Marvel Developing “Secret Invasion” For Disney+!

The Secret Invasion saga is a Marvel comics storyline that many fans have been asking to see depicted on the big screen since it was revealed that Captain Marvel would introduce the story’s chief antagonists, the Skrulls, into the Marvel Cinematic Universe alongside their nemeses, the Kree. But it seems that, while the repercussions of the storyline will probably be felt in the films, much or even the entirety of the Secret Invasion saga will occur exclusively on Disney+, in the form of a new series for the streaming service, according to a new rumor.

That means that the details of the story will have to be changed for the MCU adaptation, because the scale will likely be far smaller – but that doesn’t come as too much of a blow, because we already knew that the storyline would have to be changed a lot after Captain Marvel revealed that the Skrulls were actually a largely peaceful people of exiled refugees, rather than the diabolical shape-shifting troublemakers they are in the comics. We actually have yet to meet any evil Skrulls in the MCU, though for a Secret Invasion storyline to work, there will have to be some: the whole premise revolves around a group of Skrulls led by the conniving queen Veranke, infiltrating earth by disguising themselves as prominent government officials and superheroes. In the comics, this story sprawls across the entire Marvel universe: it’s still possible that could work in the MCU as well, but we now know that the main characters standing in the way of Veranke (or whoever leads the Invasion in this adaptation) will be the Agents of S.W.O.R.D.

Secret Invasion
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S.W.O.R.D., also known as the Sentient World Observation and Response Department, made what was almost certainly its MCU debut last year in an incredible Spider-Man: Far From Home post-credits scene which showed former S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury leisurely strolling around the hallways of a massive space-station manned by benevolent Skrull and human workers, while simultaneously giving orders to Skrull operatives Talos and Soren, who were posing on earth as Fury and his assistant Maria Hill, respectively. Since then we’ve also been given evidence to suggest that S.W.O.R.D. will have a large presence in the WandaVision Disney+ series. Now, it looks like the agents of S.W.O.R.D. will be getting their own series, in which we may be able to explore the inner workings of their organization, and fully understand their various responsibilities as protectors of earth against cosmic and extraterrestrial threats.

Obviously, we already have an Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. series, and it’s quite good, so it does seem likely that at least part of the inspiration for this Secret Invasion story was borrowed from that MCU-adjacent TV program, which is set to premiere its seventh and final season this very month. In the MCU, S.H.I.E.L.D. ceased to exist several years ago, and the TV series, while popular with a small and devoted fandom (including myself), has drifted further and further away from MCU canon with each successive season. So, despite how unfair it is, there likely won’t be any reference made to the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or their many exploits across space and time (though if there is, I have a few ideas for how they could be implemented into a Secret Invasion storyline, which I’ll discuss).

Secret Invasion Agents of SHIELD
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Barring a surprise cameo in Black Widow or The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, S.W.O.R.D.’s first official appearance is likely to come in WandaVision – which, on the surface, seems like a strange place to introduce a group of space-based characters whose mission involves fighting aliens. But the tie-in to Wanda Maximoff’s multiverse adventure probably comes through the character of Hulkling, a half-Skrull, half-human superhero and member of the Young Avengers, who is the boyfriend of Wanda’s son Wiccan and is already rumored to appear in the WandaVision series. While he may not yet be a full-fledged agent in the series, his status as a bridge between humans and Skrulls makes him a key player in the relationship between the two peoples and, occasionally, a pawn in their politics. Certain members of the WandaVision cast, most notably Monica Rambeau and Thor fan-favorite Darcy, are also presumably more closely linked to S.W.O.R.D. than to Wanda herself – as a child in Captain Marvel, Rambeau was shown to have developed a close connection with the Skrulls and her comics counterpart is a cosmically-powered superheroine, while Darcy is an intrepid scientist specializing in the study of astrological abnormalities, a niche talent that came in handy in Thor: The Dark World and could make her an invaluable member of the S.W.O.R.D. team.

So already we have at least three characters who could easily be introduced as S.W.O.R.D. members who find themselves caught in the middle of Wanda Maximoff’s inner turmoil – perhaps due to Hulkling’s relationship with Wiccan, perhaps for another reason: it’s even possible that Wanda’s attempts to scramble the multiverse might endanger the earth, leaving it vulnerable to alien hostiles, something which could easily make her a target for S.W.O.R.D., though if that’s the case it’s hard to imagine why someone else, with a better understanding of the threat, wouldn’t be sent to deal with her instead. Again, I’m thinking Darcy’s experience with the Convergence incident could prepare her for dealing with this event, which might similarly feature a powerful and dangerous character trying to open a portal between worlds – though in this case, it would be Wanda, and her motives would be more sympathetic than Malekith’s.

The Secret Invasion series will most likely follow soon after – “soon” being a relative term in this case, considering that nothing is going to be happening truly soon with coronavirus still posing a threat to any filming in the foreseeable future. It is said to lead into the events of Captain Marvel 2, and could potentially feature a crossover with a Young Avengers series on Disney+, again because of Hulkling, who is a prominent member of that superhero team. Let’s start wildly theorizing now, shall we?

Secret Invasion Abigail Brand
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My guess is that the Secret Invasion series will start out with the core S.W.O.R.D. team already firmly established, having been assembled by Nick Fury prior to the events of Spider-Man: Far From Home but only just now emerging as a force to be reckoned with in the MCU. Apart from Hulkling, Monica Rambeau and Darcy, the team will be headed by a group of powerful individuals including Nick Fury, Maria Hill, Talos and Soren, and Monica’s mother Maria Rambeau, who was last seen in Captain Marvel, where she was Carol Danvers’ best friend and helped the heroine protect the Skrulls from an entire Kree army. The team’s commander in the comics, mysterious green-haired Abigail Brand, will also serve in a key leadership position. In the comics, a number of notable cosmic characters also stop in for guest appearances – some we’ve already met in the MCU like Captain Marvel, Peter Quill and Gamora; some we haven’t, like Thor’s long-lost half-sister Angela, and the bizarre alien warrior Beta Ray Bill. If we’re lucky, certain S.H.I.E.L.D. members might also make the jump to space, like Daisy Johnson, Melinda May, or the FitzSimmons duo: there are already rumors that Johnson, an Inhuman, could make a cameo in the Ms. Marvel Disney+ series, which will star another Inhuman character – if that is the case, I wouldn’t rule out Johnson and even Ms. Marvel showing up as part-time S.W.O.R.D. allies.

The plot of the series will revolve around this team of characters working on the space station known as The Peak when the Skrull invasion occurs. The invasion itself will be led by Veranke, and could be motivated for a number of reasons: it’s possible Hulkling could have something to do with it, and that the fight breaks out over him, but he’s already getting a lot of attention, so I’d rather that Veranke be inspired to attack earth when she hears of the secret Kree sleeper agents already established on the planet – these agents were briefly mentioned by Talos in Far From Home, in a manner that felt very significant. This way, Veranke and her Skrulls are inherently fighting for a good cause, but they’re also positioned as enemies to S.W.O.R.D., who will of course want to defend earth and deal with the Kree in their own way. If Marvel really wants to rip off Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., they could even have Veranke be a S.W.O.R.D. member herself, who betrays the organization, though in this case she could do so because she feels like her and her peoples’ concerns are being ignored. She might also try to get Hulkling to join her on her mission, which could give his character a fascinating dilemma but doesn’t make him the chief focus of a Secret Invasion storyline.

Secret Invasion Veranke
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Of course, there would have to be some shape-shifting happening, or what would even be the point of a Secret Invasion? In the comics, Veranke herself takes the form of Spider-Woman, but Sony owns the rights to that character and is unlikely to want to stick her in a Disney+ series. Besides which, Veranke impersonating Spider-Woman only works if Spider-Woman is already an established and trusted character in the MCU, which she isn’t. And beyond that, the scope of this series will probably be far smaller than it would be if it were a film – meaning that whoever Veranke does impersonate will probably be someone like Nick Fury, or someone else in the core S.W.O.R.D. team, rather than a big-name Avenger.

In the comics, The Peak is destroyed during the Secret Invasion by a Skrull posing as “Dum Dum” Dugan, a character who has long been deceased in the MCU and thus will have to be replaced. Abigail Brand and a few other agents will, as in the comics, escape the annihilation of their headquarters with the help of emergency space-suits (though, as this event will likely happen at the end of the series, this could be a fitting place to kill off certain characters, even fan-favorites like Talos, who presumably wouldn’t have a large place in the MCU after a Secret Invasion storyline anyway). They will be saved by Monica Rambeau – who basically has to have gained her own superpowers and adopted the Photon mantle by that point, right? – and Captain Marvel, who could show up as a finale guest star. Having Captain Marvel there also sets up the events of her sequel film, in which she may have to team up with the remaining S.W.O.R.D. agents to take down both Veranke and the Kree’s Supreme Intelligence, which is still a considerable threat to the security of the galaxy.

After this story is concluded, I imagine we’ll continue to see the S.W.O.R.D. team in the MCU: Rambeau, thanks to her similar set of powers, can easily become Carol Danvers’ sidekick, and Hulkling will join the Young Avengers as a full-time member. It’s also worth noting at this point that the finale of this series has the potential to introduce – or at least tease – both the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. Mutants such as Lockheed the dragon and Hank McCoy both serve under Abigail Brand as agents of S.W.O.R.D., and Brand runs into Mister Fantastic while he’s being held prisoner on a Skrull starship after the destruction of The Peak. If either of these things happens in the series, even near the end, it has the potential to be the next big MCU crossover event.

Secret Invasion Skrulls
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So that’s what I think of a Secret Invasion/Agents Of S.W.O.R.D. series, and how it could work. These are all just my personal theories and educated guesses: nothing based in substantial fact. This whole story is also only a rumor at this point – nothing has even been confirmed by Disney, so it’s possible I’m moving too quickly. Nonetheless, I’m very interested to hear what you have to say on the matter, so be sure to share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

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“The Clone Wars”: Season 7, Episode 11 Review!

Clone Wars Ahsoka

SPOILERS FOR THE CLONE WARS AHEAD

In its penultimate episode, The Clone Wars ties back into the events of the main Star Wars films in a way that could almost have felt jarring under worse direction – but with all the ingenuity and creative thinking that has made the series beloved by fans, this episode, fittingly titled Shattered, actually finds very clever ways to keep us, the audience, firmly invested in the stories of the series’ original characters while also throwing them into the midst of one of the films’ most memorable sequences: the brutal execution of Order 66.

Clone Wars Palpatine
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All through the episode’s opening minutes, the haunting score keeps us on edge, waiting for that moment when millions of clone troopers all around the galaxy – clone troopers who, through the series’ run, we’ve come to love for their individuality – will simultaneously become mindless servants of Chancellor Palpatine (voiced here by Ian McDiarmid, using dialogue from Revenge Of The Sith) and turn on the Jedi Order with guns blazing, bringing the Clone Wars to an abrupt, violent end. After last week’s episode, where Darth Maul (Sam Witwer) was captured by the forces of former Jedi commander Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein), one would expect a triumphant, victorious atmosphere – but there’s little joy or comfort to be found on the planet Mandalore as new leader Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff) turns her attention to the grim task of rebuilding her peoples’ society from the ground up, and Ahsoka prepares to bring Darth Maul into the custody of the Jedi on Coruscant, while still weighing in her mind the Sith Lord’s terrible prophecies.

