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

Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga

First impressions are important. When Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga was first announced at E3 2019, it had a lot to live up to. The first two Lego Star Wars games (later edited and repackaged as The Complete Saga) held a special place in the hearts of fans with its charm and visual storytelling. The following installment, based on the Clone Wars TV Series functioned differently with less of a focus on individual levels and more of a focus on open-world gameplay. The same is true of the Lego adaptation of The Force Awakens but after that game, there was silence. There were no video games based on The Last Jedi but with The Rise of Skywalker on the horizon, fans hoped that something would manifest. Anticipation was high and when that first trailer dropped at E3 it seemed to deliver. It boasted all 9 core films in Lego form in glorious high definition, which was further demonstrated by the second trailer unveiled in the lead up to December of 2019.

It quickly became one of the most anticipated releases of 2020, before it was announced that the game would be delayed until sometime in the first quarter of 2021. This wouldn’t be the first delay, with it finally being released on April 5th, 2022, although there were frequent trailers during this time that gave a further glimpse at the expanded galaxy each time. Those who pre-ordered the Deluxe Edition of the game would receive an exclusive Luke Skywalker Minifigure with his own carton of blue milk as well as each of the 7 DLC Character Packs as they released. The first two of these packs, featuring characters from Solo: A Star Wars Story and series one of The Mandalorian, would be available from the day of the game’s release.

This is where the issues began.

The code given with the deluxe edition, which was to provide access to the DLC, only granted access to the Classic Character pack. It would seem that the codes meant for the deluxe edition ended up in the cases for the standard edition which was an issue for sure, but fixable. Within 2 days of release and after countless e-mails from fans, the developers were able to patch the game providing the correct DLC for those who paid for it. Thankfully, it wasn’t an issue that affected the core gameplay…that came later. Many players have reported several bugs over the past month, which they hope to be resolved in a patch of some kind. It’s worth noting that the developers aren’t to blame for this as they (like all video game developers) crafted this game under ridiculous time constraints, unfair hours, and a paycheck that doesn’t reflect the hours they actually worked. Crunch time is a serious issue and video game companies should be held accountable.

A major bug prevents the level markers for Maz Kanatas mission from loading in, meaning that players cannot play this level or any that follow it. Since each episode of the saga needs to be completed to unlock the next, it leaves players unable to access episodes 8 and 9 as well as the planets and missions unlocked by playing through them. It seems like opening a new save file may solve these issues for some players although it would mean replaying through any portions of the game that have already been completed.

Next are the loading issues, which aren’t game-breaking by any means, but may be bothersome to some. The biggest of these occur during the Smugglers Run missions, where the player will occasionally drop out of hyperspace to take on battalions of villains. If the player has already fought some of the Capital Ships (like the Galactic Trade Federation Ship) then it will load in during these battles but only as textures. They take up a large portion of the screen but they have no mass, meaning that they can be flown through. The only workaround seems to be completing these Smuggler Runs missions before taking on the Capital Ships, however, since they spawn at random this isn’t possible.

EDIT: In a patch, it appears that the developers have managed to smooth over the majority of these bugs. It is currently still unclear how many but the Capital Ships issue is entirely fixed.

Lastly for this article, although I’m sure there are more hidden in the game itself, is the loading screen. It’s a gorgeous piece of artwork in its own right with many of the main characters from across the entire saga just hanging out. There are some neat little character moments in here like Rose Tico tasering Jar Jar Binks or Poe Dameron and Finn being unable to keep their hands off each other (methinks there was a Stormpilot fan on staff) but these are not the flaws. The flaws are that, on occasion, they will load in incorrectly. So far, they have loaded in the lightsabers minus the characters and, more horrifyingly, loaded in the characters minus their faces.

These issues are particularly frustrating because the game itself is excellent. It’s not simply a remaster of the previous games (like GTA: The Definitive Edition was) but a completely new game, built from scratch and designed for a totally different experience. The Complete Saga was primarily focused on the missions, 6 for each episode, which were accessed through doors at the main hub – a cantina. Meanwhile, The Skywalker Saga spends less time on levels and more time on open-world exploration and collectable hunting. There are numerous side quests, puzzles, and trials to complete across the 24 planets and the space in between them along with almost 400 characters to unlock. The galaxy is vast in a way that’s never been fully exemplified before, with the closest approximation being the Battlefront games which showed areas previously unseen but which only scratch the surface in comparison to this. It’s clear that the developers hope that the player will explore every nook and cranny, given how much walking there is between levels. It can feel as though the 9 episodes are merely to acquaint the player with game mechanics and to unlock the various planets, with the “real” game being the galactic exploration. This won’t be for everyone but it’s an absolute delight for anyone who wants to marvel at all the galaxy has to offer.

