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Jessica Jones Series 1

If Daredevil came with a word of warning then Jessica Jones would require an advisory screen. Whilst the former is filled with violence and dark undertones, the latter is a borderline phsycological horror. It’s unlike anything Marvel Studios has ever produced, with the only project that had the ability to come close being the Disney+ show Moon Knight, which ultimately fell short. It manages all of this while being an excellent detective show too, more specifically a Noir Mystery, right down to the husky voiceover. The series sees the titular Private Investigator take on an old enemy/lover whilst reuniting with old friends and making new ones.

One of Jessica Jones‘ greatest aspects is that it doesn’t feature much set-up. Daredevil was focussed on the founding on Nelson and Murdock, the rise of Kingpin, and the establishment of the city that is Hell’s Kitchen. Jessica Jones has less scope, focussing primarily on the rivalry between Jessica and Killgrave as well as her relationships. Considering the lonliness of the character, it’s a good choice to isolate her story like this but that doesn’t mean that the wider shared universe goes unacknowledged. Nurse Claire Temple from Daredevil makes an appearance and even discusses her history with superpowered individuals, namely the Devil of Hells Kitchen himself although she never name drops him. It’s a nice little “if you know, you know” moment. There’s also the introduction of fellow superpowered individual Luke Cage, who would later go on to get his own series, but he’s not just here for set-up. He’s present in this story because he is important to the narrative and is a particular lynchpin in Jessica’s life, meaning he actively moves the plot and characters forward.

The other lynchpin of the show is Kilgrave, who is one of the greatest villian’s Marvel Studios has ever produced. He also has powers, being able to make people do literally anything he tells them, which makes him a major threat without even having to introduce him immediately. Actor David Tennant embues the character with a pompous air that would make him unlikable, even if he wasn’t using his powers for evil. Unlike Kingpin, it’s difficult to think of him as sympathetic because he revels in his cruelty. He claims his motive is love, because he’s just trying to convince Jessica to get back together with him of her own free will, but he’s still an awful person. When his softer side is finally revealed, along with his tragic backstory, there’s a moment where the audience could feel bad for him…before he reminds you that you shouldn’t. He clearly believes himself to be a victim but the show never agrees with him. His final stand-off with Jessica is a literal stand-off as opposed to the usual one v one fights that many Marvel fans are used to and ends as bluntly as Killgrave deserves. He doesn’t get his final glorious, poigniant, self-reflective moment and that is immensely satisfying.

The style of the show is interesting too. Much like Daredevil, it makes excellent use of colour. There’s plenty of purple, which is Kilgrave’s signature, while flashbacks have their colour subdued to differentiate them from the present. The camerawork is often closer to the ground, keeping focus on the characters without ever getting too close to them, with a decent amount of wide shots. This feels like how Jessica sees the world as a PI, with a focus on individuals but occassionally taking a step back to look at the bigger picture. The show is often seen from her perspective, including her PTSD attacks which are intense to sit through. Frantic camera movements and sweeping motions with an added blur effect that distorts the world around her is a very 2015 way to get the attacks across but it’s effective.

Series one of Jessica Jones is excellent on its own but paired with Daredevil it’s exquisite. Like that show, it’s filled with interesting characters and themes but it’s more trauma-heavy. It’s the most adult production that Marvel Studios has crafted since 1998s Blade but it manages to achieve that without spilling as much blood. This doesn’t mean there’s no blood though, in fact it features as much as Daredevil. This show is a beautifully intense.

Thor: Love and Thunder (Spoilers)

“You’re over 1000 years old and you don’t seem to know who the hell you are”

This is the analysis of Thor made by Starlord in the opening scenes of Love and Thunder. It’s an astonishingly non-self-aware statement because, after 11 years, the MCU doesn’t seem to know who he is either. He is, at the very least, a character re-experiencing the same narrative for multiple films in a row. Thor is unsure what kind of man he is and must embark on a journey of self-discovery either by choice or by force. Being unsure of yourself can be a lifelong experience but Thor seems to revert to stage 1 after every adventure so that he can be easily molded into whatever kind of hero that specific narrative requires. This time, he’s a buffoon whose trauma and emotions are often the butt of the joke.

By contrast, Thor in the previous solo installment Ragnarok was often the one setting jokes up. Actor Chris Hemsworth has excellent comedic timing and it was on full display there but here, he’s more akin to the man we saw in Avengers: Endgame. You remember, he was funny because he was fat(!). Had this film taken him seriously it could have had more to say about toxic masculinity and how stereotypically “feminine” emotions aren’t societally accepted in men. Instead, the audience is invited to laugh at his pain, or at the very least to find the image of a grown man crying amusing. This tone isn’t just directed at Thor, it’s present throughout the entire movie, and this makes it near impossible to care about any of the characters.