As I suspected, the Jedi Purge is set into motion during Ahsoka’s journey through hyperspace, moments after she has a telepathic Force vision of Anakin Skywalker‘s (partially voiced by Matt Lanter, partially using Hayden Christensen’s dialogue) turn to the Dark Side and the violent death of Jedi Master Mace Windu (voiced by TC Carson, with some dialogue by Samuel L. Jackson) during his fight with Palpatine in the Chancellor’s offices. Thankfully, The Clone Wars‘ method of showing the Purge doesn’t involve actually reenacting any of the notable Jedi deaths from Revenge Of The Sith through another devastating montage – instead, we witness the whole event through Ahsoka’s eyes, as her entire crew begins firing on her without warning, forcing her to make a daring escape. Despite the fact that, earlier in the episode, Mace Windu insists on calling Ahsoka a “citizen” rather than a Jedi and other members of the Order seem to subtly demean her for her choice to become a neutral rogue, it appears that Palpatine wasn’t willing to make an exception for the padawan whose banishment he had partially orchestrated.

Clone Wars Ahsoka
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Ahsoka isn’t completely alone in the episode, however: during the initial attack, she can easily see that her long-time friend Captain Rex (voiced, like all clones, by Dee Bradley Baker) has tears streaming down his face as he pulls the trigger on her with shaking fingers – meaning that, despite how effective Palpatine’s brainwashing has been, there’s still hope for any clone who can successfully remove the inhibitor chip planted inside their brain. When she unearths sealed documents and testimonies from Rex, she also stumbles upon evidence regarding the mysterious cases of Fives, who, in the series’ sixth season, discovered the plot to exterminate the Jedi far too early and was personally tortured by Palpatine to the point of madness. It’s a harsh reminder of another of The Clone Wars‘ most powerful, emotional story arcs, but a beautifully fitting way to give Fives the justice he deserves, even if it is a little too late to save most of the Jedi. The main thrust of the narrative in this episode follows Ahsoka as she tries to corner Rex and get him into the medical bay, with the intention of removing the inhibitor and freeing him.

Another character she has to free is Darth Maul himself, whom she actually saves from execution – somewhere along the line, Palpatine must have added Maul’s name to his long hit-list. Maul, even without the aid of his classic lightsaber, is still able to give Ahsoka the distraction she needs, keeping the clone troopers busy with his savage fighting techniques: he beheads people, he slices people in half, he even uses the Force to cut one man’s arm off in an automatic door. As of the end of the episode, we don’t know where he is now or what he plans to do once the ship is cleared of hostiles – will he and Ahsoka have to make a deal in the series’ final episode? Will he have already escaped by the time she and Rex are free? We have no clue, yet. But, since one of the unexpected joys of this season has been watching Ahsoka and Darth Maul put aside their differences to fight a common enemy, I really hope they get at least one final encounter.

There are a bunch of notable moments from this episode. Ahsoka and Master Yoda (Tom Kane) have their last conversation ever, via hologram: both are reluctant to say too much to the other, unfortunately, which makes their dialogue far sadder – neither one gets to say all the things that should have been said in that moment. Ahsoka also chooses to withhold the information Maul gave her last week regarding Anakin and his pull to the Dark Side: information which would definitely have been helpful just a few minutes later. There’s a cute scene where Ahsoka recruits her starship’s team of maintenance droids for help – which provides some organic cheerfulness in an otherwise dark and ominous story. The episode ends with Ahsoka connecting to Rex through the Force and locating his inhibitor chip – something which causes Rex to see through his brainwashing, convincing him to help Ahsoka. But, judging by the huge army of clones currently trying to break down the medical bay doors, I suspect the duo will need help if they’re going to escape from the starship: which is also, if I’m not mistaken, still on its way to Coruscant, the new heart of the Galactic Empire and Palpatine’s reign of terror.

Clone Wars
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All in all, it’s been an emotional journey, and I’m excited (though also sad) that we’ll get to finish it on May the 4th, when the series finale premieres. In the meantime, we have the whole weekend to cry over the thousands of dead Jedi now littering the Star Wars galaxy, the uncertain fate of Ahsoka Tano, and the fall of Anakin Skywalker. Like most Star Wars stories, The Clone Wars seems destined to end in bittersweet tragedy – but I’ve had a great time getting here. We’ve traveled from one corner of the universe to the other alongside Ahsoka, Rex, and the gang, and I’m glad we’ll at least get the chance to properly say goodbye to them as well.

Episode Rating: 9/10

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“Captain Marvel 2” In The Works At Marvel!

To nobody’s surprise, the wildly successful Captain Marvel, released last March, is getting a sequel: the cosmic superhero film, Marvel Studios’ first to be headlined by a female hero, crossed into the billion-dollar club within a couple weeks, and introduced audiences to star Brie Larson as the sassy, headstrong Carol Danvers a month before her small but pivotal role in the mega-hit Avengers: Endgame. And while a tiny, toxic group of angry moviegoers complained that Larson and Danvers were “ruining Marvel”, most people simply ignored the loud discourse that surrounded the film’s release, and found Danvers and her supporting cast to be perfectly likable and fun: her movie was enjoyable, the writing was average (with a couple outstanding exceptions that I will defend to the death), and the directing was fine. Turns out, Carol Danvers was absolutely no different from many of her male Marvel co-stars – in that her debut movie was a strong, if safe, jumping-off point into future installments of her solo saga.

But now, with a new setting, a new screenwriter, and new directors, the Space Stone-powered heroine’s sequel movie could be something truly extraordinary: something that could prove once and for all why Danvers is the perfect candidate to lead the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the new decade. So let’s discuss everything we now know about Captain Marvel 2.

"Captain Marvel 2" In The Works At Marvel! 1
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It appears that Carol Danvers’ sequel will shake things up by giving us a change of scenery: while her origin movie was set in 1995, a couple years after the young fighter pilot was abducted by Kree aliens after absorbing the powers of an Infinity Stone, her second solo outing will take place in the present day (or, rather, the future day), after the events of Avengers: Endgame (which is set in the year 2023, in case you’ve forgotten). That means the Carol we see next will be an older, wiser Carol, a Carol who will have spent almost three decades traveling the stars, helping end wars across the galaxy. There’s no indication yet of who she’ll interact with in her sequel: will her best friend Maria Rambeau still be around to help her? Most importantly to comic-book fans, will Maria’s impressionable young daughter Monica have matured into the superhero known as Photon?

Considering who the sequel’s screenwriter is going to be, I’d guess the answer is “yes”. Megan McDonnell is supposedly set to write the scripts for Carol’s upcoming follow-up film, and her current credits include WandaVision, the hotly-anticipated Disney+ streaming series that will introduce a grown-up version of Monica Rambeau. Considering everything we now know about WandaVision, from the fact that it’s been fast-tracked for a late 2020 release, to the fact that its writers are now being moved into other key positions at Marvel, it looks like the series, which will star Elizabeth Olsen as a dangerously unbalanced Scarlet Witch, is going to be a big hit for the studio, and everybody involved with its production will probably leave with their heads held high.

Captain Marvel directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, on the other hand, may not be able to walk away from their tenure at Marvel with such honor – the directing duo are suspected to be moving on to other projects, and will not be helming Danvers’ sequel: Marvel is supposedly searching for a female director to take on the project, and guide it to its projected 2022 release date. Honestly, while I bear no ill will towards Boden and Fleck, I don’t think this is necessarily a bad idea: they didn’t do a bad job directing Captain Marvel, but they also didn’t do anything particularly new or invigorating – though, as I mentioned, I think the film does have some really good elements, including on-point humor, a subtly campy 90’s vibe, and strong performances. The sequel can do whatever it wants with that: it can go all Thor: The Dark World (a bad decision: don’t do that, Marvel) and double down on everything from the first film, or it can try for a more Thor: Ragnarok approach and branch out in a new direction, test the waters, give us a surprisingly fresh perspective on the character. Personally, I’d love to see Carol spend more time in space in her sequel, rather than moving about undercover on earth – that would also allow her to take on opponents her own size, and face some real challenges: since there’s probably very few villains on Earth who are going to stand a chance against her laser-punches and indestructible, fiery aura.

So what do you think? Carol’s story will have major changes both behind the scenes and in front of the camera, but will all turn out well? Where do you want to see her go next? Should she spend more time in space or on Earth? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

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“Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker” Spoiler Review!

The Skywalker Saga has concluded in fire, blood and Force lightning. After forty-two years of incredible journeys across the stars, from Naboo to Mustafar to Tatooine and Endor, from clone wars and intergalactic trade disputes to hopeless rebellions, empires, and the like, we have finally reached the story’s final, and defining, chapter. And that means it’s time to discuss all the major reveals, revelations and shocking surprises in a movie that is largely made up of such moments, in my spoiler review of Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker.

And, um, SPOILERS AHEAD, obviously.

"Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker" Spoiler Review! 2
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There is a lot to love in this film, and a lot of elements and plot-points that have already been generating arguments and heated debates throughout the Star Wars fandom. We’re going to go through each of the film’s most divisive surprises, from low-stakes squabbles to the-fate-of-the-universe-hangs-in-the-balance battles.

Let’s start the ball rolling with two moments that absolutely could have been high-stakes scenes, but were quickly undermined. The first involved everybody’s favorite Wookie, Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), and his fakeout death on the desert planet of Pasaana. Chewie is captured by stormtroopers and almost gets carried away in a transport shuttle, before Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) use the Force to drag the ship this way and that in a potentially fatal game of tug-and-war. This moment echoes an iconic The Last Jedi scene in which Rey and Kylo struggle for mastery over Luke Skywalker’s old lightsaber, but here the outcome is that Rey suddenly unleashes a fiery explosion of Force lightning to try and overcome Kylo’s grip, blowing up the shuttle and giving us a hint of her Sith heritage. Fortunately for Rey, Chewie wasn’t killed in the explosion after all, and survives all the ensuing violence to finally get rewarded with his very own medal, having waited forty-two years to get recognition for his help in destroying the Death Star. Later in the movie, the same sort of scenario involves C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), who has to have his memory completely wiped so that he can be made to speak Sith, so that Rey can find the ruins of the Death Star, so that she can discover a Sith Wayfinder which Kylo ultimately destroys in the palm of his hand, so…there was no reason for C-3PO to have his memory wiped at all. Thankfully the movie remembers this and has an irate R2-D2 (Hassan Taj/Lee Towersey) reverse the override and restore C-3PO’s fond recollections of his best friend. The moment when he “dies” is still emotional, and does lead to some funny jokes, as all good C-3PO scenes do, but all of those theories about “Sith-3PO” were making mountains out of one very small, unimportant molehill.