It’s a gorgeous game, making the most of every pixel on screen. Whether it’s the reflective surfaces, sunset skies, or the sheer quality of the high-definition graphics, there’s plenty to be in awe of. This carries across to the characters and the way they interact with their surroundings. They leave little square footprints on the ground, dirt sticks to their clothes, and the frost builds up along the plastic seams. It’s no wonder this game took so long to make. It’s not just a treat for Lego fans but for Star Wars fans too, with little easter eggs and nuggets of lore littered all over the place. A high number of these may be accidentally missed by the player if they’re not keeping a watchful eye, making this world feel lived in and loved. There’s a recreation of a photo featuring Warwick Davis with some of the original cast on Endor, cover art for previous Lego Star Wars games, and even a literal easter egg. It is abundantly clear that this game wasn’t just made for Star Wars fans, it was made by Star Wars fans.

One of the game’s strongest aspects is the voice cast, comprised mainly of returning voice actors from the Clone Wars TV series. Fans of the show will get a kick out of hearing such iconic voices reading even more iconic lines, like James Arnold Taylor uttering Obi Wans famous “hello there”. It also provides a little more weight to his final duel against Matt Lanter’s Anakin in Revenge of the Sith, which they deserved the chance to voice. The standout performance comes from Sam Whitwer who, as well as returning to voice Darth Maul, voices Emperor Sheev Palpatine. He pours as much energy into this performance as he ever did for Maul, absolutely cackling with devilish glee as he delivers lines like “do it” and “I am the Senate”. This is on top of the return of some original cast members too, like Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams, Brian Blessed, and Daniel Logan.

Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga may not be the definitive edition of this story but it’s the most expansive. Having been created all it once, it has benefits that the original 9 films never did, like referencing any piece of the lore that they choose in any era. (Keep an eye out for the Jawas!). The John Williams composed soundtrack is as beautiful and meticulously crafted as it has always been, which perfectly matches the beautifully crafted locations. It’s got plenty of that Lego-brand humour that will delight both children and adults, without ever overshadowing the original story. The amount of travel won’t be for everyone, nor will the numerous bugs, but if you can survive these then you’re in for a whole galaxy’s worth of fun.

May the Force be With You…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

The Batman (Spoiler-Free)

The “goth” in Gotham stands for gothic. Directors Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher understood that when they adapted Batman for the big screen in the 80s and 90s. The creators of Batman: The Animated Series understood it too, drawing their inspiration from the Burton era and even The Lego Batman Movie knew to give the city some character. It’s an aspect that was noticeably missing from Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy because he wanted a more grounded and realistic tone but to do so is a disservice to Gotham. She’s a character in her own right; grimy and crime-ridden but tough like an old boot. Batman knows her well and works with her to bring criminals to justice, which is perhaps why the noir-inspired iteration by director Matt Reeves works so well.

The Batman sees the titular vigilante taking on a Zodiac Killer-inspired Riddler, whilst having run-ins with local crimelord Oswald Cobblepot (aka The Penguin) and morally-righteous thief Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman). Given the lack of Bruce Wayne in this story, it’s fitting that this film should be dubbed The Batman, which feels like a swift turn after the Wayne-heavy Nolan trilogy. When Bruce does make an appearance it is to further the caped crusader’s story. He’s beaten and disheveled from his night-time antics, attending the funeral of one of The Riddler’s victims, solving his puzzles, and confronting people about the truth behind said puzzles. The Wayne parents, Thomas and Martha, aren’t overly present either. They appear via old news footage and are spared from the over-used flashback to their demise, which is a small but appreciated touch.

One of The Batman‘s biggest flaws is the runtime…all 2 hours and 50 minutes of it. The length itself isn’t inherently an issue, but considering that this has become the standard running time for what feels like the majority of recent movies, it’s a little tiring. It’s almost acceptable when the amount of story being told justifies this length (like with Avengers: Endgame) but that isn’t the case here. Aside from some minor pacing issues throughout, the film falters in its final act. With The Riddler’s final puzzle solved, it feels like the film is coming to a natural conclusion but there is still half an hour left. This half-hour features an unnecessary city-wide catastrophe that is on par with The Dark Knight Rises and, despite serving as a decent conclusion to Batman’s arc, drags.

This isn’t the film’s only flaw either. Martha Wayne and Selina Kyle both undergo minor character alterations that work for the story being told but may displease some fans. The Penguin, as marvelously as he is performed, is still a skinny actor in a fat suit which is an unnecessary casting choice in this day and age. Then there are the facial deformities present on several of the villainous characters, which provides an uncomfortable correlation between the two as well as the mixed messaging of the film. However, what The Batman lacks here, it makes up for with everything else, particularly the tone. Early comic book movies like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man or 20th Century Fox’s X-Men felt like comic books come to life, whilst more recent installments feel more like they are merely based on the characters. The Batman falls into the former category and is simply dripping with atmosphere. The colour palette, production design, characters, and even the weather feel similar to Frank Miller or Alan Moore’s best work. Not to mention Micheal Giachiinos’s score which, while repetitive, captures the same level of heroism as Danny Elfman’s 1989 score.

There are a lot of elements from previous Batman installments in The Batman. It finds a good balance between the gothic griminess of Burton and the character-driven story of Nolan, whilst borrowing the best aspects of Nolan’s villains for The Riddler. Despite some minor flaws, it captures the Dark Knight at his darkest, although that may not be everyone’s cup of tea. There haven’t been enough camp/fun versions of the character and it seems like that won’t be changing anytime soon.

Hopefully, the next one is a bit shorter.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Uncharted

Movies based on video games don’t have the best track record. The most famous example is the very first, 1993’s The Mario Bros Movie, but plenty of franchises have tried their hand at the silver screen. Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Doom, Prince of Persia, and Warcraft are just some of the many lackluster attempts over the years however, it feels like nobody is willing to acknowledge the few that slip through. 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was popular enough to get a sequel, as was 1995’s Mortal Kombat. Despite underwhelming sequels, 2002’s Resident Evil is liked enough but they all seem to struggle with their core demographic. The youngest age that any of these films aimed for was 12, with 15 being the preferred age. The two most popular videogame movies of all time, namely The Angry Birds Movie and The Sonic the Hedgehog Movie, aimed for that sweet, marketable, profitable PG rating. Whether or not these were good videogame movies debatable but they were wildly popular with their core demographic, and even slightly older demographics with Sonic. The main comparison to be made between these two installments is that they vary from their source material, keeping names, designs, and very little else. Adaption seems to be necessary for adaptation, which is something that Uncharted never achieves.

The story follows thieving Nathan “Nate” Drake as he meets fellow thief Victor “Sully” Sullivan and they attempt to find the lost Magellan treasure. Along the way, they encounter a couple of Sully’s old associates, who have been individually hired by ruthless billionaire Santiago Moncada. This plotline is not lifted directly from the games, however, several key setpieces and relationships are. Uncharted tries to walk the line of “just like the game” and “a whole new story” which ultimately means that it never fully achieves either. The set pieces are fantastic, particularly during the finale, but one can’t help thinking how cool these would be to play through. These set pieces, and characters, are chosen from across the timeline of the game series, notably Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and Uncharted 4: A Thiefs End which means that they don’t function as they do in the games. It’s close enough to pay homage but not accurate enough to appease fans.

Meanwhile, the film itself is as standard as they come. It’s a little bit Indiana Jones and a little bit Goonies but both of these featured more fleshed-out characters and knowingly entertaining scripts. Films like those practically invented the cliches that Uncharted fails to utilise with any real meaning. The script is filled to the brim with zingers and one-liners, but that doesn’t make a character. The protagonist of the Uncharted games isn’t Nathan Drake…it’s you. You control his actions, you experience the story firsthand and you are the person being constantly screwed over by Sully. Nathan Drake is just a vessel with a backstory, which is why any adaptation is required to give him his own agency. This film doesn’t manage that and it sadly isn’t helped by the casting of Tom Holand. Tom’s natural charm and charisma are this films saving grace, as are his impressive parkour skills.

Uncharted is just another videogame movie. The score is lovely and the setpieces entertaining but Lara Croft: Tomb Raider achieved that 2 decades ago. Had this film come out then, it may have faired better…but it also would have preceded the game series by 5 years.

Here’s hoping Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is better.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Moonfall

The “disaster movie” is mostly dead. The genre that seemingly defined the 1990s with titles like Armageddon and Independence Day, wasn’t new at the time but it was more explosive than it had ever been. The genre dates back as far as 1933 with Deluge, which was based on the 1928 S Fowler Wright novel of the same name. In it, we follow a group of survivors in New York City after a series of natural disasters including an earthquake. It blended model shots on a green screen with footage of actors to give the illusion that the monumental damage was happening on a large scale, a practice that continued well into the 1970s. With the boom of technology in the late 80s/early 90s, films began to experiment with CGI, leading to a landslide of titles in the latter half of the 90s. However, there is a noticeable drop-off in disaster movies as the 2010s approach, with it practically becoming dormant once the modern superhero blockbuster arrived in 2008. One man who didn’t seem to get the memo is Roland Emmerich, director of such disaster classics as 1998’s Godzilla and the aforementioned Independence Day.

His latest project is Moonfall, which follows a small band of heroes as they attempt to fix the moon’s orbit, which has unexpectedly changed course. As with previous Emmerich titles, there are three key elements at play – namely the characters, the destruction, and the overall message. Our heroes are a disingenuously disgraced ex-astronaut, his former co-astronaut, and a conspiracy theorist-who will end up having his theories proven. The first two characters are practically to be expected in a plot like this but it’s the surprisingly correct conspiracy theorist who serves as the main protagonist. He’s fun, quirky, and astoundingly likable for somebody who constantly praises Elon Musk. It would have been easy for Emmerich to make this guy the butt of all jokes and the movie’s own personal punching bag but instead, he chooses to humanise him. It’s a respectable decision and one that pays off.

The conspiracy theories themselves are wild. The classic “moon is a hologram” and “moon landings were faked” are tossed aside for stellar megastructures. It’s a new angle for this genre that allows for a vast array of imaginative ideas and grandiose shots. The reason for the moon’s orbital change is an issue slightly closer to home than expected, featuring the classic sci-fi message about how untrustworthy AI is. Here is where Moonfall’s message finally comes into view, although it’s a little blurred by the sheer madness occurring on-screen. Even when his message isn’t 100% on point, Emmerich’s destructive capabilities are never questionable.
While the main trio head moonward, the remainder of the plot follows their families back on Earth. This leads to some great character work, especially from Micheal Pena, as well as some astounding shots of the moon from the ground. Shots like this are why films like this are best experienced in a cinema. It’s all about the spectacle, which is something Emmerich continues to expand upon.

Moonfall may not be his crowning achievement but it’s wholly unapologetic about what it is…an experience.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Eternals

I’ve often said that there are no bad movies in the MCU, with even the lesser-appreciated installments like Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World are more entertaining than the other poorly received films being tossed at us by the rest of Hollywood. Despite this, only one installment has ever been nominated for Best Picture at The Academy Awards – Black Panther. Arguably, this was less due to its quality and more due to it being the first mainstream superhero film led by people of color. Whether it deserved an award for that or if the awards mean as much as they used to are entirely different conversations, but the point remains that no superhero film has ever won Best Picture.

Enter director Chloe Zhao. Her drama Nomadland won Best Picture in 2021, after creating a lot of buzz on the Film Festival circuit, and she is a huge fan of Marvel the Eternals comics. So much so, that it was her who pitched the movie to Marvel Head Kevin Fiege, which was quickly given the green light. Oscar-nominated directors have directed MCU movies before (like Sir Kenneth Branagh with Thor and Joe Johnston with Captain America: The First Avenger) and Zhao wouldn’t win her award until after production on Eternals had wrapped, but she is still the first Oscar-Winning director in the MCU. So can her talent finally bring Best Picture to a superhero film? Can Eternals be the one to break that glass ceiling? Probably not… but why?

The plot centers on a group of supernatural beings, known as Eternals, who were sent to Earth to destroy supernatural monsters, known as Deviants. Their mission has long since ended, with each Eternal having gone their separate ways, but they must reunite when the Deviants return. The film has several issues, with one of the biggest being the pacing. In the span of 2 hours and 40 minutes, we are introduced to 9 brand new characters through both their past and present lives. Eternals is littered with flashbacks, which are either short and unnecessary (like with Phastos and the Atomic Bomb) or long and unnecessary (like with Sersie and Ikaris’ romance). These flashbacks provide a large amount of exposition which is already naturally deposited throughout the rest of the runtime, meaning that it becomes really tiring really quickly. Eternals even goes so far as having an opening text crawl which is, again, full of information we are about to learn anyway.

