“Spider-Man: No Way Home” 1st Trailer Review!

Considered by many the Holy Grail of long-awaited movie trailers, the first official teaser for Spider-Man: No Way Home finally dropped last night after several tiresome months of pleading from fans; and much like the Holy Grail itself (at least if Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade is to be believed), it’s maybe not the flashiest thing in the world. Not, in my opinion, deserving of all the drama that surrounded its release and its premature leak. But at this point, I honestly don’t think the content of the trailer mattered that much. This thing was going to be big no matter what, simply because of the hype that had been built up around it, and the potency of name recognition.

Spider-Man: No Way Home
Peter Parker and Doctor Strange | usatoday.com

Now, as sacrilegious as it may be to write these words, Spider-Man: No Way Home is not one of my most-anticipated MCU movies; not even close. I’m excited for all the Multiverse stuff because that’s more my groove, but it’s the thought of everything in between involving the unrealized potential of Tom Holland’s Peter Parker that gives me pause. I’m happy for everyone who’s happy to see that version of the character again; I’m just more intrigued by the possibility certainty of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield appearing as Variants of Peter Parker pulled from their own universes into the MCU timeline.

And this trailer gives me just enough of what I needed to hold my interest in No Way Home – Multiverse shenanigans involving all our favorite past iterations of iconic Spider-Man characters who have somehow never been reinvented for the MCU. Alfred Molina returns as the 2004 version of Doc Ock from Spider-Man 2, looking just as fabulous as always even though his mechanical tentacles are very obviously all CGI this time around, and we don’t really get a clear shot of them. We can hear Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin laugh for the first time since 2002’s Spider-Man, and he’s even still using his original pumpkin-bombs. There’s hints to Jamie Foxx’s Electro, Sandman, and a blurry shape that is possibly Lizard.

That’s a pretty awesome team of super-villains right there, just one member short of a true Sinister Six line-up. For Tom Holland’s sake, I hope one of his own villains completes the team; preferably Mysterio. It would be kind of awkward if in two whole solo movies he didn’t have a single villain worthy of making the cut. But that could be attributable to the fact that the MCU uses Spider-Man mostly for crossover events, and doesn’t put nearly as much effort into fleshing out his own corner of the universe. Even his solo movies have become crossover events, and Spider-Man: No Way Home is going to be the biggest one yet.

Spider-Man: No Way Home
Doc Ock | screencrush.com

And unfortunately, Peter Parker had to go and rope Doctor Strange into his mess. The danger of crossover events is that directors and writers get to take a stab at characters they don’t usually direct or write, and it leads to…very weird inconsistencies. Like Doctor Strange apparently risking the stability of the cosmos for the sake of a teenager whom he vowed he would kill if it meant ensuring the stability of said cosmos just a few months before this film is set. And I genuinely cannot believe the number of people I’ve seen defend this plot point adamantly, claiming that it makes sense because Doctor Strange…texted while driving in his first movie. It’s funny, because I seem to remember that moment being the impetus for a whole lot of character development that pushed him to become the antithesis of everything he had been, but I guess that can all be ignored now?

On the flip-side, you can just have fun and make wild theories about how this Doctor Strange is possibly a Skrull shapeshifter, or Mysterio disguised by one of his illusions, or the evil Doctor Strange Variant whom we’re about to meet in What If…?, or even Mephisto (who at this point has become so widely-known, even among general audiences, that I think Marvel has to use him somewhere down the line). That’s what I plan on doing, because the thought of Doctor Strange actually having his entire personality rewritten to suit the plot of a Spider-Man movie is disheartening.

But I wouldn’t put it past Jon Watts to do that. His weak direction and lack of vision is consistently a major problem with the MCU’s Spider-Man franchise, and that’s what terrifies me about the future of the Fantastic Four under his guidance. I really liked Spider-Man: Far From Home when it came out, and I’m sure that somewhere on this blog you can still find a review where my younger self rambled on for hours about how it was the best MCU movie of all time, but…my thoughts on that film have changed somewhat in the intervening two years. I still think Tom Holland is very well-cast, but the writing he’s burdened with does him no favors.

