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Iron Fist – Shadow Hawk Takes Flight (Review)

Who is Danny Rand?

It is a question that any television show should be asking of its lead. The audience will be spending an extended period of time with this character in this world, so the character needs to be interesting and compelling in their own right. The other Netflix Marvel shows made a point of answering this challenge out of the gate. Into the Ring made it clear that Matt Murdock was a ball of repressed rage buried beneath Catholic Guilt. AKA Ladies’ Night established Jessica Jones as a self-destructive super-strong survivor. Moment of Truth sets up Luke as the immovable object.

There are probably easier ways to make sure that Finn Jones stops giving interviews.

There is a recurring sense that Iron Fist understands that establishing its lead character is an important thing to do. Certainly, Snow Gives Way spends enough time on Danny Rand asserting his identity as the sole heir of the Rand Corporation. Shadow Hawk Takes Flight locks Danny in a psychiatric institution in which he is forced to prove his identity to people who believe that he has lost his mind. These are all plot points that, in theory, hinge upon Danny demonstrating who he is. They are, in theory, a solid way to introduce the character to audiences.

However, in practice, there is a recurring sense that Iron Fist simply doesn’t care about making Danny Rand interesting. Iron Fist seems to think that it is enough that the character exists and loosely resembles a superhero. Just like Iron Fist seems to think that it is enough that the show exists and loosely resembles a superhero show.

Not quite a glowing endorsement.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Favour the Bold (Review)

With Favour the Bold, the writers begin winding down the ambitious six-episode arc that opens the sixth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Indeed, Favour the Bold plays almost like the first part of a two-parter nestled at the end of the sprawling six-episode arc that opens the sixth season. At the end of the teaser, Sisko unveils his ambitious plan to Dax, boasting, “We’re going to retake Deep Space Nine.” It is the story that very clearly moves the arc that began with Call to Arms towards its conclusion, manoeuvring the series back towards the familiar status quo in which Captain Benjamin Sisko commands a lone Federation outpost near the distant planet of Bajor.

Point man.

Point man.

Favour the Bold is very much about lining up everything for the climax of the arc, moving the pieces into place so that that the dominoes can begin falling as early as possible in Sacrifice of Angels. However, the episode benefits from the fact that a lot of the heavy-lifting has already been done by this point in the arc. Behind the Lines already had Odo betray Kira, Rom get arrested and Damar figure out how best to dismantle those pesky self-replicating mines. That is already a lot of the table-setting for the arc’s epic conclusion, before Favour the Bold even begins.

As such, Favour the Bold has the luxury of beginning with a lot of its work already done and ending at the point where the action truly commences. The result is a surprisingly relaxed penultimate episode for this ambitious arc, one with the freedom to indulge in smaller character-driven scenes and the space in which to breathe.

They just need some space.

They just need some space.

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Star Trek – Journey to Babel (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

Journey to Babel is pretty influential, as episodes of Star Trek go. It is an episode that really cements idea of the Federation that came to be at the heart of the franchise, suggesting that the organisation really is a diverse intergalactic alliance of diverse alien species, rather than a union between Earth and Vulcan. More than that, the episode suggests that the individual members of the Federation might not exist in perfect harmony with one another, but may each operate with their own agenda and motivations.

However, what is really remarkable about Journey to Babel is how much of this unfolds in the background. All this world-building and -embellishing is very much a secondary concern for writer D.C. Fontana. Despite its scale and its scope, Journey to Babel is a decidedly personal story about a family in crisis. It works remarkably well, offering viewers a bit more insight into Spock as a character and where he came from.

Party on, Gav...

Party on, Gav…

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Non-Review Review: The Hobbit – Battle of the Five Armies

It has become a stock criticism to suggest that Peter Jackson did not need a full trilogy to adapt The Hobbit for the big screen. That said, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was an unexpected pleasure – a movie not all hindered by the pacing concerns of the trilogy and instead interested in its own central narrative. You could cut the opening scene from The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies onto the end of The Desolation of Smaug and you would have pretty much everything that you need.

While this approach benefited The Desolation of Smaug, it puts Battle of the Five Armies at something of a disadvantage. It is debatable whether there was enough material to support three full films based on The Hobbit – even drawing from other sources in the Tolkien canon – but this is clearly not the best way of structuring those three films. There is a sense that Battle of the Five Armies suffers from the decision to extend the planned duology into a full-blown trilogy.

