“The Old Guard” Review!

I think I should inform you upfront that Netflix’s The Old Guard was always going to be my cup of tea, no matter what. Five immortal warriors from various historical time periods come together to fight the powers-that-be? That has me written all over it. So forgive me if I’m a little bit biased, but yes – The Old Guard is just as good as I had hoped it would be. It doesn’t necessarily exceed my expectations (and in certain places, it did let me down a little), but there’s no doubt in my mind that this will be a movie I rewatch time and time again while I wait for the sequel that director Gina Prince-Bythewood clearly wants to make, based on this film’s very unsubtle ending.

The Old Guard
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The Old Guard was marketed as a nonstop action movie, and that’s definitely not untrue – but I think what was left out of the trailers and promotional material for this film is the extent to which this is actually a drama. If you’re going into this expecting something comparable to Netflix’s Extraction, with brutal fight scenes filling every available moment of runtime, then you’re going to be sorely disappointed. And while that might sound strange, considering this film’s entire concept, it actually pays off in the end: The Old Guard delivers on action when it needs to, but it still tells a complex and thoughtful character-driven story about people trying to find meaning and purpose in their overextended existence. We’ll see if that tactic pays off with audiences, but I truly hope it does because did I mention this film sets up a sequel?

If audiences are looking for the next Extraction, however…well, the action scenes in The Old Guard do leave something to be desired. The characters’ fighting styles lack any noticeable sense of finesse or historicity – though they each come equipped with their own weapon of choice from their respective centuries, they’re more often than not just carrying guns, which does feel a bit underwhelming: especially considering how much the huge, double-bladed battleaxe that Charlize Theron’s Andy (short for Andromache the Scythian) wields was played up in the trailers and posters. And though the action scenes get better as the film goes along, there are several that feel relatively middle-of-the-road: not bad, but not cleverly choreographed or visually interesting enough to capture attention. Apart from the climactic third act battle, the strongest fight is one in a drug-smuggler’s plane where Andy and her new recruit, U.S. Marine Nile Freeman (Kiki Layne) wrestle in a battle that requires their wits just as much as, if not more than, their physical strength. Is The Old Guard perhaps too clever for its own good occasionally? Perhaps.

The Old Guard
vanityfair.com

That being said, each of the five members of the team does possess healing capabilities that allow them to walk away from any injury, no matter how fatal, without harm – and that is something which is incorporated very well into the film’s writing. It can sometimes rob the tension from action scenes, but it drives the entire plot: it’s the reason why the team has survived as long as they have; it’s the reason why they’re on the run (because pharmaceutical corporations want to capture them and harvest their powers); and it’s, ironically, the reason why they can never be free from pain – unable to die, they have been forced to watch as humanity continues its self-destructive cycle of violence, as their families, loved ones and descendants grow old and perish around them. One of the team members, Napoleonic War veteran Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), tells a heartbreaking account of how his youngest son, dying of cancer, became consumed with jealousy of his immortal father. I’ve seen the concept of immortality tackled countless times in film and TV, but never as well as it is here.

But the film would never have succeeded at selling its hard-to-swallow subject matter without the efforts of its flawless cast. Charlize Theron, unsurprisingly, brings her all to the lead role of Andy, who has lived for so long she’s almost forgotten where and when she came from – but it’s not hard to figure out that she was once one of ancient Greece’s most fearsome war heroines. Kiki Layne, who comes into her own later in the film, shows the makings of a true action hero – and she just happened to do so at the best possible time, considering that the internet is currently fiercely debating who should play Storm in Marvel’s upcoming reboot of the X-Men franchise. Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli play opponents in the Crusades who, after having had to kill each other many times, ended up falling in love – not only did I greatly appreciate the genuine and meaningful LGBTQ+ representation (they actually kiss and show affection for each other!), but I was pleased to discover that Kenzari isn’t anywhere near as bland an actor as his role in Aladdin seemed to suggest. Chiwetel Ejiofor has a smaller role in the film as the team’s constant stalker, CIA agent Copley:¬†who is very clever and very dangerous…but also very offscreen for most of the time.