The relationship dynamics in Rise Of Skywalker are next on the list, not only because of how screentime is wasted on them, but because of how unbearably messy they are. It’s no secret anymore that director J.J. Abrams and The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson couldn’t ever figure out any sort of continuity between their films, but the whiplash of seeing our protagonists leap at light-speed from one relationship to the next here seems to imply that Abrams can’t even establish continuity with…himself. Rey and her possibly Force-sensitive friend Finn (John Boyega) were the sequel trilogy’s “original” love story, back when Finn was cool for about five minutes, but that was before the fandom collectively went crazy for “Reylo”, the popular coupling of Rey and Kylo Ren that finally gets payoff in Rise Of Skywalker with the pair’s first kiss and declarations of mutual love – sort of: Driver and Ridley speak volumes with subtle gestures, and don’t really need to say anything at all. Such is not the case for Finn, who spends a large part of the movie waiting to tell Rey something, presumably something romantic, before just…forgetting? Moving on? He clearly has some emotions for her at the beginning of the film, despite having been caught up in a romantic entanglement with fellow Resistance fighter Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) in The Last Jedi, and with fellow ex-stormtrooper Jannah (Naomi Ackie) here in Skywalker. But then again, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) also maybe has a thing for Rey, or was I the only one getting that from their weirdly flirtatious exasperated argument in the film’s opening scenes, which even features droid BB-8 humorously looking back and forth between the two characters as Rey reprimands Poe for lightspeed-skipping in the Millennium Falcon, and Poe tells her off for damaging BB-8 (even as relationships crash and burn around them, Poe and BB-8 are resolutely loyal to each other: there’s a love story for you, and it would still be less weird than whatever was going on between Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) and the much-younger Jannah during the film’s finale). Meanwhile the film continues to tease the idea of semi-romantic tension between Finn and Poe in the subtlest possible way, while also giving Poe a former female love interest of his own, one who doesn’t really have a whole lot to do except be Poe’s former female love interest. I think the crucial element here is that she’s female: after all, gotta squash all those gay rumors. Having a two-second lesbian kiss is surely enough to make up for no substantial LGBTQ+ representation in forty-two years (and for certain countries, it was apparently too much).

Let’s move on to female characters, who, with the obvious exceptions of Rey and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher, in her final, posthumous appearance), tend to get the bare minimum of screen-time or development. I’d be hard pressed to tell you what I thought of Jannah, Rose Tico or Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell), none of whom actually has anything to do except look cool, stand around, or stand around and look cool. Both Jannah and Zorii are at least technically supposed to have a handful of emotional beats each, but Rose especially seems to exist solely to make sure angry audience-members don’t ask where she went. But she might as well just not be here at all – she has maybe two or three throwaway lines, few if any character-building moments, and seemingly no acknowledgement of the fact that she was Finn’s love interest in the previous movie. I didn’t even think they were a particularly cute couple, but after the nightmare that actress Kelly Marie Tran went through, experiencing bullying and harassment from toxic fans, it seems suspiciously convenient that she’s little more than an extra in this film.

Other characters who fail to make an impression (and don’t worry, we’re almost done with the film’s big negatives), even after being hyped-up in the marketing, include Dominic Monaghan as another extra whose name I have already forgotten; Lupita Nyong’o reprising her role as Maz Kanata (another female character pretty much wasted); the super-creepy alien assassin Ochi of Bestoon (Liam Cook), who killed Rey’s parents and was then devoured by a giant sand-worm; and, unfortunately, Rey’s actual parents, played by Billy Howle and Jodie Comer. Yes, the very same Jodie Comer who is one of the Hollywood’s biggest rising stars at the moment – how are we not talking about the fact that she is in Star Wars, people?

"Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker" Spoiler Review! 3
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J.J. Abrams was always going to have to struggle to come up with an explanation for how Rey’s parents could technically be nobodies, but also somebodies: what he devised is pretty complex, so stick with me here. Rey’s grandfather is Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), and her father is Palpatine’s hitherto-unknown son. Before this extraordinary reveal, it was never indicated that Palpatine ever had a son, or a family, or a life, for that matter: not as the Emperor, not even as Sheev Palpatine, Senator from Naboo. Not only are we never told the son’s name, or when he was born, where he came from, or whether he was Force-sensitive himself, but we are never given the answer to the most glaringly obvious question that arises as a result of this reveal: who, dare I ask, was the poor unfortunate soul that birthed Palpatine’s son, and…um, why? Was he born when Palpatine was still a relatively human person, or after Palps had transformed into the ghastly, shriveled-up hobgoblin that we’re most familiar with? Anyway, Rey’s Father, it is revealed, chose to be a nobody instead of embracing his family name, and that’s why he and his wife sold their daughter into a torturous life of basically slavery, to protect her from Palpatine – because of course any good parent, knowing they’re about to die, would choose to sell their own child to an abusive community of junk-traders and scavengers rather than, oh I don’t know, leaving her with people who might actually care about her safety! And of course it makes sense that, after killing the parents, Ochi of Bestoon didn’t fly back to Jakku and hunt down the only human girl in a village that we saw in The Force Awakens was probably less than a mile wide. In other words, while the parents were marginally necessary, it would’ve probably made more sense to have her be, like Anakin, the result of Palpatine’s meddling with midi-chlorians (or are we still trying to ignore those were ever a thing?). She could still have been a Palpatine, and we wouldn’t be left with the horrifying implied revelation that Palpatine actually fathered a child.

Apart from the messiness of the Rey Palpatine reveal, the Emperor’s return is a welcome one. His resurrection is completely unexplained (“The dead speak!”, the film’s opening crawl reads, and that’s about as much explanation as you’re gonna get), but it’s nice to see that he isn’t totally back in shape after being tossed into the hellfire that was the second Death Star’s utter obliteration: now, the Emperor’s limp, skeletal body moves around on the end of a long metal crane-arm extended from the ceiling of his throne room on the Sith planet Exegol, like a creepy ventriloquist doll speaking with the voices of a thousand generations of Jedi. McDiarmid is obviously fabulous, and even gets to briefly return to a form we last saw him take in Revenge Of The Sith, as he sucks the life force out of Rey and Kylo Ren to repair his broken body and restore his strength. This time around he’s extra moody, having just discovered that his granddaughter doesn’t want to take part in the Palpatine family photo-op with his millions of ghostly Sith followers. And so, with no choice left to him but to destroy the universe, he unleashes the Final Order.

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The Final Order is appropriately ominous at first, as we see hundreds of titanic star destroyers rise from beneath the ice of Exegol, each armed with a planet-destroying weapon, to wreak havoc on the galaxy and establish Palpatine’s dominion. But these weapons are only used, to obliterate a single planet, and as a result the Final Order is ultimately defeated by a cavalry of space-goats. For the record, I have no complaints about that – in Star Wars, the underdog always comes out on top, and we love to see it. The film’s epic finale has Lando Calrissian and about a billion other spaceships pop out of hyperspace to come rescue the goat-riders and put an end to General Pryde (Richard E. Grant) and his menacing fleet – though not before a couple more deaths, including that of pilot Snap Wexley (Greg Grunberg), who gets shot down just before the battle turns in the Resistance’s favor. Bad timing, Snap.

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But few of the film’s scenes hit home quite like Leia Organa’s death, and the extensive use of ghosts, Force-ghosts and Jedi voice-overs. Midway through the movie, as Kylo Ren and Rey duel to the death amongst the shattered ruins of the Death Star, Leia finally reaches out to her son through the Force, using all of her Jedi training to find her son, the Ben Solo she knew and still loved, and bring him back to the Light Side. She succeeds, but has to use all of her remaining strength to achieve victory over the corrupting influence of Palpatine and his puppet Snoke (voiced by Andy Serkis), who had stolen Ben away from her and turned him into Kylo Ren. In the end, though Leia passes away in the attempt, she is a crucial element in the Skywalker Family’s victory over the Sith, just as we had all hoped she would be. There is no doubt that, if Carrie Fisher were still alive, then Leia would have had a much larger role in this film, but what we get is still powerful and emotionally satisfying – Luke Skywalker’s Force-ghost tells Rey that Leia actually trained to be a Jedi after the fall of the Empire, and he even gives her Leia’s very own lightsaber, which Rey subsequently uses, along with Luke’s a.k.a Anakin’s, to defeat Palpatine, symbolically uniting the power of all the previous Skywalkers against the Emperor. But it’s not just the Skywalkers who stand with Rey – it’s all of the past Jedi, who visit Rey as voices in her head as she lies, almost lifeless, on the ground at Palpatine’s feet: and I’m not even just talking Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Yoda (Frank Oz). A whole bunch of fallen Jedi give advice and courage to our protagonist in that moment, from Obi-Wan Kenobi (voiced by Ewan McGregor and Alec Guinness) Qui-Gon Jinn (voiced by Liam Neeson) and Mace Windu (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson), to some of the extended universe’s most notable heroes like Kanan Jarrus (Freddie Prinze Jr.) and Ahsoka Tano (voiced by Ashley Eckstein), who apparently died a Jedi despite (a) being alive the last time we saw her, and (b) leaving the Jedi Order in The Clone Wars. Fittingly, the final word is given to Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) himself, as the Jedi-turned-Sith-turned-Jedi tells Rey to restore balance to the Force and finish what he started. But even as a thousand generations of Jedi live inside Rey (something she acknowledges in an Iron Man-esque growl of determination, with her “I am all the Jedi” line), so too does Ben Solo have his own ghosts. Soon after being redeemed by his mother’s purifying love, Ben has a conversation with the ghost of his father, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), who actually appears physically – and, weirdly, also has audible footsteps, despite being intangible – and, in typical Han fashion, abruptly cuts his son off before he can start apologizing for all his sins with a quick “I know”, echoing his long-ago declaration of love to Princess Leia.

There are many echoes reverberating in The Rise Of Skywalker, from quick but powerful payoffs, to a number of startlingly poetic parallels. Even Luke Skywalker is still developing as a character even after his death, finally managing to lift his X-Wing fighter jet from the waters of Ahch-To even after infamously failing to do so on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back. Ben Solo echoes Anakin’s redemption arc by turning to the Light at the end of the movie, helping Rey to defeat Palpatine. And it’s Palpatine’s own Force-lightning which Rey deflects back into his hideous face, ultimately disintegrating the Emperor (in what appears to be a Raiders Of The Lost Ark callback) and preventing Rey herself from succumbing to the Dark Side. And then, she sort of dies.

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But thankfully, all those Force-phone calls between Rey and Ben were actually leading up to something, and something big: while in The Last Jedi they mostly just provided the two characters a way to communicate, Rise Of Skywalker adds a new wrinkle to the relationship, allowing Rey and Ben the ability to transfer physical objects via telepathy, including a beaded necklace, Darth Vader’s helmet, and a helpful lightsaber. Ben, cradling Rey’s dead body in his arms after the battle, is able to take things one step further by physically transferring his own life to Rey, reviving her but also killing himself in the process. Rey is quick on the uptake and manages to steal a kiss from the redeemed Jedi, just before he fades away into the Force, leaving Rey Palpatine to carry on with the massive burden placed upon her by generations of Jedi, Sith and Force meddling.