This opening crawl is part of a larger problem – the tone. Eternals feels like Oscar bait: a movie with complex themes and characters which practically screams self-importance, designed primarily to win Academy Awards. This aspect was only amplified by the marketing campaign which focused primarily on this film’s importance within the MCU. There’s certainly a conversation to be had about campaigns centered on hype and how it can ruin a film but, even without that, Eternals feels like it wants you to take it seriously. It’s not like other superhero movies. It is, as it happens, entirely correct to make such a statement… because other superhero movies are fun. Oddly enough, Eternals feels more like something that the ever-uncertain DC Company would put out. More specifically, it feels like a Justice League movie. There has often been an overlap in superpowers between the two companies, as after all, there are only so many powers to go around, but it’s really distracting here. Granted, it isn’t helped by DC releasing two Justice League films in the span of three years, but it certainly doesn’t help to casually refer to your Superman stand-in (Ikaris) as Superman.

This isn’t to say that Eternals isn’t noteworthy. The cast is predominantly made up of POC, and it also features a deaf character and a gay character, which is worth praising even if the characters themselves are not. The deaf character is in some kind of relationship with the resident narcissist-playing-God and the gay character is barely is given the passionate-kiss-for-if-I-die which is usually reserved for heterosexual romances, and which comes off as pandering. It doesn’t matter that there’s a gay character here if he’s barely utilised and if the plot is still primarily focussed on a straight relationship. It means even less when the straight couple gets a (passionless) sex scene before becoming a love triangle in a move so out of left field that it nearly knocked me out.

In all of this madness, there are a few saving graces. One is the relationship between Kingo and his valet, which is a delight to witness. Every time they are on screen they fill it with warmth and humour, to the extent that I was audibly annoyed when it became clear that they weren’t going to be present for the final battle. Then there’s the score, composed by Ramin Djawadi, which is grand and ethereal. It achieves the vibe that the rest of the film was going for, whilst providing the main theme for the characters which may be better than the one given to The Avengers. Much of the cinematography is equally grand. The semi-villain of Eternals is their creator Arashim, who is a Celestial (the closest thing in the MCU to God) and who is roughly the size of a solar system. His vast size and immeasurable weight are felt whenever he appears, which is no easy task. Some have claimed that Eternals looks better than every other MCU film, which I think is incorrect and downplays the cinematography in the rest of the MCU. Not each installment is brilliant the entire way through (looking at you Avengers Assemble) but each one has moments of gold.

Finally, we come to the inevitable moment in every MCU film – how it sets up future MCU projects. First is the introduction of Dane Whittman, who becomes the hero Black Knight in the comics, and is eventually greeted by the off-screen voice of the MCU’s Blade, long before his own film enters production. Not to sound straight, but in his brief screentime, Dane becomes one of the most charming, charismatic, likable characters in the MCU although it’s currently unclear what his future is. Then there is the introduction of Thanos’ brother Eros and his best friend Pip the Troll, portrayed by Harry Styles and Patton Oswalt respectively. There are plenty of things to discuss here: the introduction of trolls, the less than brilliant CG of said troll, why Eros looks like a human man, and where either of these characters will show up again. But the main point here is that Harry Styles (the best member of former boyband One Direction) is in the MCU. Sure, this might say more about me than anything else, but frankly, his presence is one of the best things about Eternals.

Excelsior!

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Shang-Chi and the Legend of The Ten Rings

The MCU has tried its hand at many genres. There have been action, drama, comedy, fantasy, and adventure, but never before had it attempted martial arts. Despite being new to the MCU, it is not new to Marvel Studios, who had already attempted martial arts with the Netflix show Iron Fist, the first series of which received generally poor reviews. Critical and audience opinion was more favourable with the second series, where both the action and the pacing had improved. This did not prevent Netflix from cancelling the show and all other Marvel projects on the streaming service in 2018, however there is a continual interest from MCU Head Kevin Feige in reviving these projects as part of the MCU. The most interesting link between Shang-Chi and Iron Fist is not that it shares a genre, but that it almost shared an actress. Jessica Henwick, who portrayed Colleen Wing, was offered the role of Shang-Chi’s sister Xialing but turned it down in the hopes that one day she could return as Wing.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (often shortened to just Shang-Chi) follows the titular hero and his best friend Katy as they reunite with his sister Xialing and attempt to stop his father from opening a sacred gate in a mystical land that will unleash a horde of demons. The film handles its lore extraordinarily well, expositing it in a way that feels natural. Like The Lord of the Rings, it opens with narration but unlike The Lord of the Rings it is being given in-universe as a story to our hero at a much younger age. All of the lore is provided in-universe and it never feels clunky, forced, or complicated. It also never feels like it doesn’t fit within the parameters of the MCU, although that universe has been beyond absurd for quite some time now. It may have started out as a slightly more fantastical version of our own universe but it entered a realm all of its own years ago. Films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange pushed the MCU into a world of oddities and magic, with Avengers: Endgame changing it forever. As the film itself remarks, this is now a universe where half of the world’s population could vanish at any moment.

Both Katy and Shang-Chi are at a similar stage in their lives, although the ways in which they arrived at that point couldn’t be much more different. Katy bounces from job to job, never settling because she is trying to find the one thing that she is passionate about getting good at. When she arrives in the mystical village of La Pao, she discovers that she is a skilled archer. She is an entertaining character, even if she is too skilled for a novice and the role of archer in the MCU is already filled by a more likable character. She aptly provides comedy to Shang-Chi’s more serious life. He starts as Katy does, bouncing from job to job, but he does so because he is trying to hide from his dark past. His father, leader of the criminal organisation The Ten Rings, trained him to be a killer from childhood, which is a life he refuses to live. He’s a man in hiding, although he’s not doing a particularly good job of it, so it isn’t long before his father finds him and forces him to fight for his life.

Given that this is a martial arts film, the fights themselves are an important aspect to discuss. They are, by no means, close to the greatest fights ever choreographed, but they are still more entertaining than the majority of action setpieces elsewhere in the MCU. The issue is that they are still shot like action sequences. Classic martial arts films knew that the fighting was the main draw of the piece, so the camera often lingered on shots, allowing the mastery to be witnessed. There were very few, if any, alternate camera angles, which is something that Shang-Chi fails to take into account. The first fight sequence is the best by far because it takes place on a bus, which restricts the amount of space that can be used. More than this, it allows for the bus itself to become a part of the fight, with the standout moment being a camera pan along its length, in an homage to the Korean film Oldboy. Unfortunately, very little of this martial arts prowess is present in the final battle which, once again, comes down to fighting a big CGI creature. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but when it makes up the majority of conclusions in the MCU and the conflict between Shang-Chi and his father has already closed the emotional arc, it is a tad unnessecary.

The MCU connection is everpresent. This is an origin story but the universe in which it takes place has changed drastically since the origin stories of old. It can no longer focus primarily on itself, although considering how important the titular organisation has been, it was never going to. They first appeared in 2008’s Iron Man before seemingly playing a pivotal role in Iron Man 3 and, because the MCU hates having loose threads, the latter’s plot is fully explored. This is done through a small monologue from Shang-Chi’s father, as well as bringing back Sir Ben Kingsley as Trevor Slattery, in a move that I’m sure everybody loved. Having been imprisoned at the end of Iron Man 3, Trevor was broken out and brought before the real leader of The Ten Rings, who allowed him to survive as a sort of court jester. This escape was shown in the Marvel One-Shot All Hail the King, but that short is not necessary to understanding his presence here. Trevor acts as the comedic sidekick, despite that role already being filled by Katy, although he is probably just here to bring his story to a proper close. As mentioned, it is something the MCU often likes to do, although it is becoming more frequent by the year because so many loose threads were left in the franchise’s early days. You will often hear that there is a “Grand Plan” for the MCU but this plan is a lot vaguer than the company will ever admit. If a project does poorly then the plot is rarely ever addressed again, and if a film does particularly well then it is guaranteed a sequel or spin-off. Disney/Marvel are still a company, beholden to the opinions of the audience and the money they provide, even if they pretend not to be.

The MCU has a “Grand Plan” but the precisions of that plan are likely still to be mapped. I don’t think anybody was expecting to see The Abomination make his return in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

Excelsior!

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

The Matrix Resurrections

You can’t be told what the Matrix is, you have to see it for yourself. These are some of the first words said to a fresh-faced Neo, by Morpheus, in 1999’s sci-fi phenomenon The Matrix. This is true both of the titular simulated world and the film centered around it. You can read the plot synopsis online, even read the script if you so wish, but you won’t truly know The Matrix unless you witness it firsthand. The themes, performances, sets, and soundtrack can be read about, looked at, and listened to but it is the culmination of all these aspects that makes The Matrix what it is. After a hiatus of almost 2 decades, it makes sense that The Matrix Resurrerections should be the same.

Set 60 years after Neo’s sacrifice in Matrix Revolutions, game developer Thomas Anderson (Neo’s simulation self) is having psychotic episodes brought about by memories suppressed by an AI known as The Analyst. Whilst working on a sequel to his Matrix videogame trilogy, he is freed from the simulation by a new cast of likable characters, before they attempt to rescue Trinity, whose memories are also being repressed. It’s a simple premise but the specifics of the plot are a tad more complex. As a whole, the film tackles the concept of legacy, in relation to both franchise creator Lana Wachowski and franchise owner Warner Brothers Studio. Watching Resurrections felt like watching an argument between the two, with Warner Brothers wanting a standard sequel and Lana wanting something that channels her emotions and experiences. Indeed, the film feels like a compromise between these two visions, like the film was going to go ahead without Lana and she channeled that frustration into the script.

So far, the film appears to be splitting audiences. Either the script is poor and the action is good or the script is good and the action is poor. Given how divisive both previous installments were, it’s almost comforting to see that Resurrections is too. “Comforting” is almost the perfect way to describe it. From the opening scene, which directly parallels the opening of the original Matrix, to the presence of Agent Smith, albeit in a different body. There’s a running theme of experiencing the same scenarios in a different body which feels like a much more obvious Trans allegory than the original trilogy. It’s clear how much of Lana’s own transition, especially in relation to her creation, is being explored here. As one of the most prolific directors of the early 2000s, her transition was never going to be a quiet affair and nobody will ever really understand how it affected her except for her. This author won’t speculate, but it can’t have been easy and I truly hope that she is happy not only with herself but with how Resurrections ended up.

The action is classic Matrix with a large amount of kung-fu and an equally large amount of gunfire. The violence is more weighted than in the previous two installments, due to Neo’s lack of practice and 60 years of taking the blue pill. It’s a miracle that his first fight with Smith doesn’t kill him, although he really cuts it close, only being saved by his new force powers. It’s a very cool power, and it’s great to see it finally making a debut after being considered for Reloaded, but it does feel like he’s found the one combo move that works and is continuously spamming it. Although, it does mean that Trinity gets to kick more ass than him this time around, which not only mirrors the original film but Lana as a person.

Where the film falters is in its pacing. The issue with seemingly having two films at play is that neither fully get the time they deserve. Many of the themes take a backseat for the majority of the action-packed third act and The Analyst, though an entertaining villain, lacks the looming presence of the original Smith. Even Smith, this time portrayed by Jonathan Groff, never takes up the amount of screentime that the character deserves. Although considering how little he feels like Weaving, many audience members may find this to be a relief.

It seems like the weakest elements in The Matrix Resurrections are ones controlled by the studio, although there’s every chance that that’s my bias showing. It’s also entirely plausible that this is how the film wants me to feel.

Is this film saying too much, or not enough?

Has Resurrections already decided your answer?

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Spider-Man: No Way Home (Spoilers)


Peter Parker is made to suffer. As a character, his relatability as the “everyman” of superheroes relies on his constant struggle. He’s trying to juggle school and/or work with personal relationships but a lot of the time, he’s barely succeeding. It’s the fact that he’s willing to keep trying, despite all odds, that makes him Spider-Man. This element of the character has been noticeably lacking from his MCU interpretation, with billionaire Tony Stark providing all he could ever need. With Starks demise at the end of Avengers: Endgame, Peter was finally experiencing the grief he needed, although it relied on caring about Stark. By contrast, Spider-Man: No Way Home beats Peter beyond the point of submission.

The film opens precisely where Far From Home ended, with Peters identity as Spidey revealed to the world. In an attempt to regain his private life, as well as those of his best friend Ned and girlfriend MJ, he turns to former Sorcerer Supreme Dr. Stephen Strange for help. After messing up a spell that would have made the world forget that Peter is Spider-Man, he is confronted by various villains from across the multiverse, whom he hopes to “cure” before sending home. Where this premise could easily have failed was in relying purely on the nostalgia of these characters, instead of writing them as fleshed-out characters. Luckily, this isn’t the case, save for a couple of villains who don’t get treated with the respect that they should. They are accompanied by various classic musical motifs, as well as some design changes which CGI can afford.

The largest issue is that the ramifications are never fully explored. Dr Strange is never explicitly clear about how the spell works and it’s never explained how events in this universe will affect other universes going forward. By the end, it’s not fully clear how Peter will function as a character moving forward, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This film strips him down to the bare essentials of the character and, for the first time in the MCU, Peter feels like he got the origin story that he should have had all along. Ironically, he now feels at home in this franchise.

With all of that said, there is so much more to unpack. There are returning villains, returning heroes, and more grief than Doc Ock can shake a tentacle at. From here on out, we are in full SPOILER territory so turn away now if you wish to remain in the dark.

For the most part, the villains are allowed to continue their characterisations from earlier projects without being adapted to fit the vibe of the MCU. Not only does it allow for the performances to be as good as they’ve always been but it makes them feel more otherworldly, as they should. Alfred Molina and Willem Defoe shine as Doc Ock and Green Goblin respectively whilst Jamie Foxx’s Electro is finally allowed to break free from the nerdy stereotype. The three of them are prime culprits in pushing the plot forward whilst going through their own miniature arcs. Once again, Doctor Otto Octavious is at the behest of his mechanical arms whilst Norman Osborne remains in battle with his alter-ego. Even Electro is figuring out whether or not he actually wants his powers. It’s these arcs, and the interactions between each villain, that make up the emotional core of the film, however the same cannot be said of The Lizard and Sandman. The latter reverts back to being evil seemingly on a whim whilst the former is the punchline to countless dinosaur jokes. This is especially upsetting given that Sandman had already been shafted in the theatrical version of Spider-Man 3 (The Editor’s Cut is much better). That particular installment of the Sam Raimi trilogy is especially prevalent here given the numerous claims that it was spoiled by having too many villains. This is a claim I’ve always refuted as the real issue is how those villains are used and in Now Way Home they almost all benefit the plot in a meaningful way. It’s possible that 5 villains is a bit much but getting 3 out of 5 right is no small feat.

With the appearance of previous villains and with the multiverse sucking in everybody who knows that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, it makes sense that some heroes should return too. After years of rumour, speculation, and leaked set photos, Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire return to the role of Peter Parker. Neither of them has lost a single beat and it’s evident that they’re both excited to be acting opposite each other. Their interactions with each other and with Tom Holland are the film’s highlights but their interactions with their respective villains provide the emotional core of the plot. Whether its Octavious asking his Spidey how he’s been or Electro being mildly upset that is Spidey is a white guy, these interactions are charged with years of emotional build-up.

Yes, No Way Home is an emotional rollercoaster, although if you’ve never fallen in love with Holland’s iteration of the Web Head, some of that may be lost. This doesn’t mean that the actors don’t sell every single scene they are in. It’s difficult not to feel for MCU Parker here. Having already ruined the lives of MJ and Ned by simply being friends with them, he makes matters worse by accidentally bringing a hoarde of dangerous villains to their universe. This ultimately leads to Green Goblin murdering Aunt May, which sends Peter into a vengeful rage where he nearly murders him. Finally, he resolves matters, but only by casting anthother spell which causes the world to forget that Peter Parker exists, including Ned and MJ. He is left with truely nothing as the film concludes but a clean slate is the best way forward for this character.

Finally, I would be remiss to not discuss the multiversal ramifications and implications. As the film opens, Peter is being charged with murder so the best course of action , as both May and MJ point out, is a lawyer. One is provided in the form of Matt Murdock, who may be better known by his alias Daredevil. The important aspect here is not his introduction to the MCU, rather that he is portrayed by Charlie Cox who portrayed him on the Netflix show Daredevil. This does not inheritly mean that this show is canon to the MCU, only that they have cast the same actor, but conversations around this topic are fun and exciting. But surely everything is canon in the multiverse? Well, yes but including all Marvel properties will lead to overcrowding, so I propose a solution.

It’s time to start using the term “MCM”, as in “Marvel Cinematic Multiverse”. This is not instead of the term MCU, rather it would sit alongside it, meaning that there is still one solid comprehensable timeline as well as a more general term. It would encapsulate films like the Raimi Spider-Man trilogy and the Ghost Rider duology as well as legacy television shows like Agents of SHIELD and Runaways. The MCU is canon to the MCM but the MCM does not have to be canon to the MCU.

Of course the notion of “canon” is an ongoing conversation, and one that I revel in. That will, perhaps, be the largest reprecussion from Spider-Man: No Way, although the film itself doesn’t seem to bothered by reprecussions. Rather, it never fully explains itself. What are the boundaries of either spell cast by Strange? With the villains cured, does this alter the timeline of their own universes? Why bring in Venom if you’re not going to use him? (I know it’s so they can have the symbiote, but that could have been introduced in-universe). Why didn’t Topher Grace’s Venom, Dane Dehann’s Hobgoblin or Peter’s alternate girlfriends come through? And, perhaps most importantly, what ever happened to the MCU’s Uncle Ben?

Hopefully, the answers to all these questions and more, lie waiting for us somewhere down the road.

Excelsior!

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer