were simply thrilled to see the God of Mischief alive and well again, others took the opportunity to track down those three mysterious letters – and it didn’t take them long to discover that in the Marvel Comics, these initials refer to an organization called the Time Variance Authority.

Basically, the Time Variance Authority (or TVA) is a bureaucratic group of time-traveling judges, juries and executioners who monitor the Marvel timeline for fractures, faults and the usual sort of thing: you know, people popping up in the past and stealing important artifacts from alternate timelines, that sort of thing. They’re very much like The Commission from Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy, but whereas that series only gave us a vague idea of what The Commission was capable of (or why they even existed), it looks like Loki could make the TVA a driving focus of the series’ first season. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this organization would have good reason to want to imprison the Trickster God: namely, the fact that Loki escaped from a timeline created in Avengers: Endgame, armed with an Infinity Stone and intent on wreaking havoc across time and space. That’s usually the sort of thing that gets you into trouble with the time-traveling powers-that-be.

The Time Variance Authority might also want to have a word with the Avengers themselves, considering that it was their interference with the Marvel timeline that led to Loki escaping and a number of other strange encounters: most of which, to be fair, were supposedly reversed by Captain America’s diligent work. Regardless, they’re probably not too thrilled about the idea of regular people figuring out how to operate the mechanics of time-travel, and I’d imagine they’re preparing themselves for future (or present, or past) altercations.

Thankfully, the TVA is armed with one of the most dangerous (and hilariously meta) weapons in the universe: the Retroactive Cannon – or Ret-Can, for short – which allows them to completely erase any event or person, in any timeline. The Ret-Can is exactly the sort of thing that Loki would absolutely love to get his hands on, and it could also be used by the Marvel writers themselves to change previous events or rewrite pieces of MCU history. If it’s used at all, it should be used very sparingly, as ret-conning (or ret-canning, in this case) anything is a risky move that often draws ire from fans: for instance, you could use it to, oh I don’t know, bring Natasha Romanoff back to life, but you wouldn’t want to do that with every dead hero. In Loki’s hands, who knows what this weapon could do? We don’t yet know whether the Ret-Can will show up in Loki, but in my opinion it’s a perfect MacGuffin, a.k.a. the object that all the heroes and villains want to find, use, destroy, etc, etc. (and considering how many times the MCU has recycled the same old Space Stone, it’s fair to say they love MacGuffins). And since in the comics the Ret-Can is used to execute prisoners, and Loki is seen wearing TVA prison-garb, I think it’s plausible that we will at least see it and Loki in the same room together at some point – but since we know Loki probably won’t be executed in the show, it’s also plausible that Loki finds a way to avoid the Ret-Can’s aim: which, knowing Loki, probably means he steals it. Imagine the Trickster God escaping from the clutches of his captors, with the Space Stone in one hand, and the Ret-Can strapped on his back, striding dramatically from the burning wreckage of his jail-cell – that’s Scorsese-level cinema, right there.

We know that time-travel has a part to play in the Loki series (the first-look image unofficially released last year showed Hiddleston’s character attending a showing of Jaws, circa 1975), but the TVA makes that make sense: before this announcement, the prevailing theory was that Loki must steal the Time Stone from the Ancient One; but now we know he doesn’t have to make such a detour. He could easily escape from prison and make use of the TVA’s own technology to maneuver in the MCU timeline.

And what about after the Loki series ends? Could the TVA continue to roam the peripheries of the MCU? Another swiftly-approaching Disney+ series, She-Hulk, could very well feature a guest appearance from the TVA – in the comics, she has a run-in with their organization that nearly leads to her own execution. That being said, there’s no indication that She-Hulk will incorporate time-travel, and I’d actually prefer it stay more grounded (or, as grounded as you can get when your protagonist is a seven-foot tall, bright green lawyer for superheroes).

So what do you think? Do you want to see the TVA and the Retroactive Cannon become a central plotpoint in Loki, or would you rather they just show up for an episode or two? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Marvel Disney+ Trailer Review!

