As the end of the year – and the release of another installment in Ubisoft’s massively successful Assassin’s Creed video game series – draws nearer, Netflix is cashing in on the game franchise’s enduring popularity/profitability, having just announced a partnership with the Ubisoft game studio that will allow them to develop their own Assassin’s Creed universe on the streaming service, kicking off with a live-action series that is already in pre-production. Although a previous attempt to bring the excitement of the video game to the big screen proved to be pretty lackluster, Netflix doesn’t appear to be trying to develop any films based on the games: their attention is focused on creating series, both live-action and animated.
As of right now, we know very little about the series that is planned to kickstart the Assassin’s Creed TV franchise – two Ubisoft executives, Jason Altman and Danielle Kreinik, will serve as executive producers on the series, but Netflix is currently looking for a showrunner to bring this whole thing together, and we don’t know if they’ve got a writing team assembled behind the scenes just yet. It’s also unclear whether the series will adapt one of the game franchise’s eleven total installments, or combine elements from several, or act as something entirely new and different.
The Assassin’s Creed franchise’s overarching story revolves around a war between the order of the Assassins and the Knights Templar, a war spanning millennia: throughout the ages, these two opposing factions take various different forms (for instance, in Ptolemaic Egypt, they were the Hidden Ones and The Order Of The Ancients, respectively), but their goals are almost always the same – the Knights Templar seek to oppress free will and control the human race by force, through the use of magical artifacts, while the Assassins believe in free will and challenge them secretly. The game series has focused on a number of interesting historical periods, from the American Revolution and the Third Crusade to Peloponnesian War-era Greece, and over the years has gained a reputation for being one of the few video game franchises that actually takes time to research each era and achieve some level of historical accuracy.
This has recently caused a great deal of conflict in the fandom, with the newest Assassin’s Creed game (set in the Viking world) promising (historically accurate!) women warriors and same-sex romances – something that has prompted a certain subgroup of gamers to loudly object about what they mistakenly and ignorantly perceive as “the SJW agenda”. Never mind that women fought alongside Viking men or that Vikings were marginally more accepting of same-sex relationships than many of their contemporaries; apparently inarguable historical fact is “SJW” now. Anyway, I hope and pray that the Netflix series will follow in the footsteps of the most recent games and include more diverse protagonists, even if they are adapting the earlier games in the series.
The different historical settings will certainly give the series a unique selling point with which to differentiate itself from a steadily growing crowd of video game adaptations: but I worry it could be very expensive to do as many as in the games right up front, so my guess is that the first season of the series won’t jump to too many time periods, but will probably settle on one from the earlier games that most Assassin’s Creed fans are familiar with and enjoy, such as the Holy Land or Renaissance Italy. I’ve seen it suggested that each season of the series might jump to a new time period, like the games, which would definitely be exciting: but that does raise the question of whether they would follow the in-universe chronology of the plot, or the release order of the games themselves? If it’s the latter, then my favorite character, Kassandra Misthios of Odyssey, won’t be popping up for a long while. But who knows? At the moment we really don’t know anything at all about what Netflix and Ubisoft are planning to accomplish with this partnership, or how they’re going to go about this.
So what do you think? Which historical setting do you hope Netflix settles upon for this first series, and which Assassin’s Creed characters do you hope to see? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Today has been an emotional rollercoaster of Moon Knight news – if you asked me this morning who would be my top candidate to play the character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I would have said, hands-down, Sacha Baron Cohen, one of the most multi-talented actors working today and the man I’ve been pushing for the role for months now. If you had asked me the same question a few hours ago, when Murphy’s Multiverse broke the news that Hamilton‘s Daveed Diggs and comedian Nick Kroll were on the list of contenders for the role, I would have told you that Diggs was an incredibly interesting, out-of-the-box casting and that it actually sounded like something I could get behind. But just as I was beginning to wrap my head around just how great Daveed Diggs would be as Moon Knight, Deadline reported that Oscar Isaac is, in fact, in talks to play the character.
There’s definitely reasons to be excited about this casting. Oscar Isaac is Guatemalan-American, making this a big win for the Latinx community, and he’s obviously a very well-liked and established actor with experience in both indie and mainstream films – his biggest role to date has been as Poe Dameron in the most recent Star Wars trilogy. While playing Dameron, he famously pushed Disney to try and make his character explicitly gay, which is endearing and awesome. Then there’s the matter of his Jewish heritage, and that’s where things get a little bit more complicated.
In the comics, Moon Knight (a.k.a. Marc Spector) is unequivocally Jewish and that’s part of what’s made him such an interesting character that so many people have been excited to see join the MCU. Oscar Isaac does have some Jewish heritage from his father’s side, although he was not raised Jewish – in fact, he was raised an Evangelical Christian and has said previously that he regards himself to be “a big mix of many things”. Because Jewish identity often follows a matrilineal line of descent, there’s been some confusion and debate over whether or not Isaac is considered Jewish or not, and whether this counts as good Jewish representation, considering that Isaac doesn’t appear to consider himself Jewish and once said that he lost a potential role because a director mistakenly thought he was Jewish based on his surname (which is actually his middle name). As someone who is not Jewish myself, I can’t say for certain what the answer to these questions are, but I will leave the question out there because it’s important to have this discussion. I recently addressed issues of colorism with regards to the possible America Chavez casting, and I think it’s unfortunate that we’re now having a similar conversation, especially when this was probably avoidable.
Despite Isaac possibly not identifying as Jewish, the character of Moon Knight is likely to be depicted as such when he shows up for the first time in the upcoming Disney+ series that will star the character and explore his origins. For those who don’t know much or anything about Moon Knight, let’s quickly break it down: Marc Spector starts out on his journey as an ex-CIA operative and mercenary working in Egypt, where he gets involved in a fight with his former friend Raoul Bushman over a newly uncovered Egyptian archaeological site that Bushman is trying to plunder. Spector gets mortally wounded and lost in the desert, but is miraculously saved by divine intervention – the ancient Egyptian moon god Khonshu is able to resurrect him in exchange for Spector’s service, which Spector is able to perform while wearing the mantle of the Moon Knight. The Moon Knight fights a wide range of enemies, ranging from street-level fighters to psychic nuns and supernatural beings. Spector begins to suffer from dissociative identity disorder, and creates several notable personas including that of a millionaire named Steven Grant and a cab driver named Jake Lockley. It’s a juicy, complex role(s), and Oscar Isaac is definitely going to be doing exciting things with it, if the Moon Knight backstory isn’t radically different from the comics.
Isaac is only one of a long line of actors who will be starring in hotly-anticipated Disney+ series’ for Marvel, such as Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Jeremy Renner, Tatiana Maslany and Iman Vellani. But Isaac is arguably the one with the biggest name recognition thanks to his work on Star Wars. There’s no word yet on if or when Isaac will jump to the big screen, but his willingness to jump onboard a streaming service for the studio makes it likely that he will have a prominent role in the MCU going forward. In the comics, Moon Knight has collaborated with the Midnight Sons under the command of Dr. Strange, and there have been reports that other members of that team will be showing up throughout the Marvel universe soon.
Interestingly, it won’t be Isaac’s first time working alongside superheroes. He played Apocalypse, the villain of Fox’s X-Men: Apocalypse, and had a voice cameo as one of many Spider-Men in the post-credits scene of Sony’s Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse, something that is likely to be explored further in that film’s sequel. This casting also puts him en route to joining Ming-Na Wen as one of the few actors who are part of the Marvel, Star Wars, and Disney Animated universes (he’d make for a fabulous Disney Prince, honestly).
So what do you think? Are you excited for Isaac, or do you have reservations about the casting? Feel free to share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
It’s been a while since we’ve talked about my favorite topic, The Lord Of The Rings and all things Tolkien (it really hasn’t, since I somehow manage to bring it up in most completely unrelated posts, but that’s beside the point), or since I’ve written a “top ten” list like the ones I did sometime back in March, where I discussed things I wanted to see in Amazon Prime’s upcoming adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings on the Second Age of Middle-earth, as well as things I didn’t want to see, and characters I hope the series will handle with the utmost care. In the meantime, the Tolkien fandom has found other things to argue about – most recently the topic of sexuality in the Professor’s works, something I will address later in this post, and which was in fact the inspiration for this post. After seeing how shocked and outraged a portion of the Tolkien fandom was in response to the news that nudity and sexuality might be present in the Amazon Prime series, I asked myself: what other things might similarly shock them, if it’s mature content they’re opposed to? Things straight from the Tolkien canon, things that the Professor himself sketched out in detail or tantalizingly hinted at, and which will now have the opportunity to be realized onscreen?
Of course, this list will only be dealing with shocking events and themes of the Second Age of Middle-earth, which is when the Amazon Prime series will be set (no, it’s not reallyThe Lord Of The Rings, and I still don’t understand why they haven’t given us some indication of what the actual title will be). The Second Age just so happens to be the second darkest era in Middle-earth’s history (the First being, both figuratively and, until the creation of the sun and moon quite literally, the darkest), which means there’s a great deal of strange, terrifying, controversial or just uncomfortable things for Amazon to draw from for their adaptation. And now, without further ado, let’s get into it.
10: Different Magic. Let’s ease into this and start out fairly tame, with something that Amazon doesn’t necessarily have to include, but definitely should if they can find a way to do so naturally without alienating a massive part of the Tolkien fandom. In Tolkien’s assorted early writings on the Blue Wizards of Middle-earth, he briefly mentioned something that has always fascinated me and has always intrigued me because of how it seemingly challenges the loose rules of his soft magic system. “I fear that they failed…,” he wrote of the two Wizards, “and I suspect they were founders or beginners of secret cults and ‘magic’ traditions that outlasted the fall of Sauron.” Tolkien would later rewrite the story and have the Blue Wizards play an active, heroic role in bringing about Sauron’s downfall secretly from the east, but the idea of the duo spreading the knowledge or understanding of magic throughout Middle-earth is almost too irresistible to pass up on – even if Tolkien put magic in quotes, and clearly didn’t intend for it to mean real magical power like that possessed by Gandalf or the Elves. We’ve never seen magic used quite to this extent before in Middle-earth, certainly not with regards to cults or occult practices. And considering how Tolkien’s magic system is often used as the gold standard for soft magic systems in fantasy, it could be risky to explore this in too much detail – though it could be rewarding because it would give the show a chance to explore uncharted territory.
9: The Valar. As with occult magic, this has the potential to be both a good idea and a bad idea, depending on who you ask. Most hardcore fans know and love the Valar, but more casual fans might be weirded out by the reveal that Tolkien’s world comes with an entire pantheon of gods, goddesses and other minor deities – like the sun, and the moon…and Gandalf. In the semi-biblical narrative of The Silmarillion, the presence of the Valar feels very natural and I would argue it’s no different with the Second Age – but I’m just one person, and I have previously seen some quiet backlash to the idea of the Valar ever physically appearing. Some simply feel like it’s too radical a departure from the Middle-earth that most people know from The Lord Of The Rings, while others specifically don’t like The Silmarillion because of the gods and goddesses and other somewhat religious elements of the story. Amazon will have to include the Valar either way, because they’re critical to the story, but I’m interested to see what the reaction will be from the fandom. Personally I’d be thrilled.
8: The Burning Of The Entwife Gardens. Let’s get a little more specific now. In the cinematic Middle-earth franchise thus far, the most explicit act of desolation we’ve seen has been a single vision of a ruined Shire in the Mirror of Galadriel, and the wreck of Dale by dragon-fire in The Hobbit. But we’ve never seen anything on the scale of the torching of the Entwife gardens near the end of the Second Age. The Entwives cultivated a tranquil land east of the River Anduin, which unfortunately fell directly on Sauron’s warpath as his armies returned from defeat in Eriador to Mordor. In an attempt to deplete the approaching Last Alliance’s resources, he torched the Entwife gardens, and the Entwives themselves disappeared from recorded history. Were they burned? Enslaved and put to work in Mordor (in which case, that will be even more disturbing content to watch out for)? Or did they escape to happier lands? Whatever their fate may have been, watching their gardens be uprooted and scorched will be shockingly brutal enough. Not unpredictable, but definitely the stuff that season finale cliffhangers are made of.
7: Celebrimbor, Gil-galad And Anarion’s Deaths. The Second Age is filled with a lot of very violent deaths. Nobody knows this better than Celebrimbor of Eregion, the Elven smith who forged most of the Rings of Power and was later betrayed by his partner and confidante, Annatar – who turned out to have been Sauron in disguise all along. Sauron and his orc armies attacked Eregion with the hope of locating the Three Rings that Celebrimbor had made for the Elves: they pillaged the city without any luck, and eventually Sauron captured Celebrimbor and tortured him mercilessly for information. Celebrimbor refused to relent, and so, of course, he was killed. But Sauron wasn’t content with just murdering one of the last of the Fëanorian bloodline. No, he also horribly mutilated the Elf, shot him full of arrows, and had his body hung from a flagpole and carried into battle like a banner by his orc army. That’s straight out of Game Of Thrones right there, and is almost certain to land the show a TV-MA rating no matter what. As for Gil-galad, last High King of the Noldor, he was apparently burned alive by the fiery heat of Sauron’s hand during their duel on the slopes of Mount Doom. And Anarion…well, he got his whole head bashed in by a rock thrown from the parapets of Barad-dûr, killing him and crushing the crown of Gondor. I don’t know which of these three fates was the worst, but all will certainly be graphic and stomach-churning onscreen.
6: Death And Mortality. Speaking of death, it’s actually one of the major recurring themes throughout the Second Age – and when the series begins to tackle the subject of Númenor and their relationship with death and mortality, that’s when it’s going to abruptly steer away from the realm of fantasy and into disturbing, cynical, psychological horror. For many fans of The Lord Of The Rings, it might come as a shock to realize that Tolkien’s world isn’t always escapist entertainment, but can be horrifyingly realistic when it needs to be. It’s in Númenor where this will surely be most apparent, as the island kingdom’s long-lived people slowly begin to lose their famous longevity and wither away: in desperation, they cling to life but fall into madness, chaos and a frantic search for a cure to death, or an antidote to their fear – which some of them find in Sauron’s evil, or in the nihilistic worship of the dead. They turn away from the wisdom of the Valar and the Elves, and descend into an abyss of their own making (and ultimately into the very real abyss beneath their island. Too soon?). It’s really grim.
5: Commentary On Imperialism. Tolkien was no fan of the British Empire’s global expansion, and his works reflect that: much of the trouble in Númenor first begins to emerge after the island kingdom starts occupying lands in Middle-earth across the sea, starting wars with the native peoples there and bringing back riches to fuel and fund ever more conquests. For our own sake, I hope that any violence against the native peoples of Middle-earth will be shown as it is – an unjust brutality – and not glorified or normalized. Some will complain that it’s politicizing Tolkien’s work or “pushing an agenda”, but they will be purposefully ignoring the fact that Tolkien’s work is already very political and itself pushes a very anti-imperialist agenda. The Númenóreans are also responsible for deforesting almost the entirety of Middle-earth’s western shore from the Elven kingdom in Lindon all the way to Harad at least, but probably even further. Remember in The Lord Of The Rings, when Treebeard the Ent laments the vast forests that once covered the earth? Yeah, Númenóreans tore them all down and used the wood to build ships. If you’re not shocked by that, you probably should be.
4: Human Sacrifice. Just a little bit more graphic violence, don’t worry. When the Dark Lord Sauron arrived in Númenor and began playing on the growing fears and prejudices of the Númenórean people to increase his own power, he also had a plan to try and make Middle-earth great again – a plan which involved sacrificing political prisoners to the memory of his former master and mentor, the fallen angel Morgoth. So he built a truly massive domed temple in Númenor and used it to perform these sacrifices: we don’t know exactly how, but we know the bodies were disposed of with fire, because smoke rose from the temple so often that the dome was stained black by soot. The first victim to the flames was the original White Tree, which had stood in the King’s Court for years and was a symbol of the friendship between Elves and Men. Sadly, many Númenóreans fell for Sauron’s lies and gladly gave up their friends and families to the Dark Lord’s altar.
3: Ar-Pharazôn. If you’re wondering who allowed all this to happen, well, you should probably blame Ar-Pharazôn, the last King of Númenor and the guy who decided it was a good idea to bring Sauron into the very heart of his empire. He makes this list not only because he was a corrupt leader who allowed Sauron to slaughter his own people, declared war on the Valar, and doomed his entire nation to a watery fate, but because of what he did in his personal life. You know, the whole bit where he usurped his kingdom’s throne by forcing his first cousin, Míriel, to marry him against her will – thus stealing the rule of Númenor from her, the rightful heir. It’s probably one of the greatest tragedies in Middle-earth’s history: that a capable woman could have been so close to averting all the horrors that would befall her kingdom, but because of an unqualified man was forced to the sidelines, where she could only watch and wait for the inevitable. Her last act was to try and plead with the Valar to show mercy on her people, but she died in the cataclysm like all the rest. You might be noticing a pattern at this point, and yes, the Second Age really is this hopeless and horrible.
2: Commentary On Gender. Since we’re now on the topic, I feel like we have to talk about this (though I’m well aware that a certain subsection of the Tolkien fandom would rather not). Truth is, you can’t read the tale of The Mariner’s Wife, the most complete extant writing by Tolkien on the Second Age, and not see how it’s a story about gender. I mean, it’s not even subtext. Erendis, the story’s protagonist, literally has an extended, passionate monologue about male privilege and how men will do anything in their power to undermine women, even the great women of history – whose heroic deeds they diminish and leave out of their legends. No matter how much it may cause some people to squirm and start muttering under their breath about “social justice warriors”, I want this entire speech recited onscreen. It’s among the most important and exceptional things Tolkien ever wrote, and it’s true, both in-universe and in real-life. But Amazon shouldn’t stop there: considering what we’ve just discussed about how Númenor’s downfall might have been averted by a woman, I think they could find further opportunities to comment on the empire’s oppressive, patriarchal system.
1: Sexuality. At last we come to it: the great battle of our time. Is sex and sexuality wholly foreign to Tolkien, or is it instead woven subtly and cleverly throughout his work, a thematic goldmine waiting to be properly explored? Both answers are nearly right, in my opinion, but the latter more so. Tolkien’s depictions of sexuality aren’t gratuitous, something I feel the series should reflect, but they’re there: prominently, in the First and Second Ages. For examples, read The Mariner’s Wife (no, but like, seriously, read The Mariner’s Wife: it’s amazing), and you will find that the whole story is bristling with sexual energy. Erendis and her husband have an epic back-and-forth about how he leaves her bed cold, to which he replies that he thought she preferred it that way. Tar-Ancalimë accidentally interrupts a mass wedding and then has to stay the night, listening in embarrassment to the sounds of “merrymaking” all around her as the bridal-chambers are occupied one-by-one. Amazon is going to have to expand on all of this because they’re creating something in a visual medium, but it’s also just common sense to be more explicit rather than less so because it helps to make the existing commentary on gender and sexuality more explicit as well, lending thematic depth to the entire story of Númenor. And for those worried about “the children”…well, I’m honestly not sure you can make a series about the Second Age child-friendly without actually rewriting the entire thing anyway.
So there you have it. Ten examples of things that are either going to shock the Tolkien fandom, or already have (though, to be quite blunt, it seems to be mostly the thought of nudity that has people all riled up: because apparently graphic violence and human sacrifice is fine, but some bare skin is where our fandom draws the line?) It should go without saying that I love the Tolkien fandom, and this isn’t meant as an attack on anyone in particular. So what did you think of my list? Feel free to share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below – and if you have any more shocking things to add to the list, say so!
I went into the 2020 adaptation of Daphne de Maurier’s classic crime thriller Rebecca prepared to at least try and like it. This was partly because I’ve watched Alfred Hitchcock’s famous adaptation, and…well, I have to admit I see why Hitchcock himself later attempted to distance himself from the film, feeling it wasn’t one of his best works. It’s actually quite good right up until the third act, where I feel it just becomes rather boring. So when I started hearing that this new Netflix adaptation makes some big changes to the ending of the story, I was curious and cautiously optimistic.
Little did I know that the ending to 2020’s Rebecca isn’t just the worst part of the film, but also manages to make a mockery out of Daphne de Maurier’s story. So, without getting into spoilers, my advice to all of you is that, if you are also mistakenly led to believe that this film has some exciting new twist at the ending, don’t fall for it. Back out now. Save yourself two hours of your time and escape from Rebecca while you still can – because I assure you that as much as the characters in the movie might be trying desperately to convince you that it’s all terribly exciting to be caught up in her web of intrigue and betrayal, it’s really not.
The biggest problem with this new version of the classic story, which follows a nameless female protagonist (played by Lily James, usually a pure delight no matter how bland the role) as she tries to outmaneuver the phantoms of her mysterious husband’s ex-wife’s phantom, is that it simply can’t pick a single, consistent tone. Clearly it thinks it’s every bit as intellectual and engaging as its source material, a suspenseful novelette written in 1938, but at the same time it really just wants to be a modern, pulpy, “don’t-think-too-hard-about-this” kind of retelling, and the clash between those two wildly different ideas (both of which would probably be perfectly valid, separately) leads to a discombobulated hybrid that never feels able to stay on track for very long. I personally think it would be absolutely fine to go a little pulpier, a little campier even, and just transfer the whole story into a modern day setting and go from there, as long as de Maurier’s message was preserved (another thing 2020’s Rebecca failed to do). At least it would be achoice. But I feel like someone behind the scenes must have decided that they couldn’t possibly do that because it would rob the film of any “credibility” or “respectability” – two things which the screenwriters have tried to forcibly inject into the film’s dull, unsubtle script…to no avail, because at every turn they undermine their own best efforts with a string of anachronistic and jarring casting choices, mannerisms, styling decisions, story beats, and even song choices (modern indie music, in case you were wondering), none of which seem to have been designed with Academy Awards voters in mind.
And because the film can’t figure out its target audience, everyone loses. Sometimes it looks like it’s trying to aim for a demographic who love sensual, sensational, addictive page-turners, and it’s at these points where it unfortunately feels like it should be most comfortable – I say “unfortunately” not because this demographic is inferior to any other (in fact, Rebecca, at the time of its publication, was widely considered as pulp fiction for the masses), but because Rebecca simply can’t give this demographic what they want without alienating everyone who loves the original story because of what it has to say about romance, relationships and gender roles – things that are, for the most part, utterly foreign to the romance genre. Rebecca (the novel, that is) isn’t a typical romance, and that’s the problem. De Maurier herself called it “a study in jealousy”. But when the screenwriters of 2020’s Rebecca were faced with the task of adapting it, they chose to adapt it as one would a typical romance…and so their creation, a ghastly chimaera if ever I saw one, dies on impact. None of the storytelling choices made in the novel even feel suitable for the kind of story that this creative team are telling.
A good example of this is the namelessness of our protagonist: as in past iterations of the story, our heroine goes through the entire story, start to finish, without a name, only going by the title “the second Mrs. de Winter”, as a cruel, cynical reference to how she is unable to carve out any semblance of identity when compared to her predecessor, the incomparable Rebecca – but this version rarely if ever feels engaging enough on a psychological level to warrant keeping this bold decision by de Maurier (who was drawing on her own unhappy relationship with her husband and his ex-wife for inspiration). Then again, it rarely feels engaging, period.
This isn’t just because the script is badly-written: unfortunately, a large part of the blame falls on Lily James and especially Armie Hammer as Maxim de Winter (a character intended to be very charismatic and mysterious), neither of whom can muster much passion, fear, excitement or…well, any emotion, really. Not once in two hours does Armie Hammer manage to look even remotely interested in the supposedly very compelling and personal story unraveling at high speed all around him: mostly all he does is stand around and widen his eyes periodically to demonstrate anger or overwhelming emotion. Also, he sleepwalks…once, for some reason, because that’s a thing that apparently needed to happen.
That strange scene is only one in a series of back-to-back instances in which Lily James is repeatedly hammered (no pun intended) over the head with increasingly loud and unsubtle references to Rebecca. When she’s not being berated and physically attacked by Maxim’s elderly mother, who starts clawing at her after finding out that her dear daughter in law Rebecca is dead, she’s instead being passed handkerchiefs, hair brushes and various small household articles all monogrammed with Rebecca’s enormous initial. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but when it occurs in every scene for most of the second act, it’s hard to become hooked on the element of suspense. Jane Goldman’s script isn’t designed to cleverly lure you along on any sort of harrowing journey: it’s just a series of one character after another doing everything but breaking down the fourth wall to remind us about Rebecca. Hitchock’s script, in comparison, takes its time, spreading out these more obvious scenes and punctuating them with quieter, subtler moments that feel significant without needing to literally spell out why they’re significant. There’s even a (very random) scene with an entire swarm of birds that come dangerously close to forming the shape of a giant R in the sky.
The film’s greatest crime is what it does to Mrs. Danvers (Kristen Scott Thomas), an iconic character in literary and cinematic history. Thomas would probably be a good Mrs. Danvers in another writer and director’s hands, but her story – particularly its conclusion – are bungled this time around; a sad downgrade from Judith Anderson’s spellbinding performance in Hitchcock’s film. One gets the sense that Thomas wanted desperately to go full camp and lean far more heavily on the novel and original film’s famous queer subtext (the delicate finger caress that she and James exchange when Thomas hands her a fallen glove is the most sexually charged scene in a movie that mistakenly assumes Armie Hammer is its most attractive cast member), but was prevented from doing so by a script that seems suspiciously hell-bent on trying to strip away said subtext…and of course, insists on making Thomas act all dour and serious. When a movie made in 2020 and apparently trying to be progressive feels more uptight and conservative than a film made in 1940 under the surveillance of the Hayes Code, you’re doing something wrong. Maxim himself, also suggested by some book readers to be queer-coded and played by Laurence Olivier in the Hitchcock film, is straight through and through: not a big deal, but another instance where the writers could have done something interesting and chose not to.
Several other side characters receive the same treatment, and nobody apart from Thomas makes any lasting impression: not even Ann Dowd, who makes the least of what should have been her glorified cameo in the film – no thanks to the script, which has taken the funny, flirtatious character of Edythe Van Hopper and turned her into a grotesque, leering abuser who seems personally invested in trying to make her lady’s companion miserable: whether that’s by gaslighting her while the girl cries, locked inside her bedroom, or by amusing her equally wicked friends with stories of her awkward antics.
