Doctor Strange

Visual effects are like magic. Through them, anything is possible and the only limit is your imagination. They are also a form of art, and one of the most underappreciated ones at that. It allowed Superman to fly and Tatooine to explode but one of the best examples of imaginative visual effects at work is 2016’s Doctor Strange.

The story sees the life of Doctor Stephen Strange- famed neurosurgeon – thrown into turmoil by a car crash that all but destroys his hands. Though surgery can save them, they may never stop shaking, so Strange goes in search of a spiritual healer who can supposedly heal any physical injury and finds himself in the company of sorcerers. As The Ancient One, Mordo and Wong assist him in his magical education, their reality is threatened by dark sorcerer Kaecilius who draws power from The Dark Dimension on behalf of its ruler Dormammu.

Half the story is told through astounding visuals which allow for creative fight scenes. Reality bends to the sorcerers’ wills with folding buildings, moving roads, and splitting sidewalks. The very first scene is one such fight and perfectly demonstrates how powerful these people are as well as what they’re capable of, without the need for auditory exposition. These masterful feats occur within a space known as The Mirror Dimension, which is a perfect copy of our reality, layered over the top of ours, but never interacts with it. This makes Kaecilius all the more threatening when he is able to conjure these effects outside of The Mirror Dimension, in our reality.

On top of these technical marvels are the designs of the sorcery and The Dark Dimension. The magic itself appears in the air as a line of bright orange light that emits sparks like electricity. The lines form symbols that act as a physical barrier when required, in a very clever and very pretty piece of worldbuilding. Meanwhile, The Dark Dimension is worthy of its name, devoid of light, but not without colour. The darkness is comprised of rich, deep purples, blues, and greens which allow for a sombre but visually interesting space. This is to say nothing of The Astral Plane, where corporeal forms exist, which provides the wildest, most bizarre scene in the entire MCU.

There is a ridiculous amount of worldbuilding at work here, though it never bogs down the story. Magic is a brand new concept for the MCU so it requires establishing but it also lays the groundwork for time travel and alternate dimensions. Of course, alternate dimensions have already had their first mention within the MCU during Ant-Man but this is the first time that the concept of a Multiverse is floated. There are mentions of branched timelines and The Living Tribunal, which will both become extraordinarily relevant as the franchise progresses. Avengers: Endgame is only several films down the line so it makes sense to explore the bare bones of these ideas here. It matches the story well and, bar Ant-Man, there isn’t another instalment where these ideas would sit so comfortably. As a result, Doctor Strange finds itself to be one of the most important films in this franchise, although several angles such as the villainous Baron Mordo are still to pay off.

There’s a lot of discussions to be had surrounding elements of Doctor Strange. Benedict Cumberbatch’s American accent for Strange is befitting that character’s surname and Mads Mikkelsen’s performance as Kaecilius is terrific if not a smidge underutilised. However, the largest conversation to be had is around the casting of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One. Since conception, The Ancient One has been a Tibetan monk but to avoid falling into racial stereotypes it was decided that the role should be recast in the MCU as an androgynous Celt. It did not go down well, with accusations of whitewashing and China-pandering (since China is famously anti-Tibetan). These accusations are fair given Hollywood’s long line of whitewashed roles and The Ancient Ones’ non-racist portrayal in other media like the 2007 animated film Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme. The reasons given for recasting as still fair too, though it’s a decision that seems laced with cowardice to the extent that Kevin Feige would later state that it could have been handled better. With all that said, Tilda Swinton gives a powerful yet subdued performance which gives the character an air of mystery and a large amount of heart.

For once, the mid-credits scene aligns with a chronological viewing of the MCU. It sees Strange conversing with Thor who has come to New York with his brother Loki in search of their father Odin. This scene is ripped directly from Thor: Ragnarok and allows for a smooth transition between the two films. The post-credits scene is the aforementioned turning of Baron Mordo that, as of the time of this publication, is still to pay off.

Doctor Strange is a marvellous feat of visual effects work with mostly solid performances and a whimsically dark soundtrack. It’s an excellent blend of self-contained origin story and wider-universe worldbuilding that makes for entertaining viewing. It may be Strange, but isn’t that for the best?


Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Thor: The Dark World

Once again, we find ourselves at the “worst” film in the MCU. Much like Iron Man 2, this is the second film of what will later become a trilogy and much like The Incredible Hulk it has a very modest score on IMDB (6.9 to be precise). However some might say that unlike these films, Thor: The Dark World is kind of important to the mainline story of the MCU. Iron Man 2 focuses more on Tony Stark as a character and The Incredible Hulk is a film that some fans just flat out ignore. Not this film though. It’s the first time that we are introduced to an Infinity Stone that isn’t the Tesseract and it marks the second time that Loki has died as well as giving further backstory to the relationship between Asgard and the rest of the nine realms. It also holds Loki accountable for his previous actions but we’ll get to that.

Thor: The Dark World picks up shortly after Avengers Assemble, with Loki in Asgardian prison and Thor poised to be crowned king. However, after an attack by an ancient race called Dark Elves nearly brings them to their knees, Thor embarks on a mission with Loki to bring a ceasefire which reunites them with Jane Foster, Darcy Lewis and Erik Selvig. Our McGuffin for these proceedings, and the weapon that leader of the Dark Elves- Malekieth is after, is The Aether. Capable of plunging all 9 realms into eternal darkness, The Aether is the second of our 6 Infinity Stones. This is a term that we’re familiar with now but this is the first time we are hearing it in the MCU as well as the first time we get an explanation for what they are. Whilst the Tesseract has been present for many of the previous instalments in this franchise, this is the first time that we learn what it truly is and just how much power any of the 6 stones hold. Why exactly The Aether choses to kidnap Jane Foster and use her body as a vessel, I can’t tell. It would seem that contrived plot elements are present even in the world’s largest film franchise. (Watch them explain it away in Thor 4 as fate or something.)

