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New Escapist Column! On How “The Rogue Prince” Lets “House of the Dragon” Reflect the Modern World…

I am doing weekly reviews of House of the Dragon at The Escapist. They’ll be dropping every Sunday evening while the show is on, looking at the Game of Thrones prequel as it progresses from one episode to the next.

One of the more interesting aspects of Game of Thrones was the way in which it was a high fantasy series that used the language and conventions of the genre as what felt like a compelling commentary on American identity, filtering the anxieties of the War on Terror through the prism of dragons and free cities. House of the Dragon continues that trend, offering a show that seems to reflect a particularly anxious and unstable moment in American history.

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

New Escapist Column! On How “Strange New Worlds” Reaches the Limits of Allegory…

I published a new piece at The Escapist this evening. We’re doing a series of recaps and reviews of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, which is streaming weekly on Paramount+. The seventh episode released this week, and it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the series.

The Serene Squall is an episode that demonstrates the limits of the old-fashioned allegorical-driven approach to Star Trek, particularly when it comes to treating aspects like race and gender as metaphor or allegory rather than simply as facets of existence. Recent spin-offs like Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard might have been uneven, but they made huge steps forward for the franchsie by acknowledging queer leads. In its attempt to nostalgically evoke nineties Star Trek, Strange New Worlds effectively pushes all of that back into the closet.

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

 

New Podcast! Make It So – Season 2, Episode 8 (“Mercy”)

I am recapping Star Trek: Picard for The Escapist, and so was thrilled to join the wonderful Kurt North on Make It So: A Star Trek Universe Podcast to discuss the eighth episode of the second season, Mercy.

I have somewhat complicated feelings about Picard. There are parts of it that I love, and parts of it that I am a bit more skeptical about. One of the joys of coming into the podcast to discuss the episode was getting the chance to talk about the season as a whole, given how its various arcs were set up and how they paid off. It seems particularly opportune, given that Mercy is a somewhat stronger episode than those surrounding it.

Anyway, it was a huge honour to be invited on, and I hope you enjoy. You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

New Escapist Column! On “Moon Knight” and the Archeology of the Self…

I published a new piece at The Escapist this evening. We’re doing a series of recaps and reviews of Moon Knight, which is streaming weekly on Disney+. The fourth episode of the show released this week, and it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the series.

Last week, I discussed how the show’s homage to Raiders of the Lost Ark fell flat because it was too sterile and sexless, unwilling to let Oscar Isaac be Oscar Isaac. In contrast, this week there’s a sense in which the show’s archeology metaphor makes a great deal of sense. It’s a metaphor for Steven and Marc’s journey, constantly unearthing details of their selves and their identities, digging into mysteries and trying to reverse engineer logic or reason from the afterimage to which they wake. It’s a clever piece of thematic storytelling, getting into how characters are defined by their past, whether they know it or not.

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

New Escapist Column! On the Tangled Ethics of “Spider-Man: No Way Home”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. This weekend marks the release of Spider-Man: No Way Home, so it seemed like a good idea to take a look at the movie’s big themes and ideas.

On the surface, No Way Home feels a lot like recent nostalgia plays like Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker and Ghostbusters: Afterlife, in that it’s very much an appeal to the memory of a pop culture object. However, No Way Home has certain advantages over these movies, in that it’s a film that seems to be trying to be about more than just recycled imagery. However, it never seems like No Way Home is entirely sure what exactly it is about and what exactly it is trying to say about that.

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

221. Star Trek VI – The Undiscovered Country (#—)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a weekly journey through the list of the 250 best movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. And sometimes, because we can, a movie not on the list.

This week, to mark the passing Christopher Plummer, a special midweek bonus episode covering Nicholas Meyer’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

An explosion on the Klingon moon of Praxis sends the Klingon Empire into disarray, and forces the warrior race to consider an unlikely alliance with their old enemies in the Federation. The Enterprise is sent to meet the Klingon Chancellor, under the command of Captain James Tiberius Kirk. However, things do not go to plan.

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

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“When I Left Earth”: The Simple Childhood Trauma of “Guardians of the Galaxy”

This Saturday, to mark the release of Captain Marvel, I will be discussing Guardians of the Galaxy on The 250, the weekly podcast that I co-host discussing the IMDb’s Top 250 Movies of All-Time. However, I had some thoughts on the film that I wanted to jot down first. You can listen to the podcast here.

Twenty-one films in, there is a solid argument to be made that Guardians of the Galaxy ranks among the very best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Variety has consistently ranked Guardians of the Galaxy the best film in the shared universe on its own frequently updated list. According to Rotten Tomatoes, the film is ranked joint sixth (but on the fourth tier) of Marvel movies in terms of review aggregation. On a list that included non-Marvel-Studios-properties, MetaCritic ranked the film as the fifth best of the top fifty Marvel films released in the twenty-first century. It landed in the same position on a similar list compiled by Peter Bradshaw for The Guardian. It ranked second on the list compiled by The Independent. Although such a metric is hardly absolute and academic, it is also one of the longest-enduring Marvel films on the Internet Movie Database‘s top 250 movies of all-time.

Similarly, the film endures in popular culture. It is arguably one of the most influential blockbusters of the past decade. It was notably the first film to have its soundtrack top the Billboard album charts without an original song on it. Although directors like Martin Scorsese and Richard Linklater had defined the “jukebox soundtrack”, Guardians of the Galaxy turned it into a standard for blockbuster films. Somewhat ironically, given how James Gunn’s career has since developed, Guardians of the Galaxy is a film that seems like the template for the modern wave of blockbusters like Suicide Squad or even Kong: Skull Island. These are massive tentpole films that consciously wear their weirdness on their sleeve.

At the time, this seemed strange. Guardians of the Galaxy was a fringe property before the film was released, largely unknown to audiences outside of comics. The film does not even adapt the “classic” team line-up, relegating them to a cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. Instead, the team depicted in Guardians of the Galaxy was drawn from Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s well-loved but under-appreciated twenty-first century run. More than that, the film was to be helmed by a director who had developed his trade working at Troma and whose career included oddities like Slither or Super. The star was a supporting actor on a well-liked-but-not-breakout sitcom. The biggest names were voicing a talking raccoon and “his personal houseplant-slash-muscle.”

As such, the film’s status as a breakout hit and cultural phenomenon seems strange. What is it about Guardians of the Galaxy that endures, that elevates it in the popular memory ahead of other superhero films (and other Marvel Studios films) like Captain America: The First Avenger or Ant Man or Doctor Strange? It’s in interesting question to contemplate, particularly when Guardians of the Galaxy comes with so much of the baggage of those middle Marvel Cinematic Universe. Rewatching the film in hindsight, there is a lot of clunky exposition and unnecessary detail, a host of elements that exist to set up other movies (like Avengers: Infinity War) rather than serving this individual film. This is the film that properly introduced Thanos and the Infinity Stones, after all.

It is perhaps to the credit of Guardians of the Galaxy that it works well enough in spite of the demands of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that it is the rare Marvel Studios film that feels entirely sure of itself and its own identity. Despite all this continuity and all of these connections, Guardians of the Galaxy is structured by Gunn and credited co-writer Nicole Perlman as a very simple allegory beneath all the talk of “Celestials” and “the Nova Corps”, between trips to “Xandar” and “Morag.” At its core, Guardians of the Galaxy never loses sight of what it’s actually “about” beneath the trappings of comic book lore and the spectacle of a twenty-first century blockbuster. It is the story of a young boy who responds to a massive trauma by retreating into a world of fantasy.

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The X-Files – Hungry (Review)

This November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

Hungry is an underrated episode of The X-Files.

Although it was the third episode of the season to air, it was actually the first episode produced, allowing David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson to ease themselves back into the demanding shooting schedule. As with Vince Gilligan’s script for Unusual Suspects, the idea was to write an episode that required as little of Mulder and Scully as possible. However, rather than building Hungry around an established member (or members) of the supporting cast, Gilligan decides to introduce a new character and make them the focus of the episode.

