First thing’s first: I did not like The Lion King remake, released last year. I didn’t see it in theaters, and I am happy for that, because being able to watch it at home for the first time and rant about it was a much more enjoyable experience for everyone involved, I’m sure. So when it was announced today that a sequel to the photorealistic CGI remake has been greenlit by Disney and will soon go into production, one would think that my response would be one of disinterest or active distaste for the whole idea. But that is not the case, because when you attach a director like Barry Jenkins to your project, no matter how outlandish or seemingly unnecessary, you have instantaneously captured my attention and ensured that, despite all my reservations, I will be watching this sequel.
An unsavory subsection of Film Twitter has already exploded with rage over the news, with many writing long, strongly-worded condemnations of Jenkins, the indie director behind hits like Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk, warning him that he’s making a mistake getting involved in Disney’s corporate process, that he “could do better”, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah. I’m not going to get into it too much, because I simply don’t have time for snobbish “intellectuals” who regard themselves as film connoisseurs because they wouldn’t touch a Disney film with a ten-foot pole, but I will make my opinion on the subject clear: Barry Jenkins has the right to make whatever he wants, and he doesn’t need to take career advice from anybody on Twitter. If he wants to make a movie about CGI lions, I am not going to stand in his way because – shockingly – it’s very possible he could actually do wonders with this franchise.
As I said, I was not too fond of The Lion King remake. It was virtually a shot-for-shot remake of the original animated film, but lacking the charm and pizzazz of the Disney Renaissance classic. The characters seemed boring and expressionless, thanks to the “improved” CGI animation, which stripped away any chance of liveliness or color. The story was basically unchanged, save for minor changes that had no impact on anything whatsoever. Worst of all, the iconic musical numbers were completely butchered. I never anticipated a sequel, though due to the remake accumulating over a billion dollars at the global box office, perhaps I should have guessed one was coming. But the sequel we’re getting isn’t going to be a straight-up adaptation of any of The Lion King‘s animated direct-to-video sequels. This is going to be something entirely new: a film that explores the “mythology” of the franchise’s characters, and intertwines past and present.
The mention of the word “mythology” is what has me the most intrigued, because, while it could mean anything, it immediately conjures up images in my mind of Beyoncé’s Black Is King, released last month to critical acclaim and intense social media fanfare. Black Is King, a strikingly beautiful visual album directed by the popstar herself, adapts the story of The Lion King with a bold, Afro-Futuristic twist, leading the viewer on a spiritual journey into the world of African mythology, folklore and tradition, all while celebrating Black beauty and culture in all its forms. While there’s no word yet on whether Beyoncé will return to voice the lioness Nala once again for The Lion King‘s sequel, I hope and pray she will be involved in the production design for the film. Not only because the sequel could use her distinctive stylistic bravery, but because the messages she included in Black Is King are messages that can – and should – be woven into The Lion King franchise itself. It’s well-known that The Lion King was based off on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but the sequel has the opportunity to draw new inspiration from far more ancient and arguably far more impactful African legends that are rooted deep in Black culture across the world. HBO’s Lovecraft Country is currently doing something very similar, taking the stories of racist author H.P. Lovecraft (and just the traditionally exclusionary sci-fi/fantasy genre in general) and re-examining them from a unique, Black perspective). And if anyone is the perfect choice to do that for Disney, it’s someone like Barry Jenkins, whose films have explored various facets of underrepresented Black culture.
As of right now, there’s no word on when the film will start production, but the script is apparently completed and Jenkins has already officially signed on. And so we find ourselves in this bizarre situation, where a film that I hated with a passion is now getting a sequel I would have thought completely unneeded – until now. With Barry Jenkins and (hopefully) Beyoncé at the helm, this film could easily be a masterpiece in the making.
So what do you think? How do you feel about the thought of a sequel to The Lion King, and what would you like it to be about? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Two stories (or, rather, one story and one completely unverified rumor from a previously unreliable source) about the upcoming Hawkeye Disney+ series dropped on the internet today, with both quickly becoming the topic of much uproarious discourse. The first, which I will address briefly so as to get it out of the way before we move onto the actual story, was the rumor that Adrianne Palicki – who played Mockingbird in early seasons of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. – would be recast, and her character rebooted in the Hawkeye series. This report is nothing to worry about: the site that covered the “news” is notorious for clickbait, so much so that I will not be linking to their story as a matter of principle. With that in mind, let it be known that if Marvel does decides to ever recast Adrianne Palicki as Mockingbird, I will not stand for it.
The second story, which comes from the folks at The Direct, carries much more weight due to their site having proven fairly reliable in past occasions. Per their exclusive reporting, the Hawkeye series will feature the MCU debut of an iconic comics villain, Madame Masque.
Interestingly, this means that both of these stories today are intertwined with the complicated rise and fall of Marvel TV, the studio’s subdivision which, until recently, produced offshoot TV programs for ABC and Netflix: including Agent Carter, which actually introduced a version of Madame Masque in its second and final season. Agent Carter‘s Masque bore little in resemblance to her comics counterpart – instead of an armored, high-tech villainess, Agent Carter‘s Masque was a 1940’s actress modeled on the real-life Hedy Lamarr, who worked secretly for the Allied Forces developing Isodyne Energy: during the course of her character arc, this version of Madame Masque never actually adopted the title, instead using the stage name “Whitney Frost”, a name which, in the comics, Masque sometimes uses. All of this means that, thanks to the show’s twist on the character, Marvel won’t have to explicitly say that this new Madame Masque appearing on the Hawkeye show is in fact a reboot or recast of Agent Carter‘s Masque, because they can legitimately claim that “Whitney Frost” was never really Masque at all. We all know that Agent Carter is Marvel President Kevin Feige’s favorite out of the entire Marvel TV division (it was the only one he himself worked on, and one of its stars, James D’Arcy, even got a brief but important cameo in Avengers: Endgame), so it makes sense why he wouldn’t want to just thoroughly disregard it even now, years after its cancellation.
But it begs the question: who is the real Madame Masque, the version of the character from the comics who will presumably be brought to life in Hawkeye? For starters, her real name is actually Giulietta Nefaria, and she is the daughter of an Italian crime lord, Count Nefaria. In the comics, she’s most often entangled with Iron Man (either as his enemy or his lover), so the MCU version could do something with that: Iron Man has already been shown to have had countless previously-unheard-of rivals during his career…one more wouldn’t hurt, right? Personally, I think one more could hurt: fans like Iron Man, but this is an MCU trope that’s getting real old, real fast. No, in my opinion, Madame Masque should be her own character, though if she does have to have connections to anybody else in the MCU it should be Baron Zemo. Zemo, who will appear as the main antagonist of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier Disney+ series, is an associate of Masque’s in some comics: she’s even worked as his right-hand woman from time to time. With the MCU version of Zemo being set up to lead a new group of supervillains called the Thunderbolts, the time is ripe for Madame Masque to show up and secure her place on the team. How better to do this by than by trying to take out one of the last remaining Avengers?
In recent comics, Madame Masque has become a frequent enemy of Hawkeye and his young disciple Kate Bishop. They had a pretty infamous run-in on the island of Madripoor (which, as we know already, is also set to appear in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier), where Bishop was able to capture Masque and assume her identity briefly in order to help Hawkeye destroy some incriminating evidence of past potential wrongdoings, all while the real Masque was tied up in Bishop’s hotel room. In revenge for the humiliating incident, Masque later captured Bishop and took her to her California mansion – a mistake, in retrospect, as Bishop escaped and completely wrecked Masque’s home. Masque, motivated at this point purely by pettiness and spite, burned down Bishop’s house, but was eventually captured and put in S.H.I.E.L.D. custody when her secret base of evil operations was discovered in L.A. This is plenty of material for Hawkeye to dig into: but what’s most exciting is that we’ll finally get to see a truly menacing Madame Masque.
Oh and, unlike the Agent Carter version of the character, one would hope this new Masque would actually, you know…wear a mask. In the comics, her bulletproof golden headpiece isn’t just decorative armor, but is meant to hide her disfigured face. Over the years, the fact that she wears a mask so often, and that so few have seen her true face, has become a major plotpoint: it allowed Kate Bishop to pass as her undetected on Madripoor, and it also led to her being a key target of the shape-shifting Skrulls during the Secret Invasion storyline. She was even attacked by Skrulls who planned to take her form as a disguise. In the MCU, there’s been plenty of hints and signs that point towards Secret Invasion being a major story arc in the near future, although we don’t know if Masque will survive long enough to be involved with any of that: it’s possible she’s merely meant for a one-time appearance.
So what do you think? How do you feel about her character possibly showing up in Hawkeye, and what do you think her future in the MCU will look like after the show ends? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Nicholas Joseph Fury (better known to general audiences as Nick Fury, and to his friends and family simply as “Fury”) has long been the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most enigmatic mastermind, the figurative man behind the curtain: subtly moving and manipulating the events of the MCU to better suit his own purposes while cloaking his motives in secrecy. It took us over ten years just to find out why he put together the Avengers Initiative in the first place, or how he lost his eye. But now, Marvel is about to spill some of Fury’s darkest secrets in a new Disney+ series, which will find the spotlight turned on Nick Fury for the first time – with Samuel L. Jackson reprising the now-iconic role, of course. Although the only other real information we have about the series is that Kyle Bradstreet is attached to write and executive produce, there’s actually a good deal of speculation already going on…in which I am about to shamelessly partake, because why not? We’ve been so hungry for Marvel content these past couple of months: allow me this opportunity to indulge myself. I encourage you to join me, because we’re about to have a lot of fun wildly theorizing, and I’m also going to gush about Daisy Johnson for the first time in forever (okay, so it’s been, like, a month, but whatever), so there’s that.
There are several big questions everybody seems to have about this series, but the most urgent one by far is: will this be a prequel, or a sequel set after the events of Avengers: Endgame? If it’s the former, my hype will have plummeted – I just can’t imagine getting excited about only having Samuel L. Jackson return so that he can act as a framing device while a younger actor assumes his role for extensive flashback sequences set prior to Captain Marvel. As we saw in that film, Nick Fury’s life wasn’t actually all that eventful until the superheroine crashed into his life and a nearby Blockbuster. But everything happening right now, all the stuff that’s going on behind the scenes in the MCU that Nick Fury is very much a part of?…that’s what has me intrigued, and has me hoping that this series is not entirely new but is, in fact, one of two or three series’ rumored to be in early stages of pre-production some time ago. I am, of course, talking about Secret Invasion, Agents Of S.W.O.R.D. (which might also be the same thing as Secret Invasion), and Secret Warriors.
For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to combine Secret Invasion and Agents Of S.W.O.R.D. into just one category. It was rumored that Disney+ was making a series which would follow the Agents of S.W.O.R.D. post-Endgame as they deal with a variety of intergalactic threats and generally try to prevent anything on the scale of worldwide decimation from ever happening again. Since we’ve already seen a tiny glimpse of the S.W.O.R.D. organization in the post-credits scene of Spider-Man: Far From Home, which clearly indicated that Nick Fury is overseeing the entire operation, it’s not a stretch to assume that a series about this team would necessarily involve Fury, probably in a starring role. My theory has always been that an eventual Agents Of S.W.O.R.D. series on Disney+ will start out with the team (comprised of humans and shape-shifting Skrull aliens) already formed and working overtime from their in-orbit space station, but will inevitably grow, over the course of one or maybe two seasons, into a full-scale, Secret Invasion storyline. For those unfamiliar with the notion, let’s break it down: basically, in the comics, the Skrull aliens are villains, and eventually attempt to overrun Earth by force, disguising themselves as well-known superheroes and wreaking havoc. In the MCU, this will have to happen for a very different reason, because the Skrulls have thus far been depicted as peaceful refugees trying to establish a new homeworld after their entire way of life was obliterated by the militaristic Kree aliens – but that reason has already presented itself. In Far From Home, it was revealed that the Kree already have sleeper agents on Earth – making it extremely likely that the Skrulls will want to eradicate them before they pose a problem. If this causes rifts between them and the humans on the S.W.O.R.D. team, we could see several Skrulls go rogue and use their abilities to sneak off the space-station and down to Earth – a secret invasion in more ways than one. I’ve talked at length about how certain characters could get roped into this, but the one we need to focus on today is Nick Fury, because of course, all of this will be happening under his watch. A Secret Invasion series would find the S.W.O.R.D. Director attempting to stop the invasion with the help of his team – which, in my opinion, would consist of established characters like the Skrull general Talos, American Air-Force pilot Maria Rambeau, Maria’s daughter Monica, the half-Skrull Hulkling, the infamous Flerken cat Goose…and “astro-ambassador” Daisy Johnson, who will finally make the jump from Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. to the MCU proper. Daisy’s space-faring partners, Kora and Daniel Sousa, are give-or-take: I don’t mind them sticking around, but Daisy is currently my top priority, and if we have to make sacrifices to ensure she shows up as an Agent of S.W.O.R.D., then I’m prepared to do so.
When Secret Invasion becomes a massive hit for the Disney+ streaming service thanks to Daisy Johnson’s as-yet hypothetical involvement, the spin-offs will start – and that’s where Secret Warriors comes in. We might as well just refer to this one as the Quake Spinoff, because that’s essentially what it has to be. Another rumored project, this series is said to revolve around a storyline in the comics where Nick Fury enlists Daisy Johnson and a small, elite team of superhumans to take care of the Skrulls that have made it to Earth. This, of course, is where I anticipate Daisy reuniting with S.H.I.E.L.D. teammates like Yo-Yo Rodriguez, but it’s also the other potential series that Nick Fury could lead. That being said, it’s far more likely to be an eventual spin-off of Secret Invasion, and Fury himself will probably have a smaller role. So don’t get your hopes up for Secret Warriors just yet.
At the moment, I think what we’re seeing is the first step towards Secret Invasion. For those of us who love Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., it’s a first tentative step towards making that show officially canon to the MCU. For those of us who love Nick Fury and just appreciate seeing Black characters in leading roles, it’s about time that this fascinating super-spy moves to the forefront of the action, after more than a decade spent on the sidelines. For those of us who love both, it’s a win-win situation. And for the rest of you…well, I don’t know why you’ve read this far but I hope you’ve gotten something out of this.
So how do you feel about Nick Fury leading a series on Disney+, and which series do you think it will be? Do you think Daisy Johnson will show up in the MCU? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Sherlock Holmes is a name recognizable to virtually anyone, thanks to his longevity in both literature and countless film and TV appearances: so it’s understandable that many audiences will approach Netflix’s Enola Holmes (based on the popular book series of the same name) with the assumption that it’s just going to be a fun yet forgettable Sherlock Holmes spinoff. But give it a chance, and I think you may become so obsessed with the film’s intelligent, free-spirited heroine that you might just find yourself wishing for a bit more of her story to be told onscreen. It’s not that Sherlock (Henry Cavill) himself isn’t a major player in Enola Holmes, it’s just that…well, two can play the same game equally well, and Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown, also the film’s executive producer) is more than capable of matching wits with the great detective.
The film hooks you in early, setting the stage for the overarching mystery almost immediately and carrying our heroine on a fast-paced adventure through the English countryside all the way down to London’s bustling streets, giving us respites and occasional breaks along the way but never once derailing the main plot, as many mysteries are apt to do with a multitude of red herrings. Enola Holmes and her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter, marvelous as always and playing a boldly feminist character similar to her role in Suffragete) live in a somewhat dilapidated manor, where Enola spends her days honing her intellectual and physical skills – everything from reading entire libraries worth of fine literature to mastering the art of jujitsu – in an idyllic safe haven, far removed from the cruel outside world. In Enola and Eudoria’s home, everything is a fun, clever puzzle: in fact, Enola’s own name, backwards, spells out the word Alone – though Enola wryly notes that she might be looking too much into that, as her older brothers Sherlock and Mycroft (Sam Claflin) don’t share that little quirk. But most of the time we spend with Enola and Eudoria in their tranquil, carefree life is via flashbacks interspersed throughout the film at appropriate moments – because, from almost the moment the film opens, Eudoria is missing, and it is her sudden disappearance (on her daughter’s birthday, no less) that springboards the young Enola into the real world, armed with all the knowledge she has obtained from her homeschooling.
What makes Enola Holmes so darn likable, however, isn’t just that she can come up with a daring escape plan in a matter of seconds or take down an armed opponent while wearing the cumbersome fashion of her time period; it’s that she’s distinctly human – she’s nothing like her brother Sherlock, who has a reputation for being cold and emotionless (even in our world; so much so that the Arthur Conan Doyle tried to sue the makers of this film because their Sherlock portrayal was too emotional – and also because this version respects women too much, which, um…we’re not even going to go near that little tidbit of information). Because Enola breaks the fourth wall so frequently and with such humor and self-awareness (at one point even directly asking us, the audience, for ideas during a tricky moment), and because she’s free to make mistakes and slip up every now and again, it’s hard not to root for her – even, and perhaps especially, when her agendas don’t quite line up with Sherlock’s. It’s a testament to the strength of Enola’s character that I found myself actively wishing Sherlock would move aside and let his younger sister take the lead.
It should be stated, however, that Sherlock Holmes’ portrayal here is very nearly as charismatic and compelling as Enola’s. Henry Cavill has quite possibly carved out another niche for himself in yet another franchise, one that I hope he intends to expand upon, if Enola Holmes gets a well-deserved sequel: his Sherlock is instantly familiar and yet so very different from what we’ve seen before – is that because, as has been mentioned, he has emotions and, indeed, respects women in this iteration of the character? Well, I think it might have something to do with that, actually. Cavill’s Sherlock tries hard to maintain his neutrality and facade of cold indifference, but it’s teased throughout the film that he has a certain vulnerability and warmth – something he’s really only ever able to reveal around his sister. Siblings supporting, respecting, and inspiring each other? You know I’m always here for that trope.
On the flip-side you have Enola and Sherlock’s other brother, the mustachioed Mycroft. He never quite twirls said mustache, but he’s the type of character who would if the opportunity arose: he’s deliciously despicable, the type of scummy, sneering elitist whose only motive is to make sure that the world stays firmly as it is. Eudoria’s wild spirit and Enola’s rebellious attitude are direct affronts to him, and he does everything in his power to try and dampen our heroine’s courage with attempts to “civilize” her and transform her into society’s image of a polite young lady of the Victorian era. Though there are several villains in the film, he’s the one who never fails to trip up Enola Holmes by playing on her insecurities and feelings of self-doubt – he’s the living embodiment of everything wrong and corrupt with the status quo, and the fact that he is so laughable and yet so seemingly omnipresent only goes to underline that point. Another key plot-point in the film is a reform bill that is set to go to a vote before the House of Lords – it’s only ever referred to as Reform, and that’s in part because the specifics are unimportant. It represents progress and the overturning of a commonly accepted system of government, and Mycroft Holmes, who expresses his disapproval for the very notion early on, is everything that stands in between us and achieving such radical Reform time and time again. We are still fighting Mycroft Holmes and his infuriating stance of neutrality in 2020: he is everyone screaming “All Lives Matter” in response to the notion that Black lives take precedence at a moment in time where they are the ones being singled out by police brutality and other forms of violence. In a world full of Mycrofts, be a Eudoria or an Enola.
Or be a Lord Viscount Tewksbury (Louis Partridge), who is one of the most surprising characters in the film. I say surprising because the trailer for this film made it seem to me that he was going to be utterly unbearable, with a bad case of “arrogant rich boy”. Quite the opposite: Tewksbury is a free spirit himself, and while, as an upper-class white male, he might personally benefit from the status quo, he nonetheless wants to change it and actively tries to do so. He’s also a mushroom forager and amateur botanist, which is absolutely charming and differentiates him from a long line of previous onscreen royals who spend their days casually maiming nature and wildlife rather than preserving or cultivating it – although, rather surprisingly, his encyclopedic knowledge of plants and flowers is simple a character trait; it has no relevance to the plot, which, considering that the mystery largely revolves around the language of flowers, seems like a missed opportunity.
Now I suppose I really ought to talk about the mystery itself since…well, Enola Holmes is a mystery. Thankfully, it’s a pretty good one: the trail of clues is maybe a bit too difficult to follow at points, and I might have enjoyed more in-depth scenes of clue-hunting that didn’t require so much backtracking (via flashbacks) to an event that we, the audience, didn’t actually see in real-time, but that’s a fairly minor complaint – it certainly didn’t affect my enjoyment of the movie. To counterpoint this complaint with a positive, one of my favorite things about the mystery is that it gets intense, and dark: the film’s villain (no spoilers!) is out to kill, and the fight scenes don’t hold back – Enola is a very convincing action heroine, whose wits and strength are well-balanced. And she makes for a very effective detective, not least of all because her breaking the fourth wall allows her to walk us through her process organically, rather than having to drop loads of clunky exposition, or, like the classic Sherlock, piece everything together silently in her head.
Her instant charm makes her the perfect candidate to lead her own franchise on Netflix, if you ask my opinion (you didn’t, but I offered it anyway because I’m shameless). The film leaves off with plenty of story still to explore…in a sequel, I hope? If Enola Holmes blossoms into a hit for the streaming service, I would love to see the fierce young detective continue to solve cases all around England – with or without the help of her older brother. Sherlock’s name recognition is still potent, and shouldn’t be discounted entirely, but I think – no, I know – that Enola Holmes is her own character, and she can manage just fine alone.
The Marvel drought is officially over, with the release of the first full trailer for the studio’s first ever Disney+ streaming series, WandaVision. In a perfect alternate reality, The Falcon And The Winter Soldier would likely already be well into its first season or might even have already concluded – but as we can see from the WandaVision trailer, picture-perfect alternate realities aren’t always as perfect as they seem from the inside looking out.
The trailer includes everything I was most hoping to see (and was worried I might not) in just under a minute and a half. The classic sitcom elements are all there, from the constantly changing aspect ratio to the laugh track that we hear punctuating two separate scenes. The psychological horror elements are front and center, with cheerful music accompanying scenes of a quaint suburban utopia glitching: time rewinding, scenes repeating themselves in a loop – all we’re missing is some color bars to make it apparent that Wanda Maximoff and The Vision (whose names, conjoined, make up both the title of the series and a clever play on the word television) are in fact living in a classic sitcom-inspired alternate reality as many of us have guessed from the day the series was announced.
The last we saw of these two characters, Wanda was still in a fragile emotional state and recovering from the traumatic events of several previous Marvel films – and as for Vision, well, he had been killed…twice. Once by Wanda herself after it became clear that she was the only person strong enough to kill him and seemingly destroy the dangerous Mind Stone embedded in his head; once by the Mad Titan Thanos, mere moments after dying the first time, when Thanos used the Time Stone to reverse the consequences of Wanda’s tragic sacrifice, resurrecting Vision only to rip the reconstructed Mind Stone out of his head, killing him instantly and far more brutally.
But now, in the WandaVision trailer, we find them happily married and moving into a lovely little townhouse in the suburbs….back in the 1950’s or 60’s, as is made obvious by the fact that everything is black and white, “Twilight Time” is playing, and Wanda and Vision appear to be channeling Dick Van Dyke and his onscreen bride Mary Tyler Moore. As the two get comfortable, they try to bond with the neighbors (including the nosy Agnes: more on her in a moment), which leads to an uncomfortable dinner party with the newlyweds trying to vaguely explain where they came from, how long they’ve been married, and why they’re still childless. As the screen glitches and Wanda begins to panic, the truth becomes clear – with the help of her supernatural powers, Wanda Maximoff has somehow built an entire idyllic dreamscape for herself an a resurrected Vision. Unable to achieve her happy-ever-after in the real world, she’s decided to build one from scratch. It helps when your alter ego is The Scarlet Witch and you can just do this stuff.
But nothing comes easily. Even though we see Wanda trying to keep her utopia intact, the entire place is clearly coming apart at the seams. Why exactly is still unclear: is this whole world somehow contained within Wanda’s mind, and the mental toll of trying to hold it together is inadvertently causing it to crumble to pieces around her? Or are the events of this show playing out in, as I suspect, a pocket dimension, one which is quickly closing or becoming unstable and potentially deadly? To me this latter option seems the most likely for a number of reasons: note, towards the end of the trailer, what looks to be a gated compound surrounded by armored vehicles, helicopters and teams of heavily armed agents (who, by the way, come from S.W.O.R.D., the sister organization of S.H.I.E.L.D.). Note how, when we see Monica Rambeau get thrown through mid-air in Wanda’s world, she pops out through a rift in the real world before into the earth at the same location where all the S.W.O.R.D. agents are stationed (notice also how she zooms straight by a town sign in the real world that seems like it might say Westview, just like the name of the town in Wanda’s world, according to Vision’s newspaper). I think there’s something beyond all those electric fences, something S.W.O.R.D. is guarding or observing, and I think it’s probably a portal to another dimension into which Wanda has entered and to which she has now lost herself – and I think Monica is the agent who’s been tasked with trying to get in and retrieve the Scarlet Witch before the effects of her tampering with the space-time continuum bleed out into the real world (I’ve speculated previously that this is why I think Darcy Lewis will also be appearing in WandaVision: she was a prominent figure in Thor: The Dark World because of how much she knew about portals opening between worlds and dimensions, and her expertise could be vital to S.W.O.R.D.). But, no matter how much Wanda may privately realize she’s living out a fantasy, she’ll still resist having to leave and she’ll probably become a destructive force of dark magic if anyone tries to separate her from Vision – or the two newest members of her family, her twin boys.
Yes, it looks like Wanda and Vision have been busy making up for lost time in this new life they share. Their twin sons, Wiccan and Speed, are both powerful and important heroes in the Marvel comics, and it’s great to see them onscreen at last, even if they are still babies. Thanks to Wanda’s reality-warping powers and the fact that she keeps changing the decade (we start out in the 50’s and progress through television history all the way to the 90’s or early 2000’s in the sitcom world), I expect both boys to be in their teens by the end of WandaVision, making them perfect candidates to join the ranks of the Young Avengers team being assembled across the MCU. I’ve speculated that we’ll see Wiccan, one of the most notable LGBTQ+ characters in Marvel history, come out as gay to his mother after meeting Hulkling, his eventual boyfriend, when the latter arrives as part of the same S.W.O.R.D. team sent to obtain Wanda.
Whether Wanda will be so fortunate in her love life remains to be seen. We know she’s in Doctor Strange: The Multiverse Of Madness, so she clearly survives WandaVision, but she could be permanently scarred (mentally, emotionally, and perhaps physically) by whatever happens to her and Vision here – I definitely don’t see Vision making it out alive, meaning Wanda will likely once again be left heartbroken (especially if S.W.O.R.D. takes her children into their custody as well). Hiding won’t work: even in the confines of her perfect reality, the couple are still in danger thanks to their nosy neighbor Agnes, who is very likely the evil sorceress Agatha Harkness.
In the comics, Harkness is an agent of chaos who mentors/manipulates Wanda and gets the younger Witch embroiled in a couple of unsavory situations, including some very literal deals with the devil. Her iconic purple and fuchsia outfit is reflected in the character Agnes’ bright purple leg warmers and hot pink tights (circa 1980-something). and the witch hat she wears while sitting paralyzed in her car on Halloween, which is where Vision finds her and gently tries to wake her with his own superpowers. When she jumps, and hurriedly asks if she’s dead, it prompts Vision to ask her in his most innocent tone of voice why she would ever think that. “Because you are,” she responds bluntly, before bursting into maniacal laughter. I’ve got to imagine that being informed in the middle of the night by a teal-haired woman wearing a witch’s hat that you’re actually dead and your wife murdered you (oh, and also you’re definitely living in a simulation and your kids are probably fake) has to be an emotional gut punch of some kind.
Probably explains why Vision looks so glum in the next shot, where we see him trick-or-treating in the neighborhood while wearing his iconic outfit from the comics as a Halloween costume. It looks absolutely ridiculous, but it’s an Easter Egg, and I love it. Wanda also wears a version of her comics-accurate costume for the Halloween episode, which includes her signature crescent moon tiara, red cape and gloves. Here’s hoping she gets a more sophisticated version of the costume (or at least the tiara) to wear into battle when she’s inevitably forced to defend her family from intruders.
I have a suspicion she’ll take down some S.W.O.R.D. agents before all is said and done, but they may not all be so easy to kill, even though she’s armed with dark magic. The way the trailer ends, with us getting our first good look at Monica Rambeau as she recovers from being thrown through the air, makes me think these two women will quickly become nemeses. It won’t be a one-sided fight, either: in the comics, Monica has some cosmic superpowers of her own, which are similar to Captain Marvel’s, and she goes under the alias Spectrum. If push comes to shove (and it will), I think Monica is more than capable of holding her own. It’s even possible that she’ll obtain her powers due to her close proximity to Wanda’s magical outbursts: since we know only Wanda, whose powers derived from the Mind Stone, was able to destroy the Mind Stone, it stands to reason that the only way to defeat Wanda is to use some of her own power against her.
Before we go, I have to make a bold prediction: based off this trailer and what we already know, I think that WandaVision is about to be the most wildly original and imaginative thing that Marvel has ever done, and I believe that it has the potential to usher in a new era in the studio’s history. Marvel’s tried and true formula is known to work, but many of us have been wanting the studio to branch out, try some new things and take some big risks: this trailer is all of that. The MCU is about to get a whole lot messier, as the complications of the Multiverse ensure that literally anything can happen from now on and creative freedom can go unchecked, and I’m here for it.
Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany has become the second member of Marvel’s growing Hulk family, as she has – according to Deadline – signed on to play Jennifer Walters (a.k.a. She-Hulk) in a highly-anticipated Disney+ series which will follow the fan favorite character on her journey to becoming the indomitable, bright green superheroine. Maslany, whose career highlights include prominent roles on BBC’s Orphan Black and HBO’s Perry Mason, is an unexpected but refreshing choice to play the character, whose casting has been a topic of debate in the Marvel fandom for months.
Jennifer Walters, the heroine at the heart of the upcoming She-Hulk series, is a character with a lot of heart and humor, and the fancasts for her have primarily been actresses with a background in comedy, such as Alison Brie (who was rumored to be the type of actress Marvel was looking for), Aubrey Plaza and Stephanie Beatriz. My personal favorite fancast was always Aladdin’s Naomi Scott, but clearly that was just me. Anyway, the casting of Maslany might indicate that Marvel has something a little different in mind: Maslany isn’t a stranger to comedy, but her talents are definitely best showcased in her wide range of dramatic performances, from her role(s) on Orphan Black as Sarah Manning and over a dozen clones, to her recent appearance as Sister Alice McKeegan (based on the real life evangelist Aimee McPherson) on Perry Mason. Taking all that into consideration, I’m willing to make a guess that Marvel’s She-Hulk will be just as much a dramatic character as a comedic one, something that I’m relishing the chance to see. Jennifer Walters’ story lends itself to a dramatic telling.
For those unaware of She-Hulk’s origins (and those who mistakenly still think she’s just a Hulk rip-off without her own personality or backstory), here’s a little refresher on where she comes from: in the comics, she starts out as ordinary Jennifer Walters, the cousin of Bruce Banner (who, by then, is already the Hulk). After her father angers a homicidal crime lord, she gets caught in the crossfire and has to be rushed to the hospital, where Bruce Banner gives her an emergency blood transfusion to save her life. The gamma radiation in his blood transmits to her and gives her nearly identical powers, but with a few interesting differences: firstly, when she transforms into her She-Hulk persona, she retains her human intellect and emotions, allowing her greater control over her actions and ensuring she never turns quite as destructive as her cousin; secondly, she doesn’t become a monster…instead, she just turns big, muscular and green, with (typically) an iconic purple and white costume and a mane of 80’s curls that has her at the top of my list of best superhero hairdos. When she’s not fighting crime with her fists, she’s fighting it in the courtroom as a lawyer who represents both civilians (particularly minorities and members of marginalized communities) and superheroes. I have a feeling her backstory will be slightly updated to have her first take legal action against the crime lords, who will then later retaliate and intentionally try to kill her, prompting her into a bit of a crisis as she has to try and figure out whether to go after them as a superpowered vigilante or as a prosecutor backed by the justice system. There’s a lot of potential for drama there.
But, as in the comics, there’s also plenty of room for humor. I kind of doubt that the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of She-Hulk will ever directly break the fourth wall as she does in the comics, but that doesn’t mean she still can’t be every bit as funny and sassy as her comics counterpart. A lot of it will depend on surrounding her with a great supporting cast who can act as foils to her: there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner will appear (I mean, he probably has to for her origin story to work), most likely in his newest form as the cool, self-confident Professor Hulk, unless the series takes place prior to the events of Avengers: Endgame. There’s also rumors that a number of other Hulk and Hulk-related characters could show up, including Red Hulk, and maybe even Hulk’s former love interest, Betty Ross (hopefully, as rumored, with Liv Tyler reprising the role).
Kat Coiro, who will direct the She-Hulk pilot and several more episodes in the show, and Jessica Gao, who is the head writer of the series, both also come from the comedy genre and will likely keep things light-hearted (I mean, as much as possible when you’re dealing with a character whose powers literally derive from a nearly fatal shooting).
Since the question will eventually come up…no, I really don’t expect the 5′ 4″ Maslany to play She-Hulk in her actual Hulk form: in other words, while she’ll still do the voice and presumably motion-capture, I presume the She-Hulk persona will be realized through CGI. This is a little bit disappointing, especially since no one wants to see special-effects budget limitations possibly hinder how often She-Hulk will be onscreen, but it can’t be helped: Hulk was a fully CGI character too, and no one complained (up until Avengers: Endgame, and then everyone complained). And the Disney+ shows have big enough budgets that She-Hulk’s design should look pretty good, no matter what.
On the other hand, if Tatiana Maslany wants to try and convince me that she’s a towering green woman with the physique of a professional bodybuilder through sheer force of acting, I think I’d buy it. She’s that good an actress.
What do you think of the casting? Are you excited to see She-Hulk make her MCU debut on Disney+? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
The long list of semi-historical/mostly fantastical biopics about the lives of famous musicians continues to grow at an alarming rate, but Madonna’s newly-announced biopic stands out from the crowded field for a number of reasons: firstly, because it’s one of the few so far that centers around a female artist, and secondly, because it’s the first to be co-written and directed by the biopic’s very own subject. Madonna, one of the biggest names in 80’s pop music, isn’t about to let someone else get to her life story first – she’s taking the reins herself and exercising almost complete creative control over how this movie gets made. Which is…interesting, to say the least.
It’s unclear yet if the biopic will cover one specific period of Madonna’s life, but the announcement from the artist herself makes me think that this is going to be a sprawling film that doesn’t miss any of the highlights of her career: from her work as “a musician, actress, director, author and entrepreneur who informs every aspect of global culture” to her role as a trendsetter “transforming our understanding of art, sexuality, feminism and the role of women in entertainment”. Some will call it egotistical, but in some regards, having Madonna herself be the driving force behind getting her biopic made could be an exciting opportunity to see more of the “unvarnished” and “untold” story that she promised in her press release. Does it come across as a bit self-congratulatory? Yeah, but it’s the sort of power move that Madonna is famous for, and autobiographical films are nothing new. The only real difference is that this is a story that most of us know – or think we know, according to Madonna – already, so it will be much easier to fact-check and tell truth from fiction.
Madonna Louise Ciccone was born in Michigan to Catholic parents. A college dropout, she moved to New York City and began performing as a backup singer and dancer. Her big break as a solo artist came in 1981 with the release of her debut single, Everybody, which became an instant hit. Throughout the 1980’s, Madonna continued to achieve success after success, while simultaneously revamping herself and her image on a regular basis, becoming a controversial figure towards the end of the decade due to her edgy performances and career choices. Nowadays, she has established herself as an activist for a number of issues, and founded the Raising Malawi charitable organization to try and help the nation’s orphans, who struggle with poverty, hunger, and hardship. Importantly to me, she arrived onstage at Eurovision 2019 with a politically-charged performance that had viewers a little confused and more than a little divided over whether to praise her bravado or scratch their own ears out. There’s certainly an entertaining story there.
The big question on everybody’s lips – and the question that earned my tweet about the upcoming biopic a place in the news story’s official Twitter Moment – is who will play the young Madonna. Some have suggested jokingly that Madonna will use de-aging technology to make herself the star: I don’t think that’s likely, so my ideal choice is Emmy-award winner Julia Garner, whose big breakout role in Netflix’s crime-drama Ozark has earned her critical acclaim, and whose effortless ability to rock eccentric, sparkly Met Gala fashion makes her the perfect candidate to pull off Madonna’s many, many, many elaborate costumes. Physically, the actress bears a strong resemblance to a young Madonna as well.
We’ll have to wait and see which direction Madonna and her co-writer Diablo Cody decide to go on, but at the moment I think it’s safe to say that this has quickly become one of the most highly-anticipated musical biopics: at least until a Fleetwood Mac or Led Zeppelin biopic gets announced. Personally, I’m very glad that this means another female musician will get the recognition she deserves on the big screen, and I’m excited to see more biopics like this, especially ones devoted to Black women and women of color in music: an Aretha Franklin biopic is already finished and just waiting for a break in coronavirus to release, and the popularity of the Gladys Knight/Patti LaBelle livestream concert gives me hope that one or both of those outstanding women will be the subject of another film.
What are your feelings on Madonna’s music and legacy, and who would you like to see play her? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
In the absence of any of the original Marvel content that was supposed to debut this year, Disney+ is relying on a second season of its mega-hit The Mandalorian to keep subscribers satisfied with the streaming service: and yes, while it’s disheartening that we’re now probably getting two seasons of this one show before a proper trailer for either Marvel’s WandaVision or Falcon And The Winter Soldier, I’d be lying if I said that the irresistible duo of Pedro Pascal and his puppet sidekick Baby Yoda isn’t enough to tide me over for a while yet. And the first trailer for The Mandalorian‘s upcoming second season gives us plenty of the adorable single father/social media celebrity pairing that we can’t get enough of, no matter what other problems we (or is it only I?) might have with the series overall.
During the first season, I mostly took issue with the slow pacing and general sense of meandering that had me wondering, more and more with every episode, whether there was supposed to be a plot throughline or not. Everything worked out by the end, when the Mandalorian (whose real name is Din Djarin) had his epic confrontation with ex-Imperial Stormtroopers under the command of Moff Gideon, who was revealed in the finale to be in possession of an ancient, powerful weapon: the Darksaber of Mandalorian legend, once wielded by generations of Mandalorian leaders and even the tyrannical Sith Lord Darth Maul. But this time around, new problems have emerged: specifically the castings of Rosario Dawson as the Jedi Ahsoka and Gina Carano as Cara Dune. The former, who is joining the show for the first time this season, has allegations of transphobic abuse leveled against her by a former employee; the latter, a holdover from season one, has recently been embroiled in a number of online controversies, including urging people not to wear masks or stay in quarantine during coronavirus and appearing to mock the trans community with her new set of joke pronouns.
Will they detract from my enjoyment of the new season? I hope not, because the teaser trailer has me deeply invested already in the Mandalorian’s next adventure across the galaxy, but you can be sure I will continue to address it throughout my coverage of the season. We briefly catch a glimpse of Cara Dune in the teaser, and I have to admit feeling a bit of disappointment that I can’t get as excited about her appearance as I should be. It’s doubly unfortunate because, for the moment at least, Cara Dune is the show’s female lead and Ahsoka is supposed to be a major character too. Thankfully, other female characters are leveling up in the show, including Sabine Wren: who is possibly the hooded woman we see watching the Mandalorian and Baby Yoda in the teaser.
The teaser, thankfully, highlights a number of other things to get hyped about, including what looks like a more structured storyline revolving around the Mandalorian trying to reunite Baby Yoda with the infant’s kin; a bunch of new and old locations, including Tattooine and an ice-planet (Hoth? I don’t remember many other ice-planets in Star Wars); and an increase in violence. No sign of Moff Gideon or his legendary Darksaber just yet, but I’m sure he’ll pop up in future trailers. As for the Jedi, they seem to be remaining in the shadows for right now, but I have a feeling more are out there then we think (my theory is still that Jedi Master Yaddle survived the Great Purge and is Baby Yoda’s mother).
Speaking of Baby Yoda, the adorable little baby is still pint-sized and easily portable, something that comes in handy during action scenes I’m sure. Just so long as no one smacks the baby on his itty-bitty fragile little head this time around (looking at you, random Stormtrooper from season one), he should be doing pretty good: he’s learned how to quickly evade danger by disappearing into the safety of his floating cradle. He has the power to use the Force, but he’s just not in the mood to do so, and you know what?…I respect that.
So what do you think? How excited are you for The Mandalorian season two? Are you here for the plot, or for Baby Yoda? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
I did not expect to suddenly have Ant-Man 3 on my radar as one of my most anticipated upcoming Marvel films, but that’s what casting Jonathan Majors in a lead role will do: especially when that lead role is – probably – none other than Kang the Conqueror, one of Marvel Comics’ most notable villains. The Da 5 Bloods and Lovecraft Country star is on his way to becoming a prominent and perhaps even permanent fixture of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s next couple of phases.
Ant-Man and its sequel Ant-Man And The Wasp are both perfectly decent, fun films, the former slightly more so than the latter, but Ant-Man 3 is apparently going to cap off the trilogy with an epic finale that raises the stakes dramatically: something I would not have suspected was possible, until now. But now, couple the rumors of a Young Avengers subplot with director Peyton Reed’s comments about making the third film “bigger” and “more sprawling” with “a very different visual template”, and then throw in this extra bombshell of a news story, and you have officially piqued my interest. Kang is a villain that many of us have been hoping would make his MCU debut sooner rather than later, and Jonathan Majors is about to get the breakout role of his career: he’s already made a mark on audiences in the first few audiences of HBO’s horror-fantasy anthology Lovecraft Story, and he made an impression on me in Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, where he plays the troubled son of a Vietnam War veteran who is funny, endearing, and surprisingly resilient when put to the test.
The character of Kang, luckily, comes equipped with a complex and fascinating story (all of which is, of course, subject to change depending on how Marvel decides to utilize him) that will give Majors a lot more to do than some other MCU villain actors. In the comics, Kang starts out as a 31st-Century history buff named Nathaniel Richards who discovers time travel technology and uses it to begin manipulating time and conquering entire planets and alternate universes. Wearing his iconic green and purple armor (which, in my humble opinion, is actually one of the most ridiculous comics outfits of all time, but that can easily be fixed for the movies), Kang battles the Avengers and a number of other heroes, and has interactions with several more: including Thor, the Grandmaster, Black Knight, Mantis, etc. He later messes up the timeline so drastically that a younger version of himself (who goes by the name of Iron Lad) ends up turning on him and forming the Young Avengers team to try and put an end to his evil. It’s a lot to try and explain in a single movie that is already going to be balancing a number of other subplots, so expect to see some of the backstory simplified: one thing I believe will remain, however, is Kang’s origins in another timeline. He doesn’t even necessarily need to be from the future – in Avengers: Endgame, the team’s time-heist created a number of alternate universes, from almost any one of which Nathaniel Richards could emerge. With the upcoming Loki Disney+ series set to explore these new universes in depth, I imagine Marvel could start laying the groundwork for Kang’s dramatic entrance early. It’s possible he’ll even cameo in Loki before showing up on the big screen, though I feel like this news would have broken earlier, if that were the case, considering Loki has been in production for a while now (albeit halted due to coronavirus). But it’s definitely not too late to sneak him in for a cameo or small supporting role now.
Kang showing up in Ant-Man 3 means the rumors of the Young Avengers showing up now feel a lot more plausible, not that they weren’t already: the team is quickly being assembled across the Marvel universe, with characters like Stature (Ant-Man’s daughter) having already been introduced, and Wiccan, Hulkling, Speed, Kate Bishop and America Chavez on their way. There’s a good chance now that Iron Lad will show up too.
Kang also has a bunch of other aliases that he picks up during his adventures through time, including that of an Egyptian pharaoh named Rama-Tut. While this is a wild guess on my part, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of seeing a hint of this character in Eternals, which will also deal with the Marvel universe’s ancient history. As for where Kang will end up in the future of the MCU, there’s plenty of options: he could become the next big bad; he might set the stage for the Fantastic Four to appear, as they too travel through time and space quite often; it’s theoretically possible he’s a one-and-done villain, but that’s just laughable. You don’t just use Kang once, and you certainly don’t just use Jonathan Majors once, especially not right now as he’s enjoying a swift rise to stardom and mainstream appeal.
One last thing: remember that it’s still not technically confirmed that Majors is playing Kang. Deadline, however, is reporting it as being extremely likely, which is a good sign for all of us who have been waiting to see this villain on the big screen. The only downside to all of this is that it means M.O.D.O.K. and A.I.M. might not be the main villains of Ant-Man 3, as was rumored, although I’m ready to move past that small loss if it means we’re getting Jonathan Majors as a supervillain instead. Who knows? Perhaps M.O.D.O.K. will also appear, and this film is about to become a lot more sprawling than we would have ever guessed.
What do you think of the news that Jonathan Majors is joining the MCU, and how do you feel about Kang? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Author Rick Riordan has quickly become a hot commodity in Hollywood, a status I’m sure he never thought he’d achieve after the complete and utter embarrassment that was the feature film adaptation of his Percy Jackson And The Olympians series in 2010. Following the recent announcement that Percy Jackson will find a better home on the Disney+ streaming service (where it will be adapted as a series with the potential for multiple seasons if when the first one does well), Riordan has managed to complete a deal with Netflix that will allow the streaming giant to develop feature films out of all three books in his fabulous – but criminally underrated – Kane Chronicles series.
The Kane Chronicles were Riordan’s second foray into the world of urban fantasy, as he deftly wove Ancient Egyptian mythology into a modern setting, pitting a team of diverse protagonists led by Carter and Sadie Kane against the Egyptian serpent Apophis, a seemingly indestructible force of pure evil capable of swallowing the sun and ending life as we know it. The series has received less attention than Percy Jackson’s exploits in the universe of Greek and Roman mythology, but is no less well-written, funny, or surprisingly educational. Carter and Sadie, biracial twins descended from a long lineage of Egyptian magicians, travel across the world battling gods and monsters from the mythos, learning spells, and uncovering secrets about their powers. The Kane Chronicles are perfectly suited to a film adaptation: and Netflix definitely has the money to make the Egyptian setting come to life with appropriate grandeur and spectacle.
