The Boys: Payback

3.5/5      

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

One year after Stormfront, played by Aya Cash, is outed for being a Nazi the world has a whole new view on superheroes.

I thought that this was a slow first episode for the most part. I understand why the show has chosen to start in this way, to show the changes in the characters and the world but I just thought that compared to other season openers this one was a little light on action, though the sequence with the shrinking superhero was a fun little bit of gore.

I like where this season is heading, with the Boys themselves having superpowers in order to fight the supes, like they did in the comics, and with them investigating an obscure old superhero group; there is a lot of promise for where it could all go. Likewise, I am enjoying seeing the series push Homelander, played by Anthony Starr, to the edge I think it is quite clear that before the season is out he will snap and become outwardly villainous in a very public way.

I am less than keen on the Hughie, played by Jack Quaid, and Annie, played by Erin Moriarty, relationship drama and feel like it is being used to pad out the season, maybe because they don’t have as much footage as they would have liked because of covid. I hope that in the coming episodes we can move away from the relationship drama because honestly it is boring and a little trite.

Overall, a good first episode if a little underwhelming.

Pros.

The tease of the Boys getting powers

The looming mysteries

The ending

The shrinking superhero sequence

Cons.

It is slow

The Hughie/Annie relationship drama

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Star Trek Strange New Worlds: Memento Mori

4/5         

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

The Enterprise crew come under attack from the Gorn.

I think this might have been the best episode of Strange New Worlds yet, as it looked and felt like older Trek. Not just that but in this episode the show was really firing on all cylinders, with my only complaint being that it wasn’t longer.

I thought the focus on La’an, played by Christina Chong, nicely paid off her early character work and gave her a platform to shine. Chong really is one of the best performers on this show and we saw proof of that here as she gave a powerful performance.

I enjoyed seeing Captain Pike, played by Anson Mount, in action as well and thought that Mount continues to be the anchor of this show easily holding his own  against other Star Trek veterans like Stewart and Shatner. The battle scenes felt really tense and fast paced which really helped the show to escape a lot of its usual issues with needless side characters and subplots.

Overall, a fun episode that restored my faith in this series.

Pros.

Mount

Chong

The battle scenes

It felt like old Trek

Cons.

It was too short  

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Obi-Wan Kenobi: Part III

4/5         

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

Darth Vader, played by Hayden Christensen and voiced by James Earl Jones, and Obi-Wan Kenobi, played by Ewan McGregor, face off for the first time.

I think this series is getting better as it goes along, it isn’t perfect by any means but it certainly is finding its footing. The two things that irritated me about this episode up front before I get into the things I liked, firstly I don’t like that Reva, played by Moses Ingram is being written to be a mary sue, great at everything automatically with no knockbacks or challenges and secondly I don’t like that the Grand Inquisitor, played by Rupert Friend, has seemingly been killed off, though no doubt that will get changed by the end of the series.

That said, for the most part I enjoyed almost everything about this episode. I liked the secret underground resistance, before the resistance, rail road and all of the good things it could bring: including maybe seeing Quinlan Vos in live action.  I also enjoyed Indira Varma’s Tala and thought she had great chemistry with both Obi-Wan and Leia, played by Vivian Lyra Blair.

Moreover, I also thought the fight between Vader and Kenobi was good and I applaud how brutal they got with it. I think a big issue with The Book Of Boba Fett was how bloodless everything was, so it is nice to see some gore and threat being shown in the Star Wars Disney + universe. I have seen some people complain about Vader letting Obi-Wan go at the end, with him not venturing into the flames to finish him off or even using his force powers. However, I think him doing this makes sense as he is probably going to be playing the long game and be tracking down not just Obi-Wan but also his helpers. Two birds with one stone as they say.

Overall, a pretty strong episode made better by Reva taking a back seat.

Pros

The Vader Kenobi fight

The tease of Quinlan Vos

Leia continues to have good moments

McGregor is on top form

Cons.

Hugely side-lining the Grand Inquisitor

Reva as a mary sue  

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The Northman: A Viking Life For Me

5/5         

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

Amleth, played by Alexander Skarsgård, is a Viking prince who after losing his family and his kingdom goes on an epic quest for revenge.

