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New Escapist Video! On “The Rings of Power” and the Limits of the Franchise-Era Mystery Box…

We’re thrilled to be launching a fortnightly video companion piece to In the Frame at The Escapist. The video will typically launch every second Monday, and be released on the magazine’s YouTube channel. And the video will typically be separate from the written content. 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.

This week, we took a look at The Rings of Power, the prequel series to The Lord of the Rings. In particular, the way that it is built around so many mystery boxes. It’s a problem facing a lot of modern franchise media, where these shows attempt to keep audiences hooked by building elaborate mystery boxes around established lore. The mystery box was a problem for early serialized television at the turn of the millennium, and it is a shame to see it return in the streaming age of franchise media, where the answer is always nostalgia.

New Escapist Column! On How “Star Trek: Lower Decks” is Embracing Its Own Continuity…

I published a new piece at The Escapist last week. We’re doing a series of recaps and reviews of Star Trek: Lower Decks, which is streaming weekly on Paramount+ in the States and on Amazon Prime in the United Kingdom. The penultimate episode of the third season released last week, and it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the series.

With the end of the third season fast approaching, there is an interesting shift taking place in Lower Decks. The animated show is built around Star Trek fan services, driven and shaped by continuity references to earlier shows in the franchise, particularly those from the nineties. As the seasonw raps up, it is interesting to see Lower Decks embrace the idea of continuity itself. Trusted Sources is an episode that explores evolving Star Trek continuity from the early episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation to the final sweeping epic of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and finds continuity within Lower Decks.

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

Doctor Who: The Power of the Doctor (Review)

“Forced regeneration. Forced degeneration.”

The Power of the Doctor is in some ways a fitting conclusion to the Chibnall era, and an illustration of the era’s lost potential.

Trained for this.

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New Podcast! Rarely Going – “Star Trek: Lower Decks 3×09 – Trusted Sources”

I was delighted to join the wonderful Kurt North for an episode of the animated Star Trek podcast, Rarely Going.

Trusted Sources is the penultimate episode of the third season of Lower Decks. It is an episode that is obviously teeing up the season finale, but it is also an episode that is engaged with the idea of continuity. Lower Decks is a show built around references to past Star Trek shows, but the third season of the show has seen Lower Decks becoming just a little more comfortable in its own skin. Trusted Sources is an episode about how these seemingly episodic adventures can build and escalate to pay off in interesting ways.

You can listen directly to the episode below or by clicking here.

296. Jaws: The Revenge (Jaws ’87) – Shark Week 2022 (-#27)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn, Darren Mooney and Emma Kiely, and this time with special guest Jason Coyle, The 250 is a weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released Saturdays at 6pm GMT.

This week, we’re doing something a bit unusual. To line up with Shark Week, we are covering the Jaws franchise. So today, rounding out the week with Joseph Sergeant’s Jaws: The Revenge.

Following the death of her son Sean in a freak shark attack, Ellen Brody becomes convinced that her family has become a supernatural magnet for sharks. Her surviving son Michael convinces Ellen to travel to the Bahamas, where she meets a mysterious sea plane pilot named Hoagie. As a relationship begins to blossom between Ellen and Hoagie, Ellen discovers that perhaps there are some secrets that can’t be escaped.

At time of recording, it was ranked 27th on the lists of either the worst movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On How “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” Challenged “The Next Generation”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist on Friday. This week marked the 29th anniversary of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, so it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look back at the show. In particular, the show’s relationship to its elder sibling, Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Deep Space Nine had a surprisingly contentious relationship with The Next Generation, often positioning itself as directly adversarial to the more popular and more beloved Star Trek spin-off. There were points at which Deep Space Nine seemed positively iconoclastic, particularly in its establishing of a fraught relationship between Sisko and Picard. This approach would be controversial today, if it were even allowed within the framework of a modern franchise, but it allowed Deep Space Nine to boldly push itself in striking new directions.

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

New Escapist Column! On “Spider-Man: No Way Home” As An Unlikely Divorce Movie…

I published a new column at The Escapist yesterday. With the release of Spider-Man: No Way Home, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the film.

