Dune (2021)

There are those who would call Frank Herbert’s lore-heavy sci-fi novel Dune “unfilmable” but after multiple movie adaptations, it feels like a different description should be found. Much can be said of the previous attempts such as the 2000 SyFy miniseries and the 1984 David Lynch motion picture, although such discussions are possibly best left to the fans. These adaptations are both undeniably large in scale and play into the inherent ridiculousness of the novel, but the latest by Denis Villeneuve only achieves one of these.

Set on the planet Arakis, Dune: Part One sees the House of Atreides taking over the production of the valuable Spice found on the planet from the vicious House of Harkonnen. Duke Leto Atreides seeks to make peace with the local inhabitants, known as Fremen, whose prolonged exposure to Spice has given them bright blue eyes. Plans change however when The Harkonnens return with a destructive vengeance, leaving only the Duke’s son, Paul, and wife, Jessica, to seek refuge with the Freman. This is an oversimplification of events due to the complexity of the worldbuilding present within the story. This is why it is supposedly “unfilmable” as there is simply so much to explain, but it is an aspect that Villeneuve achieves excellently. The background information is easily inserted via natural dialogue and informational tapes watched by Paul. Over 145 minutes, there is a vast amount of speaking but, given the political nature of the story and people involved, it feels natural. Occasionally this dialogue is delivered through well-choreographed fight sequences, of which there are several.

The action is impressive. Hand-to-hand combat feels personal especially with the holographic armour worn by the characters which allow for very close contact. Meanwhile, the assault by the Harkonnens is devastating to witness. Explosion after explosion makes the sheer might of the Harkonnens clear. At least that is when it’s visible. Dune: Part One is sapped of the majority of its saturation, save for the light of explosions and blinding sun. The sands are filled with a certain warmth but that distinct orange glow, present in other adaptations, is missing here. It is most notable during part of the final act, which is set at night and sees the two surviving Atreides trying to avoid a giant Sandworm. These 400-foot creatures are an icon of sci-fi and their threatening presence is felt throughout. So it is ultimately disappointing when their big reveal appears in a shot that might as well be in black and white.

The often frustrating experience of viewing this film is made more difficult by Hans Zimmer’s accompanying score, which is everpresent in the worst meaning of the word. It is a collection of choral voices and heavy dubstep which at times feels like an assault of the senses. It is loud to the point of uncomfortableness and is sometimes misplaced within the story. Sudden death is the kind of thing for which gentle music is generally reserved but here it’s the choir, which is a little distracting. The score takes itself very seriously and the same can be said of the plot. There is a real gravitas to Dune: Part One but it comes across as more self-absorbed than actually important. A film like The Lord of the Rings is equally large in scale but it is grounded by its humanity. It’s a big story about small folk, which allows itself to have fun with its setting. Dune is a large story about important people, but who aren’t larger than life. The David Lynch adaptation tells the same story but it’s having fun, especially with Baron Harkonnen. The Baron is grotesque, terrifying, and extraordinarily full of himself, taking glee in dishing out horrors. Villeneuve’s Barron gets the horror element down but nothing else.

Fundamentally Dune: Part One‘s biggest problem is how safe it is. The Baron’s role is cut down and we’re never allowed to see the true horrors of war, despite there being decapitations in the film. It is full of stellar performances, especially from Oscar Issac and Jason Momoa, but fails on the principle of Dune’s weirdness. This is a weird story, even by sci-fi standards, and as the story progresses it only gets weirder… but it’s difficult to see that story in the universe presented by Villeneuve. Former adaptations may have been flawed, but at least they had personality.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Avengers: Infinity War

This was never just a movie. With a full decade of buildup over 18 installments, this was the end of Kevin Feige’s and Marvel Studios’ riskiest venture. The MCU was never guaranteed to be a success and it certainly wasn’t guaranteed to become the unstoppable pop culture behemoth it is today. Iron Man was a gamble, as were the following few films, but it was hoped that they could culminate in an outing for The Avengers – which it did in 2012. It was this installment which solidified the MCU and laid the groundwork for the next 6 years leading up to Avengers: Infinity War. It all comes to a close in the sequel, Avengers: Endgame, but for that film to work, it requires the context of Infinity War.

The hype surrounding Infinity War was huge. It was first announced in October 2014 to a crowd of ecstatic fans, although it was titled Infinity War Part 1, with the title for Endgame being Infinity War Part 2. The films would shoot back to back in 2017 but not before they were tentatively retitled again to Infinity War and Untitled Avengers Sequel. The title for Endgame ultimately wouldn’t be revealed until Infinity War had finished playing in cinemas so as to not spoil the final act of that movie. Secrecy was a major element surrounding both the production and the marketing. Infinity War was the beginning of the end for Marvel’s Infinity Saga and the studio were determined to ensure that everybody get to experience it for themselves. This secrecy even applied to the cast and crew who weren’t told how the film would end until they were about to shoot it. This kind of secrecy would play a much larger role in Endgame’s production, but that story will come soon enough. The marketing was coy, with the first trailer focussing less on the plot and more on this film’s place in the context of the MCU. It was full of hero shots, a sprinkling of fight scenes, and entirely fake shots. Altering shots in a trailer to conceal important plot points is understandable (see Thor’s eye in the Ragnarok trailer) but to insert entirely fake shots feels manipulative. The very last hero shot, of everyone running towards the camera, stands out above it all as the most heinous crime. This meant that, as the premiere approached, only the vague plot of “Avengers fight Thanos” was known and the film was all the better for it.

Infinity War was to be The Avenger’s greatest battle. The mad Titan Thanos was on a quest to collect all 6 Infinity Stones, which would make him the most powerful being in the known universe, and it would be up to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to stop him. The synopsis fails to mention Thanos’ ultimate goal, that being the destruction of half the life in the universe, and the number of separate plotlines contained within.

Wanda Maximoff and Vision are taking a break from The Avengers before the arrival of Thanos’ Guard sees them being dragged back in by Steve Rogers, Sam Wilson, and Natasha Romanoff, who have been on the run since Captain America: Civil War. When Bruce Banner returns from Ragnarok’s Asgardian rescue vessel warning of Thanos, they all head to Wakanda to prepare for war. Meanwhile, after the destruction of the aforementioned Asgardian vessel, Thor is picked up by the Guardians of the Galaxy before taking Rocket Raccoon to Nidavellir to create a Titan-killing axe. The rest of the Guardians encounter Tony Stark, Peter Parker, and Dr. Stephen Strange, who have killed one of Thanos’ Guards and taken his ship, before the newly formed group head to Thanos’ homeworld Titan to fight him. Throughout all of this, Thanos is searching for the remaining Infinity Stones, having already retrieved the Power Stone from the planet Xandar and the Space Stone from the Asgaugrdians. This is a lot to pack into a 160minute runtime. There are 97 individual characters and every single one is given a fair amount of screentime but the film never feels bloated or oddly paced. The storylines never become convoluted or difficult to follow which is a real testament to the creative team. Whilst the title may say Avengers, and they are present, this is really Thanos’ movie. It is his mission that drives the plot forward and his emotions that ground it. He is completely in the wrong. That shouldn’t need to be stated, but an alarming number of people think his plan to wipe out the universe is reasonable. No. Incorrect. The issue is not “lack of resources” it is “lack of equal distribution of resources” but even if that were the issue, the solution would be to provide more resources.