Whilst this carries the plot forward, the true core of the story is the relationship between Thor and Loki. It’s clear that despite Loki’s drastic flaws, Thor still loves his brother even if he can’t trust him. Actors Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston (Thor and Loki respectively) bounce off each other with such ease that you never doubt the relationship of their characters. Both Thor and Loki are at their most emotionally distraught here having lost their mother, their father becoming ill, facing the potential destruction of their home and facing a possible exile upon their return. Absolutely everything is at stake here and this is only amplified for Thor once Loki dies (again). I seem to recall his eventual survival being a point of contention for some fans at the time and I’m fully aware that his death count has become a running gag at this point but there is a saying for times like this. Unless you see a character die, don’t be sure it happened. It’s why the series 4 finale of Sherlock was so upsetting to me and it’s why, when Loki meets his demise at the hands of Thanos, I would be inclined to believe it. Once again Thor is fighting for the people he cares about but now he is also fighting to honour those he has lost.

While we’re talking about people that Thor has lost, I want to talk about his mother Friga. This is a woman who refuses to give up on her adopted son – the murderer – and is willing to die for her other son’s girlfriend who she had only just met. Her character is one of the kindest and most humble in the entire MCU and her death is given all the respect it deserves. The way that all the sound mutes, allowing Thor’s screams of anguish to pierce through is one of the MCU’s most heartbreaking moments. It is followed by her funeral which is beautifully shot and stunningly scored. There’s no dialogue. just the looks of paint that you would expect during a time like this. I know that many consider Thor: The Dark World to be one of the worst films in the MCU but these 10 minutes are definitely some of the best that the franchise has to offer.

This brings us to what many consider to be the film’s weakest aspect-Malakieth. I really want to like him as a villain and to find him threatening but he feels like such a standard villain. Christopher Ecclestone is clearly giving his all in the role and I know how talented he is as a performer but there’s just so little for him to work with here. It often feels like the film’s real threat is The Aether and as villains go Malakieth pales in comparison to others that Thor has fought. The Sentinal from Thor was several stories tall, The Chitauri from Avengers Assemble had an army of thousands and even at the start of Thor: The Dark World we see him take down a stone giant with ease. Malekieth meanwhile is at his most powerful after he has been consumed by The Aether which results in a tornado. We later learn that this particular Infinity Stone can alter reality so this makes Malakieth seem even weaker in retrospect. It’s a fun final battle and makes great use of the portals between realms but Malakieth is set up as a much larger threat than he ends up being. For those of you keeping score by the way, this is the 4th time that the villain of the piece has died, which means there’s also sadly no way to expand the character.

The other issue that I’ve seen some people raise is that Darcy Lewis is annoying and, whilst this criticism is entirely subjective, I’m going to disagree. I personally find her to be absolutely delightful and the kind of person that I could become friends with but she also provides moments of levity in an otherwise dark story. To me, there seems to be a noticeable divide between those who like her and those who don’t. It seems to come down to age, gender and how much we are willing to just enjoy things. This general divide is present throughout the fanbase but it seems to be more prevalent when it comes to discussing the “lesser” films in the MCU. It’s something that I really feel should be discussed, although I won’t go in depth with it here. I feel like it is still worth bringing up as just a caveat in moments like this, even if only to possibly start the larger discussion.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a thousand times: every film is worth something. For Thor: The Dark World it’s the characters and the way that they interact as well as the sheer amount of lore it adds to the MCU. It’s where we first meet The Collector before he plays a slightly larger role in Guardians of the Galaxy and it gives us The Aether as well as the concept of Infinity Stones. If my theories are correct, it will also provide someimportant backstory for Jane Foster in Thor 4. I still don’t believe Thor: The Dark World is bad because even a “bad” MCU film is mediocre at worst. After this, there is one more of these “bad” instalments to get through and, I won’t lie, I’ll be glad to get it over with. I pour as much of myself and my love for cinema into these reviews as I can but when I have to write about a “bad” film like Iron Man 2 or Thor: The Dark World, I find it just a little more emotionally draining than usual. I just find negativity so exhausting, but these reviews are worth the effort. I could be the only person defending a film and I’d be ok with that.


Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer


Every director in Hollywood has their own distinctive creative flair and artistic vision. For example, you may not recognise the name Wes Anderson, but all of his work has similar dialogue and his shots fill the frame in a unique way, so if I was to tell you he produced both The Grand Budapest Hotel and Fantastic Mr Fox you’d think “oh that was him”. I find myself compelled by his work, as well as the work of others like Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) and Christopher Nolan (Tenet), but there is a lesser recognised filmography that I also admire, and that is the work of Sir Kenneth Brannagh. From acting on stage, to acting on screen, to stepping behind the camera, he’s a man of many, many talents though he’s most widely known these days for his 4 hour long film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, in which he was writer, producer and titular actor. As an aside, if you want to experience Hamlet but it isn’t currently playing in a theatre near you, this is the next best thing. It’s probably the closest adaptation we have ever and will ever see on screen and Brannagh brings such a scale of grandeur that you’ll never mistake Prince Hamlet for anything other than royalty. So it is perhaps no surprise that he was hired as the producer for the MCU’s most splendid and theatrical Avenger – The Mighty Thor.

It’s the simple tale of an arrogant God, banished from his homeworld by his father, who meets a girl and learns to be humble. Meanwhile, his unknowingly adopted brother attempts to prove himself to their father by slaughtering their greatest enemies. There are two distinct plotlines in Thor, one about the God himself on Earth and one of Loki back on their homeworld of Asgard, and both of them are given an appropriate amount of attention. The story of Thor being so arrogant that he starts a war with the Frost Giants, meaning his father has no choice but to banish him is fraught with emotion. It’s clear that Odin trusts his son to redeem himself, otherwise he would not have put the hammer Mjölnir within his reach. The friendships that Thor forms with Dr Erik Selvig, Jane Foster, and Darcy Lewis are integral to him acknowledging and dealing with his feelings, which is a very human trait (explaining why he is so fond of this dumb little planet and the people on it). He laughs, cries, falls in love, and ultimately realises that battles are only worth fighting if it is to protect the people you care about. In the end, he believes this so strongly that he is willing to sacrifice himself twice – once physically to The Sentinel and once emotionally when he destroys the Bifrost.

Then there is our second main character, Thor’s younger brother and the God of Mischief, Loki. He really started a trend of sympathetic villains and re-watching this film again, I kind of get it. Loki isn’t as much of a villainous character as he is a tragic victim of circumstance. He has lived his entire life in the shadow of his brother, is attempting to put a stop to war that Thor started, and he’s just discovered that not only is he adopted, but he was a Frost Giant baby stolen (saved?) from his birth home by Odin. The Joker once so eloquently said that “all it takes is one bad day” and Loki is having one of those for sure. His attempted destruction of Jötunheimr, planet of the Frost Giants, is a clear act of desperation for validation and his final brawl with Thor is riddled with anguish. I won’t sit here and tell you that what he did was right, or that it completely negates his actions, but I will tell you that I understand why he did it. We are going to see Loki go through a decade long redemption arc moving forward but, arguably, a redemption arc is only as good as the person and actions you are redeeming and the character of Loki (and the acting of Tom Hiddleston) nailed it from day one.

The 4th MCU film to be released and the 6th chronologically, Thor is an interesting one. Until Guardians of the Galaxy 4 years later, his was the only instalment to take place in space, but even after that it held the title of the first MCU film in the timeline to be set there. Now that title goes to Captain Marvel, although it only really uses space for the first and last 20 minutes, whilst Thor is practically drenched in it. Even on Earth, there are descriptions of the Tree of Yggdrasil (first mentioned in The First Avenger) and explanations for how the Bifrost works which make it all sound so simple. The story is fantastical, but still feels grounded to the parameters of the universe set out by the MCU. The continuity from the previous films is present in the form of Agent Phil Coulson who, at this point, is essentially the lynchpin of the MCU. Sure, there’s Nick Fury, but he’s still more of a shadowy figure whilst Coulson is physically present in 4 of these films. He isn’t present for The First Avenger, because he is a child at the time it takes place, and he isn’t present in The Incredible Hulk because he’s dealing with the events of Iron Man 2 and Thor at the time. He has been Nick Fury’s right hand man for quite some time now, and he is so freaking likable that it’s no wonder he became a fan favourite. My fiancé has often asked why Phil is as liked as he is, and I can’t say for sure… but his general attitude, the way he plays the straight man to the absurdity around him and his tragic (unnecessary) conclusion certainly all play a part.

There’s also a small amount of set-up going on in Thor. We are introduced to Clint Barton/Hawkeye and it’s clear through his very brief interactions with Coulson that the two have a professional history. This now means that we have been introduced to all 6 members of the original Avengers line-up, in time for the team up itself. Thor also sets up his own appearance in the following film through his final conversation with Coulson, in which he determines his status as an ally and that, should he be required again, he will return. Meanwhile, the post-credits scene is a direct set-up for Avengers Assemble as it shows Selvig meeting with Fury to discuss working on The Tesseract, and shows that Loki survived his (first) supposed death. This also reintroduces our favourite Cosmic Cube, which hasn’t been seen since the end of Captain Marvel, 3 films ago. The biggest setup however is that Thor shows us exactly why Loki would want to go after Earth in particular. Not only is it home to people that Thor cares about, but it also contains the greatest source of power in the known universe. It’s a war for revenge and self-gain.

To me, the only issues with the film are purely subjective. First is the romance between Thor and Jane Foster which is going to bug you if you aren’t a fan of romance in your superhero movies. Personally, I don’t mind it because I think it’s one of the better MCU love stories, although that isn’t really a high bar. The second is unavoidable and one of those “fun facts” that people love to bring up – Thor’s eyebrows. Actor Chris Hemsworth wore a blond wig for this film, and to make sure his naturally dark eyebrows match, they were dyed blond. It’s especially odd here because that decision is never made again and, personally, I think he looks better without them dyed. However it is worth noting that naturally blond people can and do have naturally blond eyebrows, and much of the filmic medium gives people blond hair without changing their eyebrows. So Kenneth Brannagh’s decision here is the most accurate, we’re just not used to seeing it. Apart from these two things, Thor is brilliantly paced, well written, beautifully scored and visually stunning. It’s a perfect prelude to Avengers Assemble and proof once again that the sole purpose of origin stories does not need to be launching a cinematic universe. In fact, it shouldn’t be.


Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Clone Wars/ Rebels

Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and Star Wars: Rebels both aired during my childhood. However I never got the chance to watch them at the time due to them being shown on Cartoon Network, and Disney XD respectively. Whilst I could have found them online, I never made the effort to… but with their release on the streaming service Disney+ it became easier than ever, so I took the plunge. Instead of doing a small review episode by episode, I chose to review them season by season. The following is a collection of those reviews, with a newer summary of my overall feelings on both shows.

 Series 1 of Star Wars: The Clone Wars does a wonderful job of easing us back into the prequel era and setting up the series’ to follow. Marvellous voice work and solid animation (for the time).

Series 2 of Star Wars: The Clone Wars is where the show really settles into its own. Great character development and huge ramifications towards the series’ end.

The first several episodes of Series 3 of Star Wars: The Clone Wars are an odd dive back into the first couple of series. When it finally decides to progress the story is when the show becomes most impressive and intense.

 Series 4 of Star Wars: The Clone Wars leans heavily on the actual “war” aspect. It’s gritty and doesn’t hold back on how people can be swayed. The finale is also one of the best things to happen to Star Wars.