One such character is Doctor Jane Foster who returns after being absent from the MCU for 9 years barring a minor Avengers: Endgame cameo. Actress Natalie Portman had previously declined to return to the role due to “creative differences” during the making of Thor: The Dark World (which is one of my favourite Hollywood reasons by the way. Like, was there a screaming match? Were you refusing to pay her as much as Chris? I need specifics). As a result, the announcement of her return was a major deal for fans, with the added excitement of seeing her take up the Mighty Thor mantle. In the comics, she uses the mystical powers of Mijolnir to combat her cancer before it becomes evident that the iconic hammer is hindering her healing as opposed to helping it. Given how serious this subject matter is, fans were unsure if it would make it into Love and Thunder but it did. If done right, this could have provided solid emotional grounding for the plot and characters as well as providing a new Thor for a new age but this isn’t what happened. Her cancer is treated with the same levity as everything else, although it’s never used as a punchline. To cap it off, she dies. Despite a long run in the comics and the popular fan perception that she would be taking over as Thor…she dies. This makes Thor very upset, which seems to be the only role that MCU Jane is destined to play. She makes it to Valhalla so if she happens to get resurrected later (a la the comics) then her death will be even less impactful in retrospect.

On the subject of being non-impactful, Love and Thunder‘s gay representation is abysmal. Director Taika Watiti and actress Tessa Thompson both claimed it would be “queer AF” whilst many reviews heralded it as being for “the she’s, they’s and gay’s” but this isn’t the case. The one canon gay character is the rock-being Korg who holds hands with a male of his species, which is their equivalent of intercourse, however it falls flat because Taika is (as far as we know) straight. This somehow isn’t the first time that a straight director has portrayed a gay character in the MCU either. Why wasn’t this effort being put into Valkyrie, who passes for straight so well that she might as well be locked in the closet? Making seductive eyes at a woman and using the term “girlfriend” isn’t queer representation, it’s every party girl after a couple of drinks. All of this accounts for less than a minute of screentime too, so those foreign markets that Disney loves so much can cut it without losing anything. The “she’s, they’s and gay’s” deserve better and have better (Jennifer’s Body, Heathers and Booksmart to name few).

As mentioned in the Spoiler-Free review, there’s still things to like. The designs of the costumes and sets (like Omnipotence City) are gorgeous, whilst the soundtrack is comprised of some of the greatest Rock and Roll anthems of all time. However, Love and Thunder‘s biggest asset is the drastically underused Gorr. Actor Christian Bale turns in a riveting performance, as he so often does, with this semi-tragic God butcher. He feels betrayed by these all powerful dieties, feeling that they serve only themselves and care not for their subjects, including Gorr’s recently deceased young daughter. He’s still willing to kidnap and threaten the lives of all the children in New Asgard though, which seems a bit odd for a recently bereaved parent. Of course, this is a Marvel film so these children are never actually going to die but Gorr feels like he would murder these children without hesitation if the age rating allowed it. He’s also delightfully manic, giving off what can best be described as Joker Vibes. The Dark Realm, where he resides, is amazing too with its monochrome pallette which is only filled with colour from the light of Mijolnir and Stormbreaker. Tragically, he’s only present for 20 minutes and dies at the end so this is likely the only time we will ever see him.

“Tragic” is an apt description for Love and Thunder as a whole. It has plenty of potential in its foundation with the option for major character progression and grand Galaxy-wide scale but it never goes down these routes. Instead, it spends two hours filling the screen with cringe-worthy humour and a large amount of flat shots which are broken up by action scenes and establishing shots. Had it chosen to commit to all the great aspects hidden within, it might have been a great send-off for Chris Hemsworth…although Hemsworth isn’t leaving. After 11 years playing Thor, which makes him the longest-standing Avenger, he’s sticking around for whatever comes next. Maybe it’s for the best because he deserves a better send-off than this.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Daredevil (Series 1)

When I was a girl, Marvel studios created the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Some people may try to convince you that it had a grand plan from its inception but this simply isn’t true. There was certainly a rough outline, with some things more likely to happen than others, but never a concrete plan. This uncertainty is present throughout the ABC Studios series Agents of SHIELD, which eventually diverged from the core MCU timeline into it’s own entity, and in the hit Netflix series’ produced under the Marvel banner.

These shows exists in a bizarre state of limbo, with their canonicity to the larger MCU bordering between non-existent and questionable. It’s present from the very first episode of Daredevil, which was the very first of the lager pantheon of Netflix Marvel shows. Reporter Ben Urich has articles, written by him, framed on his wall about the Hulks rampage in Harlem and the pivotal Battle of New York meaning that the canon of the films do exist here. However the favour isn’t returned as none of the plot points, locations, or characters from the Netflix series’ ever appear in the big screen outings (I know…I discuss it here.) This occurred because current head of the MCU, Kevin Feige, wanted these shows to eventually appear alongside their cinematic counterparts but the people in charge at the time did not, vying for both a television empire and a theatrical one. As a result, Daredevil exists, for lack of a better phrase, as Kevin Fieges headcanon.

