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The Power of the Doctor (SPOILERS)

Doctor Who is a ridiculous show. It is inheritly silly that a humanoid alien with two hearts, who ocassionaly regenerates their body, travels time and space in a little blue box. The stories told have been dramatic, serious and even heartbreaking at times but it’s still absurd. That’s part of why it’s such an easy show to fall in love with. The fanbase (or “Whovians” as we’re known) are one of the most passionate of any franchise and our excitement often peaks whenever The Doctor regenerates. There’s a palpable air of explosive tension as the episode approaches, which remains after the episode has aired and The Power of the Doctor is no exception. It features an added layer of hype because it coincides with the hundredth anniversary of the BBC’s founding, so it should be as Doctor Who as the show has ever been.

The feature-length episode sees the Thirteenth Doctor combatting The Master, whose plan involves Daleks,Cybermen and Raputin, although it’s so complex that it requires a PHD to understand. She is assisted by current companion Yasmin as well as former companions Ace and Tegan but the list doesn’t stop there. As an episode designed to celebrate the show and the network it airs on, there was no doubt that there would be cameos and references galore, but they really pulled out all the stops. The first batch of cameos occur shortly after The Master has succeeded in one of his plans many stages – forcing The Doctor to regenerate into him. Seeing actor Sacha Dahwan in the Thirteenth Doctors clothes having stolen her body (and by extention her regeneration cycle) would be thrilling enough but it allows Thirteen’s conciousness to interact with her former lives. (Think Aang in The Last Airbender conversing with former avatars). It allows for a lovely scene where David Badley as The First Doctor praises Thirteen for all she’s done, which should warm even the darkest of hearts. The First Doctor then morphs into his sixth, fifth and seventh forms which were to be expected given the good health of all the actors involved and their continued love for the show. The major cameo here is the presence of Paul McGann asThe Eighth Doctor, which is delightful. His TV movie has held a less than stellar reputation with the fanbase but over the years, people have softened and it feels as if Paul is finally getting the love he always deserved.

The second batch of cameos are equally wonderful. At the conclusion of the episode, Thirteen’s companions Graham, Yasmin and Dan form a former companion support group. In the room are the expected ones – Ace, and Tegan – as well as the semi-expected Jo Grant. However the cherries on top of this nostalgia cake are the appearance of Mel, who acompanied the sixth and seventh Doctors as well Ian Chesterton who was (along with Barbara) the very first companion. Actor William Russell may be 97 years old but he doesn’t look it and it so marvellous to have him involved. The same would have been true of Tom Baker (The Fourth Doctor) had he been well enough to be involved. The cameos were not the only way that the show was celebrated as there were plenty of references for people who knew where to find them. Whilst The Master is The Doctor, he puts together an outfit featuring Ten’s shirt with tie, Seven’s sweater, Thirteen’s coat, Two’s cordorouy trousers, Four’s scarf and Five’s stick of celery. It looks a lot cooler than it sounds. Further, on top of even that, is the presence of The Doctors AI hologram which adopts the physical form most familiar to their companion. It leads to a lovely scene of Tegan with Five and Ace with Seven, which are made all the more wonderful with a couple of iconic lines and a mention of former companion Adric.

This may all sound like gushing about how cool this is for fans but that’s because it kind of is. Proper analysis requires a slightly further dive.

This is still a Christopher Chibnall written episode, which means that his fingerprints are still visible. As lovely as all of those character moments are, the majority of the script is fairly basic. It’s most notable during the opening segment where Thirteen, Yasmin and Dan board a moving space train. It’s especially true of Dan (whose actor John Bishop isn’t a very good actor) but none of Chibnall’s characters have much…character. They are there to tell The Doctor how cool she is and to fawn over her but nothing more. At least Dan didn’t stick around for long and Graham had a semi-arc with Ryan but Yasmin has really gotten the blunt end of the stick. She doesn’t just fawn over The Doctor, she’s in love with her (which is alreaady a tired trope). This wasn’t the intial plan because Yasmin was initially interested in Ryan but that was changed when a section of the online lesbian community began to hope that they would end up together. It’s only truly been present in the Thirteenth series and in these last three episodes. The prior episode Legend of the Sea Devils featured it very explicitly but that episode was filmed last which means that those scenes were written knowing that there was no romantic ending for the two. “Thasmin” (a portmanteau of The Doctor and Yasmin) was a half-assed concept, executed purely to please a subsection of fans with the liklihood being that it would never pay off…which is queerbaiting…which is a really awful thing to do.