The Old Guard
dailynews.com

Time is something our immortal protagonists have in plenty, but the film itself doesn’t have quite enough, in my opinion. The Old Guard is just a little over two hours long, but those hours seem to fly by at an alarming rate, and it sometimes feel like we reach certain story beats too early. But while I would criticize that aspect of the movie, I also have to admire that it made me want even more. I’ve mentioned the sequel bait twice already, but third time’s the charm, am I right? Don’t worry, no spoilers here – but let’s just say, there’s a lot of potential for this franchise going forward, if Netflix chooses to go forward.

Will they? Hard to say, what with coronavirus still turning the world upside-down every few minutes and forcing studios to prioritize like never before. But there’s definitely no reason not to, unless the film massively underwhelms audiences – but as someone who doesn’t want to see Extraction ripoffs from now until the end of time, I appreciated this more clever, introspective type of thriller, and I wouldn’t object to another one.

Movie Rating: 8.9/10

“The Old Guard” Trailer Review!

In the first trailer for her upcoming, action-packed Netflix thriller The Old Guard, Charlize Theron brings her star power, intensive martial arts skills obtained from a career of similar projects, and her talents as a producer – and the result looks fresh, innovative and exciting.

Already, comparisons are being made to Chris Hemsworth’s recent thriller Extraction, which debuted on the streaming platform to a record-high view count. The Old Guard would be lucky to enjoy even half of that film’s success, but I’m personally hopeful – and confident – that Theron’s take on a Netflix thriller, working with a more experienced director, will be miles ahead of Extraction in terms of quality: and whereas the former film drew criticisms for what many perceived as a glorified white savior narrative and stereotypical portrayals of Southeast Asian people and culture, The Old Guard doesn’t appear to have any such problems just yet – the cast is authentically diverse, and the film highlights several different cultures from all around the world.

How could it not? The plot of the film revolves around a group of five soldiers from various historical time periods who are unable to die naturally or be killed. Led by Charlize Theron in her new role as battle-axe wielding warrior Andromache of Scythia (who now goes by “Andy” in the modern world), the team also includes Marwan Kenzari, Aladdin‘s Jafar, as a Medieval Muslim warrior who appears to have fallen in love with his former opponent, a Crusader played by Luca Marinelli. Matthia Schoenaerts rounds out the group as a Napoleonic soldier. But the team’s newest recruit, a U.S. Marine named Nile Freeman, is the character who sets the plot in motion, as the audience surrogate with whom we first encounter this strange, close-knit group of battle-hardened immortals. Freeman is played by KiKi Layne, who is moving quickly towards mainstream stardom – and hopefully, after a couple more roles like these, toward the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where she is my first choice to play the mutant goddess Ororo Munroe.

The Old Guard
vanityfair.com

But the Old Guard doesn’t just have to look out for the newest member of their team – now, they also find themselves hunted by the powers-that-be, who want to weaponize their rare ability and use it to create entire armies of immortal soldiers. Chiwetel Ejiofor, here playing a CIA operative with a passion for history, leads the villains from the sidelines, but hopefully he has a chance to get in on the action as well. Still, one gets a sense of brooding menace from several scenes in the trailer – particularly one in which Andy, after realizing she was accidentally caught in a passerby’s selfie, has to swipe the person’s phone and delete the photo. As she explains to Nile, the technological advancements of the modern world make it harder than ever for the Old Guard to remain a secret: and the longer Chiwetel Ejiofor’s character knows about her, the longer he poses a threat not only to their existence, but to the fate of the world itself.

As one would expect, there’s a ton of action: much of it utilizing weaponry one doesn’t typically see in a thriller, including the aforementioned battle-axe, and Kenzari’s character’s scimitar. For me, being somewhat of a military history buff, this looks like my kind of movie: guns, grenades and even bazookas can get repetitive after a while, but an ancient Greek warrior swinging a battle-axe? That never gets old.

So what do you think? Are you intrigued by the film’s premise, or are you just here for one particular member of the Old Guard team? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below.

Trailer Rating: 8/10

“Ghost Rider” Coming To Disney+! Will The “Midnight Sons” Follow?

Though he’s probably among the most popular characters in the Marvel comics roster, Ghost Rider has had a hard time on screens both big and small. His first film adaptation came at a time when neither DC nor Marvel had yet figured out the magic formula for how to craft a comic book movie, and his appearance on TV, while still the best take on the character, had only limited appeal due to being on a TV show that far too few people actually watch – but now, it looks like Ghost Rider is heading to an even smaller type of screen (though, at the moment, a far more profitable one), and there, with the help of the established Marvel brand name and the tried-and-true Disney+ marketing strategy, he may finally get the success he deserves.