"I am sharkboy, hear me roar..."

“I am sharkboy, hear me roar…”

Hungry is not quite as experimental as X-Cops, but there is something deliciously subversive about telling a “monster of the week” story from the perspective of the monster. Gilligan is arguably building upon the work done by David Amann in Terms of Endearment, but Hungry is very much its own story. It pushes Mulder and Scully to the very edge of the narrative in a way that distorts many of the underlying assumptions about what The X-Files is and how it is supposed to work.

Hungry is proof that The X-Files still has legitimately great stories in it, even if the seventh season has a decidedly funereal atmosphere.

Brains...

Brains…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Season 3 (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

The third season of Star Trek: Enterprise is a mess.

It is very clearly the work of a production team still figuring out how to plot long-form stories and struggling with the logistical difficulties of mapping out a single narrative across what was originally planned as a twenty-six episode season. There are extended periods where narrative momentum stalls; there are key moments where it seems like the show has no idea where it wants to go next. It seems like the production team never sat down in the gap before production began to figure out what story they wanted to tell, and ended up improvising.

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However, it is also a bold and ambitious piece of television. It demonstrates an energy and excitement that had been lacking from the Star Trek franchise since Star Trek: Deep Space Nine went off the air. It is a season of television that doesn’t always work, but that is to be expected when the production team are trying something new. The failures of the first two seasons of the show often stemmed from a lack of ambition on the part of the production team; the failures in the third season are rooted in a surplus of ambition. It is hard to find them too objectionable.

The Xindi arc doesn’t always work as well as it might, but it works more than often enough to excuse the clumsy missteps along the way. There is something compelling and dynamic about a Star Trek show that is willing to push itself so far outside its own comfort zone. There is a spirit of adventure to the third season of Enterprise that had been sorely lacking from the first two seasons of the show. The biggest disappointment is that it took the show this long to find that confidence and that adventurousness.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Forgotten (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Forgotten opens with a funeral service.

It is nominally a service for the eighteen people who died in the Xindi attack. (The total was given as seventeen in Damage, but it is possible that Archer is counting the death of Fuller from Anomaly or that another crew member died in the interim from their wounds.) It is a nice illustration of just how strongly the final stretch of the third season embraces serialisation, with the episode’s teaser serving as a coda to the events of the previous two episodes. It is a nice, small touch that sets the mood for the episode ahead.

Funeral for a friend...

Funeral for a friend…

However, it also seems like a very self-aware sequence. Archer is nominally talking about the death of eighteen characters, but he might as well be talking about the looming death of this iteration of the Star Trek franchise, or of the death of innocence that featured in Damage. “We’re in bad shape, I can’t deny that,” Archer tells his crew. He could just as easily be talking about the show, which seemed practically under siege at this point. “But we’re still in one piece. Enterprise is a tough ship. She took more than anyone could ask her to and then some.”

In many ways, the beating that the Enterprise took in Azati Prime reflects the beating that Star Trek: Enterprise had taken over its three year run: from a fandom hostile to the idea of a prequel and unsatisfied with an overly familiar storytelling structure; from a network that had changed hands during the first season of the show; from an eager Hollywood press that could smell blood in the water that had been ripely aged eighteen years; even from former allies like Majel Barrett, William Shatner and Ronald D. Moore.

Tripping over his emotional state...

Tripping over his emotional state…

The Forgotten is a story that is very consciously symbolic and metaphorical. It is also something of an oddity. In a way, it feels like a more successful version of what the show attempted with Harbinger, offering a light character-driven story falling between two bigger beats in the larger plot arc. With its fixation on sex and violence, Harbinger was goofy and pulpy in equal measure. In contrast, The Forgotten is an episode that is morose and sombre. It is an episode that very clearly articulates where the third season is going – and where it always has been going.

If Damage was a show about how Star Trek could easily get lost in a grim and gritty War on Terror metaphor, The Forgotten reveals that the third season was never about rationalisation or justification. The Forgotten is a show about how the Star Trek franchise needed to find a way back to its more traditional values.

A massive breach...

A massive breach…

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