The show follows lawyer Matthew Murdoch who, having been blinded by chemicals as a child, uses his heightened senses and martial arts training to fight crime. Simultaneously, he is attempting to keep his newly established law practice afloat as well as friendships with fellow lawyer Foggy Nelson and client-turned-secretary Karen Page. However, as the light rises, so too does darkness to meet it. Across the first 3 episodes, a shadowy figure looms large over the neighbourhood of Hells Kitchen, controlling all the major crime syndicates. This shadow finally reveals itself toward the end of episode 3 as Wilson Fisk, in an introduction that perfectly captures why this series works so well.

Wilsons presence, despite only being off-screen initially, is overbearing. His determination to complete his goal is without question and his willingness to kill whoever stands in his way is more than apparent. Yet, his first on-screen appearance is a gentle one. He stands in an art gallery, musing over a canvas painted in several shades of slightly-off white. When asked by the art curator how it makes him feel he responds by saying that it makes him feel alone. This is a stark contrast to the typical “villain” one might expect. He’s driven by emotion and doesn’t truly yearn for violence…he’s just doing what needs to be done. He’s a grounded character that exists in a moral gray area and this is what this show does so well. There isn’t a single character here who’s presented as purely good or evil, everyone is willing to do something a little sketchy if they aren’t already doing so.

It’s often seen in the friendship between Matt, Foggy and Karen which fractures as the series goes on. It doesn’t happen because they want it to, instead it happens because they each come to harbor a major secret. Even when there is some reconciliation towards the series’ end, it’s clear that the dynamics are forever changed. This isn’t the typical “Act 3 Break-Up”, it has lasting implications. Even their interactions with secondary and tertiary characters change the course of the plot. Aforementioned reporter Ben Urich teams up with Karen as they work to take down Fisk through journalism, with the repercussions being some of the most heartbreaking moments of the show. Meanwhile, Father Paul Lantom’s discussions with Matt provide an interesting look at the moral gray areas which are central to the core of the plot. He also isn’t a holier-than-thou preacher, he’s a down to Earth realist who happens to have devoted himself to God and does what he can to keep Matt on the right path. It’s a really good portrayal of Christianity and preaching God’s word.

Capping it off is the brutal action which is present from the very first episode. With a 16+ rating in the UK (TV-MA in the US), Daredevil makes the most of the violence which is allowed. The prime example is episode 2s famous Hallway Fight which lasts around 5 minutes. It’s shot as a continuous take which makes it feel more grueling and only switches angles when it’s truly necessary to keep that feeling going. By the end of it, Matt is bruised, bloody and tired which is a far cry from the heavy hitters of the MCU like The Hulk or Captain America. Daredevil isn’t a superhero, he’s just a hero who happens to do super things. Then there’s the copious blood, which is more often seem from Fisks victims…particularly an unfortunate Russian who has his head caved in with a car door. It displays yet another core aspect of the show which is how far people are willing to go for their causes. How far do things go before murder is a viable option?

This first season of Daredevil is the blueprint on which the following Netflix Marvel shows were founded. It has a different tone to the theatrical releases, opting to be more grounded and dark, although there are plenty of laughs too. Ultimately, this is why it will be remembered, regardless of whether or not they ever become canon.

Thor: Love and Thunder

Comedy and film journalism are vaguely similar concepts. Responses to both are based on objectivity and are there to entertain, so when it comes to reviews of comedy films it’s probably best to form your own opinion. You can certainly gauge what your reaction might be if you have a reviewer whose opinion you often share but their objectivity is not yours. The following piece is a reflection on how I felt about Love and Thunder (the good and the bad) which some may agree with and others may not. Regardless of that, here’s hoping it still entertains.

Thor: Love and Thunder follows the titular God as he embarks on a mission to stop Gorr the God Butcher from carrying out his murderous plan. He is assisted by old friends Valkyrie and Korg, as well as returning romantic interest Dr. Jane Foster who has gained the powers of Thor. Director Taika Watiti returns, having helmed the previous installment Thor: Ragnarok, but it feels like his best comedy was used there. When the running gag is a couple of screaming goats, it’s not a great sign. Regardless of the fact that it’s a dead meme from over a decade ago, it only works when it has shock value to it, which is lessened over its 5 or so uses.

