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New Escapist Column! On the “End of Evangelion” in “Thrice Upon a Time”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of the last of the Rebuild of Evangelion movies, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take a look at Hideaki Anno’s third draft of an ending to Neon Genesis Evangelion.

The Rebuild of Evangelion is an interesting experiment. It is essentially a remake of the classic animated series split across four feature length movies. However, as the series unfolds, this reimagining branches further and further from the original run. It’s a fascinating piece of art, a creator essentially returning to a franchise that made them a legend within the industry, and reworking it from the ground up. Rebuild of Evangelion is a set of movies that exist entirely in conversation with what has come before, daring to ask what a happy ending might look like to this familiar story.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Podcast! The X-Cast – “Chris Carter’s Harsh Realm”

With The X-Cast moving on to coverage of the seventh season of The X-Files, it seemed like a good opportunity to talk about Chris Carter’s Harsh Realm, the short-lived series that Carter launched in the wake of Millennium.

Harsh Realm is an oddity. The show was hyped as the next great American television show, developed by Chris Carter under a lucrative production deal with Fox. However, with the arrival of Doug Herzog, the network’s priorities shifted and Harsh Realm was effectively dead on arrival. The result is an interesting and disjointed run of episodes, brimming with potential that is never fully realised. In some ways, Harsh Realm is the forgotten Chris Carter television show, which offers an interesting snapshot of his sensibilities at this moment in time.

You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

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New Escapist Video! “A Marvelous Escape” – What If – “… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?”

With a slew of Marvel Studios productions coming to Disney+ over the next six months, The Escapist has launched a weekly show discussing these series

This week, I join KC Nwosu and Amy Campbell to talk about the fourth episode of What If…?, streaming on Disney+.

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New Escapist Column! On the Contradictory Generational Conflicts of “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the film.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is an interesting mess of contradictions. On the one hand, it is a classic story of generational conflict about a son who needs to defeat and vanquish his evil father in order to determine his place in the world – like Star Wars. However, it is also a story about a prodigal son who needs to connect with his roots and let his older relatives provide him with an identity that he cannot determine for himself. It’s a weird juxtaposition that creates an irreconciliable conflict at the heart of the movie.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Video! “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – Review”

I’m thrilled to be launching movie reviews on The Escapist. Over the coming weeks and months, I will be joining a set of contributors in adding these reviews to the channel. For the moment, I’m honoured to contribute a three-minute film review of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which is released theatrically in Europe and the United States this weekend.

Non-Review Review: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

There’s something unsettling on how conservative Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is, even by the standards of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

This is particularly frustrating when Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings positions itself as a progressive piece of pop culture. There’s a lot to appreciate about the film, conceptually. It is the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe from an Asian American director. It is the first entry in the franchise with a predominantly (almost exclusively) Asian cast. It exists in conversation with the company’s long-standing history of clichés and stereotypes, exploring and reconstructing them. Even more than that, it has a fundamentally charismatic cast and a fairly solid emotional arc, both of which should sustain it.

Stick with it.

However, all of this ultimately feels like empty window dressing arranged around a weirdly traditionalist and pandering core. At its heart, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a story about how “kids these days” really don’t know what they’re doing or where they’re going, and really just need to get back in touch with their roots and learn from their elders. There are points when Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings feels a little bit like a Jerry Seinfeld joke about stupid millennials with their gap years and their gig economy.

There’s something disheartening in all this, particularly with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings positioned as the first true origin story to follow Avengers: Endgame, the herald of a new era for perhaps the most ubiquitous pop culture franchise in the world. However, when Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings should be looking forward into a bold new era, it casts its gaze backwards.

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“We Will Change You, Doctor Jones”: “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” and a Unified Theory of Indiana Jones…

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a movie with very real and very tangible problems.