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is about to expand onto the Disney+ streaming platform, and the first teaser trailer for their upcoming content, while extraordinarily brief (a mere thirty seconds) has already given us boatloads of new material to examine in excruciating detail. This teaser gives us our first good look at The Falcon And The Winter Soldier and WandaVision, as well as a tiny hint of Loki.

We start with a quick shot (that should go without saying: every shot in this teaser is quick) of Sam Wilson, the MCU’s new Captain America training in his backyard with the shield of his former mentor, throwing it discus-style at trees. In the same location, later in the teaser, he shakes hands with his best friend, Bucky Barnes, who has cut his hair short. There’s shots of people in yellow and black outfits sky-diving over a desert, followed by Wilson, wearing his Falcon uniform, flying through a canyon. Bucky wields a shotgun, and confronts the series’ antagonist, Baron Zemo. There’s a shot of bullets slipping through Bucky’s vibranium fingers, while Zemo watches with an impassive stare. Is Bucky being brainwashed once again by the master manipulator? Just before the series’ title font appears, we catch a glimpse of another Falcon And The Winter Soldier villain, U.S. Agent a.k.a. John Walker, attending a rally at a football game (not dissimilar to the Super Bowl, at which this trailer debuted): Walker is seen carrying Captain America’s shield, and his appearance on the field is greeted with red, white and blue fireworks, a marching band, and ecstatic reactions from the crowd – in the comics, Walker is a government puppet who takes up the Captain America mantle after concerns that Wilson, a black man, is unfit to carry the title. This series is verging into deeply divisive political territory, and I can’t wait.

I was thrilled to see that, but I was shocked when I saw that the teaser continued with a look at WandaVision, probably the most anticipated Marvel Disney+ series, and the one that we seem to know the most about. The series, which will follow Wanda Maximoff, a.k.a. Scarlet Witch, as she veers off the edge and into insanity, is positioned to be the MCU’s most mind-bending venture yet, and it already looks outstanding: it starts off in black and white, channeling 50’s sit-com I Love Lucy, with Wanda, dressed in bridal attire, swooping through the door of her quaint suburban dream-house and into the arms of her cyborg husband, The Vision. But it looks like successive episodes of the series will take us on a trip through television history, as other shots seem to echo The Brady Bunch, and 80’s TV soap operas. Wanda progresses through a number of different looks in a couple seconds – going from demure, prim and proper 50’s attire to long hippie hair and hoop earrings, to plaid flannel, overalls and frizzy hair, to…hold on a moment! Blink and you’ll miss it, but there’s a single shot of Wanda Maximoff wearing her comics-accurate Scarlet Witch costume, complete with the bright red cape and half-moon tiara. 2020 can’t get any better.

Except it can, because the WandaVision teaser gets even more crazy from there, with a real-life, modern Wanda reeling as she watches 50’s Wanda on a retro TV, while confronting Vision in an entirely black-and-white house. Both characters stumble backwards, as if their entire reality is crumbling around them. Maybe it is. Who knows? All I know is that a few moments later, we see Wanda and Vision staring down at two cribs, from which pops a baby-pacifier that, once again, is so hard to see you could easily miss it. But for those who paused the trailer ten-thousand times (a.k.a. me), that’s a shocking revelation – Wanda’s twin children, Wiccan and Speed, are indeed going to be members of the Vision family, and this is our first (albeit technically offscreen) look at the Young Avengers in the MCU.

And that’s not all, because then there’s a title reveal for Loki, and a shot of the trickster god wearing a prison-uniform marked with a strange logo, and smiling as he whispers: “I’m gonna burn this place to the ground”. Not sure entirely how he plans to do that while locked up, but he’s Loki, so he probably won’t remain imprisoned for long. Seeing him alive, and back to his own tricks, is a welcome relief.

I’m honestly so excited for all three of these shows, and I want to have the power to time-travel into the near future so I can enjoy all three right now, without having to wait months. Falcon And The Winter Soldier, the closest of the three to release, comes out sometime in August, while WandaVision will probably premiere in October. As for Loki, the release date should be early Spring of 2021.

So what do you think? Which of the three looks the best, and why? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!