The dialogue isn’t great either. When it isn’t spouting exposition, which it so often is, it’s one-liners with a snarky undertone. Very few lines in Love and Thunder feel genuine or grounded in these characters that have been around for so long. When it isn’t that, it’s the several voiceovers from Taika as Korg, which feel unnecessary. They seem to be there to set the tone as opposed to carrying the plot forward, but the tone is so in-your-face that a voiceover isn’t required.

There are things here that are likable. The film is visually gorgeous, from the cast to the locations. Every scene is bursting with colour, much like Ragnarok was,, which gives the film a more comic-book feel compared to the Earthier hues of other MCU installments. When the cinematography is allowed to fully display these locations crafted by the talented (and over-worked/underpaid) folks in VFX, it’s utterly gorgeous. Omnipotence City (home of the Gods) is caked in classical, golden architecture akin to Asgard. The shadow Realm (residence of Gorr) is totally devoid of colour but is still interesting with its barren landscape across a miniature planet.

Gorr the God Butcher is Love and Thunder‘s greatest strength. Christian Bale’s performance is occasionally comical but never loses that sinister edge and is best demonstrated when talking with the Asgardian children he’s kidnapped. None of these children are going to die because this is an MCU flick but there’s never any doubt that Gorr would take them all out. Unfortunately, he isn’t present for the majority of the film’s runtime, which brings us to the largest of the issues. Thor: Love and Thunder wastes its characters.

A big deal was made about the return of Natalie Portman as Dr. Jane Foster but her presence here seems to primarily be furthering Thors arc. His arc, as per usual, is about discovering what kind of person he is but the plot refuses to take his arc or character seriously. His fragility is often the butt of the joke and his trauma is dismissed with similar hilarity. Meanwhile, Valkyrie (who still isn’t gay enough) is here to primarily chaperone Jane, whilst Korg (who is somehow gayer) is here to spout one-liners and exposition. Then there are the Guardians of the Galaxy who feel like a hold-over from Avengers: Endgame that need to be gotten rid of before the real plot can progress. Nebula is still great though. Her lines are some of the film’s best.

Ultimately, Thor: Love and Thunder is damaged most by its lack of seriousness. If the film doesn’t care about the lore, characters, or stakes, then why should the audience? It’s one of the weakest entries in the MCU and no amount of classic rock songs on the soundtrack can hide that.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Lightyear

Science fiction is an amazing genre. You can be anyone, anywhere at any time doing anything, with the only actual limit being your imagination. The realm of animation is the same and perhaps nobody knows that better than PIXAR Animation Studios. Their first feature film – 1995s Toy Story – is a landmark of cinema and they continued to push the boundaries of possibility with films like 2002s Monsters Inc and 2003s Finding Nemo. Today, Toy Story remains one of their most profitable IPs with 3 sequels and numerous shorts but clearly, they’re not done yet. Their most recent release is the first one to hit cinema since 2020s Onward, thanks to the COVID Pandemic, and it’s a wonderful return.

Lightyear sees Space Range Buzz Lightyear marooned on a distant planet with entire spaceships worth of people, determined to get them home. To do so he must perfect the formula for a hyperspace crystal and battle an armada of robots led by the mysterious Zurg with the assistance of several not-quite-rookies. The trailers may imply that this is an action blockbuster akin to the later Star Wars films but it has more in common with the 1977 original. There’s action, but it’s more focused on the main character and his journey, both across the barren landscape and emotionally. Chris Evans slides seamlessly into the role made famous by Tim Allen without ever feeling like a stand-in or replacement. The other characters can be fun too, especially the Hawthornes and Sox but Mo and Darby can often feel a little one-note.

The film is filled to the brim with references and homage. It may not be to everyone’s taste, especially if you dislike things feeling too meta, but others are sure to get a kick out of it. For sci-fi fans, there are plenty of recognisable callbacks to some of the finest films ever produced in the genre. There are elements of  2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, and Alien that aren’t difficult to find with Lost in space being especially prevalent. There are plenty of nods for Toy Story fans too. A large amount of the dialogue is lifted directly from Buzz’s lines in the first two Toy Story installments without ever feeling forced or out of place. Even a few of the camera shots are direct parallels from previous movies, particularly the iconic scene of Buzz landing on Andy’s bed.

Tying it all together is the majestic score from Michael Giacchino who is one of the finest composers currently working in the industry. This marks his 8th collaboration with PIXAR and he continues to bring something new to everything he writes. The Incredibles was perfectly heroic. Ratatouille was suitably quaint and Lightyear aptly provides the space-traveler feel. It helps this to feel like the kind of movie that would inspire a TV show like Buzz Lightyear of Star Command.

A TV show that actually happened, aired on the Disney Channel, and never got a proper release after the fact. It deserves to be released DISNEY.