One thing she will not be carrying anymore is the Palpatine family name, which she abandons in the film’s final scene in exchange for “Skywalker”. The scene is a poignant one: Rey goes to Tatooine and buries Luke and Leia’s twin lightsabers just outside the Lars moisture-farm where the story began back in 1977. The Skywalker siblings’ Force-ghosts, united in death, look on as she takes up their family name and sets out into the double sunset with BB-8 beside her, and a lightsaber of her own (a lightsaber that I and many others think is yellow, while others claim it’s white). This is undoubtedly the film’s most controversial move: on the one hand, it makes sense that Rey wouldn’t want to be a Palpatine, and it’s poetic for her to adopt the Skywalker name, making sure that their name never dies out from the galaxy. On the other hand, fans are upset that Rey didn’t simply choose to keep the Palpatine name and redefine her grandfather’s legacy, proving that you can still be a good person, no matter where you come from or who your family happens to be. Both arguments are understandable, but at the end of the day it comes down to the fact that Star Wars has always been the story of the Skywalker family – to let their memory die out, buried in the sands of Tatooine, would be a dishonor to their legacy.

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And with that, the story of Skywalker is finished, once and for all. Peace has been restored to the galaxy. Balance in the Force has been achieved, through the actions of Rey Skywalker and Ben Solo, champions of the Light and Dark, who came together in what they called a “Force dyad” to become the “two that are one” – remember my Star Wars recap reviews, where I told you that duality would have a part to play in this last movie? I didn’t even expect that sort of shoutout in the film’s own dialogue (I expected it to be all in the subtext), but the confirmation was highly appreciated. The Empire, The First Order, and The Final Order have all been vanquished, and nobody needs to build any more Death Stars. For the first time, the galaxy is completely tranquil, and we no longer need to worry about what Sith Lord will rise next, because there won’t be another Sith Lord. This is it. This is the end.

We, the fans of this incredible franchise, have finally brought the story home. There will undoubtedly be much more Star Wars to come in future years, whether in the form of prequels or sequels, but I hope that Disney never feels the need to resurrect Palpatine once again, or bring the Skywalkers back. Any tampering along those lines would serve only to ruin the perfection of this pure, beautiful moment.

This is the ending we’ve been looking for.

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“Star Wars: Revenge Of The Sith” Review!

We are officially in the last leg of the long journey to Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, which means that the mighty Skywalker Saga, a story spanning forty years across films, books, comics, cartoons and video games is finally coming to a close – which in turn means that it’s time to reflect on that nine-part saga and take a good long look at the films that predate and inform Rise Of Skywalker‘s epic conclusion.

To do that, we’re going to have to discuss spoilers for each of the eight films in the Saga, so…SPOILERS AHEAD.

Star Wars: Revenge Of The Sith

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Despite being the continuation of George Lucas’ underwhelming prequel trilogy (and the last Star Wars film he’s directed), Revenge Of The Sith is not a fitting conclusion to this chapter in the Skywalker Saga. Why do I say that? Because, while it may be sacrilegious to some, I feel strongly that Sith is miles ahead of both its predecessors, and deserves far more praise than it has gotten (to be fair, its Rotten Tomatoes score is actually pretty good).

There are several things that make Sith the best movie in the prequel trilogy and a good movie regardless. The story has a singular focus on Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), and all the other subplots, from the Clone Wars to the Trade Federation, finally find a way to tie into his story without Lucas having to force him into theirs. The themes are stronger than before, with Lucas finally plunging bravely into Anakin’s darkness – it’s too late to understand him or sympathize with his journey, but we’re no longer called upon to do so: instead, Lucas merely asks us to marvel at the horror and spectacle of it all. And isn’t that what moviegoers do best? And there are several scenes, characters and plot-points here that are among the strongest in the entire franchise.

The first and least surprising of many revelations is Ian McDiarmid as Chancellor Palpatine a.k.a Darth Sidious. While Phantom Menace and Clones wasted the actor’s talents on rambling monologues about trade reform and taxation, he was gifted some of the trilogy’s best dialogue in Sith – where he also finally gets to shed his disguise and become the horrible, cackling, wild-eyed goblin we all know and love. In the scenes immediately preceding his grotesque transformation, where he slowly but surely seduces Anakin over to the Dark Side of the Force, McDiarmid is at his finest: a silver-tongued charlatan selling the promise of immortality with ease, grace and dignity. As the film’s title suggests, the power of the Sith has grown unstoppable: despite there only ever being two Sith Lords at a time, their ability to manipulate is their greatest weapon, as we learn that Palpatine has been using lies and deception to grow stronger in the Senate, until he finally takes the mantle of Emperor, and begins his reign of terror. And he has help from all over the galaxy, even briefly from Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) who fails him early in the film and is executed by Anakin, and the legendary General Grievous (voiced by Matthew Wood), a lightsaber-wielding quadrupedal cyborg with a nasty cough, who lurches his way through a series of epic battles. And the Emperor’s most secret weapon, and the one which ultimately gives him the advantage over his age-old enemy, is Order 66.

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It’s one of those scenes that screams “instant classic”. Though we had heard of the Purge that wiped out thousands of Jedi across the galaxy, seeing it was something else entirely: John Williams’ haunting music, the beautiful imagery, and the sheer nightmare of watching vast clone armies turn against their commanders at the push of a button. Honestly, it’s even more painful to watch than the Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Lord Of The Rings, where the Elves of Lórien are brutally slaughtered in battle, because of how quickly and easily this massacre is carried out: from Plo Koon’s violent death, blown to pieces in the explosion of his spacecraft, to Aayla Secura gunned down before she could even comprehend the click of loaded blaster-guns behind her, her body tumbling peacefully into a field of giant flowers. Only a handful of Jedi escape the purge, whether through their own quick-thinking – as in the case of Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) – or because of a very helpful accident, as with Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor).

But despite how sad we all are about the Jedi Purge (or maybe because of it), we can’t help but love every second of Anakin Skywalker’s long, slow, agonizingly painful transformation from man to machine. Not only is it great to see him bested in battle by Obi-Wan Kenobi and left for dead, a burning husk of a ruined man, on the lava shores of Mustafar, but it’s fantastic to watch what happens next, as this man-thing is brought back from death’s brink, stitched together by the Emperor’s medics and minions, clothed in darkness and wreathed in horror – and also blessed with the rich, powerful voice of James Earl Jones.

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Anakin’s meandering journey through two previous movies left aside, Sith finally gives us what we were looking for from this character: an actual explanation for why he turned to the darkness, one that is every bit as dark, horrific and irredeemable as it needed to be. In this final movie, George Lucas works overtime to come up with a good reason for his hero’s sudden shift in loyalties, and he comes up with something that, while not startlingly original, at least feels legitimate, given what we know already about Anakin’s character, and the lengths he will go to to protect those that he loves. The explanation is simply this: Anakin, in his desperate need to save the life of his wife Padmé (Natalie Portman), ends up being lured to the Dark Side to explore the promise of immortality, a promise which he learns too late is nothing but a lie. Yes, stronger chemistry between Portman and Christensen would have gone a long way in selling this idea, and the prequel trilogy in general, but I can hardly fault the actors for not being able to conjure up much genuine emotion, considering the poorly underwritten dialogue. But at least it’s something – and Lucas, for what feels like the first time in this trilogy, understands that Anakin is a villain at his core. Rather than try to make him sympathetic or understandable, Lucas shows us just how irrational and horrible he is, even falling back on the Anakin-murders-innocent-children trope from the last movie, but this time without having anybody come up with stupid, clumsy excuses for why he did what he did. He’s not a good person: he never was. The evil spirit of Darth Vader always lived inside Anakin – it just needed to be coaxed out by the Emperor’s cunning words. I don’t even think that Anakin being a truly evil person makes his “redemption” and sacrifice in Return Of The Jedi unearned: as I wrote in my review of that film, I feel Vader’s choice to betray the Emperor was his attempt to do right by Padmé, who I think he truly loved. In Return Of The Jedi, he was motivated exclusively by his desire to save the life of his own children, not by any concern for the Rebellion, or the Jedi. He was a selfish and overly protective person until the day he died: was there light in him, as Luke claimed? I believe there was, but it expressed itself in his love for a woman whose death he had caused, and whose children he had tormented.

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Speaking of that particular woman’s death, however, we do have to address the biggest issue in Revenge Of The Sith: Padmé being fridged, or to be precise, pre-fridged. “Fridging”, a term which refers to a female character being killed or harmed to further a male character’s storyline, is not strictly applicable in this case, because it wasn’t Padmé’s death, but rather the fear of her death, that motivated Anakin to madness. But regardless of what happened when, Padmé is barely even a character in this movie, having little more to do than act as Anakin’s muse and the mother of his children. She makes one powerful decision near the end of the movie, when she chooses to leave her husband for good – but even afterwards, she’s still haunted by him. How she dies is something of a mystery: her doctor droid says something about her losing the will to live, but the clever juxtaposition of her death with Anakin’s painful resurrection, combined with Palpatine’s remark to Anakin that “it seems, in your anger…you killed her”, almost implies that it was Anakin’s grief and the burning fires of his anguish that somehow drained her of her stamina. A semi-telepathic link between the two is possibly teased earlier in the film, when Anakin and Padmé seem to “see” each other from opposite sides of the city of Coruscant, or at least can feel the other’s presence very strongly. While it’s not explained if this is the case, it makes more sense than the resilient Padmé Amidala dying of sorrow.

Another interesting fact about Padmé’s death, mere moments after both her children are born into the fluorescent light of the Polis Massa maternity ward: Leia is born just after her twin brother Luke, almost seeming to underscore her birth as the more notable of the two. Given everything we know about Leia’s character arc, it wouldn’t be entirely implausible to believe that this was yet another hint that Leia Organa was destined to be the true heroine of the Skywalker Saga. Just a thought.

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Finally, we have to talk about the film’s action sequences, which range from “meh” to “magnificent”. There are two in particular that stand out to me: the battle on Utapau that pits Obi-Wan Kenobi against Grievous, who, as previously mentioned, wields four lightsabers at once, with metal arms spinning and swirling like helicopter-blades as he uses all of Count Dooku’s fighting techniques. Kenobi has never been the franchise’s most skilled dueler, preferring brute force tactics, which makes the fight a little unbalanced until he wrenches open the cyborg’s chest cavity and puts a few laser-bolts into his heart – I’m not precisely sure on the mechanics of why Grievous promptly goes up in flames, with fire erupting from his eye-sockets, but it’s a cool visual. And then, of course, there’s a much bigger, more epic battle in which Yoda and Emperor Palpatine chase each other through the cavernous Senate Building, employing force lightning and insanely fast-paced lightsaber action. It’s Palpatine’s best moment in the series’ history, and McDiarmid (not to mention his CGI stand-in) nails it. After that high, the final battle between Skywalker and Kenobi on Mustafar is bound to be disappointing, not least of all because the CGI lava is spectacularly unconvincing.

