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Non-Review Review: Black Widow

Black Widow was originally supposed to release in May 2020.

This would have marked as something of a “coda” movie to the main saga of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a belated follow-up tidying away loose ends from Avengers: Endgame in much the same way as Spider-Man: Far From Home. Like a lot of the releases immediately following that massive cultural phenomenon, Black Widow feels like a bit of unfinished business. It is the first solo movie based around the only female founding member of The Avengers, a project that gestated in various forms over decades across multiple production companies.

A vicious cycle.

Of course, Black Widow would always have felt curiously out of step and out of time. Scarlett Johansson wrapped up her tenure as Natasha Romanoff in Endgame, with the superhero sacrificing her life in the quest to defeat Thanos. As a result, Black Widow has to position itself earlier in the timeline. It functions as something of an interquel between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, following the title character as she desperately evades capture by United States Secretary of State Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross.

Had Black Widow released on time, it still would have felt like a movie that arrived four years too late. After all, despite introducing Natasha Romanoff as early as Iron Man 2, the Marvel Cinematic Universe would not build a solo superhero film around a female character until Captain Marvel. For all the chaos unfolding behind the scenes, the DC Extended Universe managed to beat Marvel Studios to the punch with the release of Wonder Woman in May 2017. It’s interesting to wonder whether the decision to position Black Widow as a direct sequel to a May 2016 release is something of a retroactive grab at that title.

Widow maker.

Even aside from all of this baggage, Black Widow is a frustrating film. It is a movie that feels only a draft or two (or an editting pass or two) away from greatness. The film grapples with big themes and bold character work in interesting ways that occasionally verge on confrontational. After all, Natasha Romanoff has consistently been portrayed as a complicated and ambiguous figure within this world of gods and legends, an international assassin whose moral and bodily autonomy was violated in the most grotesque ways, and who responded to this by trying to reinvent herself as a superhero.

There’s a fascinating story there, and Black Widow intermittently acknowledges as much. However, when the film gets close to hitting on any nerves, it immediately retreats into snarky irony and wry one-liners that rob the story of any real weight and the characters of any real agency. Black Widow is supposed to be a story about a character asserting her own agency in the face of an uncaring machine. Instead, it feels like a film where the machine always wins.

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238. To Be Or Not To Be – w/ The Movie Palace (#199)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, with special guest Carl Sweeney, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, a crossover with The Movie Palace, Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be Or Not To Be.

War rages across Europe. Hitler is on the march. In Poland, a troupe of actors find themselves cast as the most unlikely heroes in a daring mission to prevent vital intelligence from making its way to the Nazi authorities. Saving the day will require courage, guile and the ability to hit their marks.

At time of recording, it was ranked 199th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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108. Slender Man – This Just In (-#57)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, This Just In is a subset of the fortnightly The 250 podcast, looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best(and the 100 worst) movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Sylvain White’s Slender Man.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Die is Cast (Review)

This September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Die is Cast is, like Improbable Cause before it, a wonderful piece of television.

As with most Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine two-parters, The Die is Cast maintains continuity and consistency with its predecessor, but it feels like a very different episode than Improbable Cause. After all, the curtain has been pulled back. The assassination attempt is no longer the driving force of the narrative (in fact, it’s barely referenced), with the plot focusing on Enabrain Tain’s pre-emptive strike against the Dominion.

A bruised ego...

A bruised ego…

It’s interesting that it falls to the Cardassians and the Romulans to drive the Dominion plot onwards. There’s been no real development of this long-form plot since Sisko and his crew escaped at the end of The Search, Part II. Episodes like The Abandoned and Heart of Stone have seen the crew encountering individual members of the Dominion, and shows like Visionary have had characters sitting around talking about them, but nothing has actually happened. It is mostly business as usual.

As such, the episode’s title feels beautifully appropriate – it’s the crossing of a threshold, a point from which there can be no return. Not just for Tain or the Cardassians, but the show itself.

Odo's sympathy for Garak runs dry...

Odo’s sympathy for Garak runs dry…

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Ed Brubaker’s Run on Detective Comics – Dead Reckoning (Review/Retrospective)

23rd July is Batman Day, celebrating the character’s 75th anniversary. To celebrate, this July we’re taking a look at some new and classic Batman (and Batman related) stories. Check back daily for the latest review.

It remains quite surprising that DC have never capitalised on the work that Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka did on their Batman line during the early years of the twenty-first century. Given the popularity of Batman as a character, and considering the success that has been enjoyed by Brubaker and Rucka in the years since, it seems strange that DC has never made a consistent or concerted effort to package and release high-profile collections of their work on the character.

It is a shame, because the work is very good – both as solo writers on various titles and in collaboration with one another. Ed Brubaker enjoyed a solo run on Batman with artist Scott McDaniel shortly after No Man’s Land and through the end of Bruce Wayne: Fugitive. A few years later, while collaborating with Greg Rucka on the underrated and sorely missed Gotham Central, Brubaker also had a short run on Detective Comics.

Putting on his game face...

Putting on his game face…

He wrote a team-up between Bruce Wayne and Alan Scott in Made of Wood. However, Brubaker also wrote the epic six-part story, Dead Reckoning. On the surface, Dead Reckoning appears quite familiar. It follows a fairly standard set-up. It’s an adventure that features the width and breadth of Batman’s iconic rogues’ gallery, and unearths a terrible secret about the history of Gotham that – in Brubaker’s style – is a clever updating of a classic piece of continuity.

However, underneath the surface, Dead Reckoning is something much more harrowing and unsettling. It’s the story of lives destroyed by calamities and forces outside the normal human experience – it’s about wounds inflicted on ordinary people by monsters playing a very strange game. It feels like a post-9/11 superhero story, treating Batman’s world as something hostile and horrifying.

Snow escape...

Snow escape…

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Geoff Johns’ Run on The Flash – Rogues, Crossfire & Blitz

What with Geoff Johns returning to write The Flash, I figured I’d dig out some of the old collections of his first run on the title – arguably the run which brought the writer to the attention of comic book readers everywhere. In a run spanning five years, Johns managed to not only offer a suitably impressive successor to Mark Waid’s run on the title, but also tell his own boldly unique story. In a way, the writer’s time on the title can be broken down into two distinct halves – in fact, the final issue collected here is consciously a transition, with the universe being massively re-written and the status quo irrevocably altered. This collection represents the end of that first half, in which Johns was paired with artist Scott Kolins. I think it’s fair to say that the pair made magic on the title.

The Rogues take the opportunity to chill out...

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And They Lived Happily Ever After? Will Gnomeo & Juliet Have a Happy Ending?

It started out like Romeo and Juliet, but it ended up in tragedy.

– Milhouse Van Outen

I have to be honest. I studied Romeo and Juliet in secondary school and I just didn’t get it. Not the fancy-ass language or the outdated words, but the appeal of the play. Seriously? This piece of work right here is frequently regarded as one of the romantic pieces of literature ever written? A play about a teenage fling which ends in suicide? Where Romeo falls for Juliet on the rebound and they never get to spend any time together? Where a convenient third-act quarantine serves to lead to the play’s tragic conclusion? I never really got the appeal of the work – I mean, it was good and smart, but it struck me as a lot more cynical and bitter than most seem to think it is. And so this trailer for Gnomeo and Juliet arrives, and I’m wondering – will a whole generation of children end up scarred by the image of gnome suicide?

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Daredevil by Ed Brubaker Omnibus, Vol. II

Still, it must have been nice for you, Murdock.

What?

To win this one. It seems like you really needed it.

– North and Murdock

There goes the whiniest superhero I ever met.

– Mr. Izo

I’ve said it before and I’ll likely say it again: Daredevil has had an amazing ten-year run under the stewardship of Kevin Smith, David Mack, Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker. It’s just been a really well-put together comic book which really works. one of the finest compliments of the book I’ve read, and one I sadly can’t take credit for, is that Daredevil mostly avoids the deconstruction which has been a fixture of many iconic runs, while also avoiding the pitfalls of nostalgia that typically define the reaction to deconstruction – instead, the book has found a third way: it has found a way to take the conventional tropes of the superhero genre, and use them to offer something relatively new and exciting, exploring the story potential inherent in ideas like a secret identity, or what happens when a vigilante creates a vacuum in crime. Ed Brubaker, who – if you ask me – has offered the most fascinating run on the character and has surpassed his work on Captain America, finishes his run here and closes a chapter in the life of the Marvel Universe’s most tragic superhero.

Stars in your eyes...

Note: This review will contain spoilers for the end of Brubaker’s run, if you aren’t already familiar with it. I’ll flag them beforehand, but consider yourself warned.

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Should Harvey Dent Return in Batman 3?

I’m having what might be termed ‘a Batman day’. I finally managed too tear open and read my copy of Absolute Batman: The Long Halloween and I’m a little giddy about it – and the fact Batman was just named Britain’s favourite superhero. In fact, it reminds me of just how much I want a sequel to The Dark Knight to at least be announced officially – the steady stream of increasingly inane rumours (Eddie Murphy, Megan Fox, yeesh) aren’t quite satiating my thirst. There’s been (understandably) a lot of discussion about the villains in the new film. I honestly don’t know who Nolan will pick (though my money is on Catwoman if only to adjust the gender ratio), but I am fascinated by the on-line discussion surrounding whether the characters of Harvey Dent and The Joker will (or should) return. My opinion of the Joker is simply: if he does, he does. Heath Ledger won an Oscar and gave us a fantastic portrayal of the character. If Nolan wants to bring him back recast, I’m cool. On Dent, I’m more sure: I don’t want to see him again.

Bringing back Harvey is a half-brained idea...

Bringing back Harvey is a half-brained idea...

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