As previously mentioned, it won’t be for everyone. Some may find it slightly derivative of other sci-fi stories or may find that it doesn’t hit as hard emotionally as other PIXAR productions but it never feels like it set out to do these things. It exists to tell an entertaining story with some amazing visuals and it does that. As “kids’ first sci-fi” it’s brilliant, introducing a wide variety of concepts and explaining them simply. It feels like a love letter to the genre and the realm of animation.

It doesn’t go to infinity or beyond but it’s still worth travelling to see.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Top Gun: Maverick

The Nostalgia-Era continues. Nostalgia, as a concept, has always existed but over the past decade, it seems like Hollywood has leaned into it harder than ever. It’s difficult to pinpoint precisely when this new era began. Perhaps it was 2012’s Jurassic World or 2016’s Stranger Things but, whatever the case, it has ballooned into its own genre. There are sequels like 2021’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife and IP spin-offs like 2019s The Mandalorian, each varying in quality. If the popularity of Top Gun: Maverick is anything to go by, then there will be many more projects like this to come.

36 years after Top Gun introduced the world to pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, he’s back to train a whole new generation of aviators for their most challenging mission yet. Among them is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, son of Mavericks former wingman Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, who still blames Mav for his father’s untimely death. The original Top Gun is, primarily, a romantic movie. Maverick pines for aviation instructor Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood, whilst the rest of the film is filled with homo-erotic tension between the members of Top Gun. Top Gun: Maverick has both these elements but they’re much more subdued. This time around Mav is rekindling an old flame with bar owner Peggy but it’s a much more adult relationship, with fewer sex scenes and more lying in bed talking about their issues. Meanwhile, the homo-eroticism comes across more as camaraderie, which suits the tone a little more considering there is now a girl in the group. Natasha “Phoenix” Trace is a welcome addition and one that the film never draws attention to, which is appreciated. Diversity should be allowed to be present instead of being a focal point for marketing.

The real core of the film is the tense relationship between Mav and Rooster. The former becomes more suited to the role of teacher as the plot progresses with the former being the one challenge he can’t seem to master. It leads to a poignant reunion between Maverick and former rival Tom “Iceman” Kazansky which is one of the film’s most tender moments. Not only does it provide nostalgia by reuniting these characters but it’s also a genuine pleasure to see Val Kilmer on screen again. He may have lost his voice but he’s lost none of his charm.

The action is top-notch. Watching Top Gun: Maverick in a cinema provides a fully immersive experience that is close to unachievable at home. The sound bounces off the walls and shakes the seats as if we too are flying. The displays of aerobatic skill are as impressive as ever and the adrenaline starts pumping whenever the score kicks in. Crafted by original Top Gun composer Harold Falter, with assistance from Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe, it perfectly captures the tone of the film. It gets the heart racing and the heart fluttering, carrying on from where the former score left off. Couple that with a couple of returning songs and a new ballad from Lady Gaga and the result is a stunning score for a brilliant film.

Top Gun: Maverick is a delight for all. Old fans will appreciate the call-backs and the continuing story whilst new fans will appreciate the story itself. Viewing the original Top Gun isn’t necessary for understanding either as enough context clues are provided. It’s no surprise that it’s currently dominating at the Box Office and that it seems set to continue doing so. It likely would have done well regardless, as sequels these days tend to do, but it continues to rake in crowds and cash.

It may be military propaganda but it’s also a damn good film.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Chip N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a masterpiece. Its visual storytelling makes the world feel lived in while the blending of 2D animation and real actors set the gold standard for pulling off such integration. With a lead performance from the grizzled yet charming Bob Hoskins and a child-scarring turn from Christopher Lloyd, it’s also a masterclass in acting. It deserves an article of its own but the main point is that it continues to serve as a love letter to the medium of animation, even after 34 years. Disney’s latest attempt to recapture that magic is the IP-laden Chip N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers.

The plot sees the iconic chipmunks living their everyday lives after the cancellation of their hit TV series in 1990. Despite no longer being on speaking terms, they must cooperate to retrieve their old friend Montgomery Jack from the clutches of the bootlegging Sweet Pete. The story isn’t reliant on the original show, meaning that it’s easily accessible to everyone. Die-hard fans may pick up some extra references but it doesn’t make or break the viewing experience. The cast does a wonderful job of portraying these characters, especially John Mulaney and Andy Samberg as Chip and Dale respectively. They’re easy-going, down to Earth, and bounce off each other expertly. Their voices also do a brilliant job of distinguishing between “Chip N’ Dale: TV Characters” and “Chip N’ Dale: Actors”, although those original high-pitched voices still get their moment to shine. These classic tones are provided by returning voice actors Tress McNeille and Corey Burton, who are just some of the returning voice talent.