It will be important to make sure that Netflix doesn’t attempt to whitewash either Carter or Sadie Kane, or any of their extended family. Rick Riordan himself got into a quarrel with several of his publishers in European countries after cover art for the books featured both protagonists as white, prompting the author to clarify that Carter is canonically a “dark brown” African-American young man, while Sadie is lighter skinned. Netflix has similarly faced accusations of whitewashing over the years, as have most film and television studios, but Rick Riordan’s involvement in the project gives me hope that he’ll keep a close eye on these and other important issues. That being said, the extent to which he is directly involved is still unclear: Riordan’s official announcement on his social media was only a few seconds long, too brief to provide many crucial details, and his website provides only a little more, noting that he started corresponding to Netflix in October.
One thing is clear, however. While in the books it’s at first implied and then later confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that The Kane Chronicles and the Percy Jackson series exist in the same universe, that won’t be possible here because…well, Netflix and Disney+ are separate, competing streaming services. This definitely won’t impact either series (in the Percy Jackson series, Egyptian gods are never referenced as far as I can remember, and in The Kane Chronicles there are a few scattered hints about something happening in Manhattan, but nothing actually substantial in the main books themselves: Carter Kane and Percy Jackson would only first meet up in a short story written by Riordan, which was followed by two more crossovers), but it does mean that any hopes of one vast, Percy Jackson Cinematic Universe under the Disney+ banner are impossible. Goodbye, PJCU…we hardly knew ya. This may not seem like a big deal, but it is sure to disappoint a bunch of fans.
Assuming both series’ are handled respectfully and Riordan is able to work closely with the producers and creative teams, we should see two separate adaptations of his work that both offer a much better vision of his extensive world and worldbuilding than the 2010 Percy Jackson movie could ever have accomplished. I have high hopes. While I’m nervous about how Netflix will adapt The Kane Chronicles, I can’t deny I’m wildly excited to see characters like the Egyptian gods and goddesses (Bast, the cat goddess and Kane family guardian, was always my favorite) finally brought to life with all the heart and humor that Riordan always intended. It’s a good time to be alive, if you’re at all a fan of Riordan’s mythos.
So what do you think? Did you read The Kane Chronicles, and if so, who are you most excited to see make the jump from page to screen? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Like The Lord Of The Rings before it, Frank Herbert’s science-fiction epic Dune has long been considered “unfilmable”: too huge and complex to ever successfully translate to the big screen. But Peter Jackson achieved the impossible by bringing Tolkien’s masterpiece to life (and in turn, revolutionizing the fantasy genre in Hollywood), and it looks like director Denis Villeneuve will try to do the same for Dune, with a lot of help from his incredible cinematographer Greig Fraser and his all-star cast led by Timothée Chalamet.
Chalamet has made a name for himself in the indie and arthouse scene, and is one of the actors whose name routinely pops up during awards season: but Dune will mark his biggest role to date, as he steps into the shoes of futuristic messiah Paul Atreides, royal scion of House Atreides and heir to the throne of Arrakis, a remote desert planet rich with the resource known as Spice: a dangerous but powerful drug that pretty much everybody in the galaxy wants to get their hands on, either to use it (Spice plays a part in spiritualistic rituals and even interstellar travel) or to control it (due to its rarity, Spice is also extremely expensive and can be heavily taxed when it’s not being smuggled illegally out of Arrakis). Although it’s been a while since I’ve read Dune (it’s probably one of the most inaccessible books ever written), I remember most of the major story beats: Paul, whose entire life is built around a series of prophecies, sets off into Arrakis’ rugged, inhospitable deserts to try and unite the planet’s indigenous people, the Fremen, against the forces of his family’s sworn enemies, the tyrannical Harkonnens, when the latter clan arrives with the intention of conquering Arrakis and winning control of the Spice. At some point, I suppose I’ll have to reread the book, but that’s the general concept: from there, it gets bigger and bigger until it becomes a cautionary tale about ecological disaster (an issue it tackles head-on and spectacularly) and religion (an issue it tackles boldly but with less success, due to its reliance on tropes regarding indigenous cultures).
For most people, the image that comes to mind when they think Dune (assuming they know about the book at all, which might be rarer now than it would be in 1965, when the novel became an instant cult classic) is that of the terrifying Sandworms, gargantuan beasts that roam beneath the deserts of Arrakis and are worshiped as divine beings by the native Fremen. Appropriately, the first trailer for Villeneuve’s Dune holds off on the reveal of the Sandworms until the very end, when one suddenly erupts from the sand and rises over Paul. I love the new design: it looks awe-inspiring but also frightening in the best way possible. I would have maybe liked it to be a little bigger, but it’s possible that, like an iceberg, more of it is concealed beneath the sand than is visible above the surface.
The trailer intersperses scenes of desert warfare and high-tech weaponry with beautiful shots of Arrakis’ deserts and the already radiant cast: from Rebecca Ferguson to Zendaya to Jason Momoa to Oscar Isaac (and Oscar Issac’s impressive beard, which I count as an entire supporting character), there’s not an unattractive person on this planet. And Greig Fraser, Villeneuve’s cinematographer, has captured it all in the very best lighting with hazy, orange and blue overtones (orange and blue is a color combo proven to attract attention, and it never fails to do just that). Fraser’s job is made a lot easier by the fact that, canonically, Spice turns human eyes a vivid shade of blue. Visually, this trailer is nothing short of stunning.
With regards to the story, it will be interesting to see whether or not Villeneuve has streamlined the book’s plot dramatically or fixed some of its major problems, particularly….well, the entire plot, which isn’t a white savior narrative in the usual sense, but still “has many of the same discomfiting hallmarks that we see replicated again and again”, to quote from a recent, brilliantly-written breakdown of the book’s dealings with issues of race, gender and sexuality. Getting into that issue would require talking about spoilers for the book, so I’m not going to get into that conversation here, but suffice it to say that the Fremen (who, remember, are based off an amalgamation of various Native American, Middle Eastern and African cultures) and their interactions with Paul Atreides veer dangerously close to white saviorism for reasons that are not only difficult to explain, but downright disturbing. That’s why I’m hoping there’s just as much focus on the diverse supporting cast as there is on Paul: the Fremen, in particular, but also Paul’s mother (the sorceress/concubine Lady Jessica), and his love interest (the desert warrior Chani). Surprisingly, the trailer doesn’t give much screentime to Jessica (despite her being a major character in the books), but Chani’s role does seem to have been expanded – the trailer even starts with her meeting Paul in one of his prophetic dreams and the two exchanging a heartfelt kiss, before later reuniting in real life. There’s still no word on whether the villainous Baron Harkonnen will be depicted as he is in the books, as a grotesque, homophobic caricature who preys on younger men, but I have to hope that’s not the case.
But while it’s still too early to tell how similar Villeneuve’s Dune is to Frank Herbert’s original novel, it’s not too early to guess that this movie will generate a lot of conversation heading into next year’s awards season, thanks to the out-of-this-world special effects, cinematography, production design, direction and cast. Hopefully it generates just as much money at the box-office, but that will depend on how successfully it has updated its controversial and complicated story. In a year like 2020 (or, in fact, in any year), the last thing we need is a white savior.
Far and away the best of a slew of recent live-action remakes of animated Disney classics, Mulan blends the fantastical whimsy and stylized beauty of the 1998 film with the epic, somber maturity of the ancient Chinese ballad of Hua Mulan (Liu Yifei), finding its balance in a delicate sweet spot that it has difficulty maintaining the whole way through – but it manages, thanks to Niki Caro’s direction and an extraordinary ensemble cast: and in several instances it doesn’t just stay on par with 1998’s Mulan, but dares to soar above and beyond the constraints from which other live-action remakes have suffered. In only a few places does this version of the story falter or fall behind its predecessor.
Nostalgia (and the ways in which it can be exploited for money) has been both the reason why these live-action remakes continue to be made, and also why they often feel watered-down and uninteresting next to their animated counterparts. Afraid to change too much of the “original” stories (I put original in quotes because most of Disney’s classic fairytales are just that; adaptations of far older fairytales), the directors of these remakes choose to simply rearrange plot points inoffensively, and/or bloat the films’ runtimes with filler material: exposition, explanations and lengthy justifications for plot holes in the animated films, and new musical numbers that (with a few exceptions) feel like lackluster imitations of the real thing: though that last problem is made less noticeable when even the live-action recreations of the original songs are usually lackluster imitations (looking at you, the entire soundtrack of 2019’s The Lion King). Mulan, however, never suffers from these problems, because director Niki Caro has made the bold and commendable decision not to lean on nostalgia so heavily, but instead to weave the Chinese source material and the Disney animated film into one beautiful amalgamation of the two that feels like the truest version of the story yet. This decision necessitates removing entire sections of the animated film. Several major characters have been cut out entirely. The animal sidekicks and their hijinks are absent. The songs have been dropped. And most importantly, the tone of the story has changed entirely: Mulan was always one of the funniest, zaniest Disney movies, but this version feels more like an accessible, family-friendly tribute to the wuxia genre’s greatest hits, particularly Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. In retrospect it’s obvious that, while the animated Mulan remains my personal favorite version of the story and my favorite Disney animated movie, this is how the legend of Mulan deserved to be told all along: as a war film with dark, adult themes, masterfully choreographed action scenes, and beautiful, luxurious imagery.
As for Mulan herself, the woman who disguised herself as a male soldier to take her father’s place in battle is a national heroine in China, and it’s no secret that Chinese audiences never liked how she was written in the animated film. This time around, Liu Yifei embodies a quieter, more reserved version of the character, who is hiding her inner power from herself and her family. But the key aspects of Mulan’s personality have not been changed: she is still a strong-willed woman endeavoring to carve out a place for herself in a world dominated by an unwavering patriarchy. If anything, these aspects have only been emphasized through the way the story has changed.
Gong Li’s character, the mysterious and absolutely stunning sorceress Xianniang, balances out Mulan’s storyline with her own sad, cautionary tale. Like Mulan, she is a woman with aspirations and ambitions, but unlike Mulan, she has already fully embraced herself and her truth before the story opens; and it is for that reason that she now finds herself an unwanted outcast on the fringe of society, reviled even by her allies, who feels compelled to try and warn Mulan of the dangers she will face if she ever tries to upset the “natural” order of things. Her complex relationship with Mulan forms the film’s emotional core, and, side-note, has already sparked substantial interest from members of the LGBTQ+ community who have pointed out that, in the original ballad, the character of Xianniang is Mulan’s best friend and maybe love interest. There’s hints of that chemistry in their interactions here, although Mulan has a more explicitly romantic relationship (in fact, too explicit for some Chinese audiences) with a new male character named Honghui (Yoson An), a soldier in her regiment.
Throughout the film, a great deal of the plot revolves around Mulan trying to unlock her qi, an internal life-force that can give her gravity-defying acrobatic and martial arts skills, if only she can learn to control it. Xianniang is already in touch with her own qi, though she has been using it for evil for many years. It is this qi which allows both women to shine most brilliantly in their numerous action scenes, which – thankfully – have not all been revealed in the trailers. Xianniang, in particular, has a lot of tricks and surprises up her long, flowing silk sleeves (which themselves double as weapons designed for quick and easy strangulation of all enemies within about a ten-foot radius).
The animated Mulan had numerous story issues, but none was bigger than the problem with its villain, the Hun leader Shan Yu: who was definitely one of Disney’s most terrifying and threatening villains, but maybe not one of the studio’s most well-written or dynamic. That problem has been solved. The duo of Rouran warlord Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee) and Xianniang, and the bond of mutual distrust between the two is very well-written. Bori Khan isn’t quite as menacing as his animated counterpart, but he has a much cooler look, a much more personal motive, and a much more compelling performance. Although in the trailers you’ve seen him and Xianniang working together, the movie establishes early on that their pairing is necessary for both to achieve victory, but is by no means motivated by any strong affection for the other. I absolutely love characters who have separate needs and wants, so this development worked for me.
There are several other standouts in the cast who make so much of their roles that they’ve instantly surpassed the animated versions of their characters. Mulan’s father, war veteran Hua Tzo (Tzi Ma), has a much larger role to play in the story, and his character’s kindness and genuine love and respect for his daughters made me very happy to see: I particularly enjoyed watching his internal conflict play out, as he tried to reconcile Mulan’s unconventional dreams with the more strict, uptight wishes of his community and culture. The village matchmaker, no longer a grotesque caricature, has a slightly expanded role and even gets a moment of payoff to her character arc that I never knew she needed. And The Emperor (Jet Li), while no longer charming or sassy, is again less of a caricature and more of an actual character, who even gets to participate in the third act battle. I did miss the antics of the Hua family’s matriarch, Grandmother Fa, but I never once found myself bemoaning the loss of the diminutive dragon Mushu or the lucky Cricket Cri-Kee (oddly, the lucky cricket does show up in a way, but not how you might expect). Mulan has gained a new animal guardian: a majestic Phoenix, which follows her on her journey. It’s not a very talkative bird, but it is very pretty to look at, and it feels much more appropriate with the tone of this movie.
There are only two major instances where the 2020 film stumbles in comparison to the 1998 film. Neither one is a spoiler (unless you don’t know anything about the animated Mulan), so I can share both. The first is the iconic scene where Mulan dons her disguise and flees her home to join the army: in the animated film, this scene is set to a pounding, exhilarating piece of music, and is loaded with striking, memorable imagery: the rain and the lightning making bold silhouettes, the reflective sword-blade slicing Mulan’s hair, Mulan’s father stumbling in the mud and the bejeweled comb flying from his hand. In this version, it’s all over in a matter of moments, and lacks all of that potent symbolism. In fact, many of the iconic shots and symbols of the animated movie are gone completely; however, in most instances they have been replaced by visual cues that are almost as compelling. To name a few: a sprig of flower blossoms discreetly hiding Mulan from view as she bathes in a lake; droplets of blood falling ominously from one of Xianniang’s wounded claws during a fight; a lone soldier descending an unbelievably long flight of stairs in the Imperial City; and a number of extraordinary uses of fabric, such as Mulan twirling in purple silk, a black scarf untwisting around Bori Khan’s face and being caught in a desert wind, Xianniang’s deadly sleeves swirling heavily through the smoke of battle. None of them, however, match the power of a dead girl’s doll resting in the snow, or a flower blooming in adversity.
The second misstep is the pacing. This is a movie that needed to be much longer than it ended up being. The first thirty minutes fly along far too quickly, barely giving us any time to indulge in the opulent Hua family household or explore the dynamic of their peaceful village before we’re whisked off to war. Throughout the film, this continues to be a problem: the entire story feels rushed right up until the third act. A large part of why that is has to do with the lack of songs, because it’s important to remember that in the animated film, songs don’t just act as cheerful interludes between plot points – they literally are plot points. And if you’re going to remove them entirely, you can’t just leave blank spaces where they used to be: you need to do the work to replace them. This is done most effectively with You’ll Bring Honor To Us All, which is effectively supplanted with nuanced dialogue and a sprinkling of exposition that doesn’t feel heavy-handed or forced. But nowhere is it more badly handled than with A Girl Worth Fighting For: without that song, it’s impossible for the film to effectively recreate that shocking transition from the animated film where the untested Imperial army suddenly, unexpectedly, runs into the site of a brutal massacre. And without Reflection, we never get to fully understand Mulan’s motivations from her own point of view – and because we spend hardly any time in her village, that scene isn’t replaced by anything, so she sets out to war before we’ve even had time to understand why. Earlier in this review I criticized the remakes that bloat the story with filler material: but I’m not going to let this one off the hook because it does the opposite and subtracts important story beats without putting anything in their place.
But even with what feels like so little time, Mulan still captivates the heart and captures the eyes’ undivided attention, and it left me feeling satisfied – and wanting more. Sign me up for the next movie! Even though this remake doesn’t surpass the animated movie, it’s the first Disney live-action remake that feels justified: as if it’s actually taking steps toward trying out new things and making exciting creative choices…not all of which pay off entirely, but all of which feel intentional.