So Revenge Of The Sith is not only a return to form for the franchise, but a fun, thrilling, and tragic conclusion to a trilogy that could so easily have ended with a resounding thud. It’s cool to witness Anakin’s ruinous downfall in real-time, as the whiny teen becomes the impressive Sith Lord we were all just waiting to see. It’s satisfying to be present at Luke and Leia’s birth, and see them brought to their new homes on Tatooine and Alderaan, respectively. It’s nice to be able to have seen this chapter of Star Wars history, even if it wasn’t always great, or good, for that matter. And it’s also nice to close out this chapter with a film that, for all the flaws it’s burdened with by two prior failures, somehow manages to tell a decent story about light, darkness, and the enduring nature of hope.

Movie Rating: 7.9/10

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“Star Wars: Attack Of The Clones” Review!

We are officially in the last leg of the long journey to Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, which means that the mighty Skywalker Saga, a story spanning forty years across films, books, comics, cartoons and video games is finally coming to a close – which in turn means that it’s time to reflect on that nine-part saga and take a good long look at the films that predate and inform Rise Of Skywalker‘s epic conclusion.

To do that, we’re going to have to discuss spoilers for each of the eight films in the Saga, so…SPOILERS AHEAD.

Star Wars: Attack Of The Clones

"Star Wars: Attack Of The Clones" Review! 13
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With the second movie in his hyped-up prequel trilogy, George Lucas doubled down on the much-maligned formula that made The Phantom Menace one of the Star Wars franchise’s most critically abhorred entries – leading yet another promising story to the Dark Side and leaving audiences with a bitter aftertaste of crudely overabundant CGI, meandering subplots upon subplots, emotionless acting, and what have to be some of the series’ worst-written (and consequently, most meme-able) moments. Unfortunately, while it manages to increase the stakes and introduce some fun new characters, Attack Of The Clones is largely set-up for the trilogy’s final (and best) installment.

It has to have been unintentional that the series’ protagonist Anakin Skywalker (here aged up by a couple of years and played by Hayden Christensen) is consistently the trilogy’s biggest problem. Even as the story desperately tries to probe deeper into his mind – and convince the viewer that there’s something there worth seeing – Anakin pulls away from the camera, becoming more and more distanced, as if Lucas was still too afraid to follow him on his path into darkness. Instead of being privy to this character’s decisions and consequential life-choices, we’re constantly shut out, or given the bare minimum of details that we need to understand who he is, and how he became Darth Vader (remember, that was this whole trilogy’s purpose!). For instance, Anakin has a crucial scene in this movie where, having learned that his mother Shmi (Pernilla August) was killed by Tusken Raiders, he goes about blindly massacring every Raider he can find, including women and children. Now an unrepentant butcher of innocents, a wild-eyed Anakin promptly boasts about how good it felt to slaughter them like “animals”, a horrific comment which provokes a tame response from Anakin’s girlfriend, Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) – “To be angry is to be human”, she says, while trying to calm him down. This entire scene does nothing to establish Anakin as a “tortured soul” of some kind: instead, it paints him as a sociopathic serial killer incapable of even grasping the concept of empathy. But there’s no lead-up to that revelation, nor is it even treated as a big deal. Within a few scenes, Anakin is back to being the film’s default hero, and we’re supposed to buy into his romance with Padmé, as if we don’t all know very well that Anakin shows signs of being or becoming the galaxy’s most abusive and nightmarish boyfriend. It’s already far too late to even try and understand what motivates Anakin’s terrifying aggression, much less rationalize whatever it might be.

And while Anakin is reduced to little more than a killing machine in this movie (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg, compared to what he does in Revenge Of The Sith), Padmé’s characterization is even worse. Natalie Portman, who would go on to win an Academy Award in 2010, is wasted in a thankless role that amounts to little more than window dressing. She stands by and supports Anakin’s violent outbursts, and can’t help falling in love with him regardless of his obvious evil. The foundation of their romance is a single conversation where Anakin infamously rants about how much he hates sand. And then, of course, there’s the tiny little detail that Anakin and Padmé have a very apparent age-gap – Anakin having been about nine when he first met the teenage princess and fell in love with her. But it’s apparently okay,  because in Attack Of The Clones Anakin has aged into a full-grown man while Padmé is…still a teenager. And uh, yeah, that’s definitely how time works.

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The film’s MVP is Obi-Wan Kenobi (delightfully portrayed by Ewan McGregor), who is blessed with all of Luke Skywalker’s moral purity and Han Solo’s charismatic, no-nonsense attitude. If only his subplot had anything to do with Anakin Skywalker! Then again, perhaps it’s a good thing that it doesn’t, because Obi-Wan Kenobi doing cool things by himself is far more entertaining than Obi-Wan Kenobi pretending to care about Anakin’s Jedi training. While the relationship between mentor and padawan apprentice reinforces Star Wars‘ constant theme of duality, it’s here undermined by the fact that Obi-Wan and Anakin barely ever have a relationship. Instead, Obi-Wan has a completely unrelated subplot that manages to tie back into Anakin’s story at the end of the movie because Anakin has to go rescue him, which…well, no, actually, it’s just there for cool action scenes. It does nothing to advance the plot, honestly.

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The subplot of which I speak is, of course, the Clone Wars: a very interesting story, told in a very boring way. Just as before, George Lucas’ vivid imagination bogs down the story, as he tries to cram in more unnecessary information and backstory about the histories of the Droid Separatist Armies and the clone army commissioned by Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas. It’s a shame, because the war itself is a very clever idea, and it gives the Jedi Order something to do as they become the commanders of the clone army – united, with all their lightsabers aglow and Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) and Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) leading them into battle, the Order finally looks like a formidable fighting force. And it’s a good thing too, because they’re up against the menacing Christopher Lee as Count Dooku a.k.a Darth Tyrannus, a charmingly classic addition to Star Wars canon, and another wonderful villain. The film doesn’t introduce him until relatively late in the game, and his backstory is largely left to the audience to piece together, but he doesn’t really need to be anything but Christopher Lee, dressed in aristocratic finery and expertly wielding two curved-bladed lightsabers, gently mocking his opponents’ inferior fighting skills. His battle with Yoda, in which the two masters go head-to-head, using every last trick from the Jedi rulebook, is not only one of the film’s highlights but one of the best reasons to watch the prequels at all – that and another Yoda battle in the next movie. Shamefully, however, there’s a large part of the movie that does nothing with either Yoda or Count Dooku, and instead tries to sell the idea that Boba Fett’s father is an interesting character because…he’s Boba Fett’s father?

You know how I feel about Boba Fett. I’ve simply never cared about him one way or the other. But now, I’m expected to care that his father, Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison), was the model for Sifo-Dyas’ clone army because of a familial connection that means nothing to the story. Jango could have been literally anyone else, and it would not have mattered. All that Boba does in the movie is watch as Mace Windu decapitates his father – as if there’s some sort of revenge arc to be set up, even though nothing of the kind ever occurs, either in the prequels or in the original trilogy, where Boba meets an untimely fate even more ridiculous than that of his dad. And worse, the whole situation is exemplary of everything that so often goes wrong with prequels in general: it makes the Star Wars universe smaller, by implying that the only people worth following are the characters we all know from the first trilogy, or their parents and extended family. Luckily, all these characters just so happen to be in the same place at the same time! Boba Fett (Daniel Logan) is there, as a moody little kid; Owen Lars (Joel Edgerton) is there; R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) is there; C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) is there because he was apparently built by Anakin Skywalker, a retcon that serves no purpose, as Anakin and C-3PO share only a handful of scenes, and Darth Vader never even acknowledges the droid; Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) is in there too, somewhere; the Death Star is there because why not at this point. The Death Star gets shoved into so many Star Wars movies, it barely even registers anymore.

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Just as obnoxious as the fan-service is George Lucas’ usage of CGI technology. I will never understand how a movie like Attack Of The Clones could have come out the same year as The Two Towers, which was a brilliant display of everything that special effects can achieve when applied to film. Clones‘ CGI has aged spectacularly badly, from the fight-scenes on Geonosis that look like video-game cutscenes, to Jedi stunts that attempt to resemble wuxia wire-work martial arts – but without the wire-work. And then, of course, there are the clone armies…again, how could Lord Of The Rings get this technology so right, while Star Wars got it so, so wrong?

And at last we come to the film’s finale, which basically exists to tease the next movie. Droids and clones erupt onto the battlefields of Geonosis to wage warfare, the Jedi and the Sith prepare for the conflict of the century, and then…well, then comes Revenge Of The Sith, which takes place at the very end of the Clone Wars, before we’ve even had a chance to actually witness them onscreen. There’s a long-running animated TV show that covers the events between the two films, but for moviegoers, the Clone Wars themselves are barely a blip in the Star Wars timeline. The irony of the matter is that the epic ending of Clones finally indicated that Lucas’ preference for plot over character might actually pay off – but in Revenge Of The Sith, he changed course and made the movie all about Anakin, giving us little more than hints and glimpses of the warfare, political intrigue and intergalactic trade law that had been the series’ defining feature. Just as it was beginning to get good!

It’s worth noting that another high-profile prequel franchise, the Fantastic Beasts series, has similarly promised us a war of wizards and dark magic, and it’s to be hoped that they take a hint from the failure of the Star Wars prequels, and choose to show the warfare onscreen. But that series has its own problems, anyway.

Anakin and Padmé’s ill-fated secret wedding at the end of Clones is obviously intended to be an emotional moment, the culmination of a hopelessly beautiful love story: and it probably would have been, if the couple had any chemistry. But we’re dealing with one character who’s a raging lunatic with anger-management issues and a whiny, pessimistic attitude toward literally everything, and the other who’s…um, does Padmé even have a defining character trait? She was a politician in Phantom Menace, but Clones reduces that idea to “hey, we’ll have her spurt random political metaphors at inopportune moments!”. The film also tries to hint at a concept which would become a major plot point in Revenge Of The Sith; that Anakin was jealous of Obi-Wan and Padmé’s nonexistent relationship – but seriously, why? Because Obi-Wan helped him rescue Padmé from a couple of killer centipedes? It’s just yet another abusive boyfriend trope that makes Anakin even more unlikable and unsympathetic.

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And so we are left with a film that can’t figure out the difference between a plot and a subplot; a film that tries to push a scarily nerve-wracking relationship as a cute love story; a film that wants to be thought-provoking and deep, but can’t even put together a comprehensive line of dialogue. It’s still better than the first movie for various reasons (a notable absence of Jar-Jar Binks being one of them), but not by enough to make this film a memorable – or even strictly necessary – addition to the series.

Movie Rating: 5.8/10

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“Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” Review!

We are officially in the last leg of the long journey to Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, which means that the mighty Skywalker Saga, a story spanning forty years across films, books, comics, cartoons and video games is finally coming to a close – which in turn means that it’s time to reflect on that nine-part saga and take a good long look at the films that predate and inform Rise Of Skywalker‘s epic conclusion.

To do that, we’re going to have to discuss spoilers for each of the eight films in the Saga, so…SPOILERS AHEAD.

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

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It’s finally time to explain my decision not to start my eight-part review of the Star Wars franchise with what is now technically referred to as the first movie. The idea of having to wade, Gungan-style, through three intermittently bad movies before getting to the series’ real gems was simply not appealing to me, so I took what we’ll call a detour – by going through the films in the order of release, rather than where they fall in the official timeline. But, of course, destiny arrives regardless, and now we have finally set foot on the soggy, pleasantly pastel planet where humans and sentient dinosaurs live together in harmony among a picturesque landscape of waterfalls, rainforests and Renaissance cities…yes, it’s Dinotopia.

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No, wait, that’s not right. Sorry, it’s Dinotopia’s identical twin, Naboo.

Here, amid all that lush greenery and damp air, our story begins: it is the story of a boy who would become a man who would become a machine, a child born into the world to serve a dark power’s nefarious purposes, a Jedi who would turn to the Dark Side of the Force and join the ranks of the Sith. Here, on the planet Naboo, begins the story of Anakin Skywalker.

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Wait, that’s not right either. Anakin’s story doesn’t start here. So then…why does the movie start here?

Unfortunately, there’s no good answer to that question, which lingers over the whole prequel trilogy. The point of the prequels was supposedly to go deep into the psyche of the man who became Darth Vader, to discover what went so horribly wrong in his life that he would turn away from the light and succumb to darkness. And yet somewhere along the way, director George Lucas realized that he actually wanted to make an entire movie about intergalactic politics and shipping blockades – and, uh, sure that has something to do with Anakin Skywalker’s journey to the Dark Side! How? Well…because Padmé Amidala, Anakin’s wife, came from Naboo, that’s how. And so the story of Anakin Skywalker actually begins with Padmé, the young, seemingly naive Queen of the Naboo people, being rescued from her home planet by the Jedi and…wait, you’re telling me we spend the first half-hour of the movie on a rescue mission to free Padmé only to find out in the film’s last thirty-five minutes that it’s not even the real Padmé?

This is, unfortunately, only one example of the problem with the prequel trilogy, but it highlights one of Phantom Menace‘s biggest structural flaws. Rather than focusing on the character of Anakin Skywalker (who was likable enough here, portrayed by Jake Lloyd), the movie wastes valuable screentime on supporting characters and three or four different political subplots that have no bearing on Anakin’s story whatsoever. This epic failure is comparable to Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald, a movie in which plot took precedence over character development, to the detriment of both – a huge, complex plot means nothing if there aren’t sturdy, strong characters to hoist it on their shoulders when the going gets rough and carry the audience’s interest across the finish line. In both Crimes Of Grindelwald and Phantom Menace, the “characters” are mostly cardboard cutouts barely capable of carrying a single scene, much less an entire movie.

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There’s a trio central to the story of Phantom Menace, but it’s sometimes hard to tell whether it consists of Anakin Skywalker, Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman), and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) or Anakin, Padmé and Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson). Obi-Wan is the more important of the two in the long run, but he does virtually nothing in Phantom Menace except stand by Qui-Gon’s side and argue with him about whether or not Anakin should be trained as a Jedi. And then at the very end of the movie, he gets to kill the Sith apprentice Darth Maul in one epic lightsaber fight that makes his earlier irrelevance not only confusing but frustrating. As previously mentioned, Padmé is actually disguised as a different character for most of the film, while Sabé (Keira Knightley) wears her identity. Anakin isn’t in the movie’s first half-hour, and even when he does show up, he’s still initially a supporting character – at best, he’s a walking plot device until he takes command of his very own starship in the finale. Until the second film, I think it’s safe to say that most of this defining chapter in Anakin’s life is told from the viewpoint of Qui-Gon Jinn as he tries, unsuccessfully, to decipher the child’s parentage and account for his abnormally high midi-chlorian count (yes, this film also establishes that your strength in the Force is determined by the amount of alien blood-cells living in your body, which just…no).

And it’s not like anybody else ever figures out what Anakin is, either. Even to this day, Star Wars canon is conflicted about where he came from – the predominant theory being that he was “conceived by the midi-chlorians”, meaning that, in essence, he’s the son of the Force itself. That’s all well and good, but why wasn’t it ever explained in the movie? The only hint we get about his parentage is one vague quote from his mother, Shmi (Pernilla August), who tells Qui-Gon that “There was no father. I carried him, I gave birth, I raised him, I can’t explain what happened.” Yeah, well, try. Any explanation would be better than simply giving us yet another unanswered question about the character whose backstory we were supposed to be learning!

I think that, even without making the movie about Anakin (since George Lucas was clearly resistant to that idea, for whatever reason), a compelling story could still have been told – if the actual focus hadn’t instead been directed on the impossibly complicated political system of Naboo, and their relations with the Gungan aliens, Viceroy Gunray’s Trade Federation and the Old Republic’s corrupt, bureaucratic system. Now, I love political intrigue: it’s one of my favorite tropes in sci-fi, fantasy or fiction in general. But intrigue has to revolve around character in order to work properly – simply having shipping blockades and assassination attempts and coups isn’t interesting, unless we care about the characters that these things are happening to: for instance, look at Game Of Thrones, which, in its first few seasons, expertly handled political intrigue by pitting fleshed-out characters against each other in interesting ways and giving them real motivations and agendas that audiences could become invested in. It’s hard to become invested in Naboo’s fight for independence when we know next to nothing about the handful of characters in the movie who actually hail from Naboo – especially when one of them is Jar-Jar Binks (Ahmed Best).

Now, I just want to preface this by saying that I bear no ill-will towards Ahmed Best, who was simply doing his job and the best that he could in extremely difficult circumstances: I wish him well, and I’m very glad to hear that he’s just landed a role as the host of a Star Wars game show on Disney+. That’s fantastic. But the character he happens to portray, the notorious alien by the name of Binks, is without a doubt the most pointless and pathetic character in the Star Wars universe – and it’s a big universe. But between his…jokes?…and his voice, and his unnervingly long tongue, there is not a single thing about Jar-Jar that helps the prequel trilogy in any way. Worse, he’s actually damaged the trilogy’s reputation.

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On the other side of the galaxy but almost as useless, the Jedi Order loses all of its mystique and magic when glimpsed in The Phantom Menace, where they’re basically just a group of squabbling elders blind to the disintegration of the society they’re sworn to protect. Seeing them here, at what was apparently the height of their glory, it’s hard to imagine they stayed in business as long as they did. It’s even harder to imagine that they could ever be brought back, or that they would be effective, if they were.

The Sith, however, have never looked so appealing as they did here, operating in secret from behind thrones and senate-seats across the galaxy, a cult based on the duality of master and apprentice. While the master himself, Chancellor Palpatine a.k.a. Darth Sidious (Ian McDiarmid) is busy getting “elected” to ever-loftier positions of power in the New Republic, his apprentice Darth Maul (Ray Park) is on assignment like a mysterious ninja, or a ghostly assassin, or a…phantom menace. While Maul would look cool regardless of his weaponry (dude’s literally a six-foot tall Dathomirian Dark Lord covered in horns and red-and-black full-body tattoos), having a freaky, double-bladed lightsaber probably doesn’t hurt his image. Sadly, while he was undeniably one of the Dark Side’s most photogenic champions (in the days before Kylo Ren), he was cut in half by Obi-Wan Kenobi at the end of the movie, preventing him from ever realizing his true potential. One thing that can be said of the prequel trilogy is that it had some epic villains – it just didn’t keep them around long enough to make much of a difference.

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And that’s the biggest problem with The Phantom Menace: huge potential, but nothing to do with it. It’s a movie that spends more time explaining the mechanics of pod-racing and the structure of the intergalactic Senate than the dynamics of its core cast of characters, or the psychology of our protagonist…who, as time goes by, becomes only more distanced from the audience, because he was never close to us to begin with.

Movie Rating: 4.9/10

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“Spider-Man: Far From Home” SPOILER Review!

If you haven’t seen Spider-man: Far From Home yet, make sure you get out of here and into a theater now, because you don’t want to miss it, and you definitely don’t want to get spoiled!

I have a feeling that the spoilers are, in large part, what make Far From Home such a fun movie: as I wrote in my nonspoiler review, it’s virtually impossible to talk about the film without giving anything away, because there are dozens of little shocks and surprises, not to mention a couple of huge, mind-blowing plot twists. And we can talk about them all now! We’ll discuss them in order of importance.

Surprisingly, one of the smallest, most insignificant surprises in the movie has to do with the consequences of Avengers: Endgame – or, rather, the lack thereof. The film opens with an emotional tribute to fallen heroes of previous movies, set to Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”, which then gives way to some exposition about what happened after Endgame: namely, the moment at which half of the human population suddenly reappeared. Unfortunately, this is all covered in a matter of seconds, with just one quick shot of dusted highschool students suddenly reappearing on the basketball court where they had been dusted five years earlier by Thanos’ infamous Snap. Thanos would be outraged to hear that people have begun calling this moment…the Blip. It’s a dumb name, and it does kind of undermine the huge drama of Endgame, but it is exactly what people these days would call such an event – a blip, a minor nuisance for those who were dusted.

But let’s talk about that, actually. In Far From Home, we mostly see things from the perspective of those who were Dusted, and have since Blipped back into existence, five years later, but still the same age. Peter Parker (Tom Holland), and all but one of his classmates were victims of the Snap, as was Peter’s Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). Leaving aside the fact that this is highly implausible considering that the Dusting was random and indiscriminate, these characters all have something in common, something I couldn’t quite place a finger on while watching the film: entitlement. The Dusted make up the vast majority of this film’s cast, and almost all of them have the same attitude of nonchalance and, dare I say, arrogance. They died and came back to life, but for them, the entire span of time between the Snap and the Blip was a matter of minutes: meanwhile, in the world around them, people have gotten married, had kids, died. One Dusted character comments on “how weird” it is that his younger brother is now older than him, but why don’t we stop to think about how it must feel for that younger/older brother, who has probably been dealing with emotional trauma, possibly even living as an only child, but now has to re-adapt to life with a sibling? The film only focuses on one character who survived the Dusting and has grown up in the intervening five years – Brad Davis (Remy Hii), who is treated throughout the film as a threat to Peter’s relationship with MJ (Zendaya), and something of an antagonist. But it’s the Dusted who actually come off as ungrateful and selfish, willfully endangering their lives time and time again. A lot of people wondered why, if Peter had just been Dusted, Aunt May would immediately thereafter let him go on a field-trip to Europe. Well, because Aunt May was just as dismissive of the Snap as any of the Dusted: sure, she had a funny experience where she reappeared in her old apartment only to discover that a new family had moved in – but she still got the apartment back, didn’t she?

Anyway…while we’re on the subject of Aunt May, let me move on from my angry tirade – May is not an important character in the film, but she does have a very adorable flirtatious relationship with Tony Stark’s aide, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). And at the end of the movie, when Peter confronts them and asks for the truth, May breaks Happy’s heart by revealing that it wasn’t meant to be a serious relationship – just a fling. Hopefully May rethinks that, because these two made one cute couple (honestly, when you think about it, it’s another example of how ungrateful the Dusted are).