As an IP-packed project, there are plenty of voices required. Each frame is packed with Disney characters, old and new, many of whom are portrayed by their original voice actors. Considering the preference for hiring celebrities in years (a trend started by Disney’s Aladdin) it’s nice to hear so many of them again. Among them are the legendary Jim Cummings and Alan Oppenheimer (best known for Winnie the Pooh and Skeletor respectively). It would be easy to praise Disney for this move, but it was likely the cheapest option.

Rescue Rangers‘ biggest flaw is that it’s a modern-day Disney production. The relentless cameos, references, and occasionally cringe-inducing humour makes it feel like a corporate product. It doesn’t feel like a love letter, it feels like a victory lap for a monopolistic company. The most entertaining aspect of these cameos is how likely they are to catch the audience off guard, particularly the blue one, but they don’t feel like they belong in this world. A large part of this is the variance in animation styles that don’t gel with each other. The PIXAR-esque characters are especially jarring, although it is amusing that there isn’t a single official PIXAR character to be found here. By far the worst aspect is how the film, and the company, treat beloved childhood icon, Peter Pan.

Now an adult, Peter goes by the moniker of Sweet Pete and he is anything but sweet. As the film’s primary antagonist, he is responsible for major kidnapping toons and altering their appearance to star in bootleg movies. This Peter was hired to portray his signature role as a child but was cast aside by the industry the moment he aged out of it. There’s a solid message here about how poorly child actors were, and occasionally still are, treated but it loses all value when it’s being told by a company notorious for doing this. Bobby Driscoll, the real child voice actor of [1957] Peter Pan was cast aside by Disney, then by the industry. He fell into substance abuse and passed away in an abandoned house at the age of 31. This iteration of Pete feels like an insult to his memory.

Chip N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers has all the vibes of a fun kids’ film. The Voice Actors do a wonderful job of capturing the heart of the characters and JK Simmons is excellent as the chief of police. Fans may get a kick out of it but the film’s biggest flaw is that it feels like a product. It’s self-aware, but not enough to demand you actually hold Disney accountable for the monopoly of IP it’s flaunting here. It may have some sweet moments but it leaves a sour aftertaste.

It’s more Ready Player One than Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Spoilers)

Wanda Maximoff is dead. Perhaps not literally but metaphorically. After 7 years of wasted potential, like most women in the MCU, this shouldn’t come as a shock, but it does. The TV Series Wandavision focused primarily on Wanda’s grief after killing her one true love, Vision, and allowed Elizabeth Olsen to demonstrate the full range of her acting capabilities. As a mother, she can be caring and full of warmth. As a wife, she can be loving and kind. As an adversary, she can be powerful and vengeful. With the series finale, Wanda finally fully embraced the title and powers of The Scarlett Witch, a big deal for the MCU who have thus far been legally unable to use that moniker. With the Darkhold in her possession and a fierce determination to steal alternate dimension variations of the children she manifested and lost out of magic, she seemed primed to cause havoc on a multiversal scale.

Multiverse of Madness sees this character development and raises you…possession. The Darkhold corrupts everything and everyone around it, leading to Wanda and The Scarlett Witch being treated as two separate entities. This could have been a fascinating dynamic, with Wanda’s non-child-murdering morals combatting. The Scarlet Witches hold over her body but this is not the route taken. The only time that the “real” Wanda makes an appearance is during a scene that takes place in her mind where she is buried under a mound of rubble and can only utter a single “help me” before being pulled back inside. This confirms that the entity known as The Scarlet Witch (a manifestation of the Darkhold) has full control which absolves Wanda of literally everything that occurs during the plot. Wanda isn’t evil or morally questionable like she was in Wandavision, she’s just an innocent victim. To further demonstrate this, The Scarlett Witch speaks with Elizabeth Olsen’s natural American accent instead of the Sokovian accent that she puts on for Wanda. It does mean that Olsen isn’t being held back by an accent that she has struggled to maintain in the past but it also acts as a constant reminder that there is no Wanda anymore.

To cap it all off, she sacrifices herself to destroy the temple where the original Darkhold spells are inscribed. Now, of course, this is the MCU so nobody is ever really dead. As the building collapses on top of her, we see a small poof of red smoke, seemingly to signify that she has teleported out of there. But if this is the case, then it’s not really a sacrifice so any emotion from that moment is lost. The worst-case scenario is that, somehow, the smoke wasn’t a teleport and she’s dead. But what are the chances of the MCU killing off a popular female character…?