The not-so-magic dragon...

The not-so-magic dragon…

To be fair to Peter Jackson, he does avoid the ending issues that haunted The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. However, he does that by editing Battle of the Five Armies as a brief epilogue to the previous two films, following by a massive battle sequence. This is quite impressive from a technical standpoint, but there is a sense of fatigue to it all. As the title implies, this is a five-way battle involving thousands of participants; both organic and computer-generated. A lot gets lost in the shuffle, and the plot – as it stands – could be explained in two sentences.

More than that, Battle of the Five Armies is hindered by its status as a prequel. The fact that everybody in the audience has likely seen The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring means that they know all this spectacle is really for nothing. The first two films in the trilogy largely avoided the problem by pitching the story as a working-class version of The Lord of the Rings, allowing characters to engage in quests that are deeply personal even as they ripple to larger events.

A messed-up character orc...

A messed-up character orc…

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Star Trek – The Changeling (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Changeling, an episode so good that they made it twice.

Sarcasm aside, The Changeling is mostly interesting for reasons outside the episode itself. It is the first contribution from John Meredyth Lucas, who would become the show’s producer towards the end of the season. Lucas took over from Gene L. Coon and is notable for being the first production staff member on Star Trek to direct an episode from his own script, with Elaan of Troyius in the show’s troubled third season. The Changeling arguably had an even bigger influence on the franchise, serving as a template for the first feature film.

Probing problems...

Probing problems…

Okay, “template” may be a slight exaggeration. However, you can definitely feel the influence of The Changeling on Star Trek: The Motion Picture. However, that may simply be because the script to The Changeling hits quite heavily on some of Gene Roddenberry’s pet themes. It has a villainous robot outwitted by emotional humans, Kirk besting a god-like entity, and larger philosophical questions about religion and theology.

Even outside of the themes that resonate specifically with Roddenberry, The Changeling hits on a variety of other classic Star Trek tropes – from a threat leaving nothing but dead star systems in its wake through to an abundance of dead red shirts. There’s an argument to be made that The Changeling is one of the most archetypal Star Trek episode. If you were to bake a Star Trek episode from a stock list of ingredients, it would look a lot like this. For better or worse.

Melding metal...

Melding metal…

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An Interview with Chris Claremont, Part III (of V)

All this week, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re publishing a serialised interview that we conducted with the wonderful Chris Claremont back in February for publication in a British comic book magazine. Many thanks to Mr. Claremont for taking the time to talk to us, and also to Adam Walsh for allowing us to publish this.

The heart of Chris Claremont’s storytelling is character.

In talking about the iconic X-Men characters he helped to shape and define, he’ll often use their first names. Even minor characters like Thunderbird get referenced using their proper names.

“People are not picking up the book to see the action,” Claremont explains. “People are picking up the book to see the characters.” For Claremont, one of the keys to writing Uncanny X-Men for so long was remaining true to the characters.

wolverinesavethetiger7

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season 3 (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

The third season is on a very short list of contenders for “the best season of Star Trek ever produced.” Maybe one or two other Star Trek: The Next Generation seasons make the list, maybe the first two seasons of the original Star Trek and maybe two seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. From beginning to end, the third season of The Next Generation hangs together remarkably well, churning out consistently entertaining adventures and several runs of truly classic episodes.

There are two main stretches in the season where the show produces episodes that could legitimately be ranked as the best of The Next Generation. The first comes around the midpoint of the season, from Yesterday’s Enterprise through to Sins of the Father, all episodes that would not look out of place on a “top ten episodes of The Next Generation” list. The second runs from Tin Man through to Sarek. And that’s ignoring the wonderful gems scattered throughout the season, from The Defector and The Hunted through to The Best of Both Worlds.

Of course, one of the most impressive aspects of the third season is the fact that the consistent quality visible on the television screen belies the chaos unfolding behind the scenes. The third season was a deeply troubled year of television, with plenty of unfortunate conflicts and moments of sheer desperation from the creative team. Perhaps the most wonderful demonstration of how far the show has come is obvious in the consistent professional quality of the output.

tng-bestofbothworlds1n

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