The greatest strength Infinity War has, besides pacing and character, is its ending. It is the perfect culmination of all that has come before. With both sets of heroes struggling in their respective battles, which take up a large portion of the screentime, Thanos arrives on Earth for the Mind Stone which is embedded in Vision’s head. The footage slows, the music swells, the characters each make one last desperate rush towards him. However much of the focus is on Wanda, who is the only person capable of destroying the Stone, and Vision, who is dying in the process. It is their love and their loss that gives the scene so much weight, with actors Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany absolutely knocking it out of the park with their performances. As the scene goes on, Thanos swipes the Avengers away without a second thought (except Captain America who he seems impressed by), leading Wanda to singlehandedly destroy Vision and hold back Thanos. The scene is tense but that tension breaks the moment Vision dies. Until Thanos rewinds time and takes the Time Stone anyway in a soul crushing moment. All hope seems to return when Thor plows an axe into his chest but it immediately vanishes again when Thanos snaps his fingers. Thanos wins. The music cuts out and all that is left is the silent sound of sheer horror as many characters turn to dust. It’s a stunning ending, amplified by the uncertainty of what comes next, with the most tragic being the dusting of Spider-Man. The MCU’s iteration of the character has flaws but seeing a beloved childhood character turn to dust is a moment that stays long after the credits are over. All the other characters are exasperated and composed but Peter Parker is full of utter fear and it hurts to see a childhood icon like that.

Infinity War is defined by loss. Thanos lost his people, his right-hand man and his “daughter” Gamora. The Avengers lose their battles, the Stones and each other. Thor loses half of his already deplete people including Heimdall and Loki, with the film specifically taking time to inform the audience that there will be no resurecctions this time. The MCU has been lighthearted and childish at times but Infinity War is a tonally dark film. Loki’s death occurs 10 minutes in and sets that tone, which rarely leviates throughout. There are moments of humour within the plot, mainly through character interactions like Steve Rogers and Thor, but moments like Star-Lord trying to out bravado Thor are full of that classic MCU cringe. This is to say nothing of Bruce Banner being unable to summon The Hulk which is both cringeworthy and a complete waste of his character. The only uncertain aspect of the whole thing is Peter Dinklage as the giant dwarf Eitri, who runs Nidavellir. His story is tragic and sympathetic but it’s difficult to look past Dinklage doing a dodgy British accent.

Despite being the penultimate chapter, Infinity War still has a mid-credits scene which allows for a bit of extra storytelling. It sees both Former-Agent Maria Hill and Former-Director Nick Fury getting dusted, with a clever use of timing which almost allows Fury to drop an F bomb. In the moments before his devise, Fury sends a pager signal to Captain Marvel, although you’d only know that if you were aware a Captain Marvel film was on the way and what her logo looked like. A member of the audience I was in did not and it really helped to alleviate the tension, so shout out to that guy.

As a prelude to Endgame, Infinity War is outstanding. As a culmination of a decades-worth of work, it’s mostly brilliant. Some of the payoffs are a perfect example of the kind of long-term planning that the MCU eventually managed to get ahold of, especially the return of Red Skull. Had Infinity War been the final film in the franchise, it would have been emotionally devastating, and perhaps less divisive than Endgame. It doesn’t promise closure but it provides a hell of a powerful ending. It was inevitable that the MCU would continue but if this had been it, it would have stood the test of time as one of the greatest endings of all time.


Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Thor: Ragnarok

The MCU has an odd relationship with comedy. When it lands—as it did with Ant-Man—it makes for great entertainment, but when it doesn’t, as with much of Age of Ultron, it comes across as cringeworthy. Thor: Ragnarok manages to have a mixture of both, although it errs more on the side of cringe. To top it all off, the film itself comes across as one bad joke, with Avengers: Infinity War as the punchline.

After vanishing during Age of Ultron Thor is revealed to have been restoring order to the chaotic Nine Realms, which is an adventure that ends upon his return to Asgard. It is his hope that this will prevent Ragnarok- the end of days- but it arrives just the same, along with his sister the Goddess of Death Hela who kicks Thor and Loki halfway across the universe to the wasteland planet of Sakkar. after reuniting with Hulk and making friends with former Asgardian warrior Valkyrie, they escape The Grandmaster’s rule and return to Asgard for one final battle.

Hulk’s presence here may seem odd given his often strenuous relationship with Thor, but it is a matter of contracts. In the late 1990s, Marvel Studios sold the rights to a solo Hulk film to Universal, who promptly released Ang Lee’s Hulk in 2003 before striking a deal with Marvel to release 2008’s The Incredible Hulk as part of the fledgling MCU. The film received mixed reviews, and for that reason or another, there would not be another solo Hulk adventure. Instead, he was used in team-ups, as Marvel still had rights to use the character that way, which led to his appearance in further MCU projects. However, fans of the character clamored for more, specifically adaptations of the Planet Hulk and World War Hulk comic book storylines. The former of these sees Hulk exiled to the distant planet of Sakkar by the Illuminati where he becomes a gladiator and ultimately leads a revolution, whilst the latter deals with the ramifications of Hulk’s return to Earth. With the possibility of a solo Hulk film outwith their grasp, Marvel decided to incorporate Planet Hulk into a buddy movie with Thor. As the only Avenger to frequent other planets, Thor is a perfect match for this story which ultimately ends up being Planet Hulk focussed as opposed to Ragnarok focussed, though that isn’t a bad thing. It would be better if more of that time had been spent with Bruce Banner instead of Hulk, who acts as a comedic sidekick stunned into stupidity by his circumstances instead of an intrigued scientist with 7 PHDs.

A comedic sidekick can work well provided they are working off a less comedic partner. For instance, in Ant-Man, Scott Lang is the funny one reacting to the bizarre scenarios while Hank Pym is the more serious elderly gentleman. In Thor: Ragnarok, everyone is a comedic character. Arguably the least humourous is Valkyrie who often has her alcoholism used as a punchline. It’s quite juvenile, much like the majority of humour. Taika Watiti is an interesting director who can be hilarious, like in What We Do In The Shadows, but it doesn’t feel like he brought his A-Game for this. It feels like he took the Disney-sized paycheck to pay for his independent projects, which is clearly where his heart lies. Nowhere is this more apparent than with Korg.

The character of Korg made his first comic appearance in the Planet Hulk storyline where he was the leader of the rebellion with a tragic backstory. Here, he is portrayed by Taika Watiti, who feels like he improvised every single line resulting in a lot of cringe-worthy humour. Improvisation can be funny, like in Ghostbusters where improvised lines were only kept in if they were funnier than the already funny script. This worked because Ramis, Ackroyd, and Murray still had regular lines which carried the script forward. Korg on the other hand feels like every single line is improvised and none of them carry the plot forward. The character himself could be removed from the plot without affecting it since the revolution is kickstarted by Valkyrie and ultimately led by Loki. It’s unfortunate because Korg could be a fun and important character instead of what feels like a role written specifically for the director.

Perhaps the biggest flaws of Ragnarok‘s stem from the context that surrounds it. The first is Valkyrie, although this is only an issue for those who were present for the film’s initial release. Her actress Tessa Thompson and aforementioned director Taika Watiti both made a big deal about how Valkyrie was going to be the first openly gay character in the MCU, mourning the death of her girlfriend at the hands of Hela many decades ago. This scene was supposedly scripted but never filmed, although her death remains in the final version of the film as she takes a spear for Valkyrie. The other issue is Thor: Ragnarok‘s placing within the MCU. Thor has spent the entire plot desperately attempting to save his people, managing to save a great number of them by boarding them on an escape ship. He has made what will likely be his biggest achievement and lost an entire eye in the process. He can finally be happy. He is immediately greeted by Thanos’ ship because this film leads directly into Avengers: Infinity War. It’s worth noting that this isn’t the fault of the team but the fault of the corporation. Taika made the best film he could despite presumably being told it had to end this way. It makes this film feel like a joke at Thor’s (and Taika’s) expense.