The other major spoiler is handled much better. Having been a large part of the marketing (maybe too large a part), the presence of Marvel’s Illuminati comes as no surprise. What is surprising is the characters they chose and the actors who portray them. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Baron Mordo makes a welcome return as a variant of mainline Mordo. His warm charisma and underlying resentment for Strange serve as proof that mainline Mordo should finally make his return to the MCU. Haley Atwell’s Captain Carter is sure to excite fans, even if the trailer spoiled her presence, especially considering Peggy hasn’t been seen in live-action since 2016. Anson Mount reprising his role of Black Bolt from the unacclaimed Inhumans show is a welcome surprise for those who recognise him. Lashana Lynch returns as Maria Rambeau, taking up the mantle of Captain Marvel. The most divisive casting choice is John Krasinski as Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic. It’s a casting that fans have been clamoring for, but his presence here seems to imply that he won’t be taking on the same role in the mainline MCU, which may be for the best. He’s fine in the role but his presence is fairly distracting and his uniform is the worst in the entire group. The final member of the Illuminati is proof that nobody is ever really finished playing their most popular character…it’s Sir Patrick Stewart as Professor Xavier. Here he’s portraying a live-action version of the character from the 1997 animated series. His entrance is even accompanied by a snippet of the animated show’s iconic theme, which may be pandering but is sure to provide a smile at the very least.

What may not provide a smile is what happens next. The Scarlett Witch arrives and annihilates the Illuminati. It’s a horrific scene to watch, purely because of the terrifying way in which she dismantles each member. The first sign that you’re about to witness a massacre like no other is when she removes Black Bolt’s mouth, meaning that when he screams (a scream with the power to destroy anything in its path), his head literally caves in. It doesn’t ease up from here with spaghettification and decapitation providing a manic display of her power. This is where the classic Raimi horror element really comes into its own. Using these characters like this may feel like a waste to some but it’s a heck of a perfect demonstration of what The Scarlett Witch is capable of.

The credits scenes are neat too. The first introduces actress Charlize Theron as Clea – daughter of Dormammu and possible love interest for Strange. Obviously, there are many big-name actors in the MCU, many of whom got there in part due to the MCU, but Theron is already a huge name. It feels like proof that the MCU is only getting bigger and that it isn’t slowing down anytime soon, which is a thought that may exhaust some. The second scene brings back one of the most entertaining cameos in the entire film – Bruce Campbell as Pizza Poppa. He provides a zany, early comic book movie energy that only Campbell could provide, and which should leave the audience smiling as they depart the cinema.

As discussed in the spoiler-free review, there is plenty to enjoy in Multiverse of Madness. The Raimi vibes really work but many of the decisions made by the creative team will be divisive, if not infuriating. It’s still worth watching for the little moments of gold…not that MCU fans have much of a choice. Missing one story may mean missing an important piece of context for future tales, so keep your eyes fixated.

If you’re lucky, you might get rewarded with a Bruce Campbell.

(My thanks to Nate at Natflix for checking this one out with me. Check his review HERE)

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Spoiler Free)

Director Sam Raimi created one of the greatest superhero films of all time. It’s a sequel, so it doesn’t have to spend much time establishing character backstories. The villain’s origin is full of tragedy while the character themself is immensely likable. The hero is a quip machine with the charisma of a young Tom Cruise. Above all, despite often being a campy comic book movie, it has solid horror elements embedded into it. It is unmistakably a Sam Raimi production and doesn’t feel like it was poked or prodded by studio executives. That masterpiece’s name is… Spider-Man 2.

This is why, when it was announced that Raimi would be taking over directing duties from Scott Derickson on the sequel to Doctor Strange, excitement was high. When the trailers finally started appearing, it seemed as if Multiverse of Madness would be a much darker tale than any in the MCU, and it was… so why doesn’t it feel like a top-tier Marvel production?

The plot sees Dr. Stephen Strange attempting to save multiverse-hopping-teen America Chavez from the clutches of The Scarlett Witch (aka Wanda Maximoff). Despite a promising premise, there is very little of the multiverse actually being explored. The first time that Strange and Chavez jump to a different universe they crash through 20 separate universes, but they will spend the majority of the runtime in the final one they land in. These universes look absolutely stunning, and they are brimming with potential as well as looking like they could house an interesting story. Instead, the plot is split between the universe they land in, dubbed 838, and the one they came from, dubbed 616 (a cute comic nod as the actual designation is 19999). It allows more time to be spent with the 838 characters, which is fine as they’re all interesting enough, but it’s difficult not to feel a little disappointed when you’re promised a multiverse. Using more universes could have further demonstrated how ruthless, powerful, and merciless The Scarlett Witch is. It could have shown off more variations of Stephen and Wong (who is sorely lacking in the rest of the plot) as proof that 19999 Stephen is the only nice one. It could have been an opportunity to shove in more cameos, should the studio be inclined.