Honestly this may be Robert Eggers best film, now I love the VVitch it is my second favourite film of all time, but I do think this film gives it a run for its money.

There is something so original and fresh about this film, you have never seen anything quite like it before, there are notes of Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising but even then not quite. This is not a revenge film as you would expect it, this is not a Viking film as you would expect it, this film takes different elements from several different genres and blends them together to create something new and abstract.

The abstract elements of this film, where things go noticeably strange, are just fantastic. Not only are they visually distinct and interesting but they are shot in such a beautiful way that they become burnt into your minds eye.

The characters are of course terrific Skarsgård is a capable lead, but I would say he is outpaced by both Nicole Kidman and Anya Taylor-Joy who both give masterful performance that will stay with you. I thought the twist with Kidman’s character worked perfectly and superbly steered the film towards its final act. My favourite performance of the film was probably Willem Dafoe’s jester/mystic character who thought he was only in it for a few brief scenes is a lot of fun.       

Overall, a must see.

Pros.

The epic scale

The battle scenes

The abstract elements

The performances

The ending

Cons.

None

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Doctor Strange Into The Multiverse Of Madness: You Better Have Watched All The Disney + Shows

4.5/5      

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

Following on from the events of Wandavision Wanda, played by Elizabeth Olsen, goes on a multiverse wide rampage to try and get her kids back, forcing Doctor Strange, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, and other mystical characters to try and stop her.

I think this may be my favourite Marvel film to date, or certainly up there in the top 3, I really enjoyed the Raimi elements to this film and I thought the horror sequences were terrific. I liked that this film felt a little darker and more supernatural than the rest of the MCU it gives me hope for characters like Blade and Ghost Rider. I thought the Raimi esque shot choices and transitions were just superb, it really gave this film a sense of identity all its own.

Moreover, despite some of the more unrefined criticism of this film saying how they turned Wanda into a bad guy, I thought this film did great things for her character and felt like a natural carry over from where the end of Wandavision left her. In the comics the character is deeply mentally unstable and crazy powerful this felt a true reflection of that, this idea that Wanda is a superhero and that she is a force for good only, is both not true and also just a creation of the MCU- one they now seem to be breaking.

I thought the new character of America Chavez, played by Xochitl Gomez was great she easily held her own both with Strange and Cumberbatch and I eagerly await to see what else they do with her character, most likely a Young Avengers show or film. In that same vein, I thought this film added a lot to most of the characters from the previous Doctor Strange film that helped to make them feel more rounded. I liked Strange and Wong’s, played by Benedict Wong, relationship and how Strange eventually comes to respect Wong as the new Sorcerer Supreme and also thought the film did justice to Rachel McAdams’ Christine from the first film, tying that up nicely.     

The things I didn’t like about this film were all quite minor, firstly I didn’t like the Illuminati I thought it felt far too much like blatant fan service and thought there was no point to them existing other than to give Wanda people to tear apart. I did like the Black Bolt, played by Anson Mount, death however, I thought that was gutsy and some nice unexpected gore. Secondly, I have issues with the post credits scenes, with the first I think it is too unclear what is going on, moreover unless you are an avid comics reader you will not know who Clea, played by Charlize Theron, is and will be left baffled. The second post credits scene is just annoying and makes you feel like you have wasted your time. Thirdly, I didn’t like Strange’s relationship with Baron Mordo, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, it felt very much like some scenes were missing there as there relationship made no sense being where it was based off the ending of the previous film.

Overall, I think this film is brave, brutal and great for the MCU. I hope very much they can talk Raimi into coming back to do more movies.

Pros.

The horror elements and the Raimi feel of the film

Wanda’s progression

Strange and Christine and Strange and Wong

America Chavez

The ending

Cons.

Too many cameos

Uneven storytelling with Mordo  

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Doctor Strange: A New Advance In Faith Healing

3.5/5      

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

World famous surgeon Stephen Strange, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, becomes a master of the mystic arts after suffering injuries in a car accident.

I think this is one of the slower MCU films but there is still a lot to enjoy here.