There are several contrived aspects that could be focussed on, but if it’s a mostly futile exercise. The AI isn’t ACTUALLY The Doctor which means that Ace and Tegan didn’t truly get closure with The Doctor herself, but it’s closure for them and allows for a couple of nifty scenes. The forced regeneration is never fully explained, but it propels the stakes as high as they’ve ever been and (again) allows for some very neat scenes. The Doctor should probably regenerate quicker than she actually does, but it gives her a final scene with Yasmin which some people will have liked. The biggest contrivance that can be truly critiqued is The Masters Dalek Plan (an in-episode gag, which got a smile). The episode never fully explains it because this Doctor refuses to talk to anyone about anything that matters. She claims that Yasmin is her best friend but this refusal to tell her anything is so cruel it’s a wonder she hasn’t already left. Even as she’s about to regenerate, The Doctor pushes her away for seemingly no reason.

This is the end of an era and in a lot of ways it feels like it. There are grand stakes and countless homages for the fans but it should also work as a series finale…which it doesn’t. One of Chibnall’s biggest issues as a writer is that he can come up with an interesting idea but often won’t fully see it through. There are a couple of dangling plot threads that are unlikely to go explained (a belief that Chibnall himself backed up in a recent interview). The concept of The Timeless Child works in theory, adding a new layer of mystery to an already mysterious character, but it has no resolution. The Fugitive Doctor (allegedly a pre-First Doctor incarnation) is a brilliant idea with an unfortunate placement in The Doctors history which allowed for actress Jo Martin to give a few stand-out performances…but that’s half the issue. She is relegated to a few minor cameos and her backstory is never properly explored on-screen. It is explained in a comic book storyline but that makes it feel like it wasn’t important enough to actually get Jo Martin back on a soundstage for. Then there’s this manic iteration of The Master, whose placement in the timeline is also never explained. Chibnall is all excellent concepts with poor execution and that isn’t missing here, it’s just being overshadowed by the pre-existing characters.

The regeneration itself is stunning. Credit has to be given for allowing Thirteen to regenerate outside which hasn’t been done since the fourth regeneration. It allows for a beautiful setting and a now iconic shot. Even more iconic are her final words which are short, sweet and very Thirteen. One could complain about the camera close-ups (another Chibnall staple) but honestly, it’s so near to perfect that it doesn’t matter. The introduction of the Fourteenth Doctor, however, is perfect. Portrayed by David Tennant, with a call back to the first Tennant Doctor (Number 10), it’s as funny as it is shocking. It can only be speculated why the body chose this face and why the clothes also regenerated but the current hypothesis relies on “forced degeneration gonna do something weird” although I personally would also throw in this being part of the new regeneration cycle. The Eleventh Doctor did warn that it may be a bit unstable.

The Power of the Doctor may have it’s issues but it’s still a delight to watch. As a regeneration episode and celebration of the shows history, it’s excellent and as a moment in that history it is unprecedented. There are thirteen months between now and the airing of the 60th anniversary specials, which are sure to be rife with fan speculation and social media teases. Whilst writing this, the new logo and momenteous pairing of the BBC and Disney+ were announced. It’s difficult not to be excited as a fan. As an underappreciated Doctor once said:

Change, my dear, and not a moment to soon.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer
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The Cloverfield Paradox

When is a movie actually two movies? When it’s The Cloverfield Paradox. The third part of the (current) Cloverfield trilogy had an even bigger challenge than its predecessor, needing to live up the legacy of two great movies instead of just one. Instead of going down the “spiritual successor” path, it opted to be a semi-sequel to both, placing all 3 films in a semi-shared universe which is a lot less complicated than it sounds. However, this isn’t where the issue lies, instead it comes with the focus of the plot which comes in two parts. Primarily it follows Ava Hamilton and her crew aboard the Cloverfield Space Station who are testing the Shepard Particle Accelerator to find a source of infinite energy for the Earth which is rapidly running out. Things go horribly wrong when they find themselves catapulted across dimensions to an alternate Earth, which is where the semi-sequel aspect comes in. It causes a rip in dimensions causing what is known as the “Cloverfield Paradox” which opens portals to other dimensions allowing unknown horrors to seep through. Essentially, it gives birth to the Cloverfield Multiverse. It’s an interesting enough story on its own but the secondary plot sees Ava’s husband Michael attempting to survive the carnage back home with a small child in tow.

This decision makes sense in theory. It should allow for more concern for Ava and what awaits her should she get home, but it doesn’t pack the impact it needs to. This is partially because not enough time is dedicated to the secondary plot and the little time that is spent with it doesn’t delve as deep into the monstrous destruction as it needs to. It’s also partially because the primary plot isn’t entirely focused on Ava’s return home. It’s the ultimate goal of her and her crew but they spend most of their time focused on surviving increasingly weird and horrific events aboard the station. The Cloverfield Paradox is trying to be a horror space sci-fi and a re-tread of the original Cloverfield, but it spends an unproportionate amount of time on both meaning that neither feel complete. This is likely due to it not originally being a Cloverfield script. Much like 10 Cloverfield Lane, the project started life as a spec script but unlike that film, The Cloverfield Paradox feels like it’s cramming that IP’s elements in. The former merged it with the script to add a layer of suspense but barely focused on it whilst the latter made it its own point of focus. This plot element didn’t need to be cut but it needed to at least be refined. Perhaps have the Cloverfield Paradox affecting the alternate Earth before jumping back to their own hoping to escape. The reveal in the film’s final moments is tense but mainly due to actor Roger Davies’ performance as Michael instead of the moment feeling earned.

The primary plot aboard the space station is interesting on paper too, yet somehow lacks punch in its delivery. The dynamic between the crew isn’t as solid as a film like Alien, even when it tries to be, because these are standard characters with very little development. They should be the priority and the plot should revolve around how this disaster tests their relationships, which are already tense having lived in a confined space for two years. Instead, the plot treats them as side characters with much of the time on the station being spent with Ava. Eight members is a lot to juggle even when there isn’t an entire secondary story. Alien capped its crew at seven and spent more time with them in the opening act before the attack so that the eventual murders would be impactful. It feels like The Cloverfield Paradox was trying to replicate that but never focusses on the correct aspects.

The word “focus” has been used a lot in this review and, whilst repetition should be avoided where possible, it feels fitting because this film lacks focus. It can’t pick a plot, character or twist to maintain for overly long which simply isn’t an issue had by its predecessors. Those films work, in part, because the aim to tell one sole narrative with a small cast of characters. Cloverfield had 6 friends travelling through a deteriorating New York City to save another friend whilst 10 Cloverfield Lane spent its time with 3 characters in one location with two trying to escape to a world they aren’t even sure is there. The Cloverfield Paradox pits 8 characters against a space station that could collapse at any moment and anomalies that may do worse than kill them while also depicting life on Earth through 2 more characters. There is plenty here that could work if it was given a bigger role but as is, it’s a mediocre display of all these aspects with another stunning Bear Macreary score.

Perhaps the real monster is the Hollywood demand for sequels regardless of quality.

Signed: Your spooky neighbourhood queer

10 Cloverfield Lane

When is a sequel not a sequel? When it’s 10 Cloverfield Lane. The hit follow-up to the iconic Cloverfield had a lot to live up to in terms of legacy but it opted for a different path than most sequels. Instead of being a direct continuation of the story, it serves as a “spiritual successor” which maintains the atmosphere of the IP and very little else. This is largely due to the film beginning development as an independent script from writers Josh Campbell and Matt Stuecken before J.J. Abrams’ production company Bad Robot swooped in and adapted it to fit the world of Cloverfield.

This means that the plot was the primary focus of the script rather than conforming to public perception of legacy or trying to continue a story that needs no continuation. The film sees recently brokenhearted Michelle trapped in a bunker with conspiracy theorist Howard and town handyman Emmet during a supposed global attack. It’s a tale full of twists, with each more crushing to our characters than the last. At the center of it is Howard, whose motivations are always in question whether he seems kind, quirky or malicious. He switches between playing the roles of protagonist and antagonist which keeps the audience on their toes. This would be true regardless of what horrors may or may not await in the outside world.

The ambiguity of what is happening outside adds a further layer of tension. Howard’s theories are never specific enough to be believable but that could just be because he doesn’t know for certain what has happened. This ambiguity would be enough but 10 Cloverfield Lane takes it one step further by seemingly confirming each theory as the story progresses. Is it attacks from Russia, invasion by aliens or is there simply nothing wrong at all? The major twist in the plot may seem to be whether Michelle can escape Howard (and that is a twist) but it’s primarily what may await her if she gets free. This reveal even pulls a bait-and-switch at the very last moment to keep the audience on edge for as long as possible. Knowing the outcome doesn’t harm the ending of the film either, it simply changes why this aspect is so tense. Instead of worrying what may happen to Michelle outside, we become concerned by the lengths she is willing to go through to escape Howard and meet her fate.

