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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 “Mad Max: Fury Road” and Finding Hope Amid the Apocalypse…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine last week. There’s understandably been a lot of talk about the end of the world lately, understandably, but I thought it was worth unpacking Mad Max: Fury Road.

Fury Road is one of the best blockbusters of the past decade, appearing on countless lists of the best films of the 2010s. However, what distinguishes it from a lot of apocalyptic cinema is that it embraces hope in a very meaningful and practical way. Fury Road is largely about the impulse to retreat from horror and from untenable situations, to abandon a world that appears to be fallen. However, the film argues that such an impulse is ultimately self-destructive, as eventually such a retreat runs out of road. Instead, Fury Road contends that the proper response to a broken world is to turn around and face it head on, to fix it from the inside. It’s a brave and empowering message, and a large part of the film’s appeal.

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

New Escapist Column! On the Ewoks as Quintessential “Star Wars”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. This is one I’ve been thinking about for quite a while: the Ewoks.

Conventional fan wisdom is that the Ewoks are crap. After all, they don’t even get a look in when Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker returns to the ruins of the Death Star, ending up consigned to a brief cameo in the closing montage. There’s a certain strand of fandom that considers the Ewoks the weakest part of Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi. This is a shame, as the Ewoks are actually one of the best parts of the film. More than that, they are on of the best parts of the franchise. They speak to the kind of things that only Star Wars could do, that gonzo blend of wholesome and radical.

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

New Escapist Column! On the “Necessity” of the R-Rating for “Birds of Prey”…

I published an In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine last Friday, looking at the debate around the “R-rating” that Birds of Prey earned.

Following the film’s release, there’s been a lot of a debate around Birds of Prey, particularly in light of its box office performance. One of the more interesting arguments has been around the film’s age rating, with several pundits arguing that the film did not “need” to be rated R, that it could have been cut to a PG-13 movie without losing anything of value. This is an interesting argument, one that deserves a little interrogation. After all, the scenes which likely earned Birds of Prey its R-rating – certainly the scenes singled out as unnecessary by such critics – are essential to its identity. They make the film unique and distinct.

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.

New Escapist Column! On how “Star Trek” has Always Been more about Our Present than Our Future

I published an In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening, looking at the launch of Star Trek: Picard last week.

One of the minor controversies around Picard has concerned the series’ more cynical and world-weary tone, particularly in contrast to the optimism and enthusiasm of Star Trek: The Next Generation. However, the mythology around Star Trek tends to over-emphasise the franchise’s optimistic outlook, ignoring the extent to which the shows are better reflections of the present than reflections of the future. They offer snapshots of moments in time, rather than a roadmap to a better future. In that regard, Picard is very much a snapshot of this moment in time, grappling with the legacy of The Next Generation.

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

New Escapist Column! On the Cautious Conservatism of the Mandalorian…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine late last week. This one looking at the big streaming news of the week, the release of The Mandalorian.

I have very mixed feelings about The Mandalorian. There are parts of the show that I enjoyed, like its obvious debts to samurai cinema or its exploration of the aftermath of Pax Imperiosa as a way of anchoring the franchise in the present moment. However, I was much less convinced of how decidedly retrograde it felt. So much of The Mandalorian seems designed to assure viewers that “this is Star Wars“, retreating away from the relative ambition of projects like Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi or even Rogue One: A Star Wars Story for the safe and the familiar.

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