The world and characters are all interesting, Tilda Swinton is great as the Ancient One and Benedict Wong gives us a first fun look at Wong. However, I would say the opening of the film and Strange’s training takes far too much of the film, it feels as though you have been watching for quite a while before anything large scale happens.

Once we start getting the big magical set pieces and everything starts to look at bit more like Inception things pick up. I would say this film does enough visually to allow it to stand apart from a lot of the other Marvel films. I thought the big final battle against Dormammu in the time-loop was a lot of fun and quite inventive, sadly the other battle against Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecillius was far less interesting and Kaecillius on the whole was quite wasted.

I go back and forth about how I feel about Christine Palmer, played by Rachel McAdams, on the one hand I think her and Cumberbatch have great chemistry together and there scenes do have a nice amount of energy, but on the other hand I do wish that they would have given her more to do or at least allowed her to tag along for more of the craziness rather than just staying at the hospital.

Overall, a serviceable to good Marvel film but one that does let down a few of its key characters.

Pros.

Cumberbatch

The time-loop sequence

Swinton and Wong

McAdams has good chemistry with Cumberbatch

Cons.

McAdams isn’t given enough to do

Kaecillius is wasted

The training takes far too long       

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Moon Knight: Gods And Monsters

4/5         

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

Moon Knight must stop an undead Egyptian God from coming back to life.

By no means was this a perfect finale, however, I thought on the whole it was a lot better than most of the series and was a step in the right direction.

I liked that we finally got Jake Lockley, played by Oscar Issac, though I thought if they always intended to keep him until the post credits they should have teased him less in the wider series as it gave the impression that we might get him sooner than we actually did. Also I am not quite sure how I feel to the changes made to the character in terms of him speaking Spanish and not being much like the cabbie we remember from the comics, but hey maybe season 2 will address that.

I thought it was cool to see Layla, played by May Calamawy, get her own superpowered suit by becoming a different Gods avatar. I thought she paired nicely with Moon Knight and I liked their final battle action sequence together, even if Mr Knight suddenly just becomes great at fighting for no real reason after being terrible before that point.

One thing I will point to and say I didn’t like is that the defeat of Ethan Hawke’s character happened pretty much off screen, presumably during a Lockley episode, and that the episode as a whole was far shorter than what we got in the rest of the series. If it had such been 10 minutes longer it could have given them more time to properly do justice to everything they set up.

Overall, I think they did bring the series back with the last two episode but even in this final episode there were some noticeable issues that stopped it being perfect.

Pros.

Layla becoming her own superhero

The finale battle worked well and gave us some much needed action

Lockley

The return of Khonsu  

Cons.

It was too short

A few little issues with the plot

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Moon Knight: The Asylum

4/5         

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

Steven, played by Oscar Isaac, uncovers his origins, and Marc’s past is revealed as the two battle their way out of the asylum.

I think that this was a strong episode of Moon Knight, not in the regard that we got any more action or at they finally revealed the Jake Lockley persona, but on the emotional character development side of things. I thought in terms of establishing Steven and Marc as characters this episode did a hell of a lot of good work, by highlighting their deeply depressing backstory the show gives us its best look yet at their fractured psyche.

Moreover, I enjoyed the boat set piece and though visually it was very distinct and interesting. When Marc and Steven started fighting off the forces of the undead things got very intriguing especially in a sense of where the supernatural side of the MCU is heading.

My main criticisms of this episode would be that yet again we get very little suited up Moon Knight action, and that despite perhaps the most blatant tease yet we still have not had the Jake Lockley reveal, a move which I now believe Marvel is deliberately doing to troll the fans.

Overall, a lot of great character work and worldbuilding, slightly undercut by a distinct lack of in costume Moon Knight action.

Pros.

The emotional backstory

The boat set piece

The ending

The promise of what is to come

Cons.

The lack of suited Moon Knight once again

Stop teasing Jake Lockley  

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Ambulance: A Return To Form For Michael Bay

3.5/5      

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

Criminal brother Danny and Will Sharp, played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Yaya Abdul-Mateen II, end up hijacking an ambulance after a bank robbery they are involved with goes down the pan.