This doesn’t mean that there are no shoe-horned cameos. It’s a move that’s sure to divide audiences on several different levels. There will be people who feel like the plot doesn’t warrant these cameos, those who disagree with the characters chosen, those who disagree with the actors chosen for these roles, and those who disagree with how these characters are utilised. Personally, I only disagree with having the characters present, but to say any more would be to venture into spoiler territory, which is also the case with The Scarlett Witch. Throughout this piece, she has not been referred to as Wanda Maximoff because Wanda hasn’t been present. The film robs her of any real agency which, in turn, prevents her from being a sympathetic villain, which is a shame because this may be the defining performance of actress Elizabeth Olsen’s career. Wanda, as with most MCU women, has taken a backseat to her male counterparts but Olsen has always been terrific in the role. She was really allowed to display the full range of her capabilities in the show Wandavision which earned her deserved acclaim. It’s present here too, with The Scarlett Witch being one of the gravest threats any hero has ever faced and providing some truly chilling moments.

Divisiveness is rife in Multiverse of Madness. The aspects that don’t work (Wanda, presence of cameos, pacing, some of the humour) are noticeable but the moments that do work provide some MCU highlights. When Sam Raimi’s signature voice is allowed to shine through, it provides a comic-book vibe similar to his work on Spider-Man and an MCU experience like no other. Many have suggested that the film is too scary for a 12 rating but scaring young people (if the film does so) is a good thing, as if children aren’t allowed to experience fear then they don’t learn how to cope with that fear. Besides, many children enjoy the rush that comes with being scared. Saying that, although the film may not have earned a 15 rating, it may have been better had it been allowed one. Raimi can work well within restrictions, but if he’s being allowed to craft a horror film then he should be allowed to craft a full-Raimi horror film. When his voice comes through, it provides some wonderfully dark stuff and Zombie Strange is straight-up one of the best characters in the MCU. Partnered with Danny Elfman’s beautifully chilling and occasionally triumphant score, it provides some stellar storytelling. Where it falls apart is in the “MCU” of it all.

Perhaps the future should be a little less multiversal and a little more mad.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Morbius

Avi Arad may not be a name you’re familiar with. If you recognise it all it’s likely because you’re a massive nerd or you saw him mentioned at the end of Spider-Man: No Way Home as “The One True Believer”. So who is he? Well, depending on who you ask he’s the man who killed Spider-Man…twice. It was reportedly his decision to nix development on a fourth Sam Raimi-led Spider-Man and it was he who had creative control of the Amazing Spider-Man duology. The sequel to the latter performed poorly enough that Sony pulled the plug on a threequel, although the Sony E-mail hack likely didn’t help. Avi’s name is now also attached to the bland, indecisive blood-fest that is Morbius.

The story of Doctor Michael Morbius, whose blood genome deficiency is killing him, and his bat-blood-based cure sounds cool on paper. He gains bat-like abilities such as sonar and flight so when his equally ill but morally bankrupt friend Milo takes the same cure it should lead to an intense rivalry but this isn’t the case. The film’s tone is inconsistent, switching back and forth between horror and comedy without ever properly settling on either. It’s a shame because Morbius is apt at both and, had it gone fully down the horror right, it could have felt akin to 1998s Blade. Instead, it feels the need to inject MCU-esque humour, perhaps in an effort to full the audience into thinking that it takes place in the same expansive universe.

It doesn’t, but the marketing sure wanted to believe it did. Trailers had references to Venom, all 3 iterations of the silver screen Spider-Man, and a conversation between Dr. Morbius and Adrian Toomes of the MCU. All of these had been cut by the time the film was released, with the interaction between Morbius and Toomes being completely re-shot to act as a mid-credits scene. As mid-credits scenes go, it’s abysmal. Toomes spends the entire thing in his Vulture wingsuit, with his helmet covering his face. This is likely due to the ability to dub over any poorly scripted lines and the inability to get Michael Keaton back on set. One can only imagine what kind of state this film was in before re-shoots and 2 years of delays.

As it is, it looks interesting enough. The visual representation of Morbius’ powers is excellent, particularly when it comes to his sonar. The choice to shroud him in smoke as he flies is visually intriguing, even if it goes unexplained and doesn’t fit the style of the film. The city is dark and grimy, closer to Gotham City than any location in the MCU. It feels like there’s a good film buried in here buried under interference higher-ups, which so often seems to be the case, especially with Sony’s Spider-verse. Yes, Avi’s name is attached to some of the most notable so-called failures like Spider-Man 3, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and Morbius but it’s also attached to some bigger successes. He’s credited as producer on Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and even Iron Man, although his misses far outweigh his hits.

The fact is that there’s no knowing exactly how films like Morbius come to be. A lot can be gleaned from behind-the-scenes footage and maybe somebody will someday unveil all the hot gossip, but those of us in the present are left in the dark. All we can do is hope that, when these films fail, they do so in a way like Venom instead of Morbius.


Of course, it would be appreciated if they could make something like Spider-Man 2 again. 

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer