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Non-Review Review: Captain Marvel

The biggest problem with Captain Marvel is one of spoiler culture.

“Spoiler culture” is a fascinating cultural phenomenon, and one that is interesting as a facet of cultural consumption that arose parallel with the internet. It is perhaps a logical extension of the manner in which information flows these days. Information travels instantly and in all directions, quickly consumed and quick disseminated. In the nineties, it was easy (or easier) to avoid spoilers to films like The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense. After all, there was no Twitter or Facebook to share information. If somebody had already seen the film, they had to be physically talking to somebody else to discuss it, and it was posisble to establish the ground rules for the flows of information before the conversation progressed.

In an era where simply being on the internet exposes a person to torrents of information, the advent of “spoiler culture” seems logical and rational. People want to be surprised. People don’t want to know the finer points of a story before witnessing it first hand. People do not want the easter eggs given out or the finer details dissected. This is an understandable response. Having an experience described is no match for actually having that experience first-hand. So a culture has grown up online about preserving surprise and controlling the flow of information. This is fine. This is healthy. This is good. Mostly “spoiler culture” is just common courtesy and common sense. A reviewer should not reveal anything to a reader that they themselves would not want to know.

As with any philosophy, there is a tendency to take things too far. Sometimes “spoiler culture” descends into self-parody. Reviewers were famously told not to reveal any information about the plot of Blade Runner 2049, which ironically made it very hard to sell the movie to a potential audience. Some more extreme adherents felt betrayed when Sony released a trailer for Spider-Man: Far From Home before Avengers: Endgame, as if the fact that Sony was making another Spider-Man movie would give away the resolution to the cliffhanger from Avengers: Infinity War. Naturally, Infinity War came with its own massive spoiler-warning from the studio, with reviewers told that “Thanos demands [their] silence.” This despite the fact the ending was lifted directly from a comic.

Captain Marvel embodies the worst impulses of “spoiler culture” because it confuses a logical and organic narrative development for a big twist. There is a reveal that comes around the half-way mark of the two-hour film which fundamentally changes the nature of the story being told. It plays against the story that had been set up to that point, and is positioned as a game-changer. It is a “twist.” It is a “big” moment. It is the kind of development for which Thanos would demand silence. Except it’s not really. It is not an actual twist. It is a plot point. It is a story beat. It is a part of the story that makes a great deal of sense in the context of the story as it is being told. However, Captain Marvel decides to play this game-changing story beat as a revelation.

There are a couple of big issues here. Most obviously, the actual narrative development is quite literally the only way that Captain Marvel could go without becoming something completely and irredeemably monstrous, so it is entirely predictable. (The twist is only a surprise to audience members who genuinely believe that Marvel’s first female-led superhero movie is likely to play out as extreme white nationalist propaganda.) More than that, though, it creates a larger problem with the flow of the story. The decision to play this story beat as a twist means the film has to conceal its hand for the first hour and fifteen minutes. This means that Captain Marvel is almost half-way over before any member of the cast gets any real character development.

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115. Roma – This Just In (#–)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and with special guests Aine O’Connor, This Just In is a subset of The 250 podcast, looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma.

At time of recording, it was not ranked on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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To Catch a Predator: Why Is It So Hard to Franchise the Predator?

The Predator is one of the most iconic creations of the past thirty-odd years.

The creature created by Stan Winston for John McTiernan’s 1987 action blockbuster is instantly recognisable. It is striking and distinctive. Even people who have never sat down and watched a movie featuring the creature are familiar with the design. This is especially notable given that it could have been a disaster. The original design for the creature is something of an internet urban legend, part of the pop cultural folklore. Predator narrowly averted disaster when Stan Winston redesigned the monster from scratch, so it is all the more impressive that it became such a classic.

It is no surprise that the Predator was quickly franchised. After all, that is how the film industry works. Although modern prognosticators decry the modern era as one defined by sequels and remakes and reboots, but they have always been a feature of the landscape. So the Predator became the cornerstone of an impressive multimedia franchise; even outside of games and comic books, the creature anchored Predator 2, Alien vs. Predator, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, Predators and The Predator. That’s an impressive list, in terms of quantity and variety.

However, it is decidedly less impressive in terms of quality. Of those five sequels, Predators is the only one with a positive score on Rotten Tomatoes. Similarly, Predators is the only sequel with a vaguely positive rating on MetaCritic, scraping just over fifty percent. This is the kind of showing that audiences and critics expect from low-rent horror sequels like those starring Freddie Kreuger or Jason Voorhees. (Indeed, the latest sequel starring Michael Myers is critically outpacing The Predator.) It is not exactly an impressive track record for a reasonably big budget mainstream high-profile science-fiction franchise.

Indeed, the stock comparison for the Predator is the Alien franchise, and for good reason. The xenomorph from Alien is another iconic late twentieth-century alien design housed within an R-rated science-fiction action-horror franchise. Both properties are owned by Twentieth Century Fox, allowing them to intersect and crossover within a shared universe. Both have spawned a variety of sequels, and are loosely linked in the popular mind in the way that the Universal Studios films linked Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster with the Mummy or the Invisible Man.

However, this stock comparison does not flatter the Predator. After all, the xenomorph has been at the centre of a franchise that is consistently interesting and at best innovative. There are sequels to Alien that are rightly regarded as classics such as Aliens, while other have launched great careers such as Alien³, and some still cause fierce debates. For all the criticism of films like Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, they at least engender passion in their audiences, in a way that the sequels to Predator do not. Why is it so hard to make a good Predator sequel?

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Non-Review Review: Ocean’s 8

Ocean’s 8 is mostly a charming and inoffensive heist movie that coasts off the charisma of its central cast.

This isn’t necessarily a criticism of itself. There’s nothing wrong in watching an ensemble including Cate Blanchett and Sandra Bullock bounce off one another, performers who are both talented screen and genuine old-fashioned movie stars. As with the series of films that obviously inspired (and named) Ocean’s 8, the cast have an easy chemistry with one another. Star power goes a long way, and there’s something almost refreshing in seeing a movie that runs almost exclusively on it in this age where these sorts of high-profile movies are largely driven franchising, high concepts and intellectual property.

Properly trained for this.

Of course, there’s some small complication in that in that Ocean’s 8 feels at times like an effort to split the difference between being a star-driven caper movie and also the latest installment in a larger recognisable franchise. Indeed, some of the movie’s weakest moment lean most heavily on nods and winks to the trilogy of Steven Soderbergh movies that provided a launching pad for this female-star-driven caper. The title character is Debbie Ocean, revealed to be the sister of Danny Ocean; that is the least of it. (Even the choice of “8” in the title seems designed to leave room for two more installments making a trilogy.)

Still movie stars are a dying breed, so it’s a novelty to see so many of them congregating in the same place and to see a movie that understands the appeal of watching confident performers playing competent characters who are constantly in motion. Ocean’s 8 lacks some of the more undervalued elements of the earlier films, the problems created by their absence here underscoring their importance, but it mostly succeeds as a light and breeze caper movie without a clear antagonist, without a strong directorial vision and with an over-extended third act.

Getting the gang together.

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The X-Files – Milagro (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

The teaser establishes the mood quite quickly. It is a rather striking opening sequence for an episode of The X-Files, focusing on a writer staring at a blank page. The sequence cuts through time as the writer searches for inspiration, trying to take his cue from the index cards helpfully arranged on the wall. Eventually, the writer makes a grand gesture. He reaches into his chest, and pulls out his heart. It is a very effective opening sequence, one that makes it clear that Milagro will not be a normal episode of The X-Files.

The sequence also makes it clear that Milagro will not will it be a subtle piece of television. The teaser is not a particularly elegant metaphor, but it is an effective one. What is writing but tearing out a piece of yourself? Sometimes you have to wear your heart on your sleeve; sometimes you have to put it on the page. The teaser to Milagro is a very earnest piece of work from Chris Carter, a clear acknowledgement that what follows is a deeply personal piece of work.

Burning heart...

Burning heart…

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Star Trek – Who Mourns For Adonais? (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.

In many respects, Who Mourns for Adonais? is a formative episode for Star Trek as a franchise. It’s a show that really informs a lot of the franchise that would follow, even beyond the confines of the original television show. It’s an episode that represents the first clear articulation of a strand of thought that has been bubbling away through the first season of Star Trek and into the second, exploring the religious side of the Star Trek universe and mankind’s place in the cosmos.

The episode is iconic and memorable. It is packed with images that are familiar to even the most casual of fans. “Kirk confronts a Greek god in deep space!” is a catchy premise. “A giant hand grabs the Enterprise and threatens to crush the ship!” is the type of delightfully insane visual that ranks with “Captain Kirk as a Nazi!” or “space Lincoln!” when it comes to Star Trek visuals that stick with people outside the context of the show itself. Coupled with the distillation of those themes, this is a “big” episode.

"Jack, I'm flying!"

“Jack, I’m flying!”

Unfortunately, Who Mourns for Adonais? is also a deeply troubling episode. It has problems heaped upon problems. Some of those problems are inherited from the general aesthetic of the show, and are not specific to this episode. However, some of those problems are explicitly articulated here. Who Mourns for Adonais? is an episode that embodies quite a few of the very serious problems that run through the original Star Trek and haunt the franchise for quite some time.

The fact that these problems come baked into an iconic and memorable episode is disappointing.

"Oh, your gods..."

“Oh, your gods…”

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Star Trek – Friday’s Child (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.

Errand of Mercy was a highlight of the first season. A wry script from producer Gene L. Coon introduced the Klingons as an antagonist for the Federation. Made up to look like space!Mongols, the Klingon Empire was presented as an imperial force hell-bent on expanding its sphere of influence. In case the parallels were a little too subtle, they were locked in a Cold War with the Federation. As such, they were the perfect stand-ins for Communist aggressors trying to undermine American foreign policy.

Of course, Errand of Mercy was brutally cynical in its depiction of the Federation. The episode suggested quite heavily that the Federation was just as imperialist and adversarial as the Klingons. They might couch their foreign policy in friendly language and polite overtures, but their end goals are quite similar. Smaller political entities are nothing but pieces shuffled around a board in a deadly game of chess. Errand of Mercy was not flattering in its portrayal of Kirk, presenting him as little more than a warmonger.

"Damn dirty Klingon!"

“Damn dirty Klingon!”

Errand of Mercy was a massive success. It remains a fan favourite to this day. In some respects, that is due to the introduction of the Klingons, but it is also an exceptional hour of scripted science fiction. So it makes sense that the show would return to the Klingons when it was renewed for a second season. Friday’s Child was the third episode produced during the second season, and returns to quite a few themes hit on by Errand of Mercy. Those themes would recur.

Friday’s Child demonstrates the obvious risks of an episode like Errand of Mercy. It’s an episode that essentially takes the “Klingons as space!Communists” seriously.

We come in peace...

We come in peace…

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