Happy isn’t the only constant reminder of Tony Stark in Far From Home: aside from a brief mention of Tony’s wife Pepper Potts, there’s also some new surprises. We learn early on in the film that, before his death, Tony built a pair of glasses which control the hugely dangerous E.D.I.T.H (Even Dead, I’m The Hero) technology: this includes an almost infinite supply of killer drones and some really scary satellites orbiting the planet. Naturally, he also entrusted these glasses to Peter Parker, a scared and overwhelmed teenage boy. Just like any of Tony’s creations, these E.D.I.T.H glasses can be used for good or bad purposes – Peter makes this clear when he accidentally uses them to call a drone-strike on his rival, Brad Davis: even worse, he then gives the glasses to Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), a man he’s known for a couple of days – even though he does eventually get them back, the E.D.I.T.H drones also capture him on camera, killing Beck. We’ll get to that later, though.

First, let’s talk about Beck himself. This one honestly shouldn’t have come as a surprise: we learn about halfway through the movie that Beck, who seems really nice and friendly, is actually a mentally unstable con-man trying to get revenge on his former boss, Tony Stark, who he believes stole his life-work and gave him no credit. With a team of disgruntled former Stark Industries employees, Beck has created an elaborate smoke-and-mirrors ruse – he pretends to be from another world in the Marvel multiverse, a warrior hunting huge creatures called Elementals, which wreak havoc across Europe. In reality, the Elementals are all special effects, and Beck is hunting Peter Parker, trying to win him over with kindness and get the E.D.I.T.H glasses from him. Jake Gyllenhaal brings a lot of charisma to the role – and his abrupt transformation from sweet, gentle Quentin Beck, to the over-the-top theatrical villainy of “Mysterio”, as he calls himself, is handled with ease. Granted, the actual scene in which his evil plans are revealed is…not quite as great. Gyllenhaal has to dump a lot of exposition and backstory while monologuing to his henchmen, and the dialogue itself is a bit wooden – but the delivery is as good as it can be, and Gyllenhaal was clearly having the time of his life while filming. He reminded me a great deal of Count Olaf from A Series of Unfortunate Events in that one scene. And he was detestable: from his snarky smile to his outfit, I wanted to punch him in the face. I didn’t think he could get worse.

He got worse.

I mentioned in my nonspoiler review that fans of Peter Parker will be traumatized by this movie: I stand by that. After getting the E.D.I.T.H glasses, Mysterio learns that Peter and MJ have uncovered his secret identity and are trying to reach Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) at a S.H.I.E.L.D office in Berlin. Mysterio lures Peter into a trap, using special effects and illusions to fool him into an abandoned warehouse where he tries to murder him. What follows is some of the most nightmarish and imaginative stuff I’ve ever seen in a superhero movie: a sequence reminiscent of the “A Friend Like Me” musical number in Aladdin – but with disorienting green fog, spiders, and hundreds of Mysterio clones instead of singing genies and magic carpets. There are moments of dead silence, where we follow Peter as he tries to find a way out of the CGI darkness, only to run into a graveyard where he is confronted by a zombie apparition of Tony Stark. There’s a scene where Peter is surrounded by mirror images of himself, which suddenly come to life and try to strangle him. It goes on for an excruciatingly long time, with no end in sight – there’s one point at which you think the illusion is over, when Nick Fury shoots Mysterio in the back…but that’s a deception too. And then Peter Parker gets hit by a train.

He survives this, of course. How, I don’t know, but at least he manages to finally break free from Mysterio’s illusions – watching Peter be tortured both physically and mentally, not knowing who he could trust or what he could do to escape: it was heartbreaking. I nearly cried when Peter climbed, bloodied and bruised, up onto the side of the speeding bullet-train. I nearly cried again when he was wandering, lost and confused, through a picturesque Dutch village. I did cry when he finally met up with Happy Hogan again: he was crying, I was crying.

Then Led Zeppelin started playing. That dried my tears pretty quickly.

One more thing about Mysterio before we move to the third act surprises: the whole concept of the Multiverse, teased in the first few trailers for the film – it’s all a lie, concocted by Quentin Beck’s professional scriptwriters. There is no rift between dimensions, no Earth 616 – as of right now, there is still only one reality in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is honestly fine by me. It does mean we can probably dismiss all those rumors about the X-Men or the Fantastic Four coming from an alternate world in the Multiverse.

Now, for the big battle at the end. This happens in London, on the Tower Bridge, where Mysterio uses the E.D.I.T.H drones to create one “Avengers-level threat” for him to single-handedly defeat. Things get a little messy when Peter Parker disables the drones and exposes the illusion, leading to an epic battle where Peter has to go through Mysterio’s nightmare world again in order to get to him. Meanwhile, his friends, such as MJ and Ned (Jacob Batalon) are trapped in a museum, using medieval weapons to take on the killer-bots: this is what I called a Disney-Channel moment in my nonspoiler review – it’s silly, but fun. In the end, though, no amount of plot armor was going to save those kids from being horribly murdered – it’s only when Mysterio shuts down E.D.I.T.H by himself, while trying to fool Peter into thinking that he’s surrendered, that the teens are able to escape. But here’s where things get really cool – and, again, traumatic. Mysterio falls back, seemingly humbled, telling Peter that he regrets everything. For a few moments, the audience is fooled – and then, suddenly, Peter spins around and grabs a gun from the real Mysterio, who has been standing nearby, invisible. There’s a single gunshot in the dead silence, and Mysterio slumps to the ground, dead – all thanks to Peter’s “spidey-sense” (though, it’s worth mentioning that there’s a running joke in the movie where everybody refers to “spidey-sense” as the “Peter-tingle”, something that Peter loudly objects to on multiple occasions).

But Mysterio’s legacy lives on, just as he wanted it to: turns out, he was filming the whole battle, and his henchmen edited the preserved footage to make it look like Mysterio was murdered. This is revealed in a shocking mid-credits scene, in which the footage is broadcast on national television by conspiracy network, The Daily Bugle, along with Peter Parker’s name and image: in a horrifying parallel to Tony Stark’s own declaration “I am Iron Man” at the end of the first Iron Man movie, Peter’s own identity has now been unintentionally revealed to the world. It’s likely that the third Spider-man movie will see the young web-slinger, armed with E.D.I.T.H, on the run from a host of villains who will be coming after him, not to mention his family and friends.

And, finally, one more surprise is revealed at the very end of the movie, but it’s so big that I think it warrants its own post, so I’ll only cover it a little here: basically, in the post-credits scene, Nick Fury and his partner Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) are revealed to have been Skrulls – specifically, Talos and Soren, who we already know from the Captain Marvel solo movie. We overhear their conversation with the real Nick Fury, as they inform him that they’ve successfully delivered Tony’s glasses to Peter. Nick Fury himself is shown to be lounging on a tropical beach, which itself is merely a hologram: turns out, Fury is in space, on a vast starship manned by Skrulls, commanding what looks to be an army of soldiers or workers in a sort of cosmic version of S.H.I.E.L.D., again paralleling the end of the first Iron Man, in which Nick Fury first appeared onscreen and recruited Tony Stark into the Avengers Initiative. Eleven years later, Fury is assembling some sort of new team for Phase 4. I have a few guesses as to what might be going on there, but we’ll discuss that another time.

With the end of that post-credits scene, the Infinity Saga is officially over. The story of Tony Stark has been concluded, but there are dozens of new stories we can’t wait to see unfold on the big screen. We even have a bunch of new questions: is Spider-man going to be the next face of the MCU? Will he be forced to hide, or will he confront his enemies head-on? Is Mysterio really dead? What is Nick Fury doing up in space? Can all the Skrulls be trusted? How long have Skrulls been impersonating people on earth? Will the E.D.I.T.H tech play a large part going forward?

Will Aunt May and Happy end up together?

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“Spider-Man: Far From Home” Review – NO SPOILERS!

This movie is such an intricate web (get it? It’s a spider joke…moving along) of plot twists, it requires me to think very hard and carefully about literally ever word I’m using – I don’t want to spoil a single thing in this movie. There are twists within twists, and there are all sorts of tricks and little shockers, plus two of the most incredible post-credits scenes ever, scenes that will be talked about for months to come. And, for this review, we can’t discuss any of them. Not a one. My lips are sealed.

But…uh, if you haven’t seen Avengers: Endgame yet, you might want to go? Because this movie is very closely linked to what happened in Endgame.

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I feel it’s within my right to tell you a little of what to expect, in terms of atmosphere and tone: the film is very much high-school melodrama meets psychological horror – and if you think those two things probably don’t flow together very well, you’d be about partially right. Far From Home does sometimes have a little difficulty with that issue, at least with its supporting cast: specifically Ned (Jacob Batalon), MJ (Zendaya), and Betty (Angourie Rice). These three characters each have pretty sizable roles in the movie, and they often come across as a little…nonchalant? Yes, they’re teenage protagonists, and as such they have all the usual angst and over-the-top cringeworthy awkwardness that we’ve come to expect from teenage protagonists in movies, but it often gets in the way of, and subsequently diminishes the threat of the possibly world-ending catastrophic events happening around them. MJ, at the very least, has a little more dramatic material (and morbid humor) to work with in her role, and she even gets to play detective for, like, five or ten seconds, but she’s mostly here because this movie is truly a teen romance story at its heart, and her romance with Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is sweet enough and cute enough that it works. It’s not the best love story, and it’s a little dumb, but it’s there and I kind of like it, for what it is. It gives Peter an emotional anchor throughout the story.

One of two such anchors, in fact: the other being his attachment to the legacy of the late Tony Stark. Tony’s huge, larger-than-life status as an icon, a hero, a great man, is constantly reiterated through the film – from a heartbreaking opening-credits sequence up until the film’s finale. We are reminded over and over just how much Tony meant to Peter, and to the world. And we can sympathize with Peter’s pain and grief at losing him, and his quest to be the next Iron Man, a superhero that people can believe in. At times it becomes unbearable, and Peter is swallowed up by a claustrophobic panic as people constantly bombard him with questions about whether he’s leading the Avengers now, or what he plans to do if aliens attack again. If you’re a fan of Peter Parker, which I assume you are if you’re planning to go see Far From Home, just prepare for a lot of emotional trauma: because let’s just say…people are going after Peter in this movie in a way we haven’t seen before, kicking him when he’s down, tearing him apart (metaphorically speaking), and he takes a serious beating from it, physically and mentally. There are multiple scenes in this film where I felt like crying on Peter’s behalf, because he is tortured here. So many times, and in so many ways.

I am not kidding when I say there is psychological horror in this movie – in fact, there are multiple instances of it, and it makes the entire second and third acts feel nightmarish. One sequence, in particular, seems to go on and on, as Peter is lured in different directions like a puppet on strings, manipulated and mocked, unable to do anything to prevent all the awful things he’s forced to witness. He is far from home in so many ways.