Spider-Man: No Way Home
Spider-Man | gizmodo.com.au

And all that being said, I’m still excited to see him share the screen with Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, because he’s still Spider-Man. The thing about the Spider-Man brand is that no matter how many iterations of the character there may be (and there have been a lot), the iconic image of the webslinger is already too firmly etched into the public consciousness to be disrupted by even the worst film adaptation. We all have our own version of Spider-Man that comes closest to matching that timeless ideal – for me, it’s probably the version who cameoed randomly in old episodes of The Electric Company – and that’s a wonderful thing. So celebrate it, and enjoy the trailer.

Seriously, it’s got Doc Ock. If nothing else, celebrate that.

Trailer Rating: 7.5/10

Gods And Monsters Clash In “Eternals” 2nd – And Final – Trailer

There’s been some speculation for a while that, given the unyielding November release date for Eternals, Marvel might be positioning their grand epic of gods and monsters for an awards season run. They got all the way to a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars with Black Panther, and won three awards there in other categories, so we know it’s not impossible. But can Eternals match that film’s success in a field where Marvel has traditionally been excluded, or even improve on it?

Eternals
Eternals | Twitter @cineternals

If Marvel’s ultimate goal here is nominations or wins in any of the “Big Five” Oscar categories (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Actress), then they’ve already got a tried-and-true weapon in their arsenal: director Chloé Zhao, who plowed through the last awards season like a juggernaut, picking up a string of Golden Globes, BAFTAs, and Academy Awards for her introspective drama Nomadland. Her signature style and name is all over the second and final trailer for Eternals (somehow we skipped right from teaser to final trailer), which was released today at a time beneficial to the West Coast.

That signature style of Zhao’s relies heavily on her affinity for stark, unforgiving natural environments, and her sensitive use of natural light: so from the moment this trailer opens with Salma Hayek’s Ajak traveling by horse across a barren plain with cloud-speckled skies above her, you know Zhao is going to be bringing all of that to the unconventional source material. And this marriage of Marvel’s earth-shattering spectacle with Zhao’s indie filmmaking techniques and stripped-back sensibilities is perfect for the story of Eternals itself; of otherworldly beings accessing the hidden depths of their own humanity, and becoming one with the people of Earth whom they’ve loved from afar for seven-thousand years.

The Eternals, as it turns out, have one job and one job only on Earth – to eradicate a horde of demonic chimeras known as the Deviants. But it seems they may have been a little too good at that: because in the modern day, post-Endgame, the Deviants have been in hiding for millennia and the Eternals have been forced to wait around until they return. Since they’re not supposed to interfere with human affairs that don’t involve the Deviants, that’s forced some of them into an uncomfortable position where they can only watch from the sidelines as humans tear themselves to pieces. Some have already broken the rules entirely and gone to live among the human race, while others have retreated into themselves.

And then there’s Angelina Jolie’s Thena, who I think might secretly be the most important character in the movie. Her mission, as the greatest warrior among the Eternals, was always to lead the charge against the Deviants; but for her, there’s another layer to her internal conflict. While many of the Eternals fell in love with humans and abandoned their divine purpose, Thena is the only one who fell in love with a Deviant – and not just any Deviant, but their leader, a tentacled eldritch being named Kro. I wasn’t sure if this would be carried over from the comics, but the trailer shows Kro lifting Thena into a tender embrace and caressing her face in a way that is equal parts disturbing and…no, actually, it’s just straight-up disturbing. There’s a lot of tentacles going on.

Eternals
Thena | cnet.com

Her teammates have done a bit better for themselves. The matter-manipulating sorceress Sersi is entangled in a love triangle between her Eternal husband Ikaris, from whom she’s now estranged, and Kit Harington’s Dane Whitman – who finally gets to talk in this trailer! We don’t get to see Phastos’ partner, but we know he’s supposed to be Marvel’s first openly gay character, and that he has a husband in the film. As for Kumail Nanjiani’s Kingo, he’s just living his best life as a Bollywood movie-star. Makkari, Marvel’s first deaf superhero and a speedster who travels by leaping, also seems pretty comfy on Earth, but we haven’t seen much of her lifestyle yet.

On the flip-side, we can see that Ajak mostly keeps to herself and avoids interactions with humans, while the brooding telepath Druig has started a cult in the woods where he mind-controls people – definitely a healthy way of channeling boredom into productivity. Sprite, who is permanently trapped in the body of a child, seems to have entered her gleefully nihilistic phase of wanting the world to be destroyed so that she can finally be released from her humanoid vessel. Even space-gods in the MCU need therapy, it turns out.

But Sprite might be close to getting her wish, since it seems that another group of divine beings known as the Celestials are on their way to Earth to review the Eternals’ accomplishments and pass judgment on the planet as a whole. The Celestials are the gods whom the Eternals serve, and in Marvel Comics lore they’re actually pretty important – but this trailer provides our first good look at them since a flashback in Guardians Of The Galaxy. They’re massive geometrical creatures rendered in vibrant jewel-tones, straight out of the pages of a Jack Kirby comic. I also have a hard time believing they can be killed by mere Eternals, so I suspect the resolution to that storyline will involve the Eternals pleading with the Celestials on behalf of the human race rather than fighting them in some big space-battle.

I can even think of a way to achieve that which would be comics-accurate and visually stunning. In the comics, the Eternals have the power to sync up their minds and become one being comprised of pure light, known as the Uni-Mind. The Uni-Mind embodies all of them at once, and as such would be the perfect vessel for an exploration of the interconnectedness of humanity.

Eternals
A Celestial | cinemablend.com

And I’d be here for it, just saying. Based on everything we know about Eternals, it’s the kind of film where it wouldn’t feel jarring to have it end with a dramatized outpouring of raw emotion, as overly earnest as that might seem on paper. If anyone could pull it off, it would be Zhao, whose love for the planet and respect for ordinary people defines so much of her work. And it would certainly give the film that emotional punch it’ll need if it’s gonna be a serious contender during awards season.

Trailer Rating: 8.5/10

Michaela Coel Joins “Black Panther 2” In A Mystery Role

Michaela Coel is on a meteoric rise to stardom, and it’s been a beautiful thing to witness. Over roughly five years, the British-Ghanaian actress has gone from a fleeting appearance in The Last Jedi to starring in an episode of Black Mirror and in the TV series Chewing Gum, which she wrote and produced. But until last year, she was still relatively unknown – and then I May Destroy You came along, earning Coel three Emmy Award nominations for her work in front of and behind the camera as an actress, writer, director, and producer. I’m sure Marvel President Kevin Feige had his eye on her even before she joined WandaVision‘s Elizabeth Olsen in the Emmy’s Best Actress category, but just yesterday it became official: Coel is joining the MCU.

Michaela Coel
Michaela Coel | standard.co.uk

She’ll be showing up in the sequel to Black Panther, titled Wakanda Forever, and has apparently already joined director Ryan Coogler and her castmates in Atlanta to start filming. That’s really all we know for the time being, because her role is being kept under wraps, but speculation has been…intense, to say the least. Why? Because thanks to her extraordinary talent and the fact that she happens to possess the most sculptured cheekbones in all of England, she’s one of the top fan-casts for the character of Ororo Munroe, a.k.a. Storm.

Yeah, as in the Storm. The Storm whose been one of the most prominent members of the X-Men team in Marvel Comics since 1975. The Storm whose an Omega-Level Mutant with pretty much every atmokinetic ability under the sun (the light of which she can manipulate by altering levels of moisture in the air, by the way), including the power to generate wind, rain, lightning, thunder, snow, hurricanes, tornadoes, fog, etc. The Storm who appeared in six of Fox’s X-Men movies played by Halle Berry and Alexandra Shipp, and who got virtually nothing to do in all that time. It is long past time for Storm to get some of the spotlight that’s been reserved for her (white, male) teammates, and Michaela Coel in the role would ensure an unforgettable MCU debut for the character.

And unlike, say, Reed Richards or Blue Marvel appearing in WandaVision, Ororo Munroe showing up in a Black Panther story would make sense. The character’s connections to Wakanda date back to her first interaction with the African nation’s king, T’Challa, whom she met and rescued back when he was still a prince. The two formed a close (and semi-romantic) bond while journeying together, but separated before they could express their feelings for each other, with T’Challa going on to become king of Wakanda and Munroe settling down in her ancestral homeland on the Serengeti, where she was worshipped as a goddess. Since then, in the comics, she’s married T’Challa, served as the Queen of Wakanda for a time, left T’Challa to side with the X-Men, defended Wakanda from a number of threats including Skrull shapeshifters, and taken over as its Queen during T’Challa’s absence.

But in the MCU, T’Challa isn’t coming back following Chadwick Boseman’s tragic passing last year. There’s been a lot of debate over whether it’s the right choice and how Marvel will incorporate Boseman’s death into the story of Wakanda Forever, but ultimately it seems a different character (or perhaps, characters) will take up the Black Panther mantle – one likely being Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister, and another candidate being M’Baku of the Jabari Tribe. I don’t expect Storm to vie for the mantle, but I could envision a scenario where she’s introduced at the beginning of the movie as one of T’Challa’s friends from childhood, who never got the chance to say goodbye to him before what will presumably be an in-universe funeral for the character.

Michaela Coel
Storm | wallpaperflare.com

There would be pros and cons to this, of course. It could serve as a very touching opportunity to explore more of T’Challa’s youth, and I’m sure many audiences would see themselves in Storm’s grief and feelings of incompletion. But at the same time…it might be unfair to both the character of Storm and the legacy of Chadwick Boseman to use this movie as a means of introducing other major characters, if it distracts from giving Boseman the send-off he deserves. It could also be unfair to Michaela Coel, who never worked with Boseman and can’t draw on the same genuine feelings of heartbreak that his Black Panther castmates like Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright, and Winston Duke, can. If anyone could make this work, it’d be Ryan Coogler, but it’s going to be a tricky situation regardless.

But of course, we don’t actually know that Michaela Coel is playing Storm in Wakanda Forever, and there’s a good chance she’s not. My only hope is that she’s not in a one-off role, because Coel deserves to stick around in the MCU no matter who she’s playing.

And if not Storm, what then? Well, there’s a few other options I’ve seen floated, all of which could potentially be interesting. For instance, Michaela Coel would make for a radiant Madam Slay, a minor villain from the comics who controls an army of leopards and is mostly content with hunting and killing poachers until she crosses paths with Erik Killmonger, becomes his lover, and tries to usurp the throne of Wakanda with him. In the MCU, Madam Slay could show up in Wakanda to avenge Killmonger’s death at the end of Black Panther, although that could turn into a retread of Killmonger’s own character arc.

A lesser-known but perhaps even more interesting character is Zenzi, a villainous empath who can force people to succumb to their darkest desires and worst impulses. In the comics, she’s not technically Wakandan but does become an ally of a Wakandan rebel movement who seek to overthrow T’Challa. In the MCU, her origin story could be tweaked a little: she could lead a rebellion against whoever is chosen to become the new Black Panther. Interestingly, Zenzi has a connection to Baron Zemo which the MCU might like to exploit – I don’t know about you, but I’d love to see Michaela Coel join the Thunderbolts.

Coel may not want to play a villain, however, in which case she’d also be a great choice to play Aneka, one of the Dora Milaje warriors from the comics who hasn’t appeared yet in live-action – but whose canonical girlfriend, Ayo, was prominently featured in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier just recently. Not only would it be great to have more LGBTQ+ representation (particularly queer Black women) in the MCU, but this is a role Michaela Coel could easily reprise in the upcoming Wakanda-centric Disney+ series. In fact, she could lead the Wakanda-centric Disney+ series, not to mention write and direct parts of it too.

As you can see, there’s a lot of great characters besides Storm whom Michaela Coel could play, and I’d be happy with any one of these choices because I really just want Coel to shine. But if she is playing Storm, and she is the very first Mutant introduced in the MCU, you definitely won’t see me complaining because I’ve wanted her in that role for a while now.

Michaela Coel
Dora Milaje | cbr.com

How about you? Do you want to see Michaela Coel don Ororo Munroe’s classic white hair and take to the skies, or would you prefer her in a different role? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“Black Widow” Review!

Black Widow’s story has always been one of regret: both in-universe and on a meta level, because all I felt after watching Black Widow fling herself off a cliff in Avengers: Endgame for the sake of the Soul Stone was regret that this amazing character, one whose incredible empowering backstory and dark potential had only ever been touched on in passing throughout seven Marvel films, was dead and gone before she got the chance to take center stage in a solo film of her own. Black Widow’s self-sacrifice, if it had to happen at all, should have been a triumphant moment. Instead, it plays out like numb resignation to a fate that might have felt more earned if the films had actually given her a consistent character arc.

Black Widow
Black Widow | vox.com

And now, two years after Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) gave her life in service of the Avengers and received a moment’s worth of mourning from the coworkers who had the audacity to call themselves her only family, we finally have a Black Widow prequel – a kind of consolation prize for sticking with the character even as one director after another, from Favreau to Whedon to the Russo Brothers, reduced her to hypersexualized eye-candy for the male gaze. But unfortunately, Black Widow doesn’t help to make Natasha’s death more bearable or more understandable in hindsight: if anything, in trying to right one of the MCU’s greatest wrongs, it introduces elements that seem to contradict Natasha’s motivation for killing herself in Endgame (which is fine by me), yet does nothing to offer a convincing counterargument for why she’s no longer around to continue her own story, all while halfheartedly rushing to fling together explanations for the mysteries she left in her wake; explanations that are underwhelming at best.

Black Widow‘s screenwriter Eric Pearson recently revealed that the first draft of the film’s script was completed in just eleven days…and by the end of the movie when things start to come irreparably unglued, it shows. I’ll be honest, the first and second acts are mostly quite good, and achieve a perfect balance between strong character development and the kind of visceral action we expect from a movie about elite assassins: we get to learn more about Natasha’s childhood (with Ever Anderson playing a young, blue-haired Natasha), and the film plays with some potentially intriguing concepts and themes there, but when the film jumps back to the present (well, 2016, so nearer the present at any rate), it deftly ratchets up the tension by explaining that while Natasha worked under the aegis of the Avengers, her enemies in the Red Room feared that going after her would expose their position – but now, with the Avengers broken up in a post-Civil War world and Natasha on the run, she’s got no protection.

There’s a weird and unnecessary MacGuffin in the form of a mind-control device, and a general lack of direction at points, but all of this stuff is genuinely entertaining – and the first act provides a strong jumping-off point for what could have been a more grounded, intrigue-heavy, mind-bending psychological thriller like the one promised in Black Widow‘s dark and disturbing opening credits sequence. Scarlett Johansson does some excellent work on her own, imbuing her performance as Natasha with the kind of dignity, respect, and disregard for the male gaze that one can sense is freeing for her: and when Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) enters the picture, the two women share an electric connection that carries the film through some of its weaker patches. Pugh is a revelation in this role, and one of the only upsides I can see for Black Widow taking as long to make as it did is that Pugh arrived on the scene at just the right moment to embody this character with equal parts humor and heart.

During the second act, we’re also introduced to Natasha and Yelena’s adoptive parents, Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour) and Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz): the Soviet Union’s first and only Super-Soldier, and the Red Room program’s most ingenious and terrifying chemist, respectively. Neither character is actually all that important to the story, but I was surprisingly invested in their subplots, and impressed by the level of detail that Marvel put into their backstories and personalities. I had been worried about Harbour, whose “Red Guardian” was mostly used as a punchline in the marketing, but I’m pleased to report that many of his cringiest line-readings in the trailers appear to have been alternate takes, and even the controversial joke where Melina tells him that he got fat is followed up in the movie itself by a far more effective line where she comments that his body looks good.

Black Widow
Natasha, Alexei, and Yelena | radiotimes.com

But the vivid characterizations of Natasha and her found family inadvertently highlight one of the film’s glaring errors – the blank slate that is its villain, Taskmaster. Going into the movie, I felt certain Taskmaster’s unique and formidable ability to mirror their opponent’s movements and fighting techniques would be crucial to the plot. It’s not. We’ve already seen most of Taskmaster’s fight scenes, and all but one or two of their surprise attacks (the Black Panther-style retractable claws, for example), in the trailers. But beyond that, there’s really nothing to this character except a twist that is meant to hit the audience in the feels – except it doesn’t, because we literally don’t know Taskmaster from a hole in the wall. You never told me who I was supposed to think they were in the first place, so finding out who they really are means nothing.

As you can probably guess, hardcore Taskmaster fans are going to be let down – because this version of the character has virtually no relation to the one from the comics, which is actually a problem with a bunch of characters in Black Widow. If Melina Vostokoff is supposed to be anything like the Melina Vostokoff who goes by the alias of “Iron Maiden” in the comics, then there’s really nothing to indicate that beyond what looks like a metal face-mask on a shelf in her armory – which she never picks up, much less wears. Yelena never obtains her own iconic face-mask, which in the comics is modeled after a spider’s with a bunch of glowing eyes. And most egregiously, the character of Ursa Major (Olivier Richters), a giant humanoid Soviet bear who we’d all been excited to see, is literally just a tall hairy guy. These all feel like disappointing callbacks to the days when Marvel was afraid of its source material’s most outlandish aspects.

Blasts from the past aren’t always unwelcome, however. Black Widow‘s fight scenes – in the first two acts, mind you – borrow heavily from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, still the MCU’s best action movie, although they feel less inventive and a bit less visceral, perhaps because of a certain plot device that feels purposefully contrived to prevent characters from dying. But director Cate Shortland gave us what could be my favorite shot of Natasha Romanoff in any of her Marvel appearances, as the heroine, clad in her all-white uniform, suspends from a helicopter during a Siberian gulag ambush and soars ahead of an avalanche like some kind of avenging angel.

Black Widow
Taskmaster | denofgeek.com

But unfortunately, Shortland makes no effort to try and save a third act that’s written with about as much finesse as the Incredible Hulk rampaging through New York. Any waning hope for a redemptive final action sequence is crushed when the movie suddenly disintegrates into a sprawling CGI showdown that feels completely inauthentic to Natasha’s character and devoid of any real narrative purpose. Something needed to explode, I guess, so it might as well be an entire flying fortress so that we can watch a descending battle through the falling rubble that’s over as abruptly as it begins, giving the audience no time to enjoy what could at least have been a cool set-piece if not an emotionally satisfying conclusion to a story that feels like it’s been mangled to fit the old Marvel Movie formula.

It’s incredible that Black Widow was originally intended to kick off Marvel’s Phase Four instead of the more zany, imaginative WandaVision. Although I once worried that the rearranged release calendar would disrupt all of Marvel’s carefully-laid plans, I have to admit Kevin Feige made the right decision by giving us a taste of what’s really in store for the MCU before showing us…this. It’s not that Black Widow isn’t good, because to be honest it probably still lands on the top half of my MCU rankings regardless of its faults, but it’s more of what we’re used to from Marvel: the sloppy CGI third act battles, the in-name-only cameos from fan-favorite comic characters, the wasted villains. I can only hope that the success of Marvel’s Disney+ shows convinces the studio to apply the storytelling techniques that make their shows so popular to their future films, because I feel strongly that there’s a sweet spot somewhere between the creativity of the shows and the bigger budgets of the films that Marvel just hasn’t found yet.

And so we circle back around to the same place where we started: that inescapable feeling of regret. I’m not unhappy I watched Black Widow, but I am sad that Natasha Romanoff’s story doesn’t get to end on the resounding high note I and many others think she deserved. Because this is it. The film doesn’t provide an out for her to cheat death and return somewhere down the line – although the Multiverse could conceivably bring back any deceased character in the MCU, and we know Scarlett Johansson will return to voice Natasha in What If…?.

Black Widow
Natasha and Yelena | nerdist.com

But this whole prequel is basically just a What If…? scenario anyway: what if Marvel had given Natasha an actual storyline outside of her irregular appearances in Avengers movies and crossover events? What if they’d done literally anything to flesh out her personal life? What if she had led her own trilogy like other Marvel heroes, and this was just the beginning of her story, an effective launchpad for something that could have been great? Well, I guess we’ll never know!

Rating: 7.5/10