Series 5 of Star Wars: The Clone Wars is your reminder that you can make a show for children AND address morality. It’s also a heck of a lot of fun and an emotional roller coaster.

Series 6 of Star Wars: The Clone Wars provides a definitive shift in tone. The energetic entertainment of Attack Of The Clones is gone and the dark powerhouse that is Revenge Of The Sith has arrived. I don’t think I’m ready for this to end.

Series 7 of Star Wars: The Clone Wars may be one of the finest pieces of television ever devised. Solid plot, CGI and score throughout. As a Star Wars fan watching the finale I am both delighted and emotional.

Series 1 of Star Wars: Rebels is interesting. More a show for children than a children’s show, which makes sense given the Disney buyout. The animation also comes off a little bit flat though I’d imagine I’ll get used to it. I see A LOT of potential.

Series 2 of Star Wars: Rebels feels, at times, like a sequel to Clone Wars and whilst I can appreciate that, I like when it is its own thing. By the end of the finale I was sold on Rebels as a whole and am really looking forward to Series 3.

Series 3 of Star Wars: Rebels is unapologetically and sometimes forcefully Star Wars. The show has finally let itself become a show centred on its cast and Grand Admiral Thrawn is a fantastic addition. There were laughs, cries and closure.

Series 4 of Star Wars: Rebels is a beautiful ending to a show I found myself adoring. The entire second half is essentially one long episode and it holds ZERO punches. This franchise wont end and I won’t stop loving it.

Overall, I definitely prefer The Clone Wars to Rebels, but both shows have their own pros and cons. The Clone Wars gives us a closer look at one of the biggest wars in the entire franchise with a decent balance of action and politics. The animation is a little rough to start with but progresses quickly, and by the end of the show’s run, it is simply stunning to look at. Having experienced the prequels fairly young, I was really interested in spending more time in that era with the characters I knew, and the development of those characters was filled with a lot of emotion. I also loved the new additions like Ashoka, Captain Rex, and Hondo Ohnaka, and explorations of the Clone psyche. However, those first few seasons are a little slower than the latter seasons with episodes that weren’t released in chronological order, which made following the story a little difficult at times.

Meanwhile, Rebels introduces us to a brand new cast of main characters that become compelling despite their lack of importance to the main “Skywalker Saga”. The animation can be jarring at first, but it looks like a 3-D rendering of Ralph McQuarrie’s original artwork which is a nice touch. The first half of the show can feel like a continuation of The Clone Wars, but when allowed to tell its own stories, they’re full of heart. Sabine Wren very quickly became one of my favourite characters in the whole franchise, and Chopper continues the trend of sassy astromech droids.

Something that both shows handle exceptionally well is the villains. Clone Wars introduces us to Asajj Ventress while continuing the story of Darth Maul and the rise of Emperor Palpatine. Rebels gives us more time with Admiral Tarkin whilst introducing Imperial Agent Kallus and Grand Admiral Thrawn, who quickly became one of my favourite characters. Both shows give more than satisfactory endings with Clone Wars especially feeling like it should have had a theatrical release.

If you haven’t seen either of these shows, I highly recommend them. It’s clear that Lucasfilm is planning to incorporate both of these shows in their ever-expanding universe, and with many shows on the way, it may be easier to catch up sooner rather than later.

May The Force Be With You…

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Film)

In 2003, the Star Wars franchise was between instalments. Attack of the Clones had been released the previous year and it wouldn’t be until 2005 that Revenge of the Sith hit theatres. To fill in the gap and explore the legendary Clone Wars first mentioned in 1977’s A New Hope, Lucasfilm hired animator Genddy Tartakovsky to create an animated miniseries. Tartakovsky was well known, and well respected, for his television show Samurai Jack, the gritty tone and stylised animation of which can be found in abundance with Clone Wars.

The show aired on The Cartoon Network (later just Cartoon Network) during advertisement breaks with each of the first 20 episodes (series 1 and 2) running at just three minutes in length. The final five episodes (series 3) would get their own allotted time slot as they were upped in length to twelve minutes each. This meant that, in total, the entire show ran at just over two hours long, effectively giving us a feature length film between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Star Wars: The Clone Wars was created as part of the main canon, with some elements even getting a mention in the novelisation of Revenge of the Sith such as series villain Asajj Ventress. To me, this series is still one of the finest pieces of storytelling and animation that Lucasfilm have ever given us, but there is now a new canon Clone Wars where this show once stood.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a 2008 computer animated film that follows Anakin Skywalker and his newly assigned Padawan Ashoka Tano as they attempt to retrieve the kidnapped son of crime lord Jabba the Hutt. Along the way, they and Obi Wan Kenobi must survive attacks and treachery from the Sith Lord Count Dooku and his apprentice Asajj Ventress. Asajj is one of the few elements carried over from the 2003 miniseries, along with the general character designs and several members of the voice cast. The most prominent returns in terms of voice acting are James Arnold Taylor as Obi Wan and Tom Kane as Yoda. They would return again for the television show, of which this film was the backdoor pilot. As far as pilots go, this one is pretty good, although it isn’t perfect.

I’ve now watched The Clone Wars several times and each time I soften to it a little bit more. Before viewing it for this piece, I remember not being fond of it and thinking that it may be the worst of all the films in the franchise, however I was definitely being overly critical of it. There are critiques to be made for sure, but there is also plenty to enjoy. The soundtrack by composer Kevin Kiner really sets this film apart from the others, with its use of less common instruments like Dudukes and Ouds, and mid-2000s vibe. The oft-used John Williams theme is sampled for the opening and end credits, but the rest of the score is purely Kevin. The voice cast all give great performances too, whether it’s newcomers like James Arnold Taylor and Tom Kane or returning voices like Samuel L Jackson and Sir Christopher Lee. Whilst the animation itself comes across like computer game graphics, the backgrounds are gorgeous and clearly inspired by the concept art of long-time Star Wars artist Ralph McQuarrie. Probably my favourite element of The Clone Wars is its addition to the ever-expanding Star Wars lore.

The lore of the Star Wars franchise is a marvellous but fickle thing. Between the small retcons here and there, like the 2003 miniseries, there are brand new additions which continue to be beloved by fans. There’s an abundance of those additions here, which will later be vastly expanded by the 7 series long run of the show that follows. Asajj Ventress is a phenomenal villain who is both vengeful and skilled whilst still living in perpetual fear of disappointing her master. Ashoka Tano is, as the film points out, a lot like Anakin with her cocky attitude and secretly caring nature, whilst also being intuitive. These two master/student pairings are fascinating to watch and compare. The film also introduces us to the immensely likable, and later fan-adored, Clone Captain Rex as well as the simple humour of the Separatist Battle Droids, and the previously unseen members of the Hutt clan. Whilst the show really takes its time to explore all of these elements, the film does a fantastic job of introducing the concepts.

However, my criticisms come with the story itself. We start off with a 20 minute long battle between the Droid and Clone Armies, which is great fun, before rescuing Jabba’s son, which is fine, before getting a B-Plot with Padmé in the final act which feels a little unnecessary. I feel like the plot should be building to something instead of starting on a high before sort of dwindling. The character interactions and action sequences are enough to keep the film intriguing, but I wish that the main plot was a little stronger. The B-Plot with Padmé feels like less of a “twist” and more of a “snap” despite the character being really likable. Ideally this B-Plot would have been present from the very beginning of the film ,or not present at all, which would have allowed us more time with characters or fights. This sidequest also introduces us to Jabba’s uncle Zirro the Hutt who is painfully queer-coded. It only becomes a major issue throughout the television show’s run, but I’m still not a fan of it here. He is literally the only Hutt, as far as we know, who speaks English, and they gave him a feminine voice with a lisp, which makes the queer-coding feel almost intentional. It kind of sucks to be honest.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars, for the time being, is the last of the canonical Star Wars films to be reviewed and the reasoning is that it doesn’t really fit. I could have done this entire franchise in order, but I made the conscious decision to do the mainline Skywalker Saga, before doing the off-shoots, before doing this one. Part of that is that I already had those first 6 films ready to go, but part of it is also because they are the “most important” to the Star Wars story I suppose. If you’re watching everything in this franchise in chronological order, then you’re following this with the television show, but if you’re sticking to the films then you’re following it with Revenge of the Sith– providing a severe disconnect. Firstly, this is the only animated feature in the (currently) 12 film line-up that consists of live-action films. Secondly, the story doesn’t pick up or end in a convenient place. There’s no clear indication of the presumable time jump that happens after Attack of the Clones, and the film ends open-ended so as to provide a launching point into the story of the television show. This isn’t to say that the film is bad, because I don’t think it is, it’s just that because of the way in which the film is constructed you are kind of required to watch the show before Revenge of the Sith. That show is excellent and leads perfectly into that film, but in terms of a “Movies Only” marathon, the Tartakovsky show, despite being non-canon, just fits better. As always, the choice of how you handle viewing this film and the franchise around it is entirely up to you.

May the Force Be With You…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer


*Dedicated to my brother, whose continued enthusiasm in all he does continues to inspire me to be the best older sibling I can be*

I’ve been a cinema attendee for as long as I can remember and I’ve been watching movies for longer than that. There’s just something special to me about watching something in a cinema, regardless of the time of day. I’ve done morning shows, matinees, evenings, midnight premieres, repeat viewings and every single one is different. There’s a certain comradery when you watch something with a group of people, or indeed just one other person, and I don’t think I’ve ever taken that for granted. The cinema has always been there and I have always loved it. Then came 2020, a global pandemic and that escape from reality suddenly wasn’t an option anymore. A lot will be said about COVID-19 in the years to come and in the history books looking back but for those of us who have had to live through it, we will each have a different thing we missed. This is such a first world problem and a personal one but being without the cinema has really sucked. Watching something brand new for the first time on a 40inch screen just hits differently and the first of many experiences like that was the PIXAR film Onward.

The plot follows Elf brothers Ian and Barley as they embark on a quest to find a magical stone that will resurrect their dead father for 24 hours. Unfortunately for them, this quest comes with a time limit because they have already used up one stone to bring back his legs. As a Lord of the Rings fan, I was instantly onboard with a magical quest and the quest itself does not disappoint. Each of the mythical monsters that Ian and Barley encounter, even the ones that they don’t, are based on their respective counterparts in the RPG Dungeons & Dragons. The game manual’s publisher Wizards of the West Coast are given their due thanks during Onward‘s end credits. Not only is this dedication to the source material a neat nod for fans of the game but it could even be what sparks a new players interest in the game, as it did for me. It also leads to a brilliant running gag about The Gelatinous Cube, which might be my favourite in the entire film.

Onward‘s biggest strength is the bond between it’s two main characters and their individual relationships with their father. The eldest brother Barley was was a child when his father passed away so has very few memories of him. In contrast is Ian who had just been born so has no memories of him at all. This really is the crux of the film because if you have any experiences like this in your own life then it’s going to make the characters and their internal struggles more relatable. For me, it mirrors the relationship that me and my sister have with my Grandpa who passed away when I was 13 and she was only 6. We were both so very lucky to have been able to spend any time with him but I have so many more memories of him than she does. This is to say nothing of my brother who was born a couple of years later and never got to meet him, which hurts more than I can put into words. The other through-line is the brother’s relationship to each other, which again will hit differently depending on your life experience. As the eldest of 3 children I got to play a huge part in raising my siblings, though the age gap between us was larger than Ian and Barley’s. It’s difficult for me not to see my siblings in Ian and myself in Barley so by the time Onward is reaching it’s conclusion, I’m having all of the emotions. However the way in which the film reaches it’s emotional climax feels a little cheap to me, with too much of a focus on the Buddy Comedy plot structure. Our main characters have to fall out in order to realise how much they need/miss each other, which is fine when done well but Onward places their disagreement near the end of the film and resolves it 5 minutes later. It feels like that plot thread is only there because the creative team felt like it had to be and, for me, it’s the only real issue.

According to some people, there is a much bigger issue with the film and that is the setting/design. Onward takes place in a realm where magic exists but was forgotten by technology, meaning that their world functions like ours and some say that if this is the case then the film should have just featured regular people instead of fantasy creatures. Now I see where this criticism is coming from however I think that aesthetic is a perfectly viable reason for this choice. This fantasy world has brighter colours than our own and allows for some small design aspects like turrets on top of skyscrapers, not to mention all of the fantasy-based puns. The only genuine critique that I can take in this area is the designs of the characters themselves which, despite looking good, look like they were made by PIXAR. Early PIXAR films didn’t have a particular “style” and instead were more focussed on how they could push the boundaries of animation with possibly the best example being Monsters Inc. Their animation is still top notch but it feels like they’ve settled and aren’t really pushing boundaries anymore, although I hope that some day they will again.

At the end of the day, I still really like Onward and, had it not been for the global pandemic, i feel like it could have been a big hitter for the studio. Instead it is relegated to the second lowest grossing film, beaten only by The Good Dinosaur, although it seems to have done well on streaming sites and VOD services. I hope that this one isn’t forgotten and I’m glad to see that this has marked the next phase of original ideas from PIXAR Studios after their slate of sequels. If this is how that phase is starting, I can’t wait to see where it goes.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer


2012 was quite a momentous year. Not only was the world supposedly due to end, but London was to host the Olympic Games. This meant that the eyes of the world would be fixed on the United Kingdom which, for the time being, includes Scotland. What better time to release an animated children’s film that demonstrates the beauty and the culture of the Highlands? It’s worth noting that the release of Brave happening around the time of the 2012 Olympics is pure coincidence, with work on the film beginning in 2008 before a change of director in 2010 delayed the project. What isn’t a coincidence is the Scottish Government’s use of this film to promote tourism in a country that hadn’t been portrayed by previous films in the best light. Perhaps two of the biggest titles were the historically inaccurate Braveheart and the wonderfully made Trainspotting, which portray Scotland as a violent nest of drugs, crime, and alcohol. At the time, The Guardian reported that VisitScotland, which is responsible for Scotland’s tourist trade, set aside £7 million to advertise itself alongside Brave in the hopes that it would increase tourism by roughly £140 million. Sadly, I cannot find any evidence that this was the case or even that tourism increased at all, but Brave itself proved to be much more successful.

We follow princess Merida as she defies the ancient custom of arranged marriage to set out on her own path. In order to change the mind of her disapproving mother, she procures a spell from a witch that turns her, unexpectedly, into a bear. What follows is a tale of magic, intrigue and familial bonding. This is PIXAR Studios second story to feature a princess, after A Bug’s Life, and they’ve come out of the gate swinging. There is a long history of Disney Princesses, though not all of them belong to the Disney Princess brand (I’m not getting into that here), and that history is filled to the brim with rushed love. Of the 14 animated princesses that Disney had provided at the time, not one of them remained single, which makes Merida’s story a truly historic milestone for the company. Whilst the Walt Disney Company is only responsible for the distribution of Brave, they officially made Merida a part of the Disney Princess brand in 2013. Brave chose to be about a love just as powerful- the love of family- and it is abundantly clear from the very first scene where, on young Merida’s birthday, her father gifts her a bow and arrow. While her mother clearly isn’t pleased with this gift, she allows Merida to play with it anyway and allows her to keep it in the following years. These three characters have a very natural chemistry and it makes for a wonderful viewing experience, even when they’re apart. This is even more apparent when Merida’s mother is turned into a bear and can no longer use words to communicate. The use of body language to convey emotion is something that PIXAR has always been good at, but it has never taken centre stage like this. I’m very much reminded of Aardman Animations’ Wallace and Gromit and I can think of no higher praise for a movie than that.

At this point, we are 13 films into the PIXAR catalogue and I once again find myself praising the visuals. I know that consistently reading about how beautiful these movies are must seem repetitive, but this is my review and these films just keep getting prettier. As with Up, the production team took a trip abroad to make sure they were representing the landscapes as best as they could, and it really pays off. Whether its the thistles, the architecture or the clothing. Brave looks and feels like Scotland. Not only that, but PIXAR made sure to hire Scottish actors and a Scottish composer in order to make the film as authentic as possible. Again, it pays off, and I find that I occasionally have to remind myself that this is an American film. I think the final aspect of Brave‘s success is how dark it is in tone. By 2012, there seemed to be a move away from dark elements in children’s films towards something lighter. Gone were the horrors of Don Bluth Animations and even the early Walt Disney cartoons. While films like The Land Before Time and The Dark Cauldron had supposedly scarred a generation, films like Frozen aimed to be a sort of “fluff piece.” Perhaps adults wanted to protect the innocence of their children for a little while longer or perhaps these happier films were easier to market. I do not know. What I do know is that Mor’du is perhaps the scariest character that PIXAR has ever given us, and perhaps the scariest in children’s films full stop. I think it’s good to challenge children like this, and to show that they are no less capable of handling fear than an adult. Judging by Brave‘s positive reception from both critics and audiences, it would seem like there is some foundation for this statement. The longest lasting impact from this film seems to have been Merida, which is a shame because there is so much more to Brave than just the main character.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Ranked: The Middle Earth Saga

*DISCLAIMER: This list is based purely off my own opinion*

6- LOTR: The Return of the King

You could not ask for a better ending to a story. Not even Avengers: Endgame could pull off a satisfying conclusion like this, and they had 10 years to do it. Howard Shore’s extrordinary score, Weta Workshop’s astounding effects and every character’s acting all reach their peak here. This was crafted with alot of love and care and it shows.

5- LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring

The one that started it all, and did it in such spectacular fashion. Characters can grow, stories can grow, but they don’t grow as well without a steady first step. It takes its time and crafts a world that you will spend much time in, without feeling slow.

4- LOTR: The Two Towers

Despite how much I want to, I cannot place the entire LOTR trilogy at number one. Mainly because it is in 3 parts and also because this list would be 2 items long as a result. Part 2 provides a bridge between the beginning of the trilogy and the end. It could feel plot heavy and like it’s dragging us along, but it doesn’t.

3- The Hobbit:The Battle of the Five Armies

Perhaps to the surprise of absolutely nobody, the Hobbit trilogy finds itself not quite living up to standard of its predecessor in my eyes. It was a lot to live up to, and of the 3 films, this comes closest. It provides a solid ending to the trilogy and a nice bridge to LOTR while also being a fine parting to this beloved saga.

2- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Much like Fellowship of the Ring, this needed to set up the backstory for things to come. It doesn’t manage it to the same degree but it still does an admirable job. After all this time, it was nice to return to the comfort of The Shire.

1- The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Tauriel. Enough said.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

The first half of Return of the King is where the fruits of our Fellowship’s labour start to come together. It begins with a celebration after their win at The Battle of Gondor, but is quickly followed by The Battle of Minas Tirith. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli ride with the army of Rohan until departing for the Caves of the Dead while, Gandalf and Pippin head directly to Minas Tirith. Meanwhile, Frodo and Samwise finally reach Mordor under the guidance of the creature Gollum.

Having Return of the King begin with a party provides a much needed moment of levity before diving into more peril, acting as a calm between storms. It also provides us with context as to the differences between Dwarves and Elves whilst building Gimli and Legolas’ friendship.They partake in a drinking competition which ends after approximately 20 pints, which Legolas handles far better than Gimli. It’s one of the finest displays of character development I think I’ve ever witnessed. Further character development is occurring with Merry and Pippin who, after a lifetime together, must spend some time apart. Pippin shared a vision with Sauron of Minas Tirith so for Pippin’s own safety he must go there with Gandalf. Merry, having pledged allegiance to the army of Rohan, must stay behind. It’s heartbreaking knowing that this may be the last time they see each other and watching them be ripped apart so harshly.

In Mordor, the friendship between Frodo and Samwise is being tested. They have begun their ascent into the mountain caves and Samwise continues to be a voice of positivity to Frodo’s negativity. The power of The Ring has become too much, and this, coupled with some meddling from Gollum, leads to Frodo sending Samwise homeward. Seeing a friendship so pure being broken, and seeing Samwise, for the first time in this entire adventure break into tears, is highly emotional. On top of this we know that Shelob, a monster, lurks in those caves and that Frodo is certain to die without his Sam. This is truly the beginning of the end for our characters and there is something powerful about how it’s delivered. Its a heartbreaking couple of hours. To illicit this much emotion in the final film of a trilogy is impressive. Maintaining that high quality, and the love for these characters through 3 films, without fault, is astounding.

The scene of Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli in the Cave of the Dead is simply outstanding and the army of the dead looks beautifully horrific in CGI. For a film that is nearly 20 years old to have nearly flawless CG is a marvel. Of course the CGI and practical effects across the entire trilogy have been superb, but it is especially prevalent here. The battle for Minas Tirith continues to set a benchmark for every battle sequence across film and television. It is the battle sequence that all other battle sequences dream to be, including Game of Thrones– one of the biggest phenomena in the past decade. I haven’t seen it, so I wouldn’t dream of comparing the two, though I’m sure many people have. The first half of Return of the King is one of the greatest set-ups to one of the greatest conclusions to one of the greatest film trilogies ever made. Not that I’m biased.

I don’t know how I can review this second half of The Return of the King. I could write an overview of the basic plotline or deep-dive into the amazing process that went into making this film, and on the one hand that would be the sensible, probably professional, thing to do, but on the other hand I don’t want to spoil the ending to those who aren’t aware of it. Besides, words cannot properly convey this conclusion or the resonating emotional impact. For those of you who have seen it, I’ll mention some specific moments that put a lump in the back of my throat because, at this point, it’s all I can do to properly portray my affection for the roller coaster that is the ending to The Return of the King.

The entire scene in Shelob’s lair is a masterpiece, and it holds some of the best camerawork I have ever witnessed. What really stuck with me was Frodo’s “I’m sorry Sam” because it’s in this moment that he finally realises how much The Ring has taken hold. Then there’s Sam’s “let him go, you filth” which is a level of pure friendship that I  can barely handle. I remain in a constant state of anxiety and awe until the end of the battle for Minas Tirith which sees Eomer find Eowyn’s seemingly lifeless body. Karl Urban’s portrayal of Eomer’s pain is one of the most raw and painful depictions of grief I’ve ever seen. I was so close to tears, but I managed to maintain my composure. This composure would remain until near the films end when Samwise finally admits “I don’t think there will be a return journey, Mr Frodo”. Until now, Sam has been a beacon of hope but now, at the end of it all, the facade finally fades. At the other side of Mordor, Gimli and Legolas are declaring themselves as friends. There is so much love in this time of hatred that it is simply overwhelming.

I put off this conclusion because I could not handle dealing with all these emotions again. I became re-invested in this tale and I knew that watching it come to an end would, once again, reduces me to tears. This is the first time that I have watched The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in quick succession and the first time that I have analysed them for any type of review. This time, I wasn’t just finishing a trilogy but a saga. This is 20 hours and 40 minutes of content and the investment is real. You will never see me criticise people for liking the things that they do, and I don’t particularly like anyone who does. In times of trouble, when I’m sad or lonely, I know that The Shire will always be there waiting for me. If you have a piece of media that makes you feel that way then you should never let anybody make you feel ashamed for it.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is notorious for its multiple endings but I believe that every single one of them is valid. I can understand why it may bug casual moviegoers, but if you’ve sat through the the extended editions then you can manage another 20 minutes. If you sat through the extended versions then I can only assume that you care for this franchise as much as I do, and if you do then I can only presume that you also spend those 20 minutes weeping. Even Lord Elrond, who doesn’t do emotion is crying, and we are only human. For those who want an action-packed and brilliantly made trilogy then the theatrical cut of The Lord of the Rings will oblige. For those who desire a little bit more, make sure to check out the extended editions.

For all of you, The Shire will always be waiting.

Until Next Time…

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

The first half of The Two Towers focuses on our fellowship which has now split into 3 factions. Frodo and Samwise, on their way to Mordor, have formed a coalition with the creature Gollum who has promised to get them to Mount Doom safely. Merry and Pippin, having been taken by orcs, manage to escape into Fangorn Forest where they befriend an Ent (living tree) called Treebeard. Meanwhile Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are hot on Merry and Pippins trail but they encounter an unexpected friend in Fangorn.

Something Fellowship of the Ring set up but really gets delivered here is just how negatively The One Ring affects people. Frodo is quicker to anger an appears paler than when he started and is now sympathising with Gollum, who clearly only cares about The Ring. The colour and energy has drained from Frodo as if The Ring is draining him off his life. It’s obvious that he isn’t totally aware of how affected he is and that he isn’t capable of making this journey alone. Samwise continues to be a voice of positivity and an excellent point of comparison for just how much Frodo is changing. Gollums CGI, after 20 years, is almost flawless and Andy Serkis’ motion-capture performance is truly Oscar worthy.

The Two Towers flipping back and forth between Merry and Pippin and their rescuers is a wonderful bit of storytelling. These two could easily just be a comedy duo but instead we are given time to get to know them and it’s obvious how much their rescuers care about them. Aragorn, having sworn to protect them, takes his loyalty seriously which demonstrates his kingly qualities. He’s definitely growing as a character and Viggo Mortensens performance is at 110% here. The scene of him screaming in agony as he kicks an orc helmet is genuine agony as he broke his toes doing it. He continued the scene anyway stating that the stunt actors has been through worse. The only thing I could fault in this section of the film is that Gimli is used almost solely for comedic effect. Dwarves are a proud, noble race who seek respect from everyone and I get that a tale will sometimes require comedy but Gimli is worth more than that.

The plot twist of this half is that there is a white wizard wandering the forest which you would presume is Sauroman. In actuality it turns out to be Gandalf who has returned to Middle Earth from the Astral Plane. This is a superb reveal done by bathing him in light, superimposing Sauromans eyes and voice over Gandalfs. His return is a small moment of relief in a story that seems not to be on the side of our heroes. This extended cut of The Two Towers features additional footage that serves as further insight to some of the characters. We see Sauroman ordering the destruction of Fangorn Forrest as well as more backstory on the Ents and Entwives and a burial scene for the prince of Rohan. These are lovely moments of peace but they also show the losses that Sauron has caused. Put simply, it adds to the tragedy of an already tragic tale.

Having spent a movie and a half building up to war, it finally arrives with the Battle of Helms Deep. Its defense against an immense hoard of orcs are the villagers of Rohan, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas. Meanwhile Merry and Pippin are trying to convince the Ents that this war is their problem too while Frodo and Samwise are captured by a battalion of men. The joy of having such a long runtime is that the beginning of the battle for Middle Earth feels earned instead of thrusting it on us and expecting us to care. By this point, we the audience are so invested that Treebeard proclaiming that the Ents won’t fight kind of stings. It may seem like such a small plot thread but, to me, it’s far from that. Ents are an ancient race who have seen many wars come and go and believe that they have nothing to do with them. Thankfully, Pippin convinces them to fight and is responsible for the fall of Isengard but the point here is that war affects everyone. Its about the bigger picture and how every being, whether they know it or not, can play a vital part in changing things for the better. Tolkein wrote that “even the smallest person can change the course of the future” and that’s as true today as it was the day Isengard fell.

After being captured by a battalion of men, Fodo and Samwise learn that there leader is Faramir- brother of Boromir. The extended cut gives us a flashback to the day Boromir was sent to Rivendell, showing us how much the two brothers loved each other and how their father cared only for Boromir. This is a heartbreaking little scene but it’s nice to see Boromir one last time and in his prime. Faramir ultimately proves how pure of heart he is by freeing Frodo and Samwise, allowing Gollum to lead them to Mordor. He is a perfect contrast to his brother.

The majority of this half of The Two Towers is taken up by The Battle of Helms Deep and what a glorious battle it is. There are hundreds of extras dressed as orcs and Elves and every single one of them is unique. It took 2 and a half months of night shoots on location to complete, which is a monumental feat and is worth every second. Each blow of the sword, each strike of the arrow all feels necessary to winning this battle. There’s a nice shot of Legolas shield-surfing down a flight of stairs as well as some fantastic camaraderie between him and Gimli. They’re cracking jokes and keeping a count of who has killed the most Uruk-Hai which goes to show how close they’ve become since leaving Rivendell. For the record, Gimli beat Legolas with 43 kills to 42. Gandalf remarks “the battle for Helms Deep is over, the battle for Middle Earth has just begun” which is nice reminder of what is to come. This momentous battle, on which many hours were spent, is nothing compared to what Return of the King will give us.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is a marvelous turning point in the story. After much loss there is finally success but it is far from over. This film foreshadows the grave dangers and even graver hardships to follow.

Until Next Time…