“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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“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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“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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“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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“The Umbrella Academy” Season 2 Trailer!

Last time we saw the seven misfit super(anti)heroes who make up the Umbrella Academy, they had narrowly escaped the fiery cataclysm that resulted when several chunks of moon shrapnel crashed into the Earth, obliterating the planet and wiping out the rest of the human race. Now they’re back, having traveled through time and space to Dallas in 1963, where (surprise, surprise) they’re once again facing an imminent apocalypse, this time somehow linked to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. But to make matters even worse, the entire team has been split up.

The first trailer for the upcoming second season gives us a good rundown of what’s going on and where our protagonists have ended up: necromancer and drug addict Klaus (Robert Sheehan), unsurprisingly, has landed himself in a psychedelic cult; Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) has become a lawyer specializing in civil rights, and I can already envision plenty of scenarios in which she uses her mind-control powers to win cases; Luther (Tom Hopper), the team’s muscle-bound strongman, is working as a boxer; Diego (David Castañeda), the guy with all the knives, is stuck in a mental hospital with a new character who appears to be his love interest; Vanya (Ellen Page), the seemingly harmless violinist who caused the apocalypse with her ability to control sound waves, appears to be looking for normalcy in rural Texas, because that makes sense; Ben (Justin Min), the ghost of a former Umbrella Academy member, appears to have broken free from Klaus and is now just sort of chilling; and Five (Aidan Gallagher), time-traveling teenage know-it-all that he is, is trying to round them up all in order to hopefully prevent yet another end of the world scenario.

The trailer promises that the dysfunctional family will be burdened with just as much emotional baggage as they were in the first season – that might seem like an unusual selling-point, but it’s one of the key elements that made the show so wildly popular in the first place. However, there’s another secret weapon that The Umbrella Academy has, and that’s its roster of bizarre yet terrifying villains – and thankfully season two is already setting up a number of those: Swedish vacuum-cleaner salesmen who double as ninja assassins and a Commission bureaucrat with a fishbowl for a head? Count me in! We also get a brief glimpse of season one’s reluctant killer Hazel (Cameron Britton), now reformed and significantly older, helping Five on his mission, which is pretty sweet.

Umbrella Academy
radiotimes.com

Once again, the CGI budget for the Netflix series looks incredible, and it seems like we’ll be treated to a bunch of epic action scenes utilizing each of the Hargreeves siblings’ superpowers in clever ways. Intentionally or not, however, the focus seems to have shifted away from the characters with special effects-heavy powers like Klaus and Vanya, and more towards Allison and Diego, both of whom, while undeniably very dangerous and effective, don’t require a whole bunch of CGI for every fight sequence. In fact, it’s now become a running joke that Allison tries to use her powers as little as possible. But we’ll see: I have no doubt that, despite not being featured very prominently in the trailer, Vanya will still be accidentally wreaking havoc everywhere she goes.

And of course, even as the family drama moves into new territory, the Hargreeves’ can’t ever escape from the looming shadow of their abusive father-figure, Sir Reginald Hargreeves, who appears at the end of the trailer as a somewhat younger gentleman. From the context of the scene, it appears that the Umbrella Academy will have to seek him out for help, possibly (hopefully) so he can finally give them some answers about where they came from, why they have powers, and why he was so obsessed with the moon.

So what do you think of the first Umbrella Academy trailer? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Trailer Rating: 8/10

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“Lord Of The Rings” Will Resume Production Soon!

The Tolkien fandom can collectively sigh a breath of relief: several months after production ground to a halt on Amazon Prime’s The Lord Of The Rings due to the advent of coronavirus, the high-profile series is finally getting back on track, with preliminary work already underway and actual filming expected to start up again soon.

Lord Of The Rings
looper.com

The Lord Of The Rings began shooting back in February, and we now have confirmation that, before the government-mandated lockdown in March, almost two full episodes of the series’ first season were completed. This means that Amazon Prime’s original gameplan – to film two episodes and then go into hiatus until September – won’t actually have to change that much. This lines up with Lord Of The Rings actress Morfydd Clark’s recent statement that she won’t be able to return to her home country of England “for a while”, which The Daily Mail took to mean sometime in the autumn (though it’s worth noting they also missed the memo that this isn’t actually an adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings proper, since they referenced Gollum, Gandalf and Frodo as well, none of whom should be in the series). This is very good news, not just for Amazon themselves, but also for those of us in the Tolkien fandom who are constantly having to combat negativity towards the series: there are already a number of cynical and pessimistic detractors of the show out on the internet, and they tend to cling to any bit of bad news they can find.

But why the sudden change, after so many months? New Zealand’s government has officially granted border exemptions to a number of personnel from various different TV and film productions that were set to film in the country, including Lord Of The Rings, Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop, and – completely coincidentally – a film starring original Lord Of The Rings trilogy star Viggo Mortensen, entitled Greatest Beer Run Ever. Over the next six months, cast and crew from all these productions will be allowed to return to the country and resume work (after first going through self-quarantine). New Zealand had one of the most comprehensive and effective responses to the coronavirus crisis anywhere in the world, which is what has allowed them to return to relative normalcy earlier than most other countries.

The Lord Of The Rings
cinemaholics.com

In fact, New Zealand’s quick action when dealing with coronavirus may pay off in many more ways than they could ever have expected – their Economic Development Minister declared the country “a global safe haven” for the film community, and that’s not really an exaggeration: most other nations are still suffering heavily from the pandemic, and have a long way to go before they can safely bring in large film crews from all around the world. In recognition of this, New Zealand is increasing funding for both international and domestic film and TV projects in their country to upwards of $230M. In exchange, New Zealand’s economy is expected to receive a massive boost from big productions like Lord Of The Rings and James Cameron’s Avatar sequels, which could bring in about 3000 new jobs and $400M for the small Pacific nation. It looks like Middle-earth will never not be a hugely profitable investment for New Zealand.

So what do you think? Is New Zealand making a wise decision allowing film crews back into their country, or is this still risky? No matter how much we may want to see The Lord Of The Rings on our screens sometime next year, peoples’ lives matter more than any piece of film or TV, and I cannot reiterate that enough. STAY SAFE, and share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below.

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For Pride Month 2020, Let’s Discuss The Year’s Biggest LGBTQ+ Moments In TV And Film!

SPOILERS FOR HARLEY QUINN SEASON 2 AND SHE-RA SEASON 5!

Happy Pride Month! As we begin to celebrate the history and culture of the LGBTQ+ community, I thought it would be interesting to look at what the community has accomplished already in 2020, through the mediums of TV and film. Though coronavirus has prevented many inclusive films from making it to theaters this year, there are still plenty that did get there before the world went on lockdown, and many more that have released on streaming. For this breakdown, we’ll be looking at the setbacks the LGBTQ+ community suffered early in the year, and three outstanding breakthroughs in representation that both occurred just last month which could signal big changes in the industry.

Of course, I should note that this is not, by any means, a comprehensive list of every film or TV series released this year that touches on any of these issues – this is merely a discussion of some especially significant incidents spanning the course of the past several months, which I feel present a fairly accurate depiction of the year’s many ups and downs as a whole.

She-Ra LGBTQ
She-Ra rescues Catra | tor.com

2020 opened on a promising note with Marvel President and head producer Kevin Feige boldly announcing that the Marvel Cinematic Universe would welcome its first ever transgender superhero in the very near future, at a Q&A where he used the words: “Yes, absolutely. Yes.” Unfortunately, the moment was irreparably tarnished when it was revealed that Feige hadn’t realized the question was specifically about transgender superheroes, and only meant an LGBTQ+ superhero was coming very soon. That doesn’t necessarily mean that transgender heroes aren’t going to appear in the MCU at some point (there are rumors that a transwoman superheroine, Sera, could appear in either the Loki Disney+ series or Thor: Love And Thunder), but it does cast doubt on when that will ever happen. It was a bad omen, heading into the new year.

Marvel LGBTQ
Marvel Comics’ transgender heroine Sera | mcuexchange.com

In February, Marvel’s rival DC had a golden opportunity to explicitly confirm that one of their most major characters was canonically LGBTQ+ – but instead, their hyped-up zany comedy Birds Of Prey danced around the issue of sexuality, giving only eagle-eyed viewers a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nod to lead character Harley Quinn’s bisexuality in an animated sequence, while simultaneously hinting through stereotypical mannerisms that flamboyant, misogynistic villain Roman Sionis and his partner-in-crime were a gay couple. A lesbian character in the film, Renee Montoya, did play a large role and had an ex-girlfriend who also showed up, which makes Birds Of Prey something of a “one step forward, two steps backward” sort of situation.

Around the same time, the Disney+ streaming platform came under fire for a slew of reasons, most of which involved the service’s attempts to whittle down their roster of upcoming original content in a manner which many saw as discriminatory towards series’ with a focus on LGBTQ+ issues. While Disney+ didn’t do this with all of their shows (High School Musical: The Musical: The Series and Diary Of A Future President both featured openly LGBTQ+ characters), they did make the decision to move their hotly-anticipated Love, Victor (a spinoff of 20th Century Fox’s successful gay romance Love, Simon, obtained during the Disney/Fox merger) to Hulu, deeming it too mature for their own platform. One of the service’s most high-profile original series’, a sequel to the Lizzie McGuire Disney Channel series, was shut down entirely – with some sources saying that it was due to the way in which the story tackled matters of sexuality. It didn’t take long before the whole situation had raised a very interesting discussion about what is “family-friendly”, but that hasn’t saved Love, Victor from heading to Hulu, nor has it resurrected Lizzie McGuire.

Love, Victor LGBTQ
Love, Victor | deadline.com

In March, as the world started falling apart thanks to coronavirus, the Pixar film Onward was lost in the catastrophe, and moviegoers barely had any time to acknowledge the fantastic animated feature or its moment of LGBTQ+ representation – a moment that would have been great, had it not been leaked to the press by eager journalists prior to the film’s release and subsequently massively overhyped. In the film, a cop played by openly lesbian actress Lena Waithe briefly mentions her girlfriend in a single line of dialogue. Despite how brief the moment was, the film was still boycotted by conservative groups like One Million Moms and banned by several Middle Eastern nations.

Within a few weeks, the coronavirus had already caused major shifts in the film industry: films were being reshuffled across the board, movie theaters around the globe were shutting down and studios were hurrying to push all their upcoming or recently released content onto streaming. Unfortunately, one notable victim of all the release date rearrangements was Marvel’s The Eternals, a film already remarkable for its diverse cast. The superhero epic directed by Asian-American indie icon Chloe Zhao is set to feature the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first gay couple, and was supposed to release in November of this year. Sadly, the film has now been pushed back to February of 2021, meaning we will have to wait even longer before we can find out what Lebanese actor Haaz Sleiman was talking about when he said that there’s a gay kiss in the film that’s so emotional it made people on-set begin crying. Another Disney film, Jungle Cruise, was delayed an entire year, and will now be opening in summer, 2021: though it’s been invisible in the film’s marketing so far, Jungle Cruise is supposed to introduce Disney Studios’ first openly gay character – which is already somewhat controversial, as Disney couldn’t even be bothered to find an openly gay actor to play the role, rumors say that the character’s depiction is “hugely effete”, and test screenings apparently revealed that the character has a coming out scene in which he never actually states that he is LGBTQ+. Perhaps a delay for that movie wouldn’t be a bad thing, as it could allow them to do some much-needed reshoots.

But not everything has been all gloom and doom. The past month has introduced a wave of new representation: some of it from DC Universe, some from Netflix, some, most shockingly, from Disney+ – all of it through the form of animation.

In the first instance, DC Universe’s Harley Quinn animated series rectified Birds Of Prey‘s glaring omission by adhering to comics canon and having Harley Quinn and fellow Gotham City supervillain Poison Ivy begin a tentative relationship, which has even resulted in the two sharing a kiss. The duo now have to sort out their messy, complicated feelings for each other, and that’s great. It’s the first time the relationship, which was wildly popular in the comics, has been represented onscreen – and fans are already enjoying the canonization of the pairing, which they have labeled “Harlivy”.

She-Ra LGBTQ
Adora and Catra | polygon.com

However, something that sets Harley Quinn apart is that the series is exclusively for adults, meaning that its audience is necessarily limited. That’s not a problem that faces Netflix and DreamWorks, whose collaboration on the animated reboot of She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power is something that can be enjoyed by all ages – the fifth and final season premiered on the streaming service just recently, and made the hopes and dreams of the series’ many LGBTQ+ fans finally come true when lead characters Adora (a.k.a. She-Ra, Princess of Power) and Catra rekindled their friendship: which turned into a slow-burn romance, which culminated in the two confessing their love for each other in the series finale, kissing, and saving the world with the power of love. That, my friends, is representation done right – because as much as I enjoy seeing “casual” representation (such as the cop from Onward, who simply mentions her girlfriend without making it a big deal), I infinitely prefer seeing characters whose sexuality or gender identity is something that actually helps to define who they are. And with Adora and Catra, whose relationship has been at the heart of She-Ra for all five seasons, it made complete sense that their love would play a huge part in the conclusion to the story – and it did, because showrunner Noelle Stevenson is a brave, brilliant genius, who fought to make sure that she wouldn’t have to pull a Legend Of Korra on her fans and just have Adora and Catra hold hands and/or gaze platonically at each other.

Out LGBTQ
Pixar’s “Out” | nytimes.com

Finally, we have to talk about Out. Though Disney+ is still new and working out many of its flaws, they did just recently make a big step forward – or rather, Pixar did it for them and Disney+ gets to take the credit: Out, the newest of Pixar’s animated Sparkshorts which debuted exclusively on the streaming platform, follows a gay man in an interracial relationship as he struggles to come out to his parents. Even though the story involves an unpredictable magical mishap and a lot of dog humor, it never loses sight of its true focus, which is a heartwarming message of acceptance. The short, which clocks in at around nine minutes long, is an understated milestone, becoming the first Pixar story to star a gay lead – and much to its credit, enjoyed a spot on Disney+’s top trending section, which shows that audiences are curious and eager for more content like this.

And so, as we head into Pride Month coming off of small successes like Harley Quinn, She-Ra and Out, I must ask of all my readers that you keep fighting for change in any way you can: whether that means demanding more LGBTQ+ representation from Hollywood, or protesting police brutality because black lives matter – or, preferably, by doing both. One day, we will see that change, and it will come from people like you. 2020 is a wake-up call for all of us: to fight harder. To do better.

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Ranking The “She-Ra” Princesses Of Power!

SPOILERS FOR ALL FIVE SEASONS OF SHE-RA AND THE PRINCESSES OF POWER AHEAD!

Now that Netflix’s hugely successful She-Ra reboot has closed out its five-season run with an incredible finale, I think it’s high time we looked back at the series’ cast of complex, nuanced characters, and so I’ve decided to make a comprehensive list ranking the eight Princesses of Power who make up most of the show’s core cast, and whose alliance against the evil Lord Hordak (and, later, Horde Prime) forms the main thrust of the plot. Even when united by the magical link between their runestones, these Etherian Princesses are also compelling characters individually, and their unique personalities, powers and story arcs are what will be factored into my rankings.

Though it might be considered controversial, I’ve made the choice not to include She-Ra herself on this list, as I felt that the other Princesses are already overshadowed by her enough throughout the series: even though She-Ra is, strictly speaking, a Princess of Power, she’s so far beyond most of the others in terms of power and character development, it felt unfair to put her alongside them.

8: Spinnerella

She-Ra Spinnerella
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Voiced by series showrunner Noelle Stevenson, Spinnerella seemed like a one-off cameo when she showed up in the first season of She-Ra, and it’s largely because of her small amount of screen time that she comes in last on my list: even though I think her character design is charming, Stevenson’s voice-work is excellent, and Spinnerella’s ability to control spiraling tornadoes is visually striking, she’s the one Princess who we still really don’t know that much about outside of her marriage to Princess Netossa (which is an event that happened offscreen, presumably before the first season opens, and thus isn’t ever touched upon except through mentions of a wedding anniversary in Season 5). Towards the end of the series, Spinnerella finally got a couple of awesome moments – but those were while she was an unwilling villain, mind-controlled by Horde Prime. With maybe a few more scenes to highlight her personality or explore her background (for instance: where does she come from? What is her Runestone?), I think she would probably have made a much bigger impression.

7: Frosta

She-Ra Frosta
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I honestly don’t know if I’m in the minority with this opinion, but I was not overly fond of Princess Frosta. She was massively overhyped prior to her introduction towards the end of the first season, with Adora even drawing up military strategies for how to talk to her, and the Alliance determining that, if they could bring her to their side, they could win over all the remaining Princesses due to Frosta’s various connections. I enjoyed the reveal that she was actually a child (and a petulant, bratty one at that), but I felt like everything after that has been more and more wheel-spinning for her character. Even with the power to control ice, and a wickedly cool castle isolated in the mountains, Frosta has never been at the forefront of any stories since her debut: in season 2, she slowly earns Glimmer’s admiration and respect after initially coming off as clingy and obsessive; and in the final season, she and the recently returned Micah have some fun interactions as he prepares himself for his reunion with his own daughter – but for the most part, even more so than Princess Scorpia, Frosta has only ever been “the muscle”, who comes in handy when the teams needs to punch something with a spiky ice-fist.

6: Netossa

She-Ra Netossa
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Introduced alongside Spinnerella as the air-borne Princess’ wife and constant companion, Netossa seemed, if anything, even more vague and unnecessary – her power to throw magical nets at things was random, and her character had barely any dialogue or interactions with anyone besides Spinnerella. But in the fifth season, Netossa suddenly became the Princess Alliance’s MVP with an unexpected and mind-blowing upgrade: she became the first character to lose someone to Horde Prime’s mind-control tactics, but she never once gave up hope that her wife would come back to her when confronted with her unconditional love, and her quest to win back her “Spinny”, carried out over multiple episodes, was written beautifully. Her fight-scenes with the brainwashed Spinnerella were a delight to watch (though also heartbreaking), and convinced me that magical net tossing is actually a legitimate skill-set and can be used in plenty of creative ways. Her can-do attitude and relentlessly romantic spirit made her relatable in ways she hadn’t been before. Voice actress Krystal Joy Brown deserves much of the credit for transforming Netossa from a peculiar background-character to one of the Princesses I’d most love to know more about.

5: Perfuma

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Perfuma was a slow-burn, as she took a while to find her footing among the other Princesses – after all, when she was first introduced, she was written to be pushy, overly demanding, and grating. As Princess of the forested region of Plumeria, Perfuma’s interests are purely in the gardens, trees and plants she cultivates using the powers of the Heart Blossom Runestone, and she is a peace-loving character, so she didn’t jump into the Alliance straight away: but when she did, and once she stopped pestering everyone about meditation and drum-circles, it turned out there was a lot to love about her – she still suffers from all her old faults, but she’s also done her part to work past them and develop more patience for others: in season 4, a surprisingly transformative moment for her character was when she had to work with the cacti dwelling in the Crimson Waste, much to her dismay. In season 5, she grew very close to reformed Horde soldier Scorpia and used her skills to help the shyer, more sensitive Princess nurture her own talents. Her character design (especially in Season 5, which saw her take on a cool new undercover alias and a new outfit to go along with it), voice work by Genesis Rodriguez (who also played a similar character, Honey Lemon, in Big Hero 6), and unique connection with Etheria’s nature have made her a consistently fun Princess to follow on her travels.

4: Mermista

She-Ra Mermista
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The Princess of Salineas has always been a mood: her sour attitude on life in general and her angsty, on-and-off relationship with the boisterous pirate captain Sea Hawk make her vastly dissimilar to the more positive Princesses of Power. But over the seasons, we’ve watched her develop and gain a number of character traits we couldn’t have seen coming – after all, who would have ever guessed she was an avid reader of mystery novels, or that her reading habits would ever help the team discover a traitor in their midst? Who would have suspected that she herself took up Sea Hawk’s pyromaniacal tendencies and tried her hand at burning boats? But her biggest opportunity for development was when the Horde, helped by rogue Princess Entrapta, invaded Salineas and took everything from her, including her throne, her Runestone, and her status. After spending a long time sulking in a bathtub (being able to turn into a mermaid is good for some things) and eating ice cream, Mermista got back on her feet and became a stronger fighter than ever – which turned out to be both a blessing and a curse, as she later became brainwashed by Horde Prime and briefly used her powers against the other Princesses. Once you add the magic touch from Vella Lovell’s voice acting, you get a well-rounded and complicated character who may be a bit of a disaster at times, but is still fun, competent and relatable.

3: Scorpia

She-Ra Scorpia
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Scorpia had to embark on a long and difficult journey of self discovery before she could come into her own, and it’s no wonder – despite being the Princess of the Fright Zone, she had her connection to the magical Black Garnet severed while she was still very young, and the choice to relinquish the Fright Zone into the hands of Lord Hordak was made by her grandfather, thus abandoning Scorpia to a fate she had never asked for, as a soldier and later a Force Captain for the Horde. But Scorpia’s most defining character trait has always been her loyalty – without question, she did whatever the Horde asked her to do, which included turning on her fellow Princesses. It took her a long time before she had the courage to stand up to the Horde, and, in particular, Force Captain Catra, whom she had always considered her best friend. But when she did, and realized that she could still harness the electric powers of the Black Garnet, Scorpia never looked back: she is now defined not by the abuse and trauma she suffered, but by the action she took to make sure it would never happen again – not to herself, and not to anyone else. On top of all that, she’s also a great hugger and an amazing singer (and, of course, all the credit for that goes to voice actress Lauren Ash).

2: Glimmer

She-Ra Glimmer
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Glimmer has had the most screen time and development out of all the characters on this list, thanks to her unforeseen transition from princess to queen of Bright Moon, after her mother Angella’s death in season 3. That transition, though undeniably sad, was necessary to turn Glimmer from the reckless, impulsive character she had been up until that point into a more rational, strategical and calculating leader – though it wasn’t easy for her, as she proved when she fell victim to Shadow Weaver’s manipulations soon afterwards and chose to unleash the powers of the Heart of Etheria, even overriding The Beacon and invading the Fright Zone with Scorpia. Thankfully, in season 5, Glimmer had a chance to find her footing before she could be pulled any further down the dark path she had been walking – with the help of her friends and family, she was able to fix the damage she had caused. But even though she came back to the light with her morality intact, she did retain much of the knowledge she had learned from Shadow Weaver, including a talent for dark magic – a much-needed upgrade, since Glimmer had always been unique in that she had to recharge her own powers, derived from the Moonstone, in between battles. Ultimately, I’m putting Glimmer in second place because, while I love her character and Karen Fukuhara’s voice work, I still don’t think anyone compares to my favorite Princess of Power…

1: Entrapta

She-Ra Entrapta
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I didn’t expect to like Entrapta at all: her debut episode in the series, early in the first season, felt like filler while I was watching it for the first time, and I had difficulty believing this geeky, purple-haired Princess, living in the mountains with an army of murderous robots and a squad of bakers specializing in miniature pastries, could be of any use to the Rebellion, or an interesting character in her own right. And for a few more episodes, I thought I was justified in thinking that – until the fateful moment when Entrapta made the choice to stay with the Horde because….they had cooler tech. By firmly moving her from one side of the conflict to the other in a way that was shocking but still felt completely logical (because Entrapta had already been established as someone who cared more about tech than anything else), the showrunners turned her into the series’ most fascinating character. Since then, Entrapta has battled her moral compass, she’s slowly learned how to develop friendships, she’s maybe even fallen in love with Hordak of all people – and through it all, she’s always been unabashedly herself. Even in season 5, she has to physically stop herself from joining Horde Prime because he has spaceships! Am I the only one who thinks that’s super cool? As voiced by Christine Woods, the nerdy, complicated Entrapta is far and away my favorite Princess of Power.

So there you have it: all eight of She-Ra‘s Princesses, ranked. What do you think of my list? Which rankings do you agree with? Who is your favorite Princess? Share your own thoughts and opinions in the comments below!

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“She-Ra” Season 5 Review! No Spoilers!

Would it be too much of a hot take to say that everything Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame did, the fifth and final season of She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power did just as well – if not better in several instances? I’ll let you decide.

Now, to be fair, She-Ra has the advantage of being a Netflix series, with up to thirteen-episode seasons, so it’s probably not entirely right to compare it to any movie, even ones that are three hours long. However, considering that She-Ra‘s final season, whether intentionally or coincidentally, lifts a great deal of material straight from the closing chapters of the Infinity Saga, it seems fair enough to compare the two storylines, and how they are executed, and how the Netflix/Dreamworks cartoon sometimes gets it right where the Marvel Studios blockbusters falter.

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But first, a little background. I was not a She-Ra fan until Friday morning, when I decided it was high time I watched the entire series as quickly as possible, in order to catch up with the final season which had just dropped on Netflix. I had tried once before, several months ago, but I never even got past the opening credits. I forced myself through on this occasion, however – and before the first episode was over, I was already very thankful for that decision, because….wow. But don’t even get me started on the four previous seasons. This is strictly a Season 5 review.

Though I do think a little bit of Season 4 finale recap is in order – if you haven’t caught up, be warned: SPOILERS for that season up ahead! In the aftermath of Queen Glimmer (Karen Fukuhara) recklessly deciding to use the Heart of Etheria – a magical superweapon which lies embedded deep within the core of the planet – a great many things have changed in the status quo: first of all, Etheria itself has been carried through a portal out of its empty pocket-dimension and back into the larger universe; Adora (Aimee Carrero) has lost her connection with the ancient warrior She-Ra, and the Sword of She-Ra is broken and useless; and Hordak (Keston John), once the greatest enemy of the Princesses of Power, has been revealed to be nothing more than the puppet and defective clone of a far greater evil – Horde Prime (also Keston John), an alien overlord who has now launched a massive invasion of Etheria, and has simultaneously captured Glimmer, Hordak, and Hordak’s former second-in-command, Catra (AJ Michalka).

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Season 5 picks up after a small time jump. Horde Prime’s invasion is well underway now, and Adora, the archer Bow (Marcus Scribner), and all the remaining Princesses of Power are leading a futile rebellion against him. But on Horde Prime’s flagship, Glimmer and Catra are forced to establish a delicate trust bond with Prime and with each other as they plot a way to escape from imprisonment. Prime is essentially Thanos, and with less clever writing he might just have been that: his agenda (to destroy worlds across the universe in order to achieve cosmic balance and bring about a lasting peace) is much like the Mad Titan’s plan to end world hunger by wiping out half of every planet’s population; even more specifically, he too is the long-awaited mastermind behind the plans of an earlier antagonist in the franchise, who arrives on a gargantuan starship from the depths of space, whose army of mindless bodyguards start almost all their speeches with the word “Rejoice”, and who also has a tendency to meaningfully snap his fingers. Like Thanos, he has arrived on Etheria with the intention of claiming a superweapon that just so happens to come in the form of a magical link between a set of multi-colored crystals.

But unlike Thanos, Horde Prime has time to elaborate on his plans, and the characters have time to get to know him, to witness firsthand his strengths, and to begin to understand his weaknesses while they wander his ship. His special abilities, cloning and mind-control, aren’t anything we haven’t seen before, but they do also differentiate him from Thanos. And in one of my favorite scenes from early in the series, we get a chilling look at the devastation Horde Prime has wrought when he serves Glimmer and Catra a dinner consisting of various rare delicacies from worlds he destroyed in the past. Being the last person in the universe to know an entire planet’s recipes may not seem too dramatic, but it instantly makes the fight to save Etheria more personal, and conveys the horrors of Horde Prime’s conquests far better than any war-torn planet or battlefield.

She-Ra Catra
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And that’s the thing: whenever She-Ra strays dangerously close to imitating the Marvel films, it immediately veers away again with the help of some clever, quirky twist that makes it feel fresh and invigorating. The final season may have all the same scope, scale and – occasionally – story-beats as Endgame, but it puts its own unique spin on that story. There is only one instance I can think of where this isn’t the case, when several of our heroes (I won’t say which) are left stranded in space on their way to Etheria, but the fuel they need for their own ship is actually crystals in the exact shape of Captain Marvel’s eight-pointed star – Captain Marvel being the one who rescued Tony Stark from being stranded in space after his ship ran out of fuel – so they touch down on a desolate planet only to run into a motley crew of space pirates led by a woman called Starla (Melissa Fumero) and a bald purple cyborg woman with trust issues, in an interaction that plays out almost identically to a similar meeting between Tony Stark and Star Lord’s motley crew of space pirates – which also includes a bald purple cyborg woman with trust issues – in Avengers: Infinity War.

But there’s a not-so-secret weapon at the heart of She-Ra, and that’s the series’ core cast of characters and the relationships between them, which are constantly evolving in new, unpredictable directions. Avengers: Infinity War‘s greatest problem, in my opinion, is how it sacrificed character for plot: it’s a problem that unfortunately carries over into parts of Endgame – but She-Ra doesn’t have that problem: every major character has room to grow, and all their development happens onscreen, so it doesn’t need to be exposited to the audience. The cast is also small enough already that everyone can get a meaningful role: whereas in Endgame, it sometimes felt like certain characters had only survived the Infinity War snap so they could provide comedic relief.

She-Ra
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The story’s focus is still on Adora and Catra, as the couple navigates their fragile relationship with some difficulty. But for the first time, it’s not Adora putting in all the effort: Catra, for her part, is finally trying to stop pushing people away from her every time they show her any affection – though, much like Marvel’s Loki, she still plans on exploiting the current chaos for her own advantage, even if it means hurting others. Their relationship goes through some very surprising ups-and-downs this season. Separately, they’ve both changed as well – Adora is busy over-exerting herself as she tries to match the strength and stamina she possessed when she could turn into She-Ra, while Catra is a quieter, less aggressive shadow of her former self.

Catra’s reluctant interactions with the imprisoned Queen Glimmer are also surprisingly fun to watch, as Glimmer too has to make an effort to trust her former enemy, the woman responsible for her own mother’s death. Glimmer has had a rough time these past couple of seasons, losing people she loves and watching as her close circle of friends gives up on her when she needs them most – something which is partly her own fault, as her stubbornness manifests itself in increasingly dangerous decisions. Much like Catra, she is descending into a dark place, and it’s both thrilling and scary to join her on that journey.

Back on Etheria, Bow has also made some changes to his own lifestyle – though not quite enough to make him give up crop-tops, which he still wears proudly even in circumstances where one would think it impossible: such as the crushing void of space. His arc in this season is more understated than others, but it gives him a number of deeply satisfying revelations about his purpose in life, and also briefly reunites him with his two dads, who are still just as charming and witty as ever.

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My personal favorite character in the series, the geeky tech-genius Entrapta (Christine Woods), is given plenty of material to work with (quite literally) this season. Lost and lonely without her lab partner Hordak to turn to, she once again has a hard time reminding herself that she can’t just join the bad guys because they have cooler technology.

The other Princesses each get more time to shine, especially now that She-Ra herself isn’t around to steal the spotlight from them in action sequences. Shy, sensitive Scorpia (Lauren Ash), having just recently regained her Princess status after living her entire life severed from the powers of her Runestone, is the most compelling to watch – but then, she’s always been compelling. To no one’s surprise, she gravitates most toward Princess Perfuma (Genesis Rodriguez), who is battling her own insecurities and finds a kindred spirit in Scorpia’s gentle personality. The two more brusque Princesses, Frosta (Merit Leighton) and Mermista (Vella Lovell) have smaller roles this season: though the latter does get some very interesting development later in the season, and, as always, has adorable banter with the boisterous pirate captain, Sea Hawk (Jordan Fisher). A pleasant surprise is the upgrade of guest stars Spinnerella (Noelle Stevenson) and Netossa (Krystal Joy Brown) to recurring characters: they’ve come a long way from the time when Bow couldn’t even remember what their powers were.

Several villains find themselves joining with the Rebellion against Horde Prime’s power – the Horde itself has dissolved, while Hordak is trapped between his loyalty to his maker, and fidelity to his friend Entrapta (is there something more to their peculiar relationship? You’ll just have to watch and find out). Shadow Weaver (Lorraine Toussaint), meanwhile, still maintains that she is loyal to Queen Glimmer, even though her meddling with dark magic, which resumes early in the season as the Rebellion runs out of other options, makes her vulnerable to the temptation of evil.

She-Ra
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The dark magic itself is still fairly vague, but it is used in a greater capacity than ever before, and there are several fights which utilize it very well – especially those which also involve Glimmer’s father Micah (Daniel Dae Kim), who has had a little time to regain his strength since his decades-long sojourn on Beast Island. All in all, the action has been upgraded significantly this season: in particular, the fight scene which closes out Episode 5 is appropriately epic, and another fight soon after has one character literally leaping across an asteroid belt and blowing up starships with their bare hands. That’s all thanks to the incredible animation, of course.

A She-Ra review wouldn’t be complete without a shout-out to the series’ commitment to diversity – an area in which it wipes the floor with Endgame. While that film mustered up one nameless gay background character, She-Ra ends queerbaiting critiques once and for all with definitive, powerful LGBTQ+ representation.

For me, She-Ra beats out Endgame because of how undeniably right the payoff for every story thread and character arc is in the end. While Endgame leaves room for argument and debate over several characters’ fates, She-Ra ties everything up neatly, in a way that is brave but satisfying – at least for me. There’s no room for the sort of unending, roundabout discourse that plagues other fandoms. This feels like a conclusive, fitting ending for characters I only just met yesterday and for whom I would already sacrifice everything.

Series Rating: 10/10

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“Hollywood” Review!

I never reviewed The Politician, Ryan Murphy’s last big, melodramatic Netflix spectacle. For the record, I thought it was actually fairly good – a bit oddly paced, but not a bad series to binge-watch, and it was bolstered by a last-minute cameo from Bette Midler which served as setup for that series’ upcoming second season. But I made the choice not to officially review it, and, occasionally, I regret that decision. I will not make that same mistake with Murphy’s Hollywood, all seven episodes of which dropped on the streaming service yesterday. And that’s because Hollywood isn’t just a soapy drama about cutthroat political activists trying to outsmart each other in a Californian college campus Game Of Thrones – it actually is saying something. It has a hard time saying that something, a lot of the time, and it basically takes a sledgehammer to its own message, but it is trying. It is important, which The Politican never was, in my opinion.

Hollywood
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It’d be hard to miss what that something is, to be quite clear, considering that, to put it nicely, the story’s themes are unmistakably interwoven into the plot (to put it not quite so nicely, the theme is a giant neon sign flashing in your face every couple of seconds, from beginning until end). It’s a good theme, thankfully: basically boiling down to the idea that movies and media can change the world, and that that’s why representation in those areas matters, because introducing audiences to what they would think of as “radical” ideas – such as, for instance, a black actress starring in a Hollywood blockbuster, or two men walking down the Oscars red carpet hand-in-hand – can help, subtly, to undermine bigotry and forms of prejudice wherever they lurk. In fact, it’s a really good theme – representation is something I have always tried to fight for, using what little platform I have, because I too understand the power of movies and TV. It’s the way in which Murphy goes about expressing this theme – by looking at an alternate reality in which a small group of diverse, idealistic dreamers and free-thinkers worked to radically change the structure of Hollywood in the late 1940’s or early 50’s, placing women, LGBTQ+ individuals and people of color in charge of the corrupt studio system – that can feel uncomfortably idealistic, as if Murphy is diminishing the stories of the real-life heroes and heroines who fought for social justice and equality in favor of his fictional cast. Murphy does get it right on multiple occasions, but it’s a very mixed bag, as you’ll see.

The series’ greatest asset is its all-star cast, which makes it ironic that its greatest weakness is its refusal to trust in their talents. Instead, an all-too-large number of scenes lean on clunky, hammy dialogue and monologuing, even though the actors delivering said dialogue are perfectly capable of conveying what they’re being asked to say with simple looks and gestures. Murphy’s fictional cast got the memo – one character in the show even directs her star to act with his eyes rather than using excessive hand-flailing – but somehow his real cast didn’t. For instance, one particularly cringy scene (which, let me emphasize, is cringy not because of what’s being said, but because of how it’s being said) involves a main character, black actress Camille Washington (Laura Harrier) turning to her white costar Claire Wood (Samara Weaving) and telling her “I don’t need you to fight my battles for me”, after experiencing racism from an auditorium usher. Such a sentiment could easily have been spoken with a single, meaningful glance: but the unnecessarily stilted language makes the scene fall flat, meaning that the good message gets lost or overshadowed. Far more powerful are the tense, largely silent scenes of diverse families across America tuning into an Oscars ceremony via radio to hear the winners announced, waiting through long lists of nominees (something Murphy gets right is poking fun at the ceremony for its excessive length and slow, pondering pace) to hear the names of their favorite movie-stars.

Hollywood
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Speaking of the stars, let’s talk about them. David Corenswet’s Jack Castello, despite being a lovable and charming character, is, as a straight white male, probably not the best choice to lead a series that (a) aims to be all about diversity, and (b) has plenty of diverse supporting talent who could easily have been upped to the lead role: Laura Harrier, for instance, is often sidelined despite having the intriguing responsibility of playing a character playing a character playing a character, and many of her most exciting opportunities for development never even happen on camera – for instance, Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel (Queen Latifah) counsels the young actress at one point to fight a tooth-and-nails campaign for her first Academy Award, which sounds like it would be a lot of fun to watch and pretty empowering: but we never see it. Michelle Krusiec plays Anna May Wong, a Chinese actress who, in real life, lost out on a pivotal lead role in The Good Earth to a white actress who would go on to win an Oscar for the part: Krusiec’s take on the historical figure is promising in the first couple of episodes, and she’s set up to be a major character – but then she just disappears into the background cast. Other members of the ensemble include Darren Criss as white-passing, half-Filipino director Raymond Ainsley; Jeremy Pope as an idealistic young black, gay screenwriter named Archie Coleman; Jake Picking as closeted gay actor Rock Hudson; and Patti LuPone as Avis Amberg, the Jewish wife of a movie mogul (played by Rob Reiner in just three epiodes) who unwillingly settles into a position of power after her husband has a heart attack, only to discover she has a talent for business – Amberg’s small group of advisors, most notably Joe Mantello’s Dick and Holland Taylor’s Ellen Kincaid, are also lovely additions to the cast, and bring a good deal of genuine warmth and good-natured humor to the series. But I’d be lying if I said that one of my favorite cameos, for purely personal reasons, wasn’t an unexpected performance by The Lord Of The Rings‘ Billy Boyd as one of many closeted gay film executives at a party where we also meet notable Hollywood celebrities such as Tallulah Bankhead and Vivien Leigh (the former portrayed as flighty and fun-loving, the latter as a woman struggling with bipolar disorder).

So the cast is fantastic, of course. So is the series’ production design, costume design, cinematography – everything feels historically accurate…well, except for the actual story. If you ignore everything else, the series is actually a really fun look into the workings of the studio system, and what went into the casting process, and the making of movies. And there’s plenty of fun references to contemporary events and characters – one character derides Disney’s Song Of The South for its racist overtones; we meet the editor who secretly stowed away a copy of The Wizard Of Oz with the iconic “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” musical number intact after a producer insisted it be cut from the film; former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (Harriet Sansom Harris) shows up to make a characteristically memorable speech; the movie that Raymond Ainsley and his crew are making is a story about Peg Entwistle, an actress who committed suicide by throwing herself from the H in the Hollywoodland sign – though I find it very strange that, despite how prominent the story is and how frequently it gets referenced, despite the fact that the movie crew even builds a giant version of the H for their film set, despite the fact that the series intro even features all the main cast frantically climbing the Hollywoodland sign…in all seven episodes, no one actually attempts to commit suicide by jumping off the H. They build the entire set, and no one so much as threatens to climb to the top. I call that a wasted opportunity.

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But now for the bad. In any story about Hollywood, #MeToo issues have to be brought up, and this series has a peculiar, even disturbing way of handling them. Jim Parsons delivers an unquestionably good performance as predatory talent manager Henry Willson, but that’s also part of the problem – he is unquestionably good. No matter how many times he sexually assaults and abuses his clients, manipulating, demeaning and blackmailing them, preying on people powerless to stop him, he is always portrayed as a good character, someone who finds himself on the right side of history because…why? Because he has a sob story that he monologues to Rock Hudson? Is that seriously all he had to redeem himself? Not to give away too many spoilers, but the fact that this series has the audacity to end with the resolution of Henry Willson’s storyline is repugnant: did no one behind the scenes think about what they were doing? Did no one stop and realize that the series cast also includes Mira Sorvino, herself an outspoken victim of sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein? Did no one think before making Henry Willson a major, sympathetic, character in a story about fighting Hollywood’s corrupt system? The fact that the jury is (at least according to some historians) still out on whether or not the real Willson actually abused his clients possibly makes it even worse: because that means Murphy made the choice to depict Willson a sexual predator in his series, and still decided to redeem him.

It’s an especially upsetting situation sad because so much of Hollywood is actually good and important: especially right now, with setbacks occurring every day.  Representation in mainstream media is crucial, if we are to progress as a society – watching Hollywood reminded me of that, not only because we need more quality content with messages like the one in this series, but also because we need more quality content that doesn’t willfully undermine its own message by inexcusably apologizing for sexual abusers.

We’ve gotten to the point where a black woman can, potentially, win the Oscar for Best Lead Actress in a major studio production – but only one, Halle Berry, ever has, in the ceremony’s entire history. We still have a long way to go before it happens again, and I don’t know if a romanticized, fictionalized look into the past is the best way to ensure that it ever will.

Series Rating: 6.3/10

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