No Way Home is technically Tom Holland’s sixth film the role of Peter Parker. So it’s interesting that No Way Home effectively puts his version of the character through the standard narrative beats of a Spider-Man origin story. In many ways, No Way Home feels like it’s a movie that is aiming for a clean start and fresh break. It also feels like something of a divorce movie between Sony and Marvel Studios. The movie opens with Aunt May dumping the director of Iron Man, and the film seems eager to announce that it is living its best life. The first thing that it does is to hit up some of its exes.

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

New Escapist Column! On “The Wrath of Khan” and “The Voyage Home”, and the Soul of “Star Trek” in “First Contact”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. Given that this month marks the 35th anniversary of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and the 25th anniversary of Star Trek: First Contact, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at their relationship within the Star Trek franchise – and how they connect to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

For many Star Trek fans, The Wrath of Khan remains the most beloved and most brilliant entire in the franchise’s cinematic canon. However, it’s notable that The Voyage Home was a much more populist hit, resonating with general audiences. For a decade following the release of The Voyage Home, it provided a template for the franchise for a decade. However, with the release of First Contact, the balance of power shifted. Suddenly, the franchise found itself caught in the gravity of The Wrath of Khan, which exerted a powerful gravity on the franchise’s direction and development.

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

Non-Review Review: Eternals

Chloé Zhao’s Eternals is a small, but necessary, step forward for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

There has been a lot of pre-publicity around Eternals, most of it centring on Zhao as an auteur. Zhao has given interviews insisting that she directed all of the film’s action. Kevin Feige has talked about how her work convinced Disney executives to shoot in real locations rather than simply rendering a lot of the movie in post-production. As such, Eternals has become a weird battleground for the idea of authorship within the confines of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

When Marvel saw the breadth of its domain…

It is easy to understand why this is. There have been Marvel Studios movies directed by Oscar-winners before; Joe Johnson won an Academy Award for visual effects on Raiders of the Lost Ark and Taika Waititi recently won a Best Adapted Screenplay award for JoJo Rabbit. However, there is something tangibly different about seeing a big budget blockbuster coming from an artist who won both Best Picture and Best Director at that year’s Academy Awards.

It also makes sense in the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There have undoubtedly been Marvel Studios films with strong senses of authorship: Shane Black’s Iron Man 3, Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, and Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther. However, those movies all feel quite a long time ago. Although one can perhaps pick up traces of Cate Shortland’s personality in Black Widow or Daniel Destin Cretton’s interests in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, those films feel very familiar and very rote.

Red eyes in the morning…

There is tangible sense of opportunism at play in way that Marvel Studios has positioned Eternals as an auteur-driven project. After all, the studio has a long and complicated history with directors who have distinct visions; Patty Jenkins, Edgar Wright and Ava DuVernay have all suggested that the company’s culture is not particularly welcoming to creatives. In particular, Zhao’s assertion that she oversaw the movie’s action sequences exists in the context of Argentine director Lucrecia Martel, who recalls being told that if she chose to direct Black Widow, she would not be allowed to direct the action scenes.

Again, context is important here. Eternals is really the company’s first director-driven project since Black Panther, which is a big deal given the studio’s history of beginning pre-visualization of scenes and special effects “before the cinematographer or director has signed on to the project.” While movies like Avengers: Infinity War, Captain Marvel, Ant Man and the Wasp, Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home are all varying degrees of entertaining, none of them feel like the work of a filmmaker who has something particularly pressing to say about the modern world.

Superfriends.

All this tension plays through Eternals, the fine balancing act between a director with a very distinctive artistic sensibility working with a studio that appears eager to launder its reputation by association, while also being anxious that this auteur doesn’t get to go too far. In some ways, Eternals feels like a limit case for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, an example of just how far the studio will allow a creative talent to stretch a rubber band before aggressively snapping it back into the default position.

This is the challenge facing Eternals. It goes further than any Marvel Studios film in recent memory, but that’s still not far enough.

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New Escapist Video! “A Marvelous Escape” – What If – “… Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark & Thor Were An Only Child?”

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 sixth and seventh episodes of What If…?, streaming on Disney+.