And home seems particularly appealing now – the dread and gloom of Endgame has mostly passed, and families have been reunited: though, as Peter’s Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) points out early in the film, there have been some humorous consequences to the Snap, when half of the universe was disintegrated, and the subsequent moment when half of the universe suddenly reappeared. The name of that moment is itself pretty humorous, so I won’t spoil it for you. Anyway, the dusted are back, as we knew from Endgame, and people are moving on with their lives, all carefree. Aunt May even has a little flirtatious relationship going on with Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) – that was teased in the trailers, it is not a spoiler. I won’t tell you what ends up happening on that front, though, because it’s funny. There’s a lot of adorable humor in Far From Home, actually – the movie is very cute. Okay, cute might not be the right word, considering all the mental trauma and horrifying imagery, but…um, cute during specific moments that I can’t spoil for you but which I assure you are definitely cute? There’s also a bit of the Disney-Channel factor, at certain points, especially in the third act: it would be difficult to explain what I mean by that without unintentionally spoiling certain moments of tension, but…uh, everybody knows what the Disney-Channel factor is, right? You’ll know it when you see it. It involves the teenage supporting cast, unsurprisingly.

Oh, by the way, there were a bunch of rumors going around that a transgender character and a Muslim character would show up in Far From Home: they do, but their appearances are incredibly brief – though Zoha Rahman did look very stylish in a variety of beautiful hijabs.

Samuel L. Jackson and Cobie Smulders have great chemistry once again, as super spies Nick Fury and Maria Hill. I can’t say too much about them, or their character arcs in this film, because…reasons…but they’re good. Very good.

While we’re treading the fine line between spoilers and nonspoilers, I will give as vague a description of Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio, as is humanly possible. He is very interesting, he’s got a lot of charisma, and he made an impact. That’s it. Gyllenhaal does a really good job, except for one scene where – nope, not saying anything. But it’s just not a great scene. No spoilers!

"Spider-Man: Far From Home" Review - NO SPOILERS! 25
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And, um, yeah, so there are also these two post-credits scenes that are, like, really important: don’t miss them, because they set up the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a really cool way, and…yeah. That’s pretty much all I can say. This movie is a web, a tightly-knit web of secrets that demand to be talked about in a spoiler review – so go watch the movie! Go watch it, so you can get back here and read my spoiler review, which will be up in no time (well, give me a little time to write it)!

Movie Rating: 9/10

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“Spider-Man: Far From Home” Trailer!

The Avengers: Endgame spoiler ban imposed by directors Joe and Anthony Russo lifted today with this trailer for the next installment in the Spider-man franchise, but it’s your choice whether you want to read on. Spoilers for Avengers: Endgame lie ahead!

You’ve been warned.

Spider-man: Far From Home looks like it will pick up right where Endgame left off, with Peter Parker returning to school and trying to rebuild his life after having been snapped out of existence for five years. Needless to say, it won’t be easy. The new Far From Home trailer unveils some huge new concepts that are clearly to impact Phase 4 of the MCU – just as the first Avengers movie introduced us to Thanos and Infinity Stones, Spider-man is paving the way for a Marvel Multiverse.

In other words, anything can happen, from this point on. The Multiverse is a mind-boggling concept that, in hindsight, seems to have been set up in Endgame: there, in order to defeat Thanos, the Avengers were forced to travel back in time and open up branch-realities – realities in which Loki escaped with the Tesseract during the Battle of New York, or Gamora never met the Guardians of the Galaxy, for instance. At the end of Endgame, Captain America was sent back in time to shut down these alternate realities and prevent them from impacting our timeline – but it seems he might have missed a few.

Something big is happening in Far From Home. Elemental demons, seemingly a product of all this reality-bending, time-traveling stuff, are attacking the earth, coming through a “hole in our dimension” as Nick Fury calls it – and the only thing that stands in their way is Spider-man, who will now probably have to do some reality-bending of his own to stop them. The Multiverse has apparently been opened, which means we could see all sorts of weird things from now on: alternate versions of characters, for instance. I doubt that Spidey will be able to stop this, and I also doubt he’ll want to. Throughout the trailer, we see him mourning the death of his mentor and father-figure, Tony Stark (told you this contained spoilers). The Multiverse could easily bring back Tony, or an alternate version of Tony: in fact, the Multiverse makes any number of things possible. That Black Widow movie that’s coming up, even though Black Widow is currently dead? Well, maybe this is alternate Black Widow. The Scarlet Witch streaming show that will be set in the 1950’s, before Scarlet Witch was born? Time travel shenanigans and pocket-dimensions could explain that too.

The Multiverse can make pretty much anything – and everything – a reality. The MCU just got a whole lot bigger, and a whole lot more complicated.

So let’s bring our focus back down to earth: obviously, this trailer is going to be talked about in the coming days and weeks for the Multiverse reveal, but there’s a lot of other stuff happening here that’s also worth mentioning. Nick Fury and Maria Hill are back, as we expected, and Fury has recruited Peter Parker for this mission because apparently every other superhero is currently occupied (that seems…implausible, to say the least, but we’ll roll with it). Another big surprise is seeing Jake Gyllenhaal’s character Mysterio working for Fury – in fact, he seems to be the head of this operation to shut down the Multiverse: which seems a little dangerous, since Mysterio is a Spider-man villain in the comics.

Peter himself is still cheerful and innocent, and seems a little nervous about going into the Multiverse, following in the footsteps of Miles Morales in last year’s animated (and completely unrelated) Spider-man: Into The Spider-Verse. He wears a variety of cool new outfits, but he is obviously still adjusting to his new role as one of Earth’s mightiest heroes – he stills thinks of himself as the friendly neighborhood Spider-man. He has some romantic tension with MJ, but he’s being removed from his friends, pulled away from them by his duties even as he tries to enjoy a European vacation.

The real star here is clearly supposed to be Mysterio, who is shown wearing his iconic fish-bowl helmet and using magic. But there’s another character whose absence is already like a gaping hole in the dimension, and that’s Tony Stark. There’s graffiti of him on walls, and shrines dedicated to him in street-corners: while bringing Tony back might be cheating, it’s at least a possibility now with the introduction of the Multiverse.

Trailer Rating: 8/10

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“Unicorn Store” Movie Review!

Last night, I had the opportunity to watch the Netflix movie Unicorn Store, which stars Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, and Joan Cusack, as well as being Larson’s directorial debut. There’s a lot to say about it.

This movie’s trailers marketed it as a feel-good piece, and it is that – but not all the time. Unicorn Store seems, in fact, unable to decide what genre it wants to be, as it jumps from feel-good to drama to theater-of-the-absurd. It seems to always understand that its premise is wacky and bizarre, best-suited to a wacky and bizarre approach, but it never seems fully committed to being that abstract masterpiece that it wants to be. The tone, and thus the plot, shift awkwardly and uncertainly as the movie tries to be all three genres at once. When it’s absurd, you might have a lady walking around at night carrying a floor-lamp, talking about professional single women being murdered – when it tries to be dramatic, you’ve got emotional and very powerful dialogue between a mother and her daughter – then, when it wants to make you feel good, you’ve got Brie Larson’s character Kit doing an uplifting dance-number with her coworkers. But these shifts always feel peculiar. The delivery man who delivers a mysterious invitation to Kit in the first act seems like an enigmatic character himself – but then, we find out in the third act that he’s just misunderstood and looked down on, and, in fact, he likes to do crossword puzzles, and read. The film’s score takes the opposite journey, from a strangely ominous and eerie sound in the first act, to being light-hearted and cheerful in the third.

Brie Larson makes this movie shine, however, when she feels comfortable being absurd: when Samuel L. Jackson rides in on a scooter, or when Kit and her family sit down to a dinner of kale – these moments are the best, because they don’t try to be anything other than what they are, which is crazy good fun. The humor is brilliant: the troop-circle camping scene is my favorite part of the film, and features some incredible acting from Joan Cusack and Bradley Whitford, who plays Kit’s mother and father.

Cusack, in fact, is the stand-out performance in this movie, as she elevates every scene she appears in, and always has perfect comedic timing. Every time she wasn’t onscreen, I found myself wanting her to return. Unfortunately, she is used sparingly – as is, rather surprisingly, Samuel L. Jackson himself, who plays The Salesman, the man in charge of The Store. Jackson makes the movie crazier and wackier, but the script doesn’t seem to know what to do with him by the end.

This same problem is evident with many of the film’s subplots, of which there are far too many. There’s Kit’s boss, Gary (Hamish Linklater), who is both deadpan and cryptically creepy; there’s the Mystic Vacuums, which dominate so much of the film’s second act; there’s characters like Crystal and Sabrina (Martha MacIsaac), and the aforementioned delivery man, or Kevin, or the other kids on the Emotion Quest camping trip, all of whom look like they’re intended to be cartoonish caricatures, which would be fine and funny, until the movie suddenly decides it wants to do something with them – and then never does. Unicorn Store would definitely have worked a lot better without some of these subplots.

The only side character given enough screen-time is Virgil (Mamoudou Athie), the janitor at the hardware store who is at first suspicious of Kit, and begins to question her sanity. His journey with Kit is a good counterbalance to the craziness and bizarre stuff going on around them, as he tries to navigate the half-fantasy, half-reality environment in which he lives.

The fantasy elements of the movie, namely the Unicorn itself, are peculiar: mainly because the fantasy appears to be metaphorical at first, until it becomes apparent that, no, there really is a unicorn. The resolution to the Unicorn’s story is a spoiler, so I won’t go into detail save to say that it was something of a letdown for me. I can see where it made sense, but I was disappointed and wanted more. The whole reason that the Unicorn exists in the first place is never explained: we are told that Kit always wanted a Unicorn in her childhood, but we get just one montage of flashbacks in the opening scene, and it’s entirely focused on her art – not on Unicorns. And her art is another subplot that the movie drops along the way.

Overall, Unicorn Store manages to entertain, and is wickedly funny, when it feels comfortable being what it takes for granted that it already is. It’s worth watching for the humor, and for Larson and Cusack’s wonderful performances. But it’s odd that, for a movie ostensibly about accepting who you are, Unicorn Store somehow falls short of doing that, and instead tries to be too many genres, all at once.

Movie Rating: 6.5/10

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Unicorn Store Trailer Review!

Can every movie just be about the beautiful chemistry between Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson?

Seriously, these two are just incredible onscreen. Here, in the trailer for Brie Larson’s directorial debut, Unicorn Store, they are blurring the distinctions between reality and fantasy in an abstract fashion that’s a delight to watch.

Larson plays Kit, a struggling artist who is trying to get along with her family and make a living – and has had to put aside childhood dreams. Jackson plays “The Salesman”, who runs “The Store” – his motto is simply “we sell what you need.”

When The Salesman invites Kit to come to The Store, she finds out that what she needs is…a unicorn. No kidding, a unicorn. Her family objects, as might be expected, and what ensues is not only brilliant hilarity and humor, but also a touching exploration of what it means to embrace your dreams and find your way in life, as Kit tries to make her dream of owning a unicorn become a reality. People call her crazy, and ask her if maybe she just wants a dog instead, but nothing can stop her from being the person she wants to be.

“Everybody needs some magic in their lives, even if they’re all grown-up,” Kit states in the trailer, and that’s pretty true. But nothing – and I mean nothing – is as magical as seeing Samuel L. Jackson in a very snazzy pink suit, with a glittery afro and large pink glasses. It’s an artist’s dream come to life, and I’m so here for it.

Unicorn Store will debut on Netflix, April 5th.

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