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New Escapist Column! On Willem Dafoe as the Stealth MVP 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. In particular, its best and most interesting performance.

No Way Home marks the return of several classic villains from early franchise iterations. Among them is Willem Dafoe, returning as Norman Osborn from Spider-Man and Spider-Man II. It’s a wonderful reminder of how Dafoe codified a lot of the modern comic book movie supervillain, establishing a template that has rarely been equalled in terms of quality across the ensuing decades. However, it’s to the credit of No Way Home that the film manages to use the character of Norman Osborn in a way that enriches and explores the villain.

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

New Escapist Column! On How “WandaVision” Lags Behind “Legion” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”….

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. Today marked the release of the WandaVision finale, so it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the season as a whole, and where it stands in terms of the modern television landscape.

One of the most striking aspects of the first half of WandaVision‘s first season was the skill and fidelity that the show demonstrated in recreating classic television sitcoms. The show’s basic conceit found the characters journeying through television’s history and hurdling towards the present. Unfortunately, WandaVision stumbled when it hit the present, particularly when compared to two relatively recent shows tackling similar themes and working in similar genres blending fantasy and reality as meditations on trauma and mental health problems: Legion and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

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

New Escapist Video! On Power Without Responsibility in the MCU…

So, as I have mentioned before, I am launching a new video series as a companion piece to In the Frame at The Escapist. The video will typically launch with the Monday article, and be released on the magazine’s YouTube channel the following week. This is kinda cool, because we’re helping relaunch the magazine’s film channel – so if you can throw a subscription our way, it would mean a lot.

This week, I take a look at the power fantasy of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With Captain America: Civil War, the MCU becomes a study in power without any responsibility.

Millennium – The Fourth Horseman (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

The second season of Millennium has been consciously building towards an apocalypse.

Actually, that is not entirely true. The second season of Millennium has been building to an almost infinite number of apocalypses. The collapse of Michael Beebe’s home in Beware of the Dog, the destruction of an entire community in Monster, the dissolution of the tribe in A Single Blade of Grass, the potential loss of a child in 19:19, an author’s acceptance of his fading skills and relevance in Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense”, the stealing of a soul in The Pest House, the breaking of a spirit in A Room With No View. The second season is populated with apocalypses.

Everything dies...

Everything dies…

Ever since The Beginning and the End opened with Frank Black staring into space as he contemplated cosmic forces of entropy and decay, it has been clear that the second season of Millennium is about more than just the end of the world. It is about the end of worlds. Over the course of The Fourth Horseman and The Time is Now, Peter Watts loses his faith (and maybe his life) as Lara Means loses her sanity. Frank Black loses his father and his friends – and, ultimately, his wife. The Marburg Virus is just a blip on the radar compared to all of this.

The Fourth Horseman and The Time is Now combine to form one of the most interesting and compelling finalés ever produced. The two-parter is the perfect conclusion to the second season of Millennium. Indeed, it would be the perfect conclusion to the entire series. Perhaps the biggest problem with The Fourth Horseman and The Time is Now is the fact that The Innocents is lurking only a few months away.

Cracking up...

Cracking up…

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The X-Files – Zero Sum (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

For all that The X-Files exists in a murky shadow world populated by ambiguous figures and a government conspiracy dating back generations, the show has a pretty straightforward sense of morality. No good can stem from evil, the show seems to suggest; the show’s central mythology repeatedly has Mulder and Scully confront the legacy of sins committed by their forefathers. Even the title of Zero Sum alludes to the hollowness of Walter Skinner’s deal with the devil, his moral compromise that has no demonstrable benefit and severe demonstrable harm.

In Memento Mori, Walter Skinner compromised himself. He made a deal with the Cigarette-Smoking Man, in return for Agent Scully’s continued well-being. “What’ll it take?” Skinner asked, desperate for a chance to save Dana Scully. Ever ambiguous, the Cigarette-Smoking Man offered, “Well, I’ll have to get back to you on that.” Unfolding a few months later, Zero Sum is essentially about paying the piper. It is Walter Skinner settling up with the Cigarette-Smoking Man. He rolls up his sleeves and jumps into the dirty work.

Fire and brimstone...

Fire and brimstone…

Zero Sum is a story that you could not tell with Mulder. Although Mulder never faces the same choice as Skinner, the show has been quite consistent in its portrayal of Mulder’s morality. Mulder does not compromise; Mulder does not subscribe to the theory that a deal with the devil could ever pay dividends. In contrast, Skinner is a more ambiguous and pragmatic figure. Skinner spent significant sections of the second season caught between Mulder and the Cigarette-Smoking Man. The show only firmly committed him to Mulder and Scully in Paper Clip.

Zero Sum is a fantastic example of how the world of The X-Files has really grown and expanded around the lead characters. While the show will never quite develop into an ensemble, it is a series with a broad cast. It makes sense that it should begin to use them in a productive manner.

"Walter Skinner, F.B.I."

“Walter Skinner, F.B.I.”

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Star Trek (DC Comics, 1984) #43-45 – The Return of the Serpent! (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.

One of the benefits of a franchise as old and as diverse as Star Trek is the opportunity it provides for introspection and reflection. Star Trek has existed for almost fifty years. In those fifty years, the franchise has been written by a lot of different people at a lot of different points in time. As such, it makes sense that viewpoints shift and core principles are questioned. One of the more intriguing aspects of watching Star Trek grow older is watching the franchise question some of its earlier decisions and opinions.

The Return of the Serpent plays very much as a criticism of The Apple, a three-issue storyline dedicated to exploring just how wrong Kirk was to impose his own attitudes and beliefs upon the people of Gamma Trianguli VI. In some ways it can be see as both a spiritual successor to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and a precursor to the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode Crossover, in that it is a story based significantly around critiquing a moral judgement made by James Tiberius Kirk and endorsed by the show.

Shocking twists!

Shocking twists!

The Return of the Serpent is an interesting story, because it consciously problematicises a story from the original Star Trek television show. It is essentially a story about how Kirk made a terrible decision that cost countless lives. This criticism is voiced more explicitly that the criticism of Kirk in The Wrath of Khan and half-a-decade before Crossover would make it to air. This is a very bold and brave tie-in from DC comics. It is hard to imagine a story like The Return of the Serpent being published during Richard Arnold’s tenure overseeing Star Trek tie-ins.

That said, Mike Carlin’s script is not without its own problems. For all that it challenges a decision that Kirk made during the original run of the series, the ending rather consciously avoids the implications of that decision. The Return of the Serpent seems to assume that Kirk can just reverse the damage he has caused by flicking a switch – by going back and repairing the original mistake. For all that The Return of the Serpent cleverly interrogates Kirk’s decisions and motivations, it is undermined by a rather clean and convenient resolution.

Into the belly of the beast...

Into the belly of the beast…

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Non-Review Review: Wakolda (aka The German Doctor)

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2014.

Wakolda is a good old-fashioned pulpy pot boiler. The latest film from writer and director Lucia Puenzo, adapted from her own novel, is set in Argentina in 1960. Given the title, it’s easy enough to predict which direction Puenzo’s piece of historical fiction will be going. The history of the Nazis who sought refuge in South America following the Second World War is pretty compelling stuff, and Puenzo skilfully builds off this basic premise.

As much as popular history likes to paint the Second World War as an epic conflict of good against evil that neatly tidied itself up, there were lots of lingering threads – lots of loose ends dangling from the edge of this historical tapestry. The flight from justice, the protection that these people were afforded, and the desperate desire to bring these criminals to justice makes for a gripping pulpy narrative – but there’s also something more unsettling at work.

After all, acknowledging that the history of Nazi war criminals does not end after the signing of the German surrender means confronting the reality that such beliefs and philosophies cannot be vanquished with the stroke of a pen. Darkness still lurks in the wider world.


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