With all that said, Thor: Ragnarok is still highly entertaining. When the performances aren’t bogged down by attempts at humour, they are heartfelt and emotional, particularly with Loki and Thor who are closing their arcs here. The casting of Jeff Goldblum as The Grandmaster can’t be ignored, nor should it be. He oozes his regular Goldblum charm throughout and the screen simply lights up whenever he appears. Cate Blanchett is brilliantly vicious as Hela who feels like a more intimidating version of Rita Repulsa from Power Ranger while Karl Urban as Skurge is a complex character with his own mini-arc. Then there’s the cinematography which is stellar. The Thor films have always been grand in scale, although the first film practically perfected it straight out of the gate. Here it is matched with vibrant colours which make each scene pop like an Andy Warhol painting. Capping it all off is the outstanding score which has a heavy synth base making the whole film feels like an epic 1980s adventure. This culminated in probably one of the best moments in the MCU where Thor, adorned with lightning, jumps onto the Bifrost bridge while The Immigrant Song plays.

Thor: Ragnarok is seemingly the best that could be done given constraints although it is let down by the juvenile humour that had mainly been confined to the first two Avengers films. It closes arcs brilliantly and entertains plenty but it deserved deep exploration. Both the Ragnarok and Planet Hulk storylines deserved their own exploration but as a mash-up, this is pretty good.


Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

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

Independence Day Duology

*This piece is comprised of my reviews for Independence Day and Independence Day: Resurgence with an additional conclusion*

The age of the “Popcorn Movie ” appears to have been forgotten, left behind in pursuit of the “Blockbuster Movie” Which, I think, is a real shame. These were simple films which lacked emotional depth and existed purely to entertain people. With the turn of the century came a change in film critique and the expectations placed upon films. Entertaining people no longer seemed to be enough. This forgotten art form would not go quietly into the night, it would not vanish without a fight and so in 1996, Independence Day graced our screens. It then returned in 1998 with an Extended Cut, which I believe to be the best of the two- and so that is the cut I am reviewing.

Independence Day tells the tale of humanity’s attempt to survive alien annihilation, through an American-centric lense, focussing on a core cast of characters. They can only resist with their wits, their resilience and many, many missiles. With a runtime of two and a half hours you may think that Independence Day is too long, but it does a superb job of filling that time with suspense. The first alien saucer doesn’t emerge- from the atmosphere in a cloud of fire- until 23 minutes, and the iconic moment where they fire their lasers isn’t until 50 minutes. What follows is how the characters react to this, and by 1 hour 15 minutes, they have made it to Area 51 where the next half hour is a preparation for the climactic battle. This battle becomes our sole focus for the last 40 minutes from both Earth’s atmosphere and inside the mothership. The aforementioned scenes have some of the finest and most recognisable cinematography of the 90s, in a display of practical effects and matte paintings that served the original Star Wars trilogy so well. Not every single effect holds up perfectly even by the standards of 1998, especially the matte painting of Air Force One, but that encapsulates it as a product of its time. The film also appears to be an encapsulation of every space/sci-fi film that has come before it. There are moments that are reminiscent of scenes from Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, among others.

The soundtrack more than makes up for any “imperfections”’ with a score provided by both a large orchestra and choir that seems to inspire courage. The main theme is one of the most badass instrumentals ever composed, while the more sombre moments seem to invoke a wish to survive. This pairs well with what I believe to be one of the finest speeches ever written, delivered with passion by Bill Pullman. Perhaps the most bizarre part in all of this is that the big speech, the other dialogue, and even the story and characters, are built on clichés. You’ve heard this kind of rousing speech, you’ve seen this level of destruction, you’ve met these kinds of characters… and yet, somehow, Independence Day is the perfect delivery of all of them. Bill Pullman is the perfect president, Jeff Goldblum is the perfect computer nerd, Will Smith is the perfect marine, Judd Hirsch is the perfect Jewish parent, and Randy Quaid is the perfect… drunk redneck.

This film was made at just the right moment in history. Any earlier, and it would have been just another action flick. Any later, and it’s the early 2000s. Let us not forget that this was the first film to completely obliterate the White House. In fact, that was one of the main selling points. That simply would not happen in a post 9/11 America, despite White House Down‘s best efforts. Independence Day is one of the last pure films, made in a time before the world was gripped with fear and movies were expected to challenge us. Not only that, but it encompasses the purest human objective- survival. This film may be American and there may be no escaping that fact, but I have always seen the climactic battle as a human achievement. As a great man once said:

“We will not go quietly into the night, We will not vanish without a fight. We’re going to live on. We’re going to survive. Today we celebrate our Independence day”

This call to arms is a declaration of survival in the face of almost certain annihilation and that “our” is all inclusive. Humanity is aiming to be free of all tyranny and, as the sequel will show, they succeed. 

With this action packed disaster epic taking the world by storm, calls for a sequel were loud and continuous. These calls would not be answered for over 2 decades but this doesn’t mean that the franchise was lying dormant. 3 novels were released in 1996, 1998 and 1999 with an Omnibus Edition featuring all 3 in 2016. The first – Independence Day – was a novelisation of the film including the previously unseen original ending. The second – Silent Zone – was a prequel focusing on the life of Dr Brackish Okun (portrayed by Brent Spiner in the film) as a scientist in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s. The last – War in the Desert – focuses on the two Royal Air Force officers seen receiving morse code in the film on July 3rd. There were also several video games on several different devices released during this period, including the now defunct Independence Day: Online which billed itself as a direct sequel to the film. Then in 2011, news came that Emmerich was returning to the world he had created with a two-part sequel that he had tentatively titled Independence Day Forever. Despite Will Smith not returning due to salary disagreements and only one part of this epic being greenlit by Fox Studios, work began on what would soon become 2016’s Independence Day: Resurgence.

Set 20 years after the first film, we find humanity under attack from the very same alien race as before- having received a distress beacon from the previous mothership. This mothership comes with a much bigger and deadlier ship known as a Harvester which immediately obliterates a large section of the Earth just by landing. It is up to our new team of heroes and some of our old favourites to, once again, save our planet from extinction. Much like its predecessor, Independence Day: Resurgence sets up the main characters before wreaking havoc. This includes Dillon Harper and Patricia Whitmore, who are the children of the previous protagonists Captain Steve Hiller and President Thomas Whitmore as well as Patricia’s fiance Jake and his best friend Charlie. This is a perfect amount of characters to focus on, and I think the film would have been less plot-heavy if it had focused solely on them. However no sequel would be complete without some returning faces so we welcome back ex-president Whitmore, Dr Brackish Okun, David Levinson and Julius Levinson. On paper, this may seem like a lot of characters, but Independence Day: Resurgence manages to divide its time equally between them. The returning characters actively drive the plot forward instead of hindering it, except for Julius who is just here because we’d miss him if he wasn’t, while the new characters do most of the actual alien fighting. This film also never uses the original movie as some kind of crutch by making constant references to keep you invested. There is the obligatory Will Smith cameo via painting and a nice little gag where the White House isn’t destroyed (which looks a little silly but is worth it to me) but that’s about it. The film manages to stand on its own.

There were several large complaints levied at Independence Day and not all of them are unfair. Mae Whitman portrayed a young Patricia in the original film but she is replaced by Maika Monroe for this instalment. They are both solid actors and media outlets proclaimed that it was industry beauty standards that were to blame, although Emmerich has stated that Whitman opted not to read for the role. Whatever the case may be, it would have been nice to have her back. There are also claims that this film is dull and lifeless, which I disagree with. There are no facts to spout here, it’s just personal opinion and mine happens to differ from the majority. There are two genuine issues with Independence Day: Resurgence and the first is the treatment of Dr Brackish Okun, who is joined this time around by his life partner Dr Milton Isaacs. The issue here isn’t that they’ve put gays in my alien movie (obviously), the issue is that you can’t really tell they’re gay. I can tell that these two men are an item through their affection and use of “babe” but a straight person could easily spin this as two campy bros. This would be enough of an issue itself, but the novelisation states their relationship explicitly in the book’s second chapter. During Milton’s visit to a comatose Brackish, which is present in the finished film, we are given this:

“They hadn’t been open then- in 1996 it was a different time, and fraternization among staff was frowned upon no matter what gender the fraterniser may be. To be gay at Area 51 was to be discreet.”

The second issue is the character of Charlie who is given a love interest in the form of Chinese pilot Rain Lao, however I am using the term “love interest” very loosely. Charlie seems to feel like Rain owes him a relationship and is very quick to suggest that they “get a drink, maybe fall in love” which is not how you should talk to someone you just met. He comes across as obsessed and Rain makes it clear that she has no interest, but at the end of the film she agrees to date him anyway. Women are not some prize to be won and I don’t see how Emmerich felt okay adding this sub-plot.

I adore the original Independence Day and I’ve revisited it every July 4th for over a decade, despite being British. I have a soft spot for this sequel and have taken to also watching it every July 4th. Sometimes I wonder how much more I’d enjoy the latter if they’d just let gays be gay, but perhaps that was something the three-quel would’ve explored. Sadly that third film never arrived to this film being considered a box office failure and now, with the acquisition of Fox by Disney, I suppose it will never happen. That sucks.

The Independence Day franchise is a peculiar thing. The original exists and is loved on it’s own merits but the sequel can’t exist without being compared to that original phenomenon. The sequel is something that creator Roland Emmerich worked on for a long time but the version he envisioned wasn’t what we ended up getting. Remakes and sequels were definitely gaining more notice in the 2010’s so I can see why it would get approval from the studio at this time but, realistically, it probably needed more time. The original managed to capture lightning in a bottle and I think, with a bit of work, it could have been done again. It’s now been several years and, whilst Emmerich has reiterated his interest in a three-quel, it has not appeared. Disney continues to sit on one of it’s largest IP’s and, if they continue to do nothing with it, I hope we can at least get a conclusion in the form of a novel or graphic novel. I feel like every story deserves to have its conclusion told, regardless of quality, and I’m getting real sick of companies not allowing that to happen.

I will continue to watch this duology year after year and I’m sure that many others will too. I will continue to enjoy them, despite several flaws, because they continue to entertain me. It will be really interesting to see how this franchise is viewed going forward because, if Star Wars has taught me anything, audiences are willing to forgive. I guess watching these films year after year has convinced me that humanity is inherently co-operational. 

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2

With the success of 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, it was only a matter of time before a sequel was greenlit and this was done before the film had even been released. It was a risk, but clearly one that the Studio Execs felt was going to pay off. It wouldn’t be until a year later (2015) that the sequel received its official title – Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 – which was a perfect fit with the story being told and the lived experience of main character Peter Quill. During the course of Guardians of the Galaxy, Peter (and by extension, us) is listening to a mixtape created for him by his mother Meredith titled The Awesome Mix before finally opening a long un-opened gift containing The Awesome Mix: Volume 2. Before media was released in “parts” (looking at you Quiet Place Part 2) it was released in “volumes” so not only does the title serve as a nod to Meredith but it also helps to immortalise an era of history.

The plot of Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 picks up a few months after the events of the original, with The Guardians on a mission for the Sovereign race, whom Rocket ends up betraying by stealing the very items they were hired to protect. Whilst on the run, the crew are saved by Peters long-lost father Ego, and his assistant Mantis, who take the crew – minus Rocket, Groot, and a captive Nebula – to his planet, where they learn some very dark secrets. Meanwhile, Rocket, Groot, and Nebula are taken prisoner by the Ravagers who have been hired to hunt them down by the Sovereigns, before a mutiny breaks out amongst the crew when Yondu refuses to deliver them. A friendship quickly forms between the former Ravager captain and Rocket, forming one of the 3 core relationships on which the film stands.

The emotional/familial throughlines here aren’t just confined to Yondu and Rocket, although I find theirs to be the most interesting. They are both snarky and aggressive characters who feel alone in the universe, despite having teams around them. Watching them cut through each others’ tough exterior to the emotional vulnerability beneath provides an explosive conflict different from any of the other relationships in this film. We witness the formation of a lifelong friendship where they feel like they can only be honest with each other, and seeing this friendship ended so quickly is truly heart breaking. Yondu is at the core of another relationship with Peter, where they have a father/son bond, although this is mainly explored through Peter’s new relationship with Ego. He can’t understand why his father would abandon his mother, but desperately feels the need to have him in his, life while Ego clearly abandoned her for for selfish reasons and hates himself for ever falling in love. They both want something that they feel they deserve, but neither is willing to give in to the others’ requests. Eventually, Peter learns that he has had a father figure in his life in the form of Yondu, who makes the ultimate sacrifice so that Peter can survive. This death is a massive gut punch, because Peter is losing a father and Rocket is losing a friend. Lastly is the relationship between the adopted daughters of Thanos: Nebula and Gamora, who were pitted against each other and tortured their entire lives. Those feelings finally come to a head, and they explore them the only way they know how… through violence. This is never depicted as abnormal, and feels like the way in which this family would resolve its issues because every family will deal with issues differently and that is okay. The original Guardians of the Galaxy had heart and writer/director James Gunn doubles down on it here.

The continuity of the larger MCU is more present here than in the previous instalment and, whilst rare, is incredibly important. Chronologically this is Marvel’s 10th film but it was released 15th which means that there were originally 4 Earth-based films between the volumes of Guardians of the Galaxy. It flows much better one after the other. Avengers Assemble introduces us to the dangers present in space, and it feels like the following films (Thor 2, Guardians 1 & 2) explore that theme. Possibly the largest piece of continuity comes in the form of the Stan Lee cameo, which is something that I have so far neglected to mention in any of my MCU reviews. He has had a cameo role in every single Marvel property which, by 2017, had led to a very popular fan theory. In the comics, there are a group of supernatural beings known as The Watchers, who simply exist to observe the universe, and it was theorised that Stan Lee was playing the role of a Watcher every single time he appeared. Word of the the theory reached Marvel and it appears that they were also a fan of the theory because, whilst he isn’t a Watcher, he is a Watcher informant, and is shown telling The Watchers of his adventures on Earth. He is specifically telling them of the time he was a FedEx delivery man, which isn’t a cameo we have yet seen chronologically as it appears in Captain America: Civil War. I suppose time works differently across the universe. The most important aspect of this role is the part it plays in immortalising the man himself, who clearly cared very deeply about the characters he had created and the fans who had helped make them a success, as an eternal being in the MCU. The second cameo comes curtesy of Howard the Duck, who was previously only glimpsed in the post-credits scene of the original Guardians of the Galaxy. There he was hidden away, almost ignorable, but here he is given an entire panning shot and line of dialogue as if to say “try ignoring this”. I spoke of his legacy in the previous review but that legacy is truly cemented here.

Whilst on the topic of post-credit scenes, I think Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 has the most of any MCU property:

The first shows Kraglin, Yondu’s 2nd favourite Ravager, as he attempts to master Yondu’s whistle-controlled arrow with a head fin. The character has not yet returned but I can’t wait to see how far he has come when he finally does.

The second shows a crew of Yondu’s old Ravager teammates, who had previously ousted him for breaking the Ravager Code, reuniting after his funeral. I doubt we’ll ever see them again but it’s almost comforting to know that their out there, fighting the fight that Yondu would have wanted them to.

The third shows that Groot has grown into a teenager which acts as a nice piece of fluff after a film with some fairly heavy themes.

The fourth shows the leader of the Sovereigns, Ayesha, creating an artificial being to destroy The Guardians once for all, who she calls Adam. This has since been confirmed by James Gunn to be Adam Warlock who, in the comics, became a member of The Guardians himself, and will presumably play a part in Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3, though this is still unconfirmed.

The fifth and final scene returns to Stan Lee, who is being abandoned by The Watchers although he states that he has so many stories left to tell. This hits a lot harder, having lost the legendary creator in 2018, and I can’t help but imagine the stories that will now go untold or the joy left un-given.

There remains one small Easter egg hidden inside the credits themselves, with the appearance of an as-yet-unintroduced character played by Jeff Goldblum. We will come to meet this man – The Grandmaster of Sakaar – in Thor: Ragnarok, which happened to be in production at the same time as Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2, and was released several months after. Given his role as an eternal being akin to Ego, this is a nice little nod and I’ll never turn down a surprise appearance by Goldblum, who always provides entertainment to any project he touches.

Personally, I prefer Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 over Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 1. I think that the emotional core is deeper, and I’m a bigger fan of the country-centric soundtrack, which opens with the ever wonderful Mr Blue Sky. The film resonates with me on an emotional level, but still manages to pack in plenty of action. The visuals are also stunning, from Ego’s Planet to the Hyper-Jumps to the display at Yondu’s funeral. The whole MCU falls under the action/adventure umbrella, but the moments when it shines the brightest are in the moments of character growth, which this film has in spades. I think this is one of the franchise’s crowning achievements, and I’m delighted that Disney finally re-hired James Gunn for Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3 after unjustly firing him.


Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

The Matrix Trilogy

*This piece is comprised of my 3 Matrix reviews, with an additional conclusion, which brings it up to the length of my later reviews*

Now over 20 years old, The Matrix is considered a cult classic, and re-watching it on the big screen it isn’t hard to see why. This film is a masterclass in Science Fiction from the Wachowski sisters in almost everything from story to score. Keanu Reeves’ natural sense of wonderment is a perfect fit for the out-of-his-depth Neo, and Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith is a pure joy to behold. I’m getting ahead of myself though, so lets start with the plot.

Mr Thomas Anderson, also known by his online alias Neo, has been found by a man calling himself Morpheus who confronts him with a truth, that his reality is a simulation known as The Matrix designed to power AI Sentinels in the real world. We follow Neo as he trains to be “The One” while trying to survive sentinels in one reality and battling Agent Smith in the other. The attention to detail in both realities is astounding, with a gritty apocalyptic Earth in one hand and the too-perfect green hue of The Matrix in the other. This contrast is further displayed through the score and sound effects, using an electronic techno vibe for The Matrix while reality is more dark and suspenseful. The Wachowski sisters have done a beautiful job bringing not just one, but two, worlds to life.

As for the acting, I don’t think these roles could have been cast better. Morpheus spends 20 minutes being hyped up by the film, and once he finally appears he positively oozes respectability. His crew is also enjoyable to watch, as is Neo, but to me the star of the show is Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith. Smith is an AI who has become smart enough to wonder why he needs to take orders. This could very well have been overplayed, but Weaving portrays the character with just the right balance of subtlety and insanity. Trinity, I find, can be a bit of a one-note character, existing only as a love interest for Neo and as a right hand woman for Morpheus. When she’s given an action scene though, she delivers the goods just as good, if not better than, her male cast members.

The one thing that stands out most to me are the special effects. After 20 years, the CGI holds up better than many other films of it’s time, even if Agent Smith’s body absorption or the bullet time effects are kind of obvious. What is most amazing though is, not how well the CGI holds up (because it’s rarely used), but the practical effects. I’m not talking sets or pyrotechnics here, I’m talking about the blue pill/red pill shot. Given the amount and quality of CGI available at the time, it would have been ridiculously easy to do the shot digitally, but they did it practically. I understand the logistics of how that shot was done, but it still blows me away every time I see it.

The Matrix would go on to become a trilogy, with the reviews for each film being poorer than the last, but that doesn’t matter here. This film, for all the plot threads it introduces like Zion and The Prophecy, stands just as well on its own. It isn’t perfect of course, its still very much a product of the 1990s, with Trinity often feeling like The Token Woman and the CGI being more noticeable now than it once was. That doesn’t distract from the film’s enjoyment though, which is the mark of a truly great film. There’s a reason its a cult classic, after all.

Given that this cult classic proved to be one of the most influential films of its age, it is perhaps no surprise that a sequel was immediately set into motion. However it would not be like most sequels in that The Matrix Reloaded and its follow up The Matrix Revolutions were filmed back to back, which is a practice that was rarely used at the time and has barely been used ever since. At the time, the only examples of this method of filming were Back to the Future Parts 2 and 3, Superman 1 and 2 and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, all of which are wonderful films. I’ve heard it said that the only good Matrix film is the original, but I’ve never believed that. The Matrix Reloaded may not be as good as The Matrix but I still think it’s a decent film.

The plot picks up shortly after the events of the first film, as our team returns to the underground city of Zion. The city is preparing for an attack but our heroes must leave and re-enter The Matrix to find The Keymaster. The film flips between our heroes and the people of Zion but continues to focus primarily on Neo. He’s anxious because he’s had a vision of Trinity dying and Agent Smith returning, though Smith is no longer an agent of the system and has gone rogue. By the end of Reloaded, Smith has not only returned but has entered the real world, and has Neo’s Matrix abilities.

The main complaint of Reloaded seems to be that there isn’t a huge amount of plot which, leads to a film comprised almost entirely of action scenes which gradually become repetitive. I can see where this comes from, as the plot is definitely lacking in substance, although I would’t go so far as to call the action pieces repetitive. Originally, Neo was unable to keep up with the agents he was fighting but now they are perfectly matched which means the fights aren’t going to be as exciting. Where once there was fear of injury, and perhaps death, now there is not. Luckily the fight sequences are beautifully choreographed and it’s almost like watching a ballet, which isn’t something one expects from science fiction but I am more than okay with it. Special mentions go to the fight on the freeway and the so-called Burly Brawl, which are both fantastic examples of the choreography and the CGI. While the CGI isn’t flawless and can seem a bit bendy at times, it is still very impressive for a film that’s nearly 2 decades old.

Audiences also seem to take issue with The Architect, who designed The Matrix and tells Neo that he is is not the first to be The One. I will admit that I initially found his intellectual language difficult to decipher, but eventually I got my head around it. In layman’s terms, this is the sixth iteration of The Matrix and Neo is the result of an anomaly in its code. He is the sixth chosen one and the events of this trilogy has played out 5 times before, meaning that The Machines have already destroyed 5 iterations of Zion. Once you break through his technobabble and really grasp what The Architect is saying it’s a brilliant plot twist and re-integrates that sense of dread which appeared to be missing. It is setting up our heroes to fail regardless of what happens.

Lastly we come to Trinity and her romance with Neo. I wasn’t a huge fan of her in The Matrix and I’m still not, but she has grown on me slightly. She serves as an Achilles Heel for Neo which humanises him, but in Reloaded she is actively useful. During the final sequence several vital assistants of our team die and Trinity has to plug herself into The Matrix to replace them. This inevitably leads to her death, but Neo chooses to restart her heart instead of going directly to The Mainframe where he could have destroyed The Machines. In one swift moment, she goes from a one note pawn to an essential part of Neo’s growth as a character.

The Matrix Reloaded is a wonderfully made film between the CGI and the acting, but I will admit that it has one major flaw. It feels at times like it serves only as a prologue to The Matrix Revolutions. Whether this is due to how much footage was shot or how it was planned to be from the beginning I do not know, but I don’t think it works in the film’s favour. There are definitely worse examples of filler, which is what I think best describes it, and if you can make peace with that I think you might find yourself enjoying it as I did.

Technically, The Matrix Revolutions the second half of The Matrix Reloaded. It’s a continuation of the story that began there and was left on a cliffhanger. Of course, the whole trilogy has one overarching narrative about the battle between humans and machines, but the original Matrix film can stand alone. It has a solid beginning, middle and end. The Matrix Reloaded feels like it ends in the middle of its story. The Matrix Revolutions is the ending to that story, and as endings go, it was not the best received. As far as I can tell, it was thought of as repetitive and cliché. The fighting was supposedly boring and overly computer generated. They had the “audacity” to abandon The Matrix itself for the human settlement of Zion. We shall address all of this, but first a quick recap of the plot.

We follow Morpheus and the remaining humans as they defend Zion from an impending machine attack. Meanwhile Neo and Trinity (with a stowaway Agent Smith) travel to the heart of the machine city to see if it holds the key to their survival. You may have noticed that Neo comes second in that description, and that’s because he comes second in this film. Freeing humanity and protecting Zion have always been the primary objective, it just so happens that Neo is no longer directly involved with that objective. As such, it makes sense that we see less of him and more of the humans that he has been aiming to protect since the beginning. His existence isn’t what matters, it is the future of humanity that comes first. Neo is often compared to Christ Jesus, including through the film’s own lens, so it astounds me that people could miss the point entirely. Christ Jesus was sent to die so that we may live, and as a result, the same should be expected of Neo. I’ve heard it said that the “Christ symbolism” is over the top here, but it’s never exactly been subtle. You can see it as a cliché ending, but clichés become what they are for a reason- they work, and have worked for years. It also wouldn’t have been beneficial to the plot to spend more time inside The Matrix itself, because we already know exactly what is taking place there. Agent Smith absorbs every single inhabitant, including The Oracle, so we only need to see him again for the final battle. That battle may seem boring and overly CG’d to some, and that’s okay. It isn’t as exciting as any of the fights that have come before, but, from a story-telling point of view, it shouldn’t be. Neo and Agent Smith are now equally matched so there aren’t really any stakes here. Nobody has the upper hand. With that said, I wouldn’t have minded a larger-scale fight through the entirety of The Matrix instead of just one street. As for the battle of Zion, I think it still holds up, especially for a film made in the early 2000s. It’s unrealistic to expect a battle that is 100% practical effects, and I think that is more true today than it was at the time. Take a look at what movies like Avengers Endgame achieved with their CGI and the reaction they get, and explain to me how it’s fair to judge a 20 year old movie for doing the same. To their credit, they built a fully functioning mech suit and copied it into scenes several hundred times over. It’s still visually stunning to look at, and has the highest stakes of the entire trilogy.

My take on The Matrix Revolutions may seem like a small rant to some, and they’re not entirely wrong. I would not have “every film is worth something” as my tagline if I didn’t genuinely believe it and to see something as iconic as the Matrix trilogy being torn apart without a second thought is painful. It probably doesn’t help that I’m I’ve witnessed the Star Wars and MCU franchises go through it too. The Matrix trilogy, as well as many other films, is not without faults, but you can still like it in spite of them. I still feel like The Matrix Revolutions delivered a solid ending and I still have a lot of fun watching it. I hope you can too.

When it comes to the Matrix trilogy as a whole, I think that it more than withstands the test of time. The chances are that it will continue to do so because it’s timeless. Yes, it may have that distinct 1990’s feel to it, but that works withing the context of the narrative. Looking back now, it seems to be full of science fiction movie cliches but we have to remember is that The Matrix is almost entirely responsible for birthing those cliches. I say nearly, because this trilogy takes a huge amount of its inspiration and aesthetic from 1995’s The Ghost in the Shell which was an adapted from the manga of the same name. In a lot of ways, the Matrix trilogy is The Ghost in the Shell but remade for a western audience, meaning if you liked one, you are almost sure to like the other. It was a fairly niche market at the time, and I don’t think anybody could have predicted just how much of an impact this market would have on society. Not only is science fiction the biggest genre on the planet right now, but anime has managed to break into the mainstream. Each has maintained an even more niche market within it of course, but as a whole, these genres are acceptable in today’s society. You need look no further for proof than the 2017 American remake of The Ghost in the Shell and the upcoming Matrix 4. I hope that, with this in mind, people may revisit this trilogy and appreciate it for the cultural phenomenon that it is. I certainly do.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Guardians of the Galaxy

2012’s Avengers Assemble was a success. It was a massive risk for Marvel Studios, but they had proved that a ‘cinematic universe’ could make millions of dollars at the Box Office, and that superhero movies could do the same. Of course, the shift in opinion towards superhero films wasn’t just thanks to Marvel, as DC had recently gained massive popularity with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and even in the early 2000s films like X-Men and Spider-Man were laying the groundwork. There have certainly always been fans for this kind of film but from 2008 onwards there was a real shift into mainstream pop culture so that, by 2014, they were really hitting their stride. All this is to say that with the release of Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel were taking yet another risk on a group that was not a household name and was, arguably, weirder than The Avengers.

Our core group of characters are a half human/half eternal being (Peter Quill), the cybernetically enhanced daughter of a madman (Gamora), a buff grey alien who takes everything literally (Drax), a cybernetically enhanced talking racoon (Rocket) and a talking tree (Groot). As bizarre as The Avengers were, at least they were all human(oid). Enter writer/director James Gunn- who you may remember as the man behind the legendary live-action Scooby Doo movies. He took each of The Guardians and boiled them down to their most human components, providing a heartfelt story in the process which is also soaked in action and humour. At the beginning of the film’s 3rd act, Quill notes that each of The Guardians have ‘lost stuff’ and the plot never shies away from that. At this point in the timeline, it might actually be the darkest that the MCU has gotten, with genocide and experimentation on living beings. The film opens with Quill’s mother dying of cancer, which in any other film might set the tone, yet Guardians of the Galaxy manages to be one of the most entertaining instalments in this entire franchise. The plot is juggling a mass of themes, characters, and moods but it never falters as a story. If I seem shocked, it’s because I am. Releasing a film like this at the time and having it be successful was only slightly shocking at the time, but in retrospect it seems like a miracle. Over the past decade, several movie studios have attempted to launch their own cinematic universes via team-up movies and, when compared to the MCU, it is very clear that none of them have any idea what they are doing. They all attempted to replicate Avengers Assemble, but realistically they should have been looking at Guardians of the Galaxy. The first was the culmination of several films of build up, but the latter built an entire team from the ground up in one film, which is part of what these other studios are trying and failing to accomplish.

The plot follows an adult Peter Quill, taken from Earth as a child by a group called The Ravagers, as he meets with his fellow Guardians and unwittingly ends up attempting to save the planet Xander from Ronan the Accuser. Quill’s love interest, Gamora, is the daughter of Thanos who is attempting to free herself from his clutches as well as the judgement of her murderous sister Nebula. I’m really not a fan of their romance, because Quill pesters her into it after she initially shows zero interest. It sends the message that if you ask somebody enough, they will give in to your demands, and I think that is really harmful especially in a film aimed at young teens. As relationships go, I much prefer the friendship of Rocket and Groot. Due to Groot’s limited vocabulary (I, am, and Groot), Rocket does all of the talking, which gives us a similar dynamic to Han Solo and Chewbacca or Shaggy and Scooby Doo, although its much more the former. Despite being motion captured/CGI characters, they have a very believable chemistry which leads to one of the saddest sacrifices in the MCU. I know it’s become a bit of a meme, but many of us really did cry when he said “WE are Groot” and despite living on as Baby Groot, the sacrifice is still meaningful. It’s a little like regeneration in Doctor Who in that it’s the same character but it also sort of isn’t. Then we have Drax, whose wife and daughter were murdered by Ronan, along with the rest of his village, and has sworn vengeance. He’s got a really simple arc but it’s built on the foundation of pure agony and I love him. Finally, there’s Yondu, leader of The Ravagers, who serves as Quill’s father figure and clearly loves him despite feeling that he can’t show it. Their relationship gets a solid introduction here, before being developed in the sequel, leading to yet another upsetting sacrifice.

In terms of continuity, there is a surprising amount for a film set lightyears away from Earth, and The Avengers. We get the return of Ronan the Accuser, having last seen him during the finale of Captain Marvel, 8 films ago. It would appear that his loss to Carol Danvers was the start of a destructive path that ended in genocide. We also get a proper introduction to The Collector (Taneleer Tivan if you want to use his actual name) having previously met him at the end of Thor: The Dark World. There’s something almost funny to me about him already having one Infinity Stone safely in storage but this one blows up his house. Probably the most important is the introduction of the mad Titan Thanos, who we previously glimpsed at the end of Avengers Assemble. He’s had a noticeable redesign since then, and even gets a few lines of dialogue. His aide also returns although he is swiftly killed by Ronan, which is oddly cathartic, and Thanos’ lack of reaction is a perfect demonstration of his strong, determined will. We also see how ruthless he can be through the cybernetic experimentation on his adopted daughters Gamora and Nebula, as well as his affinity for sitting down and letting other people do all the legwork for him. These points will all become relevant in time.

I couldn’t discuss Guardians of the Galaxy without mentioning the excellent soundtrack. A mixtape of music that Quill’s mother used to listen to, it has a narrative purpose but it’s also fun to listen to on its own. It’s so good that it was the first vinyl record I ever bought. It mixes brilliantly with the original score composed by Tyler Bates, which is itself filled with heart, soul and whimsy.

I want to round off this review by talking about legacy. By 2014, it was becoming clear that the MCU was here to stay, and that its films were going to range from okay to great. It’s a far cry from the Marvel Studios of 1986 who nearly toppled their house with Howard the Duck. Flash forward to the Guardians of the Galaxy post-credits scene 28 years later, and there sits the duck himself sipping a martini in the ruins of The Collectors home. Fully CGI, voiced by Seth Green, and the spitting image of his original comic book self. It was a shock to say the least, but I really think it exemplifies how far Marvel Studios has come and how aware of that progress they are. 1986 Howard isn’t their legacy anymore, this is, and that brings me a small sense of pride on their behalf. Guardians of the Galaxy is pure MCU. It’s bizarre, humorous and filled with darker themes but it’s also a shift from those early films into the MCU that followed. This isn’t just Kevin Fiege’s test project anymore, it’s his legacy.


Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Avengers Assemble

CONTENT WARNING: Joss Whedon, abuse.

If that isn’t for you, I’ve put a noticeable break between the JW section and the Avengers section

I like Avengers Assemble, and there is no denying the impact that it had on Popular Culture and the cinema industry as a whole. However there is a huge problem with this film that, by now, has become practically unavoidable. That problem is writer/director Joss Whedon. He rose to prominence in the late 1990s for his work on the hit TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and stayed relevant through his work on the follow-up series Angel as well as the short lived space-western Firefly, however, he has been famous more recently for his horrific actions. As I publish this, we are still feeling the aftermath of how poorly Warner Brothers handled the creation of the 2017 film Justice League, a major part of which was Joss Whedon’s behaviour on set. Cast members, primarily Ray Fisher, have detailed Whedon’s violent behaviour, racist beliefs, and misogyny. This isn’t even about how he butchered that film to a point beyond recognition, this is about how he treated the people that he was supposed to be looking out for and taking care of. Ray Fisher risked his entire career and was fired by Warner Brothers to tell us this, and his words were echoed by people who had previously worked for Whedon. A large portion of the cast of Buffy and Angel came forward with their stories to demonstrate that he has always been like this. He threatened to fire cast members for getting pregnant, pinned cast members against walls and threatened to destroy the career of anybody who thought that they knew the character they were playing better than him.

Over the past few months, I have seen people defend Whedon, stating that he has made some great shows and films with some going as far as to claim that this should excuse him. No. I don’t give a damn how good you think his work is, this kind of behaviour is unacceptable from anyone. It is not necessary to build a career, and it is not necessary to create a piece of media. This behaviour is atrocious, and he should be held accountable for it. I considered writing a separate piece about Whedon, but it is important to me that he is being held accountable in as many places as possible and in relation to the projects that have made him famous. I wrote in my review for Thor that every director has their own creative flair, which means that there is a lot of Joss Whedon in Avengers Assemble. Most notable is his misogyny, which comes across in the oversexualisation of Black Widow. It’s present from her very first scene, in which she does a great number of flips in a very revealing camo top, through to her jumpsuit that is never zipped up to cover her chest. Then there is the semi-love triangle between her, Hawkeye, and Bruce Banner which has zero ramifications on any of the 3 characters except for in Age of Ultron. Yes, she gets to close the portal, but this isn’t what saves the day because Iron Man has already destroyed the Chitauri fleet. It becomes more clear every time I watch this film that Black Widow is only here for one reason, and it isn’t the plot.

On top of Whedon being a terrible person, I happen to think he isn’t a great filmmaker either. Avengers Assemble feels less like a film and more like a 2 hour long episode of a TV programme. He changes the camera angle every few seconds, which means that we almost never get a lingering shot to appreciate the moments of good cinematography. I say “almost” because there are some noticeably good shots in here. Loki’s arrival, Thor’s arrival, the old man standing up to Loki, and Hulk punching the Space Whale are all gorgeous, but we are never given enough time to appreciate them. As a fan of pairing classical music with violence, the scene of Loki at the Gala is especially infuriating to me because it just needed less camera angles. On top of this, Avengers Assemble feels so small compared to the rest of the MCU, and most notably to Thor which preceded it. It feels like it was all shot on a soundstage, which isn’t a vibe that you want in a blockbuster. I know that this is all really negative, and that you were likely expecting a positive review because that’s kind of my whole deal, and I’m also a huge MCU nerd, however there are three things to note here. Firstly, I wouldn’t be so annoyed about the quality of the movie if I didn’t think there was good movie in here Secondly, I also wouldn’t be so annoyed if this film wasn’t as important important to me, other people, and the state of pop culture as it is. Thirdly, Joss Whedon is human trash. It is important that his drastic failings are noted when talking about one of his greatest achievements, because I am about to launch into the positive part of the review and I will not be accused of tolerating Joss Whedon. I will not give him a pass. He had his hand in creating a historical moment but I still think that he should never work again.

Avengers Assemble is the film from which all cinematic universes attempt to build themselves. Studios see a group of individuals with entire backstories fighting a great evil, and the $1.5billion it earned at the box office. However, that isn’t why this film works. It works because it builds on an already established mythos. This isn’t where the story begins, it’s more like a mini-boss fight in a video game. This isn’t Luke fighting Emperor Palpatine, it’s Luke destroying the first Death Star. It’s an important part of a much larger narrative, that teases the main villain in the post-credits scene. It baffles me that companies either don’t understand that, or think that they can create a universe without doing it. The thing about Avengers Assemble is that it was a risk, and it paid off, but if it hadn’t we’d still have that first phase of Marvel movies. Phase One of the MCU consists of 6 films, building characters and hoping to convince people that a shared universe could work – with Avengers Assemble being the proof of concept. Yes, there were shared universes before, like Universal Monsters in the 1920s, but none were as expensive and grand as this.

In terms of continuity, this one is essential. It marks the formation of the titular team as well as the first time that many of them have even met. It finally continues the story of Captain America after starting with him 6 films ago, demonstrates how serious Stark was about not making weapons again, and brings our Asgardian brothers back together after their previous fight. There are 3 significant characters worth talking about at this juncture: Bruce Banner, Carol Danvers, and Phil Coulson. Bruce looks totally different to the last time we saw him, due to the role being recast after Edward Norton elected not to return. It is reported that he didn’t want to tie himself to a franchise, which is fine because Mark Ruffalo suits the role beautifully with a perfect mix of anxiety and intellect. Meanwhile, Carol is noticeably absent due her character not being introduced into the MCU until 2019. However, should you require an in-universe explanation, there is one of those because you’ve got to fill those plot contrivances. The Chaitauri invasion of New York simply isn’t a Captain Marvel level threat, and I think the plot makes that clear. The Avengers are supposed to be the first line of defence in the event that Captain Marvel is not readily available because she’s on the other side of space. Lines of defence in descending order are The Military, SHIELD, The Avengers, Captain Marvel. Lastly, we come to poor Agent Phil Coulson who did not need to be murdered… but was anyway. It’s a real testament to actor Colin Gregg that his character became a fan favourite, remains one to this day, and was revived for the spin-off TV Show Agents of SHIELD. I know that many people consider the first 2 series of this show to be canon, but I don’t and I never have. They are immensely fun as headcanon or an Alternate Universe timeline, but the characters never cross over into the films, even as quick mentions. I know that at the time Kevin Fiege hoped to fold it all in, but that hasn’t happened. Of course as a Doctor Who fan, I find the concept of “canon” totally ridiculous, so believe what you will.