In many ways I thought this was a return to form for director Michael Bay, it was tense, thought provoking and totally nailed its action/chase scenes. There were a number of times were you could say I was on the edge of my seat, and I thought Bay did a good job of racketing up the stakes, there is a surprising amount of action for a film where most of the characters remain in the titular ambulance for most of the film. I thought the best scene was most likely the cartel attack which brought the crazy manic violence to a whole new level.

I also thought the performances across the board were strong, Abdul-Mateen II and Eiza Gonzales both gave great performance and brought a lot to their respective characters, likewise Garret Dillahunt seemed to be having a lot of fun in his role too. The one bad apple in the bunch, however, was Gyllenhaal, that is not to say he gave a bad performance but rather that it was incredibly limited. I don’t believe that this is Gyllenhaal’s fault more so I think the character is written to be very two dimensional and then because of that Gyllenhaal has little to work with.

My main area of criticism would be the pacing, the film is on for way too long and there are  a lot of unnecessary sub-plots that add nothing to the film. For example why did we need to see the marriage counselling session of Keir O’ Donnell’s FBI character? We didn’t. Maybe the film included it for a bit of levity within an otherwise quite dark film, but even in this case it comes off as needless.

Overall, the best film Michael Bay has made in a long while.

Pros.

Abdul-Mateen II

Gonzales

The action and stakes

The ending

Cons.

The pacing

The needless sub-plots  

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The Digital Future: What Is Really Killing Cinema?

Written by Luke Barnes

In this piece I want to talk about the decline of Hollywood and how I believe the way we perceive and think about celebrities and the films industry in general is on course to rapidly change over the next few decades.

To break this down into two distinct sections, it will be changes to cinema as a whole first and then celebrities and stardom.

There is nothing I can say about the changing nature of the industry that hasn’t already been said. People, thanks to streaming and the pandemic, have become more and more accustomed to watching films at home, not just that but also having access to big screen releases immediately after they have come out in cinemas on VOD services. This won’t change, if anything the current 30- 45 days release window will likely shrink further, and though studios will still bring out big films in cinemas they can see the writing on the wall hence why they have all, except Sony, gone in on streaming services. There will always be big filmmakers who will work out different agreements with studios to get their films in cinemas but even then it won’t be for as long as it was in the past. You can give me all the piracy figures or say how this is killing cinema, but frankly piracy will always happen and is accounted for and these changes in release are not killing cinema just changing it in a more consumer friendly direction.

If you want to know what is actually killing cinema it is the bloated chains that think they can get away with charging close to 20 pounds for a single ticket, and that don’t care a lick about the cinema going experience.

As of the day of writing this the news is that Netflix is losing subscribers, and cinema purists are lording this as a win, it is not. Netflix’s loss of subscribers will have been accounted for, they knew people were angry at the price hikes and the cracking down on sharing passwords, they also knew that big series like Daredevil were leaving. This is not the loss for them that some people think it is, more shows will be cut and the infamous policy of greenlighting everything will most likely end.

Now onto celebrities, the old guard of movie stars are on their way out and those who are replacing them in the public eye aren’t really the same as classic movie stars, more often than not they are either influencers or activists. The latter of those two types is another reason I think that cinema has not bounced back to pre-covid levels, people are tired of millionaire actors telling them how to live their lives, or how to think. People want to be entertained by the films they watch not be lectured to. The reason why Marvel films and more broadly superhero films are able to keep cinema afloat, and make no mistake that is the case, is because for the most part they are apolitical. I know this won’t be a new take but many films now are more focused on delivering a social message and virtue signalling then they are on telling a story or actually being good- this is being picked up by audiences. Moreover, films that preach on American specific politics always lose interest with the rest of the world because though Americans think they are the centre of the world they really aren’t, and a lot of people turn off for a film that spends its time bashing either side of the American political spectrum.

I think due to this disillusionment towards the attitudes and statements of some celebrities more and more people are looking elsewhere for entertainment, this can be to classic shows on streaming services or to YouTube, Twitch or more widely social media, as such I don’t think Hollywood will ever bounce back to the pre-covid days.

This is a new era and like it or not there is no going back.    

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