Ghost Rider
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Ghost Rider is one of several dark, edgy characters who operate on the fringes of the Marvel Comics universe: the Rider in particular has always been one of the most unabashedly violent – he literally sells his soul to Satan himself (technically Mephisto, but whatever), so how could he not be? Whether the name belongs to stunt motorcyclist Johnny Blaze or car mechanic Robbie Reyes, a few key details always remain the same: he rides around at night with hellfire burning in his skeletal face, wielding whips, chains and a variety of other spiky weapons which he uses to harvest the souls of the damned, while fighting some of Marvel’s most powerful mystic villains – and occasionally, heroes, as he is rarely ever solely good or evil. It’s hard to imagine this character peacefully co-existing on the same family-friendly platform as other Disney brands.

That’s exactly why he was supposed to be heading to Hulu, with Gabriel Luna reprising the role of the Robbie Reyes version of the character – which he had already played, phenomenally, on the fourth season of ABC’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., often said to be the series’ best. An idea for a spin-off following his character on more brutal, bloody exploits had already been written, but, sadly, the entire series was scrapped by Marvel president and producer Kevin Feige – at the time, it was believed that Feige had his own plans in store for the character, and now that has seemingly been confirmed. It looks like a version of Ghost Rider (probably Johnny Blaze, since it’s been strongly suggested that it’s not Reyes) will be going straight to Disney+, instead.

But whether Ghost Rider arrives on a motorcycle or in a muscle car, he won’t be alone. In fact, he could easily herald the creation of a new kind of superhero team in the MCU, one that is grittier and riskier than anything we’ve seen before. A couple potential members of this team are already popping up, though they will likely have to wait until the Rider arrives before they can actually form. I am, of course, referring to the infamous Midnight Sons.

Ghost Rider Midnight Sons
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In the comics, this team consists of a small, close-knit group of supernaturally gifted antiheroes, who usually work alone but come together in dire circumstances to protect the world from threats like demons, vampires and magic-users. Unsurprisingly, they’re closely affiliated with Doctor Strange, and his associate Doctor Voodoo. Membership changes on a regular basis, but characters like Ghost Rider, the Moon Knight, Blade and Elsa Bloodstone are all regulars at this point. And thankfully, almost every character on the team has a pretty good chance of showing up in the MCU in the near future, meaning that we could see them come together just in time for a third Doctor Strange film.

Ghost Rider Moon Knight
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Ghost Rider, obviously, is the very reason why this team would and should be assembled, so he’s a lock for a spot in the team’s line-up. Moon Knight, a mentally unstable CIA mercenary possessed by the spirit of an ancient Egyptian moon god, has his own Disney+ series on the way – some of his supporting cast, such as Werewolf By Night or even Stained Glass Scarlet, could make good Midnight Sons candidates. Mahershala Ali is set to play rogue vampire assassin Blade in an as yet undated solo film, which will probably also introduce the world to feisty British monster hunter Elsa Bloodstone. And Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness, the Sorcerer Supreme’s long-awaited sequel, is heavily rumored to feature Doctor Voodoo, as well as Strange’s love interest Clea – the niece of primordial demon Dormammu – whose horrific heritage should be enough to land her a spot on the team. With those specifics out of the way, all that remains to be done is to find them a proper villain to fight – and there are quite a few already lurking in the depths of the Fear Dimension, and elsewhere.

One of the most obvious and natural choices to take on the team during their first outing would be Karl Mordo, who was set up as a villain in Doctor Strange but hasn’t appeared since. His whole mission is to wipe out all the sorcerers in the MCU, meaning he’d have good reason to want to take down an entire team of powerful magic-users. The only problem I see with this idea is that Mordo doesn’t seem to have the strength to take on all the Midnight Sons at once, so he’d probably need to recruit several other…well, sorcerers, to his own cause. And that could work, if Mordo had been shown to be a hypocrite – but from what little we know of him, we can see that he truly believes everything he espouses. That means if Mordo does become a Midnight Sons antagonist, he should either be a third party trying to take out both the Sons and whoever their real enemies are, or he should get a serious power upgrade that could put him on the level of a Ghost Rider or Doctor Strange.

Ghost Rider Dracula
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But while we wait for that to happen, the Midnight Sons still need a villain – and in my opinion, it should either be Lilith, Mother of All Darkness and a frequent opponent of the team in the comics; or Dracula himself, who is rumored to make an appearance in the Moon Knight series and would probably also show up in Blade, whenever that movies comes out. Both of these villains are powerful and experienced: Lilith is an immortal survivor of the sinking of Atlantis (which means she could show up as early as next year’s The Eternals, which is said to feature that cataclysmic event), and comes with her own army of similarly demonic children, scattered around the world and waiting for her command to stir them into action; while Dracula, of course, is a 15th Century Transylvanian warlord and king of vampires. And while Dracula is actually the father of another character coincidentally named Lilith in the comics, the MCU version of the character could be the…wait for it….midnight son of Lilith, Mother of All Darkness. Writes itself, doesn’t it?

I’m partially kidding about that last bit, though I actually do think it would be a good idea to tie the two characters together somehow and have them both face the Midnight Sons in battle. In the Marvel comics, vampirism is often a hereditary trait, so it makes sense for vampires like Dracula to involve their whole families or clans in their own wars. And if we could see that war spread out across several MCU franchises, it could be a huge event with the potential for plenty of crossovers.

But what about you? Do you think Ghost Rider will bring the Midnight Sons into being, or will we have to wait even longer? Are all these characters possibly too dark for Disney+? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Sam Raimi To Direct “Doctor Strange 2”!

In a shocking turn of events, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has hired director Sam Raimi to pick up the pieces that were left scattered about in the wake of Scott Derrickson’s abrupt departure from the production of Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness, fulfilling a lifelong dream for Raimi and allowing him to return to the superhero genre that he, in large part, helped to define with his iconic, and hugely successful, Spider-Man trilogy.

Sam Raimi To Direct "Doctor Strange 2"! 1
hollywoodreporter.com

The process of finding a new director for the long-awaited Doctor Strange sequel began last month, after Scott Derrickson, who directed the Sorcerer Supreme’s first solo movie, suddenly parted ways with Marvel Studios, citing “creative differences”. Later, unconfirmed, reports suggested that Derrickson wanted the film to push its (presumably) PG-13 rating and tap into the horror genre, but Marvel was reluctant to follow him down that path: others have hinted that he was upset about having to structure much of the film around the events of the WandaVision Disney+ series. We don’t know for certain why he left – but for a while after his departure, all we knew was that the film was rushing towards a production start date in Spring without a director. It was a bad look for Marvel, and many wondered if Doctor Strange 2 would be pushed back from its 2021 release date.

However, things were still going smoothly behind the scenes, by all accounts: recent reports have suggested that a number of Marvel characters will be introduced in the sequel, including America Chavez, Brother Voodoo, Clea, and a host of alternate-versions of established MCU characters (which, for whatever reason, enraged fans who hadn’t noticed the word “Multiverse” literally in the film’s title), and the first film’s antihero Karl Mordo was also confirmed to return, with Chiwetel Ejiofor reprising the role. So it should come as no surprise that Marvel has had their eye on someone to replace Derrickson, and that that someone is quite possibly already onboard the project and getting comfortable in the director’s seat. It’s not the fact that a director has been chosen, but the identity of that director, that’s so shocking, relieving, and exciting all at once.

Sam Raimi, who worked closely with current Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige to craft his own Spider-Man trilogy between 2002 and 2007, is in talks to helm Doctor Strange 2. Raimi is a fantastic choice for many reasons – not only is he the most successful and recognizable director to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe since their early days, but he’s also a huge fan of Doctor Strange (there’s even a reference to the character all the way back in Spider-Man 2), and arguably the man who made Marvel Studios’ huge success possible. Both before and since the Spider-Man franchise’s controversial final installment, Raimi has made a name for himself in the horror genre, making him an ideal substitute for Derrickson, who had hoped to explore a darker, creepier corner of the MCU with his movie. Raimi won’t have much time to rewrite the Doctor Strange scripts if he wants to meet the release date, but he’s also the sort of director who will want to leave his mark in other ways – despite claims from Marvel’s critics that their films are made by committee, using generic formulas and disregarding directors.

It’ll be interesting to see what’s left over from Derrickson’s brief tenure as director, and what Raimi will salvage, or throw out. Two of the strangest (no pun intended) elements rumored to feature in Derrickson’s script were the violent deaths of Strange’s constant companion Wong, and former girlfriend Christine Palmer, early in the film. While Benedict Wong (who plays Wong) will return for the sequel, it was revealed tonight, almost casually, that Rachel McAdams will not be coming back to portray Palmer, making me think those damning rumors were accurate, and McAdams left the project rather than become a victim of Derrickson’s killing spree. If Raimi does have time to rework the script, this could be something he addresses – on the other hand, the character of Christine Palmer is not one that audiences are deeply attached to, and so much else is going to be happening in the film that adding her into the mix seems unnecessary.

And then, of course, there’s the question of Spider-Man. While it’s unlikely that Peter Parker will feature into Doctor Strange 2 in any way, it would also be fittingly poetic if Raimi were able to do something with Tom Holland’s iteration of the beloved character. Funnily enough, theorists have long felt that an interaction between the web-slinging superhero and the Sorcerer Supreme would be able to clear up some of the problems presented by the awkward joint-custody arrangement between Sony and Marvel, that has kept either studio from fully enjoying all the benefits the character has to offer: for instance, if there comes a day when Spider-Man has to leave the MCU, what better way to manage that in-universe than by having him exit through the Multiverse, with a little help from Strange? To be clear, I don’t think this will happen in Doctor Strange 2, as a third Marvel/Sony Spider-Man movie has already been greenlit, but it’s still something I wanted to mention.

All in all, this is exactly the type of shocking news that Marvel excels at dropping as if it’s no big deal. Not content with simply finding a replacement for their first directorial misfire in years, they went out of their way to enlist one of the biggest names in the superhero business.

What do you think? Were you a fan of Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, and what do you feel about him joining the MCU? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

“Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil” Non-Spoiler Review!

The eagerly-anticipated sequel to 2014’s blockbuster Maleficent has a slow-paced, sluggish story that rarely, if ever, matches the splendor of beautiful visuals bursting in rainbow hues on the screen. Having strayed so far from the original fairytale that the occasional name-drops of “Sleeping Beauty” are actually jarring, Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil lacks a clear narrative purpose, but makes up for that with stunning beauty, fabulous world building, and the power of Angelina Jolie’s knife-edged cheekbones.

"Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil" Non-Spoiler Review! 2
traileraddict.com

Never underestimate Jolie’s ability to carry a scene, or even an entire movie, with the sheer force of her presence alone. She commands any scene she walks (or flies) into, and her physicality conveys the depths of her emotions far better than any of the rather poorly-written dialogue she is given. She’s still not really the Maleficent that most Disney fans are familiar with, and she’s never likely to be, except in those behind the scenes photos and videos that somehow give off more classic Mal vibes than anything in the actual movie: but what we get from Jolie is just as good – a raven-dark persona with a heart of gold, wielding height, severity, and an impressive wardrobe. In short, she’s the witch-mood, without actually being a witch. Jolie is only rarely able to make much use of the CGI wings her character is burdened with, but does achieve some form of composure when she’s in flight or descending with the force of a small helicopter (on the other hand, her “hovering” scenes leave much to be desired). Nonetheless, she’s still able to do more with them than her co-star Chiwetel Ejiofor, who fights a losing battle with the wings of his troubled Dark Fae character, Conall, for most of the movie. While it’s Conall who carries Maleficent to safety early in the film’s run-time, it’s Maleficent who returns the favor and carries the entire movie in her clawed grip, though she has so little competition until Michelle Pfeiffer’s Ingrith heats up the forges of war, that it’s hardly a surprise.

In the first half of the movie (the weaker half), the script leans heavily on the “romance” between Elle Fanning’s Aurora and Prince Phillip of Ulsted (Harris Dickinson), two of the most boring and frustratingly naive people to ever step foot in a Disney movie. Fanning has her moments, but the role is so underwritten in this movie that she doesn’t get much time to do anything in particular: almost at once, she is forced to neglect her only duties as Queen of the Moors when Phillip proposes to her, and so we never get to see her develop a close relationship with her subjects – as the leader of an entire nation, she fails spectacularly, attempting to have peace for peace’s sake, without considering any of the subtleties involved with aligning oneself with a foreign and possibly hostile power. As for Phillip, he shows up every so often in a loose-fitting shirt to stare dreamily into the camera, as Disney princes so often do: his only concern in the movie is Aurora’s safety, and he too is thwarted so many times, and so dramatically, that he’s an almost laughably pathetic addition to the cast. There is no chemistry whatsoever between the two, who spend almost every scene together talking wistfully about fairy politics – hardly romantic material.

Then, Ingrith gracefully steps onscreen, haughty, cool, calculating and formidable in a pair of diamond-encrusted high heels and a pearlescent gown, and for one brief, shining moment in the faux Camelot constructed for the film, the violent, power-hungry Queen appears to be one of Disney’s best villains in recent history. She handles a loaded crossbow with ease and assurance, goes through extensive costume-changes that showcase her wealth and luxury, keeps a collection of creepy mannequins, and is accompanied by a black cat: a more classic formula for a villain could not be imagined. But it’s the execution of Ingrith’s power-play that causes things to fall apart: while the heartless queen (speaking of heartless, I give it a couple of years before Ingrith shows up in a new iteration of the Kingdom Hearts Disney video game franchise) should have been an easy parallel to the caring mother that is Maleficent, the movie largely misses the mark with Ingrith, never quite using her (admittedly vicious) ambition to the full potential, never quite exploring the depths of her hatred for fairy-kind. She nearly gets there! She has a striking visual style, looking for all the world like the White Queen off a chess-board of death, and an intricate plan to establish total control of the fairy realm. She is certainly an active character, driving much of the plot, and she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty with the blood (or magical dust) of innocents – and yet the film establishes her as so aloof, so high and mighty, that she never actually seems involved in the action she’s causing: not until she’s threatened, and in a place of weakness: and, well, who wants that? She could have made for an incredibly fun villain, one operating from the topmost pinnacle of the impossible heights of her CGI cathedral – but to achieve that, she would need effective servants, loyal to her cause. And the only one who fits the bill is her henchwoman Gerda (Jenn Murray), who is in absentia during the third act due to a sudden fit of musical ecstasy that sees her transform into a crazed, sadistic prodigy of Mozart. The scene in which this happens is one of the most memorable in the entire film, just for the absolute craziness of the scenario, but it does rather undermine Ingrith’s own control over the hearts of her servants (the rest of whom might betray her at the drop of a hat).

"Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil" Non-Spoiler Review! 3
comingsoon.net

But craziness is what keeps Mistress Of Evil aloft for as long as it does, right up until a predictably average ending. Whether we’re watching Gerda tickle the ivories and take down waves of innocent fairies (there’s a surprising amount of death in this movie!), or witnessing the rituals of the Dark Fae with their vast, multi-colored wings and distinctly unique cultures, there’s always something to look at – occasionally so many things at once, such as when Maleficent first soars through the realm of the Dark Fae – that it’s hard for one’s eyes to focus, there’s just so much. In terms of visual spectacle, the film outdoes itself time and time again, culminating in a final battle that is actually surprisingly engaging and emotional, and sees humanity pitted against the Dark Fae in a war for peace.

There’s a lot of stuff going on in Mistress Of Evil, and thus a lot of themes and messages that the story tries to get across, with varying degrees of success. One line of dialogue delivered at the end of the movie attempts to sum everything up by saying that “we’re not defined by where we’re from, but by whom we love”. But in my opinion, no dialogue from the imaginations of scriptwriters Linda Woolverton, Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue can achieve what is already being said countless times throughout the movie, without a single word spoken: that the entire story is focused on the mother/daughter relationship between Maleficent and Aurora. War rages around them, and this time between them, they are parted and reunited, but they endure. And the vividness with which their relationship is realized is a stark contrast to the flimsy connection between Ingrith and her son, which is nothing more than a shapeless concept that goes nowhere: as I previously noted, there was plenty of potential for a parallel there, but the film loses its one and only chance to demonstrate this parallel by not having Ingrith ever try to kill her son or even hinder his actions very effectively, despite how many chances she gets, and how much motivation she would have for doing so: yet it seems like such an obvious choice, in light of what else happens in the movie, that I can’t imagine that it was never discussed.

"Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil" Non-Spoiler Review! 4
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One of the most interesting elements of the entire Maleficent franchise is its focus on femininity, and a different kind of strong female character than is usually seen in modern film: the three women at the heart of Mistress Of Evil are diplomats and politicians rather than warriors – even Ingrith, unabashedly a warmonger, only bears arms under dire circumstances; for most of the film, she exercises her power either from behind or atop a throne. Maleficent, meanwhile, moves in the shadows, preferring wars of wit to open conflict: and as for Aurora, she is sunny, optimistic and gentle, ruling with kindness and tender compassion. Yet all three are rightly considered powerful forces in the world they inhabit, as queens and unchallenged guardians of their respective plots of land. And there is one female character (no spoilers!), who has only a small role throughout the film, but a critical part to play in the third act: the culmination of her arc has a ripped-from-the-headlines quality that is at once startling, heartbreaking, and thought-provoking.

With so much progressive, forward-thinking messaging going on, there is one notable instance that stands out to me as either a bad – and unintentional – decision on the filmmakers’ part, or a conscious decision with a third film in mind (a third film that will only happen if Mistress Of Evil takes off at the box-office): and that decision is putting humans in control of fairies. It screams of colonialism every time it gets brought up, and the film outright denounces it, but never actually does anything about it when it’s Aurora, our heroine, doing it. Queen Ingrith has a point when she tells Aurora that there’s more to ruling a kingdom than running around barefoot with flowers in one’s hair – but, well, Ingrith is evil, so obviously Aurora doesn’t actually heed her warning or do anything to remedy the glaring problem. She’s simply not a very effective queen, and she spends probably ten minutes (at most) with her own people – but we’re supposed to trust that she’s the best person for the job because…she left the fairies in the lurch while she went off to plan her wedding? She angered Maleficent and caused her to leave the moors unguarded against human threats? She did basically nothing for the rest of the film? The film never adequately explains why a human should be allowed to rule fairy affairs, and the open hostility from the Dark Fae makes one wonder if everything will really be fine and dandy after Aurora’s marriage to Phillip firmly establishes that more, not less, human interference is on the horizon.

"Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil" Non-Spoiler Review! 5
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However, unlike some films, Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil successfully stands on its own, requiring no previous knowledge of the franchise to follow along with its plot and leaving no cliff-hangers or unresolved storylines to torment the viewer afterwards – all in all, this movie is not what I would call necessary viewing, but it is fun, beautiful and spectacular. And it has got Angelina Jolie and Michelle Pfeiffer together onscreen, which is itself worth the price of admission.

Movie Rating: 5.0/10

“Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil” Full-Length Trailer!

Who expected Maleficent to be the year’s most epic family drama? Even Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, with its all-stars cast, pales in comparison to a film starring Angelina Jolie and Michelle Pfeiffer as rivals vying to control – and mother – the rebellious young princess Aurora (Elle Fanning), in one epic custody battle involving magic, witchcraft, and giant bears ripping people limb-from-limb. We even get the pleasure of watching Jolie literally turn people into burning skeletons, while Pfeiffer takes aim at her with a hefty-looking crossbow, and – wait a moment: this is a Disney movie?

Indeed it is, proving that the Mouse House isn’t afraid to take some risks every now and again. After the first teaser for the film dropped, I was a little worried that the whole thing was just going to be a sparring match of witty one-liners between Jolie and Pfeiffer, and it might still boil down to that in the end: Jolie’s performance as the demonic sorceress Maleficent seems to be mostly about evoking a “mood” – with lines like “Don’t ruin my morning!” and “Love doesn’t always end well” dropped as if they’re mantras to live by, while her variety of outfits continue to stun and dazzle (though I still hate the wings: even worse, there’s more wings on the way, but we’ll get to that in a moment). Pfeiffer’s character, the Queen Ingrith, is quite clearly a villain: the smirk on her face as she embraces Aurora makes it kind of obvious that she’s not just concerned for the princess’ well-being – though it’s still a little unclear as to why she wants to risk open war with Maleficent’s forces of magic. As we go “beyond the fairytale”, a lot of things become unclear.

Granted, there’s still a lot of good stuff in the trailer: the darker elements are still very cool and surprising; Jolie and Pfeiffer are still good actresses, so their dynamic looks interesting and it does appear that we will indeed get some intense showdowns between them, such as I asked for after the first trailer; the production values look great (except for Jolie’s wings and horns: for some reason, Maleficent is the only character in the film whose costumes look completely bizarre and uncomfortable). The first film was criticized for relying too heavily on special effects, but honestly…the special effects look like they’ve only gotten better. There’s a real sense of danger from the trailer, something that Disney doesn’t often indulge in – I genuinely don’t know what will happen: will Maleficent conquer the forces that oppose her, and win back her adopted daughter? Will Aurora choose to leave the beguiling witch, and instead risk it all for true love? And what’s going on at the end of the trailer?

Near the end, we watch Jolie’s character get hit by crossbow arrows – fired by some of Ingrith’s own henchmen, or at least it appears that way. Anyway, she falls into the sea and is saved by a strange dark shape, that carries her away to some other mystical place of labyrinthine tunnels and glowing caverns where she encounters…Chiwetel Ejiofor? Sorry, that’s Chiwetel Ejiofor dressed up with horns and giant wings (wings that look just as ridiculous as Jolie’s). In fact, it turns out there’s a whole bunch of other demons like Maleficent (all of them winged and horned, to my dismay), and they want her to join them in their…war against Ingrith? Quest for world domination? Hunt for a better costume designer?

I don’t know what’s going on there, but it looks like both Maleficent and Aurora will be conflicted as their mother/daughter relationship is tested by the forces of evil – including Maleficent herself.

Trailer Rating: 7/10

“The Lion King” Trailer!

For one of the most highly-anticipated movies of 2019, the marketing for The Lion King has been virtually nonexistent up until today. One teaser back in November, and then just…nothing. Until today. And today, they made up for all that with this.

It starts off nice and slow, tingling with suspense: young Simba and Nala are scampering through the Outlands beyond Pride Rock. Hyenas dart around them in the shadows, and the two lion cubs cower as a voice narrates to them about how “life’s not fair” for those who “spend their lives in the dark, begging for scraps”. Then the hyenas approach, and with them comes their leader: Scar (voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor). He looks terrifying: the way his tattered ear twitches as he advances on Simba; his ragged and disheveled coat of fur; his cold, malevolent voice. He’s perhaps lacking just a little something of the original, that almost exaggerated Shakespearean vibe to the character as voiced by Jeremy Irons, with his wild black mane and angular shape, but those are minor nitpicks – Scar looks absolutely awesome.

Then the trailer briefly turns into a nature-documentary: Mufasa brings Simba up onto Pride Rock, and in the voice of James Earl Jones tells us how the Pridelands exist in a “delicate balance”, while the music swells up, scenes flash by of Simba playing with other animals (including Zazu, voiced by John Oliver), and antelope prancing around. In this tranquil and idyllic corner of the world, we see Scar’s words made clear: Mufasa’s evil brother is bitterly jealous of this beautiful, bountiful kingdom – must be hard, when you live with a pack of ratty hyenas and your brother is living it up in this exquisitely-lit CGI paradise.

(I am aware of the fact that Mufasa and Scar apparently aren’t brothers, or are brothers, depending on which Disney executive you ask: I’m calling them brothers, for simplicity’s sake).

And, because Disney is evil, they even have the audacity to show us glimpses of a certain scene…hmm, is this a spoiler? Technically, I guess it is, so I won’t clarify exactly what this spoiler is, just that this scene in the trailer happens to involve a canyon, and a herd of stampeding water-buffalo. Yeah, they show us part of that scene.

In a throwback to the original animated feature, there’s a scene of Simba, Timon and Pumbaa walking, while the background behind them changes, and Simba grows older. I’m still left wondering how much of this film will literally just be a copy-and-paste of the original, but, hey, it looks beautiful.

We get our first good look at Nala, voiced by pop icon Beyonc√©, and she looks…like a lioness. Not much more to say about her than that. She doesn’t sing, if that’s what you were expecting.

But, on that note, the trailer is not entirely without some lively song-and-dance: it closes, in fact, with Timon and Pumbaa skipping merrily along through the jungle, singing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, which is peculiarly hilarious.

It looks good. It looks really good, in fact. There’s an epic quality to all the scenes, or maybe that’s just the brilliant visual effects, but it has beauty and atmosphere. The tone is perfect. A better voice-cast could not have been assembled – though I still have some reservations about Donald Glover voicing Simba himself. The movie looks like it will be incredible – or, at the very least, it looks like it will look incredible.

Trailer Rating: 8/10