Despite not being a found footage flick, there is still a high level of realism present, largely due to the production methods. Instead of filming scenes out of sequence due to location and actor availability, the film was shot entirely in order minus a few pickup shots. They also used MDF Boards (painted to look like concrete) to construct a physical bunker which, aside from allowing them to film however they wanted, allows for a natural flow from room to room. There’s no trying to figure out schematics (a la Seinfeld’s apartment) because this is a physical space with a physical layout. It was also designed to look like it had been built in stages over the course of many years which is a minor enough detail that most probably won’t pick up on it but still adds a layer of authenticity. It’s all wrapped together in the bow that is Bear McCreary’s unsettling score. It allows for an added level of emotion manipulation that the original Cloverfield was never able to provide, and it is never overused. When the scene requires silence, it has it but when the tension needs lifting there’s the score. This is only one of McCreary’s many projects, but he would, most noticeably to me, go on to provide the score for Amazon’s Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.

There are those who will claim that the sequel is never as good as the original but films like 10 Cloverfield Lane prove that they are wrong. It’s not just on par with its predecessor, it surpasses it on every level. It has fewer elements in location and cast means that there is a much smaller room for error…so none are made. It’s worth getting trapped with.

Signed: Your spooky neighbourhood queer

Cloverfield

When is a monster movie not a monster movie? When it’s Cloverfield. Yes, there’s a monster in it but it’s a more a catalyst for the plot than an actual antagonist. The film isn’t about the creature, it’s about the several lives being destroyed by it’s arrival. This is in stark contrast to something like A Quiet Place, where the protagonists are actively fending off their monsters but that’s only part of why Cloverfield works so well. It has become an icon of the horror genre, with producer J.J. Abrams being asked about the posibility of a sequel for almost a decade after it’s release. Eventually that sequel would come (sort of) and there would even be a threequel (sort of, we’ll get to that). Even now, the Cloverfield brand lives on, with a fourth installment reportedly in early development.

Even after a decade and the technological advancements that came with it, the simple story of Cloverfield remains tense to sit through. It follows a group of friends through the rapidly crumbling city of Manhattan as they attempt to reach a love interest trapped in her apartment that they can’t even garuntee is still alive. Tension builds through how unpredictable the stability of their surroundings areas are as well as how little is shown on screen. It makes excellent use of the found-footage style of filmmaking, proving the age-old adage that less is more. There are scenes where the monster is seen in it’s entirity but it spends the majority of the plot hidden behind buildings or smoke from debris. The biggest threat is the dog-sized parasites that fall from it’s body and lurk around possibly every corner that our protagonists may walk around. The creature designs are a little more basic than something from H.R. Gieger but they’re still memorable enough. The closest look that is given makes it clear that these creatures are more than a little bit gross, in a shot that stands out as one of the most memorable in the entire franchise.

The characters all feel realistic. None of them are the “hero” of the story, even though primary heartthrob Rob is presented that way. Even before the creature attacks, it’s clear that they lead messy lives. Jason and Lily argue like many couples but, although they may seem frustrated with each other, there is still obviously love there. Hud the cameraman and Marlene who wasn’t even meant to be at the party slowly form a bond over the course of the plot despite him being annoying and her being out of his league. Rob the “hero” is the one determined to save his love interest Beth but, having recently slept with her and not called her back, it feels like it’s primarily motivated out of guilt. Real life, much like this iteration of Manhattan, is messy and Cloverfield never shies away from that.

The cherry on top is the lack of score. There’s a Cloverfield Overture that plays through the credits and continues to keep the audience unsettled even after the plot is over, but the entire film has purely diagetic sound. Aside from making sense, given that this is supposed to be a tape found in Central Park, it allows the sound of silence to echo from the screen. There’s no jumpscare sound effects or quivering violins, the film has to scare with atmosphere alone. Even as the story races towards its conclusion and the action amps up, it never feels like a work of pure fiction. If a creature were to land in the middle of one of the most populated areas in the United States, this is likely how it would go down.

Providing visuals for a hypothetical attack is perhaps the most unnerving part of all.

Signed: Your spooky neighbourhood queer

Lightyear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

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

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