In terms of the continuing story of the MCU, Avengers Assemble starts many threads that will carry us forward. Perhaps the most prominent of these is the formation of the team itself. As the story continues, they will always at least mention a fellow member at least, if not giving them an actual appearance. The MCU used to focus on individual stories, but now that this shared universe is so vast, those have become rare. The Battle of New York is also going to have a massive impact on Tony Stark going forward as he begins to struggle with PTSD. This also isn’t the last time that we will see The Tesseract, which Thor takes back to Asgard to store in Odin’s vault. It will remain here for quite some time, while we are introduced to more characters and more Infinity Stones, which isn’t even a concept that has been introduced at this point. We will later learn that Loki’s sceptre is powered by a different Infinity Stone, despite this film stating that The Tesseract is powering it. This may be a retcon, but I can also provide a solid in-universe explanation/theory which I have as headcanon. As far as The Avengers are aware, this Cosmic Cube is the most powerful thing in the universe, and is the only thing that holds this much unlimited power. If they scanned Loki’s sceptre and found that it was powered by something with as much power as The Tesseract, then of course they are going to assume that The Tesseract is the source of that power.

So, at last we have come to the famous post-credits scene. It is quite the historical artefact. Thanos is more burgundy than purple, and is smaller than the next time we see him. This is 2 years before Guardians of the Galaxy where he is officially introduced with a redesign, and this scene is only a few minutes long so it makes sense that he looks the way he does. At the time, I had no idea who this guy was, and that was the general response of anybody who didn’t know the comic books. It was only upon my own research into the character that I discovered how much of a threat he was, and started to get excited for his inevitable attack. Another odd artefact is that this is one of the few films with a confirmed year in the in-universe timeline. There is a general timeline, which is a little vague, but they are all centred around this: The Battle of Ney York in 2012.

Battles will come and go for The Avengers, but this is the first and that makes it special. Even with its flaws, this film is important and I really wish that movie studios could take the right lessons from it. Avengers Assemble was the proof that Kevin Fiege’s experiment was going to work, that it would make money, as well as being a moment in cinematic history. It mostly works because of the films that preceded it, but without it we wouldn’t have gotten what came after. I love what this film represents, and I don’t think I’m done with it.


Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer


Christopher Nolan is often praised as a visionary director and master story teller. Today he is most commonly thought of as the mind behind the Dark Knight trilogy, but I seem to be part of a minority who think that those films were over-hyped and that they pale in comparison to his other work. I believe that if you want a true demonstration of Nolan’s visionary directing, you need look no further than his 2010 blockbuster Inception. Shot, edited, and released in the 4 year gap between The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, I believe that Inception should have eclipsed both of those films in popularity, but it only seemed to be a hit during its initial release. Since then it has been relegated to the realm of “pop culture moments to reference for an probably-not-funny joke” and I think it deserves a bit better than that.

We follow a rag-tag team as they attempt to plant an idea in the mind of a CEO through dream sharing technology. In charge of the mission is Cobb, who as well as stealing corporate secrets with this technology for a living, is grappling with the death of his wife Mal. At its core Inception is a very human story, centering on Cobb and how he deals with (or fails to deal with) a tragic life. Whilst Mal is dead, he refuses to let her go, meaning that within Cobb’s mind there is a projection of who his wife used to be. This projection seems entirely focused on making Cobb suffer as much as possible, even willing to go as far as murder, which puts the entire team at risk. A death in the dreamstate would mean death in reality, which is a fantastic addition to the story because it provides a further sense of urgency and means that the team needs an element of luck. This team is already fighting against the clock, and the CEO’s subconscious defenses to this unstable variable adds a final layer of tension. It also adds a layer of intrigue to Cobb, whose character we gradually learn more about as the plot progresses. Who exactly is he? What is he running from? What did happen to his wife? All we really know is that he cant return home to his two children in the USA, and that his wife is dead. But all is revealed as the film nears its end.

Cobb remains the focus of the plot, but he is only one member of a larger team. It’s clear that Arthur, his associate and the closest thing to a friend Cobb seems to have, and who is responsible for all of the pre-mission research, knows enough about Cobb to know that Mal’s projection is a colossal risk, but he doesn’t feel comfortable enough calling him out on it, opting to prioritise the mission. The role of professional forger is filled by Eames, who specialises in identity theft making him ideal for impersonations within the dreamstate. The beautiful thing about dreams is that you can look however you want, and Eames has mastered this technique which allows him to look like however he needs to for the mission. To maintain the dreamstate for an extended period of time requires a special concoction, which is where Yusuf comes in; not only does he provide the necessary delicacies, but he accompanies the rest of the team into the first level of the dreamstate. This entire operation requires no small amount of funding, which is brought by Mr Saito, whom Cobb had previously tried to steal secrets from. His inclusion here is penance for that, and the CEO being incepted is his rival. The final addition to the team is Adriane, who is the only newcomer to this realm of dream espionage, and is brought in to design the dreams themselves. She is what we would describe as the “audience stand-in” who exists primarily to explain the nuances of the plot. There’s no reason that there couldn’t already be a professional dream-builder, but I will cut Nolan a little slack here. Inception is not difficult for me to understand, having grown up with films featuring time travel, but I can understand why some audience members may need a little bit of assistance. Some people may see the inclusion of a character to explain the plot as slightly pretentious, and occasionally it may feel that way, but I have seen audiences confused by simpler plots so I’ll give Nolan the benefit of the doubt.

Perhaps the largest impact that Inception had on mainstream media came from its score. Composed by the legendary Hans Zimmer and featuring Edith Piaf’s song Non, je ne Regrette Rien, the score is now best remembered for its BWONG. If you’ve seen any action movie trailer or watched any action movie released after 2010, you’ve heard the infamous BWONG, although my personal favourite remains in a 2014 YouTube sketch by Thomas “Tomska” Ridgewell titled The Hole. The incorporation of elements from Non, je ne Regrette Rien into the score is a wonderful example of the score complimenting its film, as it plays a pivotal role in the plot. The timing of this song is what allows the team to know how long they have left in each level of the dreamstate, where each level dilates time further and further. An hour in reality is 12 hours at the first level, which is six days on the second level, which is two and a half months at the third level, which is two and a half years in Limbo (essentially dream purgatory). It’s quite an extreme length to go to in order to squeeze as much time out of two and a half hours of runtime, as possible and I kind of love it. Credit is also due for the effects team who, as in all of Nolan’s films, rely primarily on practical effects. The stand-out moment remains Arthur fighting in the spinning corridor which remains a magnificent feat of filmmaking.

I have done my best to keep the review free of spoilers, but for this last segment it is unavoidable. If you still haven’t seen it, then I highly recommend it, but this is your last SPOILER WARNING.

Christopher Nolan has said that of all his work, he gets asked about the ending to Inception the most, and has stated that the ending is deliberately ambiguous. The final shot is of Cobb finally reuniting with his children while his spinning top spins in the foreground, seemingly perpetually. The spinning top never topples in a dream, so the implication here is that Cobb is still dreaming, and I think it’s important to note two things. Firstly, whether or not it topples here is irrelevant because Cobb isn’t paying attention to it. He has finally moved on from Inception and his wife and hiding in his dreams. He doesn’t care if this is a dream, because he is with his children and they are his reality. Regardless of the circumstances, he is finally ready to move on and be happy with his family. Secondly, the spinning top wobbles in the final seconds of screentime which it could only do in reality and anybody who thinks otherwise is kidding themselves.

Until Next Time…