Is there anything that redeems this Rebecca? I suppose the locations are very beautiful (though Manderley isn’t quite as lavish as one would want), and the costumes are all appropriately fashionable by modern standards. I have a bit of a hard time believing that our protagonist, who is meant to be shy and reserved, would be running around in big, baggy trousers in the late 1930’s, at a time when such a thing would still be considered eyebrow-raising if no longer totally scandalous, but it is what it is. It’s just more proof that director Ben Wheatley and Jane Goldman should not have been making a period piece, when it’s clear that wasn’t what they wanted to do.
Despite all this, I still hope that someone will someday make a better retelling of Rebecca, one that perhaps actually attempts to achieve something worthwhile and gay, and which maybe manages to finally capture throughout the haunting beauty promised by the novel’s famous opening, in which our heroine, ever the restless dreamer, revisits the ruined Manderley in her sleep…because this version’s attempts at tonal consistency are likely to haunt my nightmares.
For a while, the only official material we’ve seen from Disney Animation’s upcoming epic Raya And The Last Dragon is a few pieces of stunning concept art, one poster that wasn’t meant to leak, and a new poster released yesterday in anticipation of this morning’s first trailer release. And today, I am both surprised and relieved to discover that this is one of the few cases where the finished film actually seems to look just as good as – if not better than – the already beautiful concept art.
Set in the lush, vibrant kingdom of Kumandra, the first trailer for Raya gets off to a good start instantly, with a stringed instrument providing haunting, atmospheric background music over scenes of our brave young heroine, Raya, – voiced by the talented yet criminally underrated and mistreated Kelly Marie Tran, making a brave comeback after her role as Rose Tico in Star Wars made her the subject of cyberbulling and targeted harrassment by racists – while she prepares for the fight of her life. We see a wide range of different landscapes and locations throughout Kumandra in the trailer, most notably a palace or temple complex perched on a tall, arch-shaped rock formation which appears to be taking some architectural influence from real-life locations in Southeast Asia such as the temples at Bagan in Myanmar. Raya And The Last Dragon will become Disney’s first film set in Southeast Asia, and follows a pattern established over the past several years by Disney in that it stars a bold, capable, adventurous princess in the lead role – though, to be fair, it’s not entirely clear from the trailer if Raya is a princess by birth, and if that will make her ineligible to join the official Disney Princess line-up.
She might pull a Mulan and simply get in because she earned the title on her own. In the trailer’s first thirty seconds, we see Raya donning the outfit of a warrior meant for stealth missions (she has an entire room full of weapons, which I hope to see explored to the fullest): and then embarking on one such stealth mission herself, leaping from rooftops in the rain and vanishing into a network of deep, subterranean tunnels which presumably lie beneath the aforementioned palace/temple. The entire sequence is gorgeously animated, exquisitely filmed, and evocative of action films and spy thrillers. After a hold-up in a tunnel full of traps (falling nets rather than the usual spikes jutting from walls or disappearing floor-tiles), Raya reaches her destination – a massive, circular chamber housing what I have to imagine is the “Dragon Gem” she mentions later in the trailer as the magical artifact she’s sworn to protect: but on this particular occasion, she has company. A warrior is already there before her, wearing a fanged dragon mask to hide their features, and engages her in combat – although the warrior wields a large, wavy-bladed sword called a kris, Raya is using a martial arts style which employs two short staves: this could be Arnis, a fighting style popular in the Philippines, but which is believed to draw on influences from throughout Indonesia, Malaysia and India. The fight between the two warriors is interspersed throughout the rest of the trailer, with Raya and her opponent evading each other in a sort of dance.
From there, we jump to a desert setting – which is interesting, because Southeast Asia isn’t really known for its deserts. Raya, now carrying her very own kris, is on a quest to find the Last Dragon of Lumandra, as she informs us through narration, so this could perhaps take place further afield, maybe even in India or China: not that it will matter much to Raya, who is lucky to have on her side a large pangolin/pillbug hybrid creature named Tuk Tuk, whom we are introduced to as an adorable baby in the opening sequence but is already enormous when we see him carrying Raya through the desert at high speeds. This, coupled with Raya telling us that she trained her whole life to become the guardian of the Dragon Gem makes me think that her fight in the cavern isn’t with an enemy, but instead a ritual she must have undergone to become said guardian – some sort of “passing the torch” ceremony meant to prove her worth and strength. But it seems like, despite her best efforts, something bad is happening to Kumandra and the Dragon Gem isn’t enough to keep several different kingdoms or clans united: these are the four groups we see moments later attending an event held by a man and a young girl who is probably his daughter and undoubtedly Raya. Maybe she is a Princess by birth after all. While a few of these groups might just be there to provide worldbuilding, two at least look like they are probably important to the story: the group dressed in dark green, equipped with a small army of elephants and led by a long-haired man who looks a bit like the warrior in the cavern; and the group to their left, dressed mostly in white, led by a very regal woman with a striking haircut, who come with a bunch of giant dog…wolf…creatures. A little hard to tell what’s going on there, but I am very intrigued. Will we get huge battles in this movie with war elephants and some mythical beasts? I hope so!
The trailer leaves us with only a tantalizing glimpse of the Last Dragon – through a colorful illustration in a scroll and a fleeting, feathery silhouette. But far more striking is the kaleidoscopic title card, which shows us tiny, blue-hued hints of other things I already can’t wait to see in clearer detail: Raya, standing on a cliff, looking out towards a huge staircase carved into the side of a mountain; and a mace carved into the shape of a writhing dragon. Raya looks to be the most heavily-armed Disney Princess in history, and I hope she gets to use all of that weaponry at some point: assuming the warrior in the cavern is not an enemy but rather a mentor or ritual opponent, there’s no sign of any other villain – except perhaps in the scroll, where we see the Last Dragon locked in combat with a black and purple swirl of cloud. This black and purple motif is possibly mirrored in the cavern, which is filled with glowing purple flowers which cover the walls and hang from the ceiling: but don’t seem to be the same glowing flowers we saw in the concept art and leaked poster, as those were bright blue. My takeaway from this is simply that we should be on the lookout for all sorts of significant botanical specimens in this film. I do also want to point out that I genuinely hope there’s a physical villain in Raya And The Last Dragon, only partially because I still feel cheated that we never got an epic third-act battle in either Moana or Frozen 2.
So what do you think? How do you feel about this first trailer, and how excited are you to see Raya in action? Share your own thoughts, theories and comments in the comments below – and if you come from the Southeast Asian region, please feel free to share any information about your own culture that you feel may have influenced the film!
Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial Of The Chicago 7 is certainly going to be a strong contender, and probably even a frontrunner, in the race for Best Picture at next year’s Academy Awards ceremony, but it’s right now, as 2020 finally nears its end and as the U.S. Presidential election creeps closer, that the whole world should be watching this film and learning or relearning the incredible story of the Chicago 7: not just the men themselves, each one a fascinating character in their own right, but the larger cultural and political significance of their trial – a trial where American governmental and legal institutions not only failed to protect the rights of protestors, but actively sought to suppress them. Although the Chicago 7 were arrested for protesting the Vietnam War, their struggle is both relevant and relatable in the modern day – in 2020 especially, as protests across the nation in the wake of an unarmed Black man’s death in June led to a violent response from our government and law enforcement.
So who were the Chicago 7, and why was their trial such a landmark moment in this nation’s history? The historical context is always important to know, and the history behind this particular case is truly fascinating. The film opens mere days before the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, 1968, as several different activist groups intent on protesting the selection of the party’s nominee, Hubert Humphrey, converged on the city from all around the country: and then, after a montage introducing each of our seven main players, we jump ahead by five months – the trial is already about to begin, and Richard Nixon’s administration personally wants each and every one of them behind bars for the maximum sentence. Whether you know what happened in Chicago or not during the convention, it’s enthralling either way as Aaron Sorkin’s story slowly begins to uncover, through the help of flashbacks, what really went down as the protesters marched through the city and ran into the heavily armed Chicago Police. Anyone who’s been paying attention to the news this year already knows what went down, even if they don’t know the exact details of this particular incident.
Throughout the chaos and violence, Aaron Sorkin’s story keeps us focused on the humanity of the Chicago 7, and contrasts that with the horrific lack of empathy from the police. Again, the discussion of “empathy vs apathy” is significant to our modern climate, and Sorkin’s film closes with a beautiful – and factually inaccurate – display of human empathy at its most inspiring and powerful. It’s never lost on Sorkin that this was the trial of real men, not just lofty ideals and philosophies. And almost every main actor in the ensemble cast plays their part to its fullest, breathing life into these little-known but incredible historical figures.
Sacha Baron Cohen and Eddie Redmayne are very much leading co-stars, in my opinion, but it’s Baron Cohen who makes the strongest impression as the tall, lanky Yippie activist Abbie Hoffman and makes a good case for why he should finally be recognized as an actor equally gifted in both comedy and drama (since apparently his starring role in The Spy wasn’t enough evidence for some of you). A Best Actor nomination had better be incoming for Baron Cohen: even despite the fact that the film cuts out some, arguably most, of Hoffman’s most eccentric real-life antics in court, Baron Cohen makes him the wittiest, most vivid character in the film – and the story’s beating heart and stand-in for most of the counterculture movement of the late 60’s.
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, meanwhile, excels as the more stoic, solemn Bobby Seale, a member of the Black Panthers who was arrested alongside the other defendants but whose case was later severed from the others’. Seale’s mistreatment in the courtroom – including a horrifying incident in which Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella) orders that he be bound and gagged, to the point where Seale is unable to breathe – is all taken from real life and shines a light on how the law itself is weaponized against the Black community just as much as the militaristic might of law enforcement. By that time in the film, you’ll already be well aware that the trial of the Chicago 7 was not a fair one, but the treatment of Bobby Seale adds violent racism and white supremacy to the mix as well. The Black Panthers, including their leader Fred Hampton (briefly but powerfully portrayed by Kelvin Harrison Jr.), don’t have a very large role in the film overall but their appearances do help to underscore the fact that any conversation about cultural and political revolution needs to include Black voices, no matter what era it occurs in – and of course, it’s an especially important message to get across since the cultural and political revolution happening in this country nowadays is largely being fueled by Black activists and their allies.
In this film, however, Eddie Redmayne’s version of the real-life Tom Hayden comes across as something of an opponent to such progressive messaging throughout most of the film. His character seems largely crafted to provide a foil for Sacha Baron Cohen’s – a stiff, uptight, idealist trying to distance himself and his group, the Students for a Democratic Society, from the counterculture movement of the Yippies. But it appears that Sorkin is also using his character to represent a number of liberal subdivisions in political activism that claim to be “for change” until that actually requires listening to the voices of underrepresented minorities or demanding comprehensive structural change within our government, from the ground up. Hayden is like so many activists who try to make their movements more “appealing” or “attractive” to the mainstream by presenting a mostly white facade to the media, at the cost of the marginalized communities they claim to be fighting for; and then he is like one of those people who seem to believe that winning a single election is all that has to be done to fix problems such as racism, but aren’t prepared to advocate for designing a new system of government that would ensure we actually see some substantial change and progress. It’s all a little bit unfair to the real-life Tom Hayden, who actually fell more in line with counterculture philosophy than the film would have you believe. Anyway, Redmayne’s performance is perfectly decent: it leans toward being a bit wooden, but his attempts to maintain a passable American accent are entertaining at least.
As for the other defendants, they have their moments. Jeremy Strong is maybe trying a bit too hard with his borderline caricature of Yippie leader Jerry Rubin, John Carroll Lynch is doing his best with what little screentime David Dellinger has been given, and Alex Sharp, Noah Robbins and Daniel Flaherty are…well, they’re there. But the other real standout on this side of the courtroom is Mark Rylance as the defense lawyer William Kuntzler, somehow confidently rocking a combover, who rallies the group during their darkest moments, adds some very natural humor to his interactions with his clients, particularly the Yippies, and holds his own against the indomitable, immovable presence of Julius Hoffman.
On the other side, well…I have fewer positive things to say about Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s portrayal of prosecutor Richard Schultz, who has been written as a semi-sympathetic character who’s maybe conflicted, maybe not…who knows? He gets one moment near the end of the film where he’s allowed to look all heroic and redeemed in the audience’s eyes, despite the fact that he is still very clearly fighting on behalf of the Nixon administration to put men in jail for their thoughts. But regardless of whether or not you feel that Schultz is really a good guy or not, I think we can all agree that Judge Julius Hoffman is (and was) just straight-up hateful, ignorant and repulsive.
That being said, Frank Langella works wonders with the role, which allows him to transform into a character almost as wildly eccentric as Sacha Baron Cohen’s Abbie Hoffman – and in fact, it’s with the other Hoffman that he shares his most memorable scenes in the film (and yes, the fact that they coincidentally share a last name is the subject of much argument between the two; just as it was in real-life). Julius Hoffman is a grotesque display of why preserving the status quo, even in this day and age, isn’t good enough: because the status quo is one that was made by white men for white men, and will always work to benefit white men. The fact that Julius Hoffman is actually less outlandishly awful in the movie than he was in real life is mind-boggling and sad.
(While we’re on the subject, I feel like I have to touch on the fact that Sorkin’s film actually leaves out a great deal of the trial proceedings, including some celebrity appearances that would have made for some incredibly funny interludes between the more serious parts of the story: for instance, in reality, poet Allen Ginsburg was called in as a witness (he appears in the film, very briefly, as a protester) and proceeded to chant at the judge; singer Judy Collins appeared to discuss the counterculture movement and began to sing, before being shut down; and singer Arlo Guthrie appeared and apparently entranced Julius Hoffman with a lengthy plot synopsis of Alice’s Restaurant – he too was silenced after he began to sing. I’m not sure whether Sorkin felt these events would be too fantastical for audiences to believe, or whether he just didn’t have time to include them, but I can’t say I’m not a little disappointed. At the very least, Judy Collins would have been a remarkable female presence in a film dominated by an almost all-male cast).
In so many ways, despite its occasional flaws, Aaron Sorkin has made not only an excellent courtroom drama but a film which defines the prevailing spirit of 2020, at least in the United States of America – and it couldn’t have been released at a more critical moment, although it would be an instant classic in any era: all year long, we’ve witnessed in real-time as our American government has crumbled under the weight of an administration that has failed its people; as bigoted individuals sheltered by a law enforcement system corrupt to its core have targeted and murdered American citizens because of the color of their skin; as the vote, seemingly the most powerful and politically correct method by which a person can voice their opinion, is being threatened by institutions that would seek to render us voiceless and thus powerless. ButThe Trial Of The Chicago 7is a much-needed demonstration of the power of protest: the raw, inspiring power that we have when we raise our voices in harmony, and demand change. The film takes place in 1969, but it’s a story we can all relate to in 2020 because we’re still fighting that same injustice, because we will always fight it as long as it exists.
Let the record show that we made our voices heard.
We’ve known for a while that Marvel’s upcoming sequel to Doctor Strange, Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness, will probably introduce one of Marvel Comics’ most iconic and popular (and all too few) Latina superheroines, the world-hopping teenager America Chavez. Today, we learned that a teen Latina actress, Xochitl Gomez, has in fact been cast in a currently undisclosed role in Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness. Instantly, people started connecting dots, a lot of us jumped the gun, and now America Chavez is trending on Twitter – mostly because of a sprawling discussion about colorism. But is Gomez actually playing America?
Frankly, we don’t know. The initial Deadline report never even mentioned America Chavez – that conversation was entirely started by fans – and Xochitl Gomez could be playing another character. But considering how early this casting announcement has been made, it seems likely she’s playing a major supporting character in the film, and there’s been plenty of evidence to suggest that America Chavez will show up in the Doctor Strange sequel before going on to become a prominent member of the Young Avengers team, whether that’s in the form of multiple film appearances or a Disney+ streaming series. Xochitl Gomez is Latina like the comics character – but many have already expressed their disappointment with the casting.
America Chavez has dark skin, something that the comics have been mostly consistent in showing: however, there is a great deal of ambiguity as to whether she should be considered Afro-Latina or not. In the comics, after she leaves her homeworld of Utopia through a portal, she crashlands into the Bronx and quickly integrates into the Puerto Rican community there, before traveling all around Latin America and adapting to life on earth – so technically, she’s not even actually Latinx at all, and because of this many are hoping that her origin story will be updated: the easiest way to do this would be to have Utopia be an alternate version of Earth rather than an alien planet, making America Latinx by birth rather than by choice.
Xochitl Gomez is lighter skinned than most iterations of America Chavez that we’ve seen thus far in the comics, and she is Mexican-Canadian rather than Puerto Rican. This is a very sensitive issue because of how young Xochitl is – fourteen – and I would encourage people to aim any anger they may have at Marvel’s casting department rather than the actress herself, but it is a legitimate issue. Colorism is still a massive problem throughout Hollywood, and casting a dark, Puerto Rican Latina actress (Afro-Latina or not) would have been a great opportunity to challenge this problem head-on. There’s also the question of whether or not America Chavez will be a lesbian in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as she is in the comics, or whether this is a facet of her character that will be ignored. In short, I want to congratulate Xochitl on landing this role in such a high-profile Marvel film, but I also want to make sure that we all listen to voices from the Latinx community about this subject.
I want to reiterate again that we just don’t know who Xochitl is playing, and that there are other characters she might be playing. Personally, my number one choice for the role of America Chavez was Madison Reyes, star of Netflix’s Julie And The Phantoms, so there’s a little bit of me that’s still hoping for that. But hey, I’ve heard only good things about Xochitl’s acting (I’ve only watched a few minutes of Netflix’s The Baby-Sitter’s Club, so I can’t actually make a good judgement on that), and I love to see opportunities being offered to Latina talent, so I’m happy for her and excited to see who she’s playing. If she is America Chavez, that’s more proof (if you needed any) that the Young Avengers are coming to the MCU, and that Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness will deal with a whole bunch of otherworldly events, including a potential side-trip to Utopia. Hopefully Marvel understands that there’s room for improvement with America’s backstory and makes an effort to work on that.
But what do you think? Do you like this casting choice? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Out of all the main cast of The Witcher, no one changed outfits more frequently throughout season one than Yennefer of Vengerburg, the farm girl who transformed into a regal Mage and then spent decades losing herself to a life of opulence and luxury anywhere she pleased in The Continent. Her magic and her exquisite fashion sense combined meant that virtually every time she would reappear after one of her long, mysterious absences, she would have an entirely new wardrobe. And, as a Mage, she had absolutely no qualms about one such dress – a long silver and black number decorated with fringes and tassels – into battle at Sodden Hill, on that fateful night when she wrecked the Nilfgaardian Army with purging flames. It was the last time we saw her in season one, because when the smoke cleared she was nowhere to be found: in-universe, most everyone seems to think she’s dead, having used up all her magic to save Sodden. But new first look images reveal that’s not the case: Yennefer survived, she was imprisoned, and all while still wearing the same dress.
Depending on how you look at it, you could say it’s either slightly anticlimactic from a marketing standpoint or slightly worrying from an in-universe standpoint because you know Yennefer’s in a bad way when she doesn’t even have time to make a quick costume change. No significant upgrade or eye-catching new look seems to be in store for the mighty Mage, unlike the rest of her Witcher castmates. The first of the two new images shows the wounded Mage walking, almost as if in a trance, through the burning forests around Sodden Hill. It’s unclear where she’s headed, but my guess is that she’s trying to find Geralt. Both Geralt and Ciri received visions of the burning battlefield where Yennefer was last seen just after her disappearance, suggesting that the three are “linked by destiny”, as the saying goes…it stands to reason then that Yennefer might have received visions of where Geralt and Ciri are, as well. Her face is bloodied and streaked with ash and grime, and she’s still dressed in filthy, tattered clothes (although she has covered herself with a heavy black cape), but at least she’s alive. Even though we saw many other Mages begin to bleed profusely or even die after expending every last drop of their reserve of chaos magic, Yennefer has somehow been able to survive the traumatic incident mostly unscathed. Mostly, that is, because the second image finds her in an entirely new predicament.
Someone has taken Yennefer captive. We know it must be soon after her misadventure at Sodden Hill, because she’s still wearing the same dress, but her captors have added a new accessory to her look: a dimeritium shackle, which in The Witcher universe is used to restrain the flow of chaos magic and is thus often the only thing capable of containing a powerful Mage. In The Witcher video games, it is mentioned that, in extraordinary cases, Mages have been able to break free of dimeritium bonds, although Yennefer will have to take a little time to recover some of her chaos before she can manage anything that spectacular. She’s gripping her shackled hand as if it’s giving her great pain, which in turn is giving me great pain because I can’t stand seeing anybody hurt our precious Yen.
So who has her imprisoned? Well, Netflix hasn’t said anything officially, but Redanian Intelligence does believe they know the answer, and it’s a minor spoiler for events that probably happen in the first or second episode of the show. If you want to go in completely unprepared, I’ll leave you with this hint: it ties back into other things we’ve been talking about recently, and promises us further exploration of The Witcher‘s world-building. It also means we’ll get to see some very interesting interactions between Yennefer and an important character we still don’t know much about.
Unfortunately for us, these two latest images reveal very little else about Yennefer’s plight, and so we’re left having to play guesswork. My biggest relief is that this means Yennefer will definitely have her own subplot occurring parallel to the Geralt/Ciri arc. Netflix isn’t trying to keep her fate a big mystery, which I like, because I want to be able to spend more time with this amazing character. As many of you know, Anya Chalotra’s excellent performance as Yennefer was one of the things that kept me hooked on The Witcher, and I am extremely excited to see how her character develops in season two. Sadly, I don’t think we’ll be seeing any more images from The Witcher tomorrow (where is Jaskier, Netflix?!), so now we have to settle down and wait for…whatever’s next, I suppose. A poster? A little snippet of footage to get us all hyped? The Witcher is currently filming, and is still predicted to release sometime in 2021.
So what do you think? How do you feel about Yennefer’s same old look, and what are your thoughts on the reasoning for her imprisonment? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
No, Geralt of Rivia’s fresh new look and upgraded suit of armor wasn’t a fluke: the entire cast of The Witcher has been absolutely thriving, as evidenced by our first look at Geralt’s apprentice/child of surprise, Ciri, in the new outfit she’ll be wearing in season two of the hit Netflix fantasy series. The Witcher‘s season one finale left off with Ciri and Geralt finally reunited after being linked to each other by a mysterious bond of destiny long before Ciri’s birth, and now we can see where Ciri’s destiny has led her: to the isolated castle of Kaer Morhen, domain of Vesemir and his small brotherhood of monster-hunting Witchers. Here, as in the books and video games, Ciri will train to become the first female Witcher in history while learning about her own magical powers.
And that’s, of course, why the new images of Ciri revealed today on Netflix’s social media accounts show the usurped Princess of Cintra looking particularly stoic and grim while donning a practical suit of lightweight leather armor, wielding a small wooden practice sword, and tying her hair back into a braid because long hair whipping in your face and obstructing your vision probably isn’t a great idea in the heat of battle (*glances meaningfully at Geralt*). Unfortunately, since only a side-view of her costume is available to us, it’s impossible to see if any cool detailing or ornamentation has been worked into the front of Ciri’s new armor. My first thought was that this is unlikely, considering that the Witchers of Kaer Morhen seem like a relatively simplistic lot, but then again, Geralt did come out of there with a whole set of abs sculpted into his armor, so anything’s possible, I guess?
What’s immediately clear is that this particular outfit, at least, is only loosely inspired by the video game version of Ciri, and even that’s a stretch. In The Witcher games, Ciri’s look has become iconic: the choppy silver hair, the loose, long-sleeved white shirt and assortment of extremely large belts…many fans of the games have been hoping to see some version of this adapted to live-action, but it looks like they’ll have to wait a while longer. The Netflix version of Ciri’s Witcher outfit appears to be more armor than travel wear, and it would be rather bizarre for her to be wearing thin shirts in the middle of winter while snow is falling. The behind-the-scenes photos revealed recently did show Ciri wearing what could have been an outfit more directly inspired by the games, but this seems to be that same outfit (the long, gray-green sleeves are identical), and these high-quality images confirm that this is not going to be much like The Witcher video game version of the character.
Instead we can be certain that this season, like the first, will draw most heavily from the original books by Andrzej Sapkowski. With the books as our guide, we can predict that Ciri will be trained by Vesemir, despite suffering from recurring nightmares, hallucinations, and visions of impending death. She’ll encounter the Mage Triss Merigold (who had a small role in season one), and the kind-hearted sorceress will also aid in her training, teaching her the Elder Speech (the language of most magic users in The Witcher universe). Throughout season one of The Witcher, Ciri would randomly cause outbursts of chaotic and destructive magic whenever she felt threatened, usually triggered by her screams, and I thoroughly believe that the show will delve into the explanation for that a little bit more in season two: in the books, Ciri’s incredible power derives from her being a “Source”, a person born with untapped resources of magic due to their Elven heritage. The first official synopsis for season two, released yesterday, mentioned that it’s Geralt’s responsibility to protect Ciri from her own power, and it also intriguingly referenced wars between elves and humans in the world outside Kaer Morhen’s walls. In season one, there were a couple of Elven characters and a handful of times that we actually got to observe their ways, but season two might do a better job of exploring the Elven societies that exist within this universe, and how Ciri fits into their delicate political situation.
Another important event in Ciri’s character arc is her first meeting with the Mage Yennefer of Vengerburg. In the show, Ciri hasn’t met Yennefer yet (although she has had some sort of vision of her: her last line in season one was literally “Who’s Yennefer?”), and Geralt currently believes the Mage to be dead following her disappearance at the Battle of Sodden Hill, which suggests to me that bringing Ciri and Yennefer together will be a main plot-point in season two. Personally, I’m hoping that they meet sometime before the season two finale, but it’s probable that, no matter when or how it happens, it will be a life-changing event for both characters: Yennefer has always wanted a child, and in the books she becomes like a mother figure to Ciri, while also acting as her mentor and traveling with her across the Continent. Ciri, for her part, never really had a chance to know her own mother, and so Yennefer will begin to fill a void in Ciri’s life. As much as I’m excited to see how Geralt and Ciri interact, I’m even more curious to see what kind of dynamic will exist between the two women. The Witcher has done a great job fleshing out its female characters and making them complex and interesting, and I expect that to continue as more women join the mix and begin to form more compelling relationships.
Thankfully, we won’t have long to wait before we see what Yennefer herself has been doing ever since she vanished in a burst of fire and smoke at Sodden Hill, because more first look images are coming tomorrow, and will probably reveal the Mage in all her glory. The question of what exactly happened to her has weighed heavily on the minds of all The Witcher‘s fans ever since the season one finale: but the likelihood, in my opinion, is that Yennefer was able to weakly manifest a portal and make her escape while everyone was distracted by the flames she summoned to obliterate the Nilfgaardian army. But why? And where did she go? These are the questions I hope to have answered sooner rather than later.
So what do you think? How do you feel about Ciri’s new look? And which character from The Witcher are you most excited to see return in season two? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
The Witcher is back – and apparently, a couple of months in quarantine and self-isolation have done him wonders, as he’s emerged with a fabulous new look and a costume upgrade. I can’t say the same for the rest of us, but I’m excited to see some small signs of normalcy returning: it’s been months since The Witcher and virtually every other film and TV production around the world got delayed due to the sudden advent of the coronavirus crisis, and only just recently has filming been able to resume, with new safety protocols in place on set. Thankfully, the team at work on The Witcher‘s upcoming second season have been unusually generous, and have already gifted us two first look images of our fan-favorite protagonist, Geralt of Rivia, the Witcher himself.
Henry Cavill is returning as expected to the popular role, but The Witcher costuming department has received a bit of a shake-up, with Lucinda Wright replacing Tim Aslam as lead costume designer. Wright, known best for her work on Doctor Who and a multitude of fashionable period pieces, has already brought a fresh, eye-catching new style to the fantasy series’ clothes, putting Geralt into a practical suit of armor. For much of season one, Geralt traveled around the Continent wearing loose-fitting or comfortable clothing: such as the now-iconic baggy shirt/tight leather pants combo (the subject of many a meme), and the padded leather pauldrons and breastplate, but season two appears to be heading into darker, grittier territory – Wright’s new design for Geralt’s outfit features almost Greco-Roman sensibilities, with armor sculpted around Henry Cavill’s muscles (a wise decision, since in season one, his muscles actually wore down his leather armor), and covered all around in studs and straps. He strikes an imposing figure, with his distinctive new silhouette.
My only complaint is with his new set of plated pauldrons: the armoring which covers his shoulders and upper arms. Even in season one, they didn’t look great, but these ones are slightly more unattractive, if I’m being honest. Then again, I’ve never been a big fan of pauldrons in any form: it’s an aesthetic thing. They’re usually too big and too bulky. Unfortunately, they’re also usually the first thing that I notice when I look at any suit of armor, as is the case here. Thankfully, a closer observation turns up many interesting little details on Geralt’s new costume that I do find genuinely exciting: for instance, his new thigh belts come with a whole bunch of sheathes, which I suppose are meant for knives and daggers. The sculpted detailing has already gone over very well with the fandom, which never misses an opportunity to lavish praises on Henry Cavill’s physique. As a side-note, Cavill’s silver wig also looks a lot better this time around: the long, tousled mane can be hit-or-miss depending on circumstances, but these photos caught it in a perfect state of realistic disarray.
Along with the new look, Netflix has also given us a brief synopsis for season two, which confirms a little bit of what we already knew: in their words, “Convinced Yennefer’s life was lost at the Battle of Sodden, Geralt of Rivia brings Princess Cirilla to the safest place he knows, his childhood home of Kaer Morhen. While the Continent’s kings, elves, humans and demons strive for supremacy outside its walls, he must protect the girl from something far more dangerous: the mysterious power she possesses inside.” In the books, Cirilla (or Ciri, the name most people know her by at this point) is raised at Kaer Morhen to become the first female Witcher, and behind-the-scenes photos have already shown the Cintran princess sporting what looks to be an almost video-game-accurate outfit while training in the forest. This short synopsis also indicates that we won’t see Yennefer and Geralt reunite until later in the season, although we’re all pretty certain Yennefer isn’t dead despite expending all her chaos magic in defense of Sodden during the season one finale. Hopefully this just means Yennefer will have her own independent subplot happening simultaneously with the Geralt and Ciri arc: I would hate to have to wait throughout most of the season to see her again, after she was the best character in season one.
Netflix’s social media accounts have already hinted that we’ll get further material in the coming days: probably first look images for both Ciri’s armor and Yennefer’s new look (unless they’re keeping her resurrection more of a surprise, which I hope is not the case). There’s also a chance we might see Jaskier the bard again – in-universe, it’s been years since he was last seen, so it’ll be interesting to see if he’s aged at all, or if The Witcher really is just going to ignore that entirely. And with new spinoffs being considered and greenlit (a new one, focusing on The Continent’s order of Mages, was unofficially revealed just a few days ago), it looks like we’ll have much more Witcher content coming our way in no time. This first look is just the beginning.
What do you think of Geralt’s new suit of armor, and how do you feel it compares to his season one look? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
What begins as a lighthearted – albeit stressful – birthday celebration for a friend quickly devolves into chaos as a group of gay men in the late 1960’s confront their deepest fears and regrets in this haunting, yet hopeful adaptation of the hit play The Boys In The Band. It is specifically an adaptation of the recent Broadway revival, with the main cast returning for a stellar Ryan Murphy and Joe Mantello production that is benefited by being nothing like any of Murphy’s other recent projects: his flair for the overproduced and melodramatic grows tired after a while, which is why the stark simplicity of The Boys In The Band‘s single set (with a handful of other locations, such as city streets and rooms glimpsed through hazy, brief flashbacks) and small, close-knit cast is so wildly refreshing – Mantello, who directed both the revival and this film, brings the essence of the play to life onscreen with tricks learned from a long theatrical career, without needing to fall back on Murphy’s typical tools; a kaleidoscope of colorful costumes, eccentric set design, juicy yet nonessential plot filler, etc. Instead, The Boys In The Band strips everything back, peeling away layers just as harshly and honestly as lead character Michael (Jim Parsons) does to his unsuspecting friend group.
The Boys In The Band was written during – and takes place in – a very uncomfortable period of the LGBTQ+ community’s history, in the year or so before the infamous Stonewall riots, and that information is intensely important for anyone who plans on watching or reviewing the film, in my opinion. When it was first released, the play was supposed to be a stinging, cynical depiction of the pain within the gay community; pain that, at the time, was often internalized, resulting in feelings of self-loathing…but in retrospect, I believe it can now be looked at as an expression of how that pain and anger grew within the community until it could no longer be contained, and was instead channeled into the creation of the Gay Liberation Movement after the events at Stonewall – a movement that tried to undo decades of emotional damage, by emphasizing self-pride and celebration of one’s sexuality. Thus, while the original play struck a bitter tone and ended on a note of abject hopelessness, the film doesn’t quite do that. Although it shines a harsh spotlight on pain and hatred and the way in which a straight-passing lifestyle was (and occasionally, still is) often held up within the community as an ideal even at the expense of personal happiness or comfort, it also cleverly finds ways to depict how the gay community was growing slowly stronger, self-reliant and independent at the same time. Even though the characters in The Boys In The Band can’t see or even begin to imagine the monumental changes happening all around them, the audience can understand that the feelings of connection, loyalty and trust they develop over the course of that one night in Michael’s apartment are the same feelings that would go on to empower the LGBTQ+ community in positive ways. Particularly connection with others, which, while healthy no matter who you are, or what your sexual orientation is, has always been especially valued in the LGBTQ+ community because of how critical it was during the early days of the movement. In just a couple of added scenes near the end of the film, Mantello gets this point across perfectly.
It is also, in my opinion, a far more genuine method of weaving hope into a bleak narrative than Ryan Murphy accomplished with his recent series Hollywood, which made the bold decision to just completely rewrite the entertainment industry’s history, giving fairytale endings to a mostly imaginary cast of characters and steamrolling over the real trailblazers who fought to make change and progress happen.
Aside from its cultural significance, The Boys In The Band is worth watching for its outstanding cast alone – an all-LGBTQ+ cast, I might add. There’s still a fervent debate over whether or not only gay actors should play gay roles, but no one can convince me that it’s not exciting and inspiring to see so many openly gay actors bringing their all to these roles and having a great deal of fun in the process (and yes, this movie is a great deal of fun: not only is the element of suspense entertaining – up until it’s intentionally not – but the humor is witty and playful throughout the first act).
Jim Parsons, fresh off Murphy’s Hollywood, is back again playing another cold-hearted yet strangely hypnotic force of nature: his Michael is a fearsome, anxiety-ridden character who eases his own pain by passing it on to others during the infamous telephone game he proposes about an hour into the film – the rules are simple: call the one person you believe yourself to have truly loved, and tell them you love them, and you win points for how well you do and how many of Michael’s criteria you meet. The results, on the other hand, are anything but simple, as characters go into the game energetic and optimistic, only to end up feeling betrayed, ashamed and wracked by guilt. And as for Michael, he seems to feed off these feelings, all while he eagerly tries to guide the game back around to the one person whose opinion he actually cares about: his seemingly straight friend from college, Alan (Brian Hutchison), who has come into the city for unknown business and whom Michael is convinced is secretly gay. Jim Parsons fills the character of Michael up to the brim with emotion that threatens to spill over at any moment, as he initially attempts to sterilize the mood of the party in an attempt not to offend the fragile Alan, only to then do a heel-turn and actively try to force Alan to out himself.
Zachary Quinto excels in the coveted, enigmatic role of Harold, giving his character a slinky gait and commanding presence; though, for all his outward confidence, he too is wounded within. Robin de Jésus is a pure bundle of joy as the proud, unabashed Emory, probably the only character who seems happy because he is happy – and who is thus subjected to the most verbal and physical abuse throughout the film. Michael Benjamin Washington’s Bernard is quiet, understated, and has one of the best scenes in the entire film as he is the first to participate in Michael’s telephone game and the first to suffer the consequences – a reflection of how Black people and people of color in the LGBTQ+ community have always suffered discrimination both from without and within the community, despite historically always being at the forefront of the movement for LGBTQ+ liberation. The only actor I never felt strongly about one way or the other was Matt Bomer as Donald – his character is important to the story, but Bomer doesn’t really have a chance to do all that much with him.
Credit has to be given to everyone who designed, decorated and lit Michael’s charming, two-story apartment. The entire set is vivid and clearly lived-in, as it has to be since we spend almost the entire film in this one small space, exploring virtually every nook and cranny from the bathroom to the kitchen to the inviting terrace decorated with balloons and string-lights – never once does it feel cramped or enclosing. And never once does it feel like Ryan Murphy stepped in and demanded anything had to be bigger, or flashier, or more lavish: Joe Mantello, who worked with an abstract set for his The Boys In The Band Broadway revival, has brought an effectively simplistic sensibility to the production design for this film that nonetheless comes off as organic and appropriate rather than a gimmick meant to turn the film into an imitation of the theater experience.
What is there left to say? Only that, with The Boys In The Band, Murphy and Mantello have crafted something hilarious, haunting and hopeful: a poignant restoration of a story that has immense significance to the LGBTQ+ community. While the play presents a contemporaneous account of a group of men suffering trauma embedded deep in American gay culture, the film has the benefit of being able to assure us that, even though not everything would be solved with the Stonewall riots or the creation of the Gay Rights movement or the legalization of same-sex marriage or any of a hundred other landmarks, the world would begin to change, both for the characters in the story – and for us, the audience, who find ourselves in another dark time, where human rights (including those which the LGBTQ+ community have fought for and won) are being threatened and actively removed by the current Presidential administration. At this moment, The Boys In The Band is just as necessary and relevant as it was back in 1968, as a reminder that your anger at injustice is your greatest weapon against divisive forces, and that, even when the whole world is trying to get you to direct that anger inwards at yourself, you have the power and the right to use it for good.
A supersized round of applause is in order for Hollywood newcomer Iman Vellani, who has been cast as the MCU’s Kamala Khan, a.k.a. Ms. Marvel – and also for the character of Kamala Khan herself, a teen Muslim superheroine whose journey from comic-books to video games to Disney+ and MCU stardom has all occurred in a remarkably short amount of time. Vellani, who will take on the starring role in the upcoming Ms. Marvel Disney+ series, is about to fill the shoes of one of Marvel Comics’ most iconic recent characters, and I could not be happier for her. She already has an incredible amount of support from the fandom, and I think we’ll all be excited to see her don Kamala Khan’s costume for the first time.
Because Vellani is completely new to the scene, it’s hard to say much about the casting itself and there are very few details about her to be found. Rest assured, she’ll soon become one of the faces of the MCU moving forward, so before long we’ll know more about her: for now, let’s just make sure we all give her the support she needs heading into this big responsibility. In the meantime, let’s talk a bit about Kamala Khan, the character Vellani will be playing, and why she has resonated so much with the Muslim-American and South Asian-American communities, ever since G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona brought her to life in 2013.
For the most part, Kamala has been written fairly consistently in the pages of Marvel comics. She is a Desi, Pakistani-American Muslim girl and Jersey City citizen, whose powers are revealed to be of Inhuman origin (for those who need a refresher, Inhumans are a group of characters in the Marvel Universe whose powers are unlocked, so to speak, when they are exposed to the Terrigen mist: they’re a bit like Mutants, but not as well known to general audiences – yet). Kamala’s specific powers give her shapeshifting abilities and incredible elasticity: she’s super-stretchy, but in a unique way, where she’s able to redistribute the atoms in her body to form giant hands or feet capable of powerful punches/kicks. They’re bizarre powers, for sure, but visually spectacular – and the recent Avengers PS4 video game, which stars Kamala, showed that her giant fists and stretchy limbs can also make for some exciting action. In the game, Kamala uses her powers to swing across rooftops, and sometimes even grow in size. This is all going to be very interesting to see in Ms. Marvel. It is unclear at the moment if Kamala’s Inhuman origins will be retained: it seems likely to me, but it’s theoretically plausible that Marvel will make her a Mutant or have her obtain her powers in a completely different way altogether.
Kamala’s Ms. Marvel has little to do with the original Ms. Marvel – the moniker worn by Carol Danvers before she was promoted to Captain Marvel – but Kamala is inspired by Carol and by other superheroes as well. The Avengers video game made a mistake by focusing almost exclusively on Kamala as a fangirl and not giving her any personal life beyond that, but there’s no denying that Kamala is a fangirl: meeting her in the MCU will finally allow us a chance to see what some of the general public think of superheroes, and how they’re marketed to the world. Do they have action figures and Funko Pops? Is Kamala part of online fan communities that discuss the Avengers and other heroes? Is there a superhero equivalent of “stan Twitter” within the MCU, and is Kamala a part of it? The possibilities for quirky meta humor (and marketing tie-ins) are endless.
That being said, Ms. Marvel should make Kamala’s family and faith equally as important to the heroine as her love of superheroes, if not more so. In the comics, Kamala struggles on a daily basis as she tries to reconcile her own hopes and dreams with the wishes of her religious, conservative family, and with her Islamic faith in general – but she also loves her family deeply, and finds comfort at her neighborhood mosque. She’s a complex character who’s busy learning how to define herself within the context of her religion, and it’s amazing that we’ll get to see this conflict play out onscreen. It’s also extremely important, not just because of how crucial this is to Kamala’s character, but because of how relevant this same struggle is for so many people around the globe. Few superheroes have even so much as mentioned religion thus far, over twenty films into the MCU’s lifetime, and fewer still seem to actually practice religion or engage in religious communities. Steve Rogers is the closest we’ve really ever gotten, and, well, he’s mostly just Protestant Christian by default, because of course he is. There’s never really been much thought put into it: if anything, it’s used as a joke to underscore how he’s the 1940’s ideal of an all-around perfect guy. And yeah, that’s problematic in and of itself. But Kamala Khan represents a much more nuanced depiction of a religious individual, one that we desperately need to balance out those past mistakes and give people a role model that they can turn to when dealing with their issues of faith.
As for when she’s actually out fighting crime, Ms. Marvel is most frequently working on her own, although she has teamed up with her role model Captain Marvel several times, and it looks likely she’ll do so again in the MCU – possibly in Ms. Marvel, if Brie Larson can be convinced to film a Disney+ cameo, or possibly in Captain Marvel 2, when Kamala makes the jump from streaming to the big screen. It’s my hope, however, that one of Kamala’s guiding influences as a heroine in the MCU will be the Inhuman Quake (played by Chloe Bennet, of course). A long shot? Maybe, but I’m not ruling it out. Kamala and Quake have interacted before in the comics, and with Quake having been established as Inhuman in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s second season, it makes sense to use her to explain the whole thing to general audiences still unfamiliar with the concept. But whether she gets a partner or not, it’s been rumored that Kamala’s first antagonist will be The Inventor, a half-human, half-bird clone of Thomas Edison (and yes, I am aware of how strange that description sounds).
In short, there are no downsides to this news. Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel, is joining the MCU, becoming the first Muslim superhero to headline her own series – just as she was the first Muslim superhero to headline her own comic series. On both fronts, it’s a landmark achievement. Iman Vellani will do an amazing job, and she has our support and genuine admiration as she starts on this journey of a lifetime. And the Muslim-American community…well, I can’t even begin to imagine the impact that this will surely have on members of the community, who will finally see themselves reflected positively in a genre that has all too often depicted them in a negative light, or not at all. Yes, the MCU themselves have done this in the recent past. It’s no use trying to deny it, or ignore it: it’s time to properly address it, and make it right, with smart actions such as this authentic casting choice. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again – Representation Matters.
So what are your thoughts on Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel? Are you excited for the series? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!