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New Escapist Column! On “Star Trek: Picard” and Parental Failure…

I published a new piece at Escapist Magazine yesterday evening. Given that Star Trek: Picard just wrapped up its first season, I had some thoughts expanding on my discussion of Et in Arcadia Ego, Part II on Make It So.

The first season of Picard is undeniably messy and awkward. The pacing is a little off in places, and it pulls several of its most powerful punches. However, at the heart of the series is a story that simmers through a lot of contemporary pop culture, from Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker to Bad Boys for Life, the idea of a failed parent trying to redeem themselves through their child. It’s a fascinating inversion of the Campbellian archetype embodied by Star Wars, the quintessential story about a son come to terms with his relationship to his father. Stories like Picard invert that dynamic, and look at the responsibilities that parents owe to their children to provide them with a better world.

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

New Escapist Column! On the Underrated Appeal of “Iron Man 3″…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. Given some online debates raging last week, I thought it was worth taking a look back at Iron Man 3.

Iron Man 3 remains a fascinating film, seven years after its release. What is particularly interesting is how fan and general audience opinions are polarised on it. This is not a coincidence. What audiences and critics love about Iron Man 3 is what alienates fans. Iron Man 3 is the rare film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that seems conflicted about superheroes as they exist in contemporary pop culture, and anxious about the implications of approaching them as an expression of the military-industrial complex. The result is the relatively rare Marvel Studios film that is genuinely and engagingly introspective, willing to ask play with expectations and ask questions about the genre’s place in the contemporary pop cultural landscape.

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

New Escapist Column! On the Understated Power of Pierce Brosan’s Bond…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine last week. With the release of No Time To Die pushed out, and St. Patrick’s Day relatively understated, I thought it was worth taking a look at Pierce Brosnan’s tenure playing James Bond.

Brosnan is often overlooked in assessments of the James Bond franchise, largely overshadowed by the (deserved) reappraisal of Timothy Dalton’s vulnerability in the role and the (deserved) celebration of the emotional complexity that Daniel Craig brought to the icon. This is a shame, because there’s a lot to like about Pierce Brosnan’s interpretation of the superspy. Most obviously, there’s a sense in which Brosnan’s interpretation of the character refused to be tormented and tortured by the work that he did. Brosnan played Bond as a man uniquely attuned to the demands of his job, an unchanging man in a rapidly changing world. The result is a character who seems unflinchingly brutal, but who also collapsed his patriotism into satisfaction of his more personal vices.

Whether intentional or not, Brosnan’s interpretation of the character makes the audience uncomfortable, particularly the joy that he takes in violence and the sense in which little really matters to him beyond satisfying his own urges. It’s a provocative approach to the character, one that stands in marked contrast to the more considered introspection of the the two performers either side of him. Brosnan’s Bond often seems to be challenging the audience, asking whether we enjoy the callous violence and detached brutality as much as the protagonist does, without offering us the “get out of jail free” card that Dalton and Craig’s more solemn portrayals afford viewers.

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

New Escapist Column! On the Narrative Patching of “The Rise of Skywalker”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine yesterday evening. This is one is a bit topical, the constant narrative patching of Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker.

The Rise of Skywalker was released to something of a collective sigh. It was a spectacular mess of film, one full of dangling plot threads, unnecessary revelations and mountains of fan service. However, that messiness left a number of awkward lacunas, that were gradually filled in with supplemental material that revealed the nature of Lando’s arc and the identity of Rey’s father. All of this stuff radically alters the experience and understanding of The Rise of Skywalker, and the decision to strip that stuff out of the film itself illustrates how horrific the production process truly was. The awkward efforts to shoehorn this stuff back in are arguably comparable to the day-one patching of Cats to cover terrible special effects. This is not a flattering comparison.

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

New Escapist Column! On the Hubristic Tragedy of the Dark Universe…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. With the release of The Invisible Man this week, which is quite good, I took a look back to Universal Studios’ abandoned and cursed Dark Universe.

Frankly, there is no way to talk about the Dark Universe without acknowledging it as one of the greatest acts of cinematic hubris in the twenty-first century. The whole misbegotten experiment was transparently a result of Universal looking at the success of The Avengers, and deciding to built its own imitation using whatever properties it found lying down the back of the couch. The result was Dracula Untold and The Mummy (along with one of the most hilariously ambitious pieces of marketing ambition in living memory), two of the worst-reviewed blockbusters of the decade.

Luckily, The Invisible Man is a fantastic piece of work, a shrewd and sophisticated horror that is more interested in telling its own story than existing as a piece of “content” for a larger shared universe. You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On the Narrativisation of the “Birds of Prey” Box Office…

I published an In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine last Friday, discussing the inevitable armchair quarterbacking of the Birds of Prey box office.

The film under-performed at the box office in its opening weekend, particularly relative to some of the more bullish predictions. It pulled in an opening weekend box office closer to similarly budgeted films like Kingsman: The Secret Service and Ford v. Ferrari than breakout smashes like Deadpool or 300. As a result, there’s a been a rush to account for those results, which often boils down to an attempt to narrativise the film’s failure – to argue that the causes for that result are easily discerned by outside observers. Of course, those analyses often handily fit various pre-determined narratives.

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

New Escapist Column! On “Birds of Prey” and Marginalised Characters…

I published an In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine last week, to mark the release of Birds of Prey.

One of the interesting aspects of Birds of Prey is the way in which it’s essentially a story about marginalised characters, characters who have historically been pushed to the edge of comic book narratives – erased and reinvented by the demands of universe-wide reboots, defined primarily in relationship to more popular male characters, and just generally subject to the whims of the shared universe. Part of what makes Birds of Prey so interesting is the way in which it builds that into the narrative, creating a story for its characters where the absence of Batman and the Joker is the entire point of the exercise.

It’s a very clever approach to the source material, and one which suggests a more fundamental understanding of the source material than many critics credit it. In some ways, it is a more faithful adaptation of the Suicide Squad concept than Suicide Squad, building itself around the flotsam and jetsam of DC continuity. It helps that Birds of Prey finds an emotional hook into this story and uses it to offer a feminist perspective on this familiar trope. After all, its notable that so many of these marginalised and erased characters are women.

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