Part of the problem is one of simple aesthetics. The original trilogy were products of a very particular moment in the history of American cinema, spanning the eighties. Raiders of the Lost Ark was very much a rollercoaster of a movie, a showcase for practical effects and impressive stunt work. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was built around impressive physical sets, model work and location work. Even Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade took a great deal of pride in how tactile this world felt.

Crystal clear.

In contrast, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was a product of a transitional decade for Hollywood. It is no coincidence that the film opened in the same summer as blockbusters like Iron Man and The Dark Knight, which heralded a new future for crowdpleasing spectacle. While The Dark Knight made a conscious effort to ground its storytelling in practical effects, Iron Man signaled that the digital effects revolution was going to be the cornerstone of the superhero genre.

As such, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull feels like a deliberate and conscious step into the uncanny valley. Many of the movie’s most decried action sequences are driven by green screen and computer-generated special effects, standing in start contrast to the weight and mass that defined the earlier set pieces. It’s unsettling and uncomfortable. The chase sequence in the Amazon is perhaps the most egregious example, but this detachment from reality is obvious from the early scenes inside the warehouse, as pixels guide our hero and his captors to their destination.

Blowing the roof off.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull exists in another uncanny space, most obviously through the introduction of the character of Mutt Williams. Part of this problem is undoubtedly Shia LeBeouf himself, who has been candid about his work on the film to the point of alienating director Steven Spielberg. Much like it’s easier to recognise the “pre-sequel” of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as a prequel with the benefit of hindsight, it’s easier now to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as a rough draft of a “legacyquel”, like Creed or Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.

Of course, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is too clumsy to really work in that way. The film’s closing moments dare to tease the idea of Mutt Williams succeeding Indiana Jones, the wind blowing Jones’ iconic hat into Williams’ clutches. However, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull lacks the courage of its commitment. Jones snatches the hat away at the last minute, prefiguring the way in which Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker would retreat from the idea of passing Star Wars to a new generation.

It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.

There are other ways in which Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull feels like it is caught between two eras. The film’s structure arguably suffers from the production team’s famed attempts to preserve the secrecy of the plot, which even extended to a sting operation and a high-profile lawsuit. The publicity around the film reportedly considered keeping Karen Allen’s return a secret, and the film’s structure conceals the presence of Marion Ravenwood for an hour. It’s a choice that muddies the film’s handling of its themes, denying it the clarity of how Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade handled Henry Jones.

Still, accepting these issues as problems, there is a lot of interesting stuff happening beneath the surface of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. In particular, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull feels like a very sincere and genuine effort on the part of everybody involved to figure out some grand unified theory of Indiana Jones, separated from the original three films by decades. What does it mean to look back on the trilogy? How has the world changed? How would the character wrap it all up?

It was admittedly a bit of a wash…

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New Escapist Video! On How “The Green Knight” Deconstructs the Hero’s Journey…

So, as I have mentioned before, I am launching a new video series as a companion piece to In the Frame at The Escapist. The video will typically launch with every second Monday’s article, and be released on the magazine’s YouTube channel the following week. This is kinda cool, because we’re helping relaunch the magazine’s film content – so if you can throw a subscription our way, it would mean a lot.

With the release of The Green Knight on streaming, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at what makes the film so unique and so effective. In particular, how David Lowery uses the film to explore and interrogate the conventional hero’s journey – in particular, the idea that all it takes to make a hero great is an epic adventure.

New Escapist Column! On How “The Green Knight” Deconstructs the Hero’s Journey…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of David Lowery’s The Green Knight on streaming, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the director’s reimagining of classic Arthurian legend.

In particular, when is so fascinating about The Green Knight is the way that it takes a very classic and very conventional hero’s journey – the story of a character who embarks upon a quest that makes them better, stronger and wiser before returning home fundamentally changed by the experience – and gradually deconstructs it. Is a hero’s journey alone enough to make Gawain a great man? Can the adventure make him a different person? Is there a checklist of accomplishments that he must complete before he becomes a worthy knight? The Green